Wednesday, October 24, 2007


A Girl of The Limberlost

A Girl of The Limberlost
By Gene Stratton Porter
ELNORA, who collects moths to pay for her education,
and lives the Golden Rule.
PHILIP AMMON, who assists in moth hunting,
and gains a new conception of love.
MRS. COMSTOCK, who lost a delusion and found a treasure.
WESLEY SINTON, who always did his best.
MARGARET SINTON, who "mothers" Elnora.
BILLY, a boy from real life.
EDITH CARR, who discovers herself.
HART HENDERSON, to whom love means all things.
POLLY AMMON, who pays an old score.
TOM LEVERING, engaged to Polly.
TERENCE O'MORE, Freckles grown tall.
MRS. O'MORE, who remained the Angel.
Elnora Comstock, have you lost your senses?"
demanded the angry voice of Katharine Comstock
while she glared at her daughter.
"Why mother!" faltered the girl.
"Don't you `why mother' me!" cried Mrs. Comstock.
"You know very well what I mean. You've given me
no peace until you've had your way about this going to
school business; I've fixed you good enough, and you're
ready to start. But no child of mine walks the streets
of Onabasha looking like a play-actress woman. You wet
your hair and comb it down modest and decent and then
be off, or you'll have no time to find where you belong."
Elnora gave one despairing glance at the white face,
framed in a most becoming riot of reddish-brown hair,
which she saw in the little kitchen mirror. Then she
untied the narrow black ribbon, wet the comb and plastered
the waving curls close to her head, bound them fast, pinned
on the skimpy black hat and opened the back door.
"You've gone so plumb daffy you are forgetting your
dinner," jeered her mother.
"I don't want anything to eat," replied Elnora.
"You'll take your dinner or you'll not go one step.
Are you crazy? Walk almost three miles and no food
from six in the morning until six at night. A pretty
figure you'd cut if you had your way! And after I've
gone and bought you this nice new pail and filled it
especial to start on!"
Elnora came back with a face still whiter and picked
up the lunch. "Thank you, mother! Good-bye!" she
said. Mrs. Comstock did not reply. She watched the
girl follow the long walk to the gate and go from sight
on the road, in the bright sunshine of the first Monday
of September.
"I bet a dollar she gets enough of it by night!"
commented Mrs. Comstock.
Elnora walked by instinct, for her eyes were blinded
with tears. She left the road where it turned south, at
the corner of the Limberlost, climbed a snake fence and
entered a path worn by her own feet. Dodging under
willow and scrub oak branches she came at last to the
faint outline of an old trail made in the days when the
precious timber of the swamp was guarded by armed
men. This path she followed until she reached a thick
clump of bushes. From the debris in the end of a hollow
log she took a key that unlocked the padlock of a large
weatherbeaten old box, inside of which lay several books,
a butterfly apparatus, and a small cracked mirror. The walls
were lined thickly with gaudy butterflies, dragonflies,
and moths. She set up the mirror and once more
pulling the ribbon from her hair, she shook the bright
mass over her shoulders, tossing it dry in the sunshine.
Then she straightened it, bound it loosely, and replaced
her hat. She tugged vainly at the low brown calico
collar and gazed despairingly at the generous length of
the narrow skirt. She lifted it as she would have cut
it if possible. That disclosed the heavy high leather
shoes, at sight of which she seemed positively ill, and
hastily dropped the skirt. She opened the pail, removed
the lunch, wrapped it in the napkin, and placed it in a
small pasteboard box. Locking the case again she hid
the key and hurried down the trail.
She followed it around the north end of the swamp
and then entered a footpath crossing a farm leading in
the direction of the spires of the city to the northeast.
Again she climbed a fence and was on the open road. For
an instant she leaned against the fence staring before
her, then turned and looked back. Behind her lay the
land on which she had been born to drudgery and a
mother who made no pretence of loving her; before her
lay the city through whose schools she hoped to find
means of escape and the way to reach the things for
which she cared. When she thought of how she appeared
she leaned more heavily against the fence and groaned;
when she thought of turning back and wearing such
clothing in ignorance all the days of her life she set her
teeth firmly and went hastily toward Onabasha.
On the bridge crossing a deep culvert at the suburbs
she glanced around, and then kneeling she thrust the
lunch box between the foundation and the flooring.
This left her empty-handed as she approached the big stone
high school building. She entered bravely and inquired
her way to the office of the superintendent. There she
learned that she should have come the previous week
and arranged about her classes. There were many things
incident to the opening of school, and one man unable to
cope with all of them.
"Where have you been attending school?" he asked,
while he advised the teacher of Domestic Science not to
telephone for groceries until she knew how many she
would have in her classes; wrote an order for chemicals
for the students of science; and advised the leader of
the orchestra to hire a professional to take the place of
the bass violist, reported suddenly ill.
"I finished last spring at Brushwood school, district
number nine," said Elnora. "I have been studying all summer.
I am quite sure I can do the first year work, if I have
a few days to get started."
"Of course, of course," assented the superintendent.
"Almost invariably country pupils do good work. You may
enter first year, and if it is too difficult, we will find
it out speedily. Your teachers will tell you the list of
books you must have, and if you will come with me I will
show you the way to the auditorium. It is now time
for opening exercises. Take any seat you find vacant."
Elnora stood before the entrance and stared into the
largest room she ever had seen. The floor sloped to a
yawning stage on which a band of musicians, grouped
around a grand piano, were tuning their instruments.
She had two fleeting impressions. That it was all a
mistake; this was no school, but a grand display of
enormous ribbon bows; and the second, that she was sinking,
and had forgotten how to walk. Then a burst from the
orchestra nerved her while a bevy of daintily clad, sweetsmelling
things that might have been birds, or flowers,
or possibly gaily dressed, happy young girls, pushed
her forward. She found herself plodding across the back of
the auditorium, praying for guidance, to an empty seat.
As the girls passed her, vacancies seemed to open to
meet them. Their friends were moving over, beckoning
and whispering invitations. Every one else was seated,
but no one paid any attention to the white-faced girl
stumbling half-blindly down the aisle next the farthest wall.
So she went on to the very end facing the stage.
No one moved, and she could not summon courage to
crowd past others to several empty seats she saw.
At the end of the aisle she paused in desperation, while
she stared back at the whole forest of faces most of which
were now turned upon her.
In a flash came the full realization of her scanty dress,
her pitiful little hat and ribbon, her big, heavy shoes,
her ignorance of where to go or what to do; and from a
sickening wave which crept over her, she felt she was
going to become very ill. Then out of the mass she saw
a pair of big, brown boy eyes, three seats from her, and
there was a message in them. Without moving his body
he reached forward and with a pencil touched the back of
the seat before him. Instantly Elnora took another step
which brought her to a row of vacant front seats.
She heard laughter behind her; the knowledge that
she wore the only hat in the room burned her; every
matter of moment, and some of none at all, cut and stung.
She had no books. Where should she go when this
was over? What would she give to be on the trail
going home! She was shaking with a nervous chill when
the music ceased, and the superintendent arose, and
coming down to the front of the flower-decked platform,
opened a Bible and began to read. Elnora did not know
what he was reading, and she felt that she did not care.
Wildly she was racking her brain to decide whether she
should sit still when the others left the room or follow,
and ask some one where the Freshmen went first.
In the midst of the struggle one sentence fell on her ear.
"Hide me under the shadow of Thy wings."
Elnora began to pray frantically. "Hide me, O God,
hide me, under the shadow of Thy wings."
Again and again she implored that prayer, and before
she realized what was coming, every one had arisen and
the room was emptying rapidly. Elnora hurried after the
nearest girl and in the press at the door touched her
sleeve timidly.
"Will you please tell me where the Freshmen go?" she
asked huskily.
The girl gave her one surprised glance, and drew away.
"Same place as the fresh women," she answered, and
those nearest her laughed.
Elnora stopped praying suddenly and the colour crept
into her face. "I'll wager you are the first person I meet
when I find it," she said and stopped short. "Not that!
Oh, I must not do that!" she thought in dismay. "Make an
enemy the first thing I do. Oh, not that!"
She followed with her eyes as the young people separated
in the hall, some climbing stairs, some disappearing
down side halls, some entering adjoining doors. She saw
the girl overtake the brown-eyed boy and speak to him.
He glanced back at Elnora with a scowl on his face.
Then she stood alone in the hall.
Presently a door opened and a young woman came out
and entered another room. Elnora waited until she
returned, and hurried to her. "Would you tell me where
the Freshmen are?" she panted.
"Straight down the hall, three doors to your left,"
was the answer, as the girl passed.
"One minute please, oh please," begged Elnora:
"Should I knock or just open the door?"
"Go in and take a seat," replied the teacher.
"What if there aren't any seats?" gasped Elnora.
"Classrooms are never half-filled, there will be plenty,"
was the answer.
Elnora removed her hat. There was no place to put
it, so she carried it in her hand. She looked infinitely
better without it. After several efforts she at last opened
the door and stepping inside faced a smaller and more
concentrated battery of eyes.
"The superintendent sent me. He thinks I belong
here," she said to the professor in charge of the class,
but she never before heard the voice with which she spoke.
As she stood waiting, the girl of the hall passed
on her way to the blackboard, and suppressed laughter
told Elnora that her thrust had been repeated.
"Be seated," said the professor, and then because he
saw Elnora was desperately embarrassed he proceeded
to lend her a book and to ask her if she had studied algebra.
She said she had a little, but not the same book they were using.
He asked her if she felt that she could do the work they were
beginning, and she said she did.
That was how it happened, that three minutes after
entering the room she was told to take her place beside the
girl who had gone last to the board, and whose flushed face
and angry eyes avoided meeting Elnora's. Being compelled
to concentrate on her proposition she forgot herself.
When the professor asked that all pupils sign their work
she firmly wrote "Elnora Comstock" under her demonstration.
Then she took her seat and waited with white lips and
trembling limbs, as one after another professor called
the names on the board, while their owners arose and
explained their propositions, or "flunked" if they had
not found a correct solution. She was so eager to catch
their forms of expression and prepare herself for her
recitation, that she never looked from the work on the
board, until clearly and distinctly, "Elnora Comstock,"
called the professor.
The dazed girl stared at the board. One tiny curl
added to the top of the first curve of the m in her name,
had transformed it from a good old English patronymic
that any girl might bear proudly, to Cornstock.
Elnora sat speechless. When and how did it happen?
She could feel the wave of smothered laughter in the air
around her. A rush of anger turned her face scarlet and
her soul sick. The voice of the professor addressed her directly.
"This proposition seems to be beautifully demonstrated,
Miss Cornstalk," he said. "Surely, you can tell us how
you did it."
That word of praise saved her. She could do good work.
They might wear their pretty clothes, have their friends
and make life a greater misery than it ever before
had been for her, but not one of them should do better
work or be more womanly. That lay with her. She was
tall, straight, and handsome as she arose.
"Of course I can explain my work," she said in natural tones.
"What I can't explain is how I happened to be so stupid
as to make a mistake in writing my own name. I must
have been a little nervous. Please excuse me."
She went to the board, swept off the signature with one
stroke,then rewrote it plainly. "My name is Comstock,"
she said distinctly. She returned to her seat and following the
formula used by the others made her first high school recitation.
As Elnora resumed her seat Professor Henley looked at
her steadily. "It puzzles me," he said deliberately,
how you can write as beautiful a demonstration, and explain
it as clearly as ever has been done in any of my classes and
still be so disturbed as to make a mistake in your own name.
Are you very sure you did that yourself, Miss Comstock?"
"It is impossible that any one else should have done it,"
answered Elnora.
"I am very glad you think so," said the professor.
"Being Freshmen, all of you are strangers to me.
I should dislike to begin the year with you feeling there
was one among you small enough to do a trick like that.
The next proposition, please."
When the hour had gone the class filed back to the study
room and Elnora followed in desperation, because she did
not know where else to go. She could not study as she had
no books, and when the class again left the room to go to
another professor for the next recitation, she went also.
At least they could put her out if she did not belong there.
Noon came at last, and she kept with the others until they
dispersed on the sidewalk. She was so abnormally selfconscious
she fancied all the hundreds of that laughing,
throng saw and jested at her. When she passed the
brown-eyed boy walking with the girl of her encounter,
she knew, for she heard him say: "Did you really let that
gawky piece of calico get ahead of you?" The answer
was indistinct.
Elnora hurried from the city. She intended to get her
lunch, eat it in the shade of the first tree, and then decide
whether she would go back or go home. She knelt on the
bridge and reached for her box, but it was so very light that
she was prepared for the fact that it was empty, before
opening it. There was one thing for which to be thankful.
The boy or tramp who had seen her hide it, had left the napkin.
She would not have to face her mother and account for
its loss. She put it in her pocket, and threw the box
into the ditch. Then she sat on the bridge and tried
to think, but her brain was confused.
"Perhaps the worst is over," she said at last. "I will
go back. What would mother say to me if I came home now?"
So she returned to the high school, followed some other
pupils to the coat room, hung her hat, and found her way
to the study where she had been in the morning. Twice
that afternoon, with aching head and empty stomach, she
faced strange professors, in different branches. Once she
escaped notice; the second time the worst happened. She was
asked a question she could not answer.
"Have you not decided on your course, and secured your books?"
inquired the professor.
"I have decided on my course," replied Elnora, "I
do not know where to ask for my books."
"Ask?" the professor was bewildered.
"I understood the books were furnished," faltered Elnora.
"Only to those bringing an order from the township
trustee," replied the Professor.
"No! Oh no!" cried Elnora. "I will have them tomorrow,"
and gripped her desk for support for she knew
that was not true. Four books, ranging perhaps at a
dollar and a half apiece; would her mother buy them?
Of course she would not--could not.
Did not Elnora know the story of old. There was
enough land, but no one to do clearing and farm. Tax on
all those acres, recently the new gravel road tax added,
the expense of living and only the work of two women to
meet all of it. She was insane to think she could come to
the city to school. Her mother had been right. The girl
decided that if only she lived to reach home, she would
stay there and lead any sort of life to avoid more of
this torture. Bad as what she wished to escape had been,
it was nothing like this. She never could live down the
movement that went through the class when she inadvertently
revealed the fact that she had expected books to
be furnished. Her mother would not secure them; that
settled the question.
But the end of misery is never in a hurry to come; before
the day was over the superintendent entered the room and
explained that pupils from the country were charged a
tuition of twenty dollars a year. That really was the end.
Previously Elnora had canvassed a dozen methods for
securing the money for books, ranging all the way from
offering to wash the superintendent's dishes to breaking
into the bank. This additional expense made her plans
so wildly impossible, there was nothing to do but hold up
her head until she was from sight.
Down the long corridor alone among hundreds, down the
long street alone among thousands, out into the country
she came at last. Across the fence and field, along the old
trail once trodden by a boy's bitter agony, now stumbled a
white-faced girl, sick at heart. She sat on a log and began
to sob in spite of her efforts at self-control. At first it
wasphysical breakdown, later, thought came crowding.
Oh the shame, the mortification! Why had she not
known of the tuition? How did she happen to think that
in the city books were furnished? Perhaps it was because
she had read they were in several states. But why did she
not know? Why did not her mother go with her? Other mothers--
but when had her mother ever been or done anything at all
like other mothers? Because she never had been it was
useless to blame her now. Elnora realized she should have
gone to town the week before, called on some one and
learned all these things herself. She should have remembered
how her clothing would look, before she wore it in
public places. Now she knew, and her dreams were over.
She must go home to feed chickens, calves, and pigs,
wear calico and coarse shoes, and with averted head,
pass a library all her life. She sobbed again.
"For pity's sake, honey, what's the matter?" asked the
voice of the nearest neighbour, Wesley Sinton, as he
seated himself beside Elnora. "There, there," he continued,
smearing tears all over her face in an effort to dry them.
"Was it as bad as that, now? Maggie has been just wild
over you all day. She's got nervouser every minute.
She said we were foolish to let you go. She said your
clothes were not right, you ought not to carry that tin
pail, and that they would laugh at you. By gum, I see
they did!"
"Oh, Uncle Wesley," sobbed the girl, "why didn't she
tell me? "
"Well, you see, Elnora, she didn't like to. You got
such a way of holding up your head, and going through
with things. She thought some way that you'd make it,
till you got started, and then she begun to see a hundred
things we should have done. I reckon you hadn't reached
that building before she remembered that your skirt
should have been pleated instead of gathered, your shoes
been low, and lighter for hot September weather, and a
new hat. Were your clothes right, Elnora?"
The girl broke into hysterical laughter. "Right!" she cried.
"Right! Uncle Wesley, you should have seen me among them!
I was a picture! They'll never forget me. No, they won't
get the chance, for they'll see me again to-morrow!
"Now that is what I call spunk, Elnora! Downright grit,"
said Wesley Sinton. "Don't you let them laugh you out.
You've helped Margaret and me for years at harvest and
busy times, what you've earned must amount to quite a sum.
You can get yourself a good many clothes with it."
"Don't mention clothes, Uncle Wesley," sobbed Elnora,
"I don't care now how I look. If I don't go back all of them
will know it's because I am so poor I can't buy my books."
"Oh, I don't know as you are so dratted poor," said
Sinton meditatively. "There are three hundred acres
of good land, with fine timber as ever grew on it."
"It takes all we can earn to pay the tax, and mother
wouldn't cut a tree for her life."
"Well then, maybe, I'll be compelled to cut one for her,"
suggested Sinton. "Anyway, stop tearing yourself to
pieces and tell me. If it isn't clothes, what is it?"
"It's books and tuition. Over twenty dollars in all."
"Humph! First time I ever knew you to be stumped by
twenty dollars, Elnora," said Sinton, patting her hand.
"It's the first time you ever knew me to want money,"
answered Elnora. "This is different from anything that ever
happened to me. Oh, how can I get it, Uncle Wesley?"
"Drive to town with me in the morning and I'll draw it
from the bank for you. I owe you every cent of it."
"You know you don't owe me a penny, and I wouldn't
touch one from you, unless I really could earn it.
For anything that's past I owe you and Aunt Margaret for
all the home life and love I've ever known. I know how
you work, and I'll not take your money."
"Just a loan, Elnora, just a loan for a little while
until you can earn it. You can be proud with all the
rest of the world, but there are no secrets between us,
are there, Elnora?"
"No," said Elnora, "there are none. You and Aunt
Margaret have given me all the love there has been
in my life. That is the one reason above all others why
you shall not give me charity. Hand me money because
you find me crying for it! This isn't the first time this
old trail has known tears and heartache. All of us know
that story. Freckles stuck to what he undertook and
won out. I stick, too. When Duncan moved away he
gave me all Freckles left in the swamp, and as I have
inherited his property maybe his luck will come with it.
I won't touch your money, but I'll win some way. First, I'm
going home and try mother. It's just possible I could
find second-hand books, and perhaps all the tuition need
not be paid at once. Maybe they would accept it quarterly.
But oh, Uncle Wesley, you and Aunt Margaret keep on loving me!
I'm so lonely, and no one else cares!"
Wesley Sinton's jaws met with a click. He swallowed
hard on bitter words and changed what he would have
liked to say three times before it became articulate.
"Elnora," he said at last, "if it hadn't been for one
thing I'd have tried to take legal steps to make you
ours when you were three years old. Maggie said then
it wasn't any use, but I've always held on. You see,
I was the first man there, honey, and there are things
you see, that you can't ever make anybody else understand.
She loved him Elnora, she just made an idol of him.
There was that oozy green hole, with the thick
scum broke, and two or three big bubbles slowly rising
that were the breath of his body. There she was in
spasms of agony, and beside her the great heavy log she'd
tried to throw him. I can't ever forgive her for turning
against you, and spoiling your childhood as she has,
but I couldn't forgive anybody else for abusing her.
Maggie has got no mercy on her, but Maggie didn't see what
I did, and I've never tried to make it very clear to her.
It's been a little too plain for me ever since. Whenever I
look at your mother's face, I see what she saw, so
I hold my tongue and say, in my heart, `Give her a mite
more time.' Some day it will come. She does love you,
Elnora. Everybody does, honey. It's just that she's
feeling so much, she can't express herself. You be a
patient girl and wait a little longer. After all, she's
your mother, and you're all she's got, but a memory, and
it might do her good to let her know that she was fooled
in that."
"It would kill her!" cried the girl swiftly. "Uncle Wesley,
it would kill her! What do you mean?"
"Nothing," said Wesley Sinton soothingly. "Nothing, honey.
That was just one of them fool things a man says,
when he is trying his best to be wise. You see,
she loved him mightily, and they'd been married only
a year, and what she was loving was what she thought
he was. She hadn't really got acquainted with the man yet.
If it had been even one more year, she could have
borne it, and you'd have got justice. Having been
a teacher she was better educated and smarter than
the rest of us, and so she was more sensitive like.
She can't understand she was loving a dream. So I say
it might do her good if somebody that knew, could tell
her, but I swear to gracious, I never could. I've heard
her out at the edge of that quagmire calling in them
wild spells of hers off and on for the last sixteen years,
and imploring the swamp to give him back to her, and
I've got out of bed when I was pretty tired, and come
down to see she didn't go in herself, or harm you. What
she feels is too deep for me. I've got to respectin' her
grief, and I can't get over it. Go home and tell your
ma, honey, and ask her nice and kind to help you. If she
won't, then you got to swallow that little lump of
pride in your neck, and come to Aunt Maggie, like you
been a-coming all your life."
"I'll ask mother, but I can't take your money, Uncle
Wesley, indeed I can't. I'll wait a year, and earn some,
and enter next year."
"There's one thing you don't consider, Elnora," said
the man earnestly. "And that's what you are to Maggie.
She's a little like your ma. She hasn't given up to it,
and she's struggling on brave, but when we buried our
second little girl the light went out of Maggie's eyes, and
it's not come back. The only time I ever see a hint of
it is when she thinks she's done something that makes you
happy, Elnora. Now, you go easy about refusing her
anything she wants to do for you. There's times in this
world when it's our bounden duty to forget ourselves, and
think what will help other people. Young woman, you
owe me and Maggie all the comfort we can get out of you.
There's the two of our own we can't ever do anything for.
Don't you get the idea into your head that a fool thing
you call pride is going to cut us out of all the pleasure
we have in life beside ourselves."
"Uncle Wesley, you are a dear," said Elnora. "Just a dear!
If I can't possibly get that money any way else on earth,
I'll come and borrow it of you, and then I'll pay it
back if I must dig ferns from the swamp and sell them
from door to door in the city. I'll even plant them,
so that they will be sure to come up in the spring. I have
been sort of panic stricken all day and couldn't think.
I can gather nuts and sell them. Freckles sold moths
and butterflies, and I've a lot collected. Of course,
I am going back to-morrow! I can find a way to get the books.
Don't you worry about me. I am all right!
"Now, what do you think of that?" inquired Wesley
Sinton of the swamp in general. "Here's our Elnora
come back to stay. Head high and right as a trivet!
You've named three ways in three minutes that you
could earn ten dollars, which I figure would be enough,
to start you. Let's go to supper and stop worrying!"
Elnora unlocked the case, took out the pail, put the
napkin in it, pulled the ribbon from her hair, binding it
down tightly again and followed to the road. From afar
she could see her mother in the doorway. She blinked
her eyes, and tried to smile as she answered Wesley
Sinton, and indeed she did feel better. She knew now
what she had to expect, where to go, and what to do.
Get the books she must; when she had them, she would show
those city girls and boys how to prepare and recite lessons,
how to walk with a brave heart; and they could show her
how to wear pretty clothes and have good times.
As she neared the door her mother reached for the pail.
"I forgot to tell you to bring home your scraps for
the chickens," she said.
Elnora entered. "There weren't any scraps, and I'm
hungry again as I ever was in my life."
"I thought likely you would be," said Mrs. Comstock,
"and so I got supper ready. We can eat first, and do the
work afterward. What kept you so? I expected you an
hour ago."
Elnora looked into her mother's face and smiled. It was
a queer sort of a little smile, and would have reached
the depths with any normal mother.
"I see you've been bawling," said Mrs. Comstock.
"I thought you'd get your fill in a hurry. That's why
I wouldn't go to any expense. If we keep out of the poorhouse
we have to cut the corners close. It's likely this
Brushwood road tax will eat up all we've saved in years.
Where the land tax is to come from I don't know. It gets
bigger every year. If they are going to dredge the swamp
ditch again they'll just have to take the land to pay for it.
I can't, that's all! We'll get up early in the morning and
gather and hull the beans for winter, and put in the rest
of the day hoeing the turnips."
Elnora again smiled that pitiful smile.
"Do you think I didn't know that I was funny and
would be laughed at?" she asked.
"Funny?" cried Mrs. Comstock hotly.
"Yes, funny! A regular caricature," answered Elnora.
"No one else wore calico, not even one other. No one
else wore high heavy shoes, not even one. No one
else had such a funny little old hat; my hair was not
right, my ribbon invisible compared with the others,
I did not know where to go, or what to do, and I had
no books. What a spectacle I made for them!"
Elnora laughed nervously at her own picture. "But there
are always two sides! The professor said in the algebra
class that he never had a better solution and explanation
than mine of the proposition he gave me, which scored
one for me in spite of my clothes."
"Well, I wouldn't brag on myself!"
"That was poor taste," admitted Elnora. "But, you see,
it is a case of whistling to keep up my courage.
I honestly could see that I would have looked just as
well as the rest of them if I had been dressed as
they were. We can't afford that, so I have to find
something else to brace me. It was rather bad, mother!"
"Well, I'm glad you got enough of it!"
"Oh, but I haven't" hurried in Elnora. "I just got
a start. The hardest is over. To-morrow they won't
be surprised. They will know what to expect. I am
sorry to hear about the dredge. Is it really going through?"
"Yes. I got my notification today. The tax will
be something enormous. I don't know as I can spare
you, even if you are willing to be a laughing-stock for
the town."
With every bite Elnora's courage returned, for she was
a healthy young thing.
"You've heard about doing evil that good might come
from it," she said. "Well, mother mine, it's something
like that with me. I'm willing to bear the hard part
to pay for what I'll learn. Already I have selected the
ward building in which I shall teach in about four years.
I am going to ask for a room with a south exposure so
that the flowers and moths I take in from the swamp
to show the children will do well."
"You little idiot!" said Mrs. Comstock. "How are
you going to pay your expenses?"
"Now that is just what I was going to ask you!" said Elnora.
"You see, I have had two startling pieces of news to-day.
I did not know I would need any money. I thought the city
furnished the books, and there is an out-of-town tuition, also.
I need ten dollars in the morning. Will you please let me have it?"
"Ten dollars!" cried Mrs. Comstock. "Ten dollars!
Why don't you say a hundred and be done with it! I could
get one as easy as the other. I told you! I told you
I couldn't raise a cent. Every year expenses grow bigger
and bigger. I told you not to ask for money!"
"I never meant to," replied Elnora. "I thought
clothes were all I needed and I could bear them.
I never knew about buying books and tuition."
"Well, I did!" said Mrs. Comstock. "I knew what
you would run into! But you are so bull-dog stubborn,
and so set in your way, I thought I would just let you
try the world a little and see how you liked it!"
Elnora pushed back her chair and looked at her mother.
"Do you mean to say," she demanded, "that you knew,
when you let me go into a city classroom and reveal the
fact before all of them that I expected to have my books
handed out to me; do you mean to say that you knew I had
to pay for them?"
Mrs. Comstock evaded the direct question.
"Anybody but an idiot mooning over a book or wasting
time prowling the woods would have known you had
to pay. Everybody has to pay for everything. Life is
made up of pay, pay, pay! It's always and forever pay!
If you don't pay one way you do another! Of course,
I knew you had to pay. Of course, I knew you would come
home blubbering! But you don't get a penny! I haven't
one cent, and can't get one! Have your way if you are
determined, but I think you will find the road somewhat rocky."
"Swampy, you mean, mother," corrected Elnora. She arose
white and trembling. "Perhaps some day God will teach
me how to understand you. He knows I do not now.
You can't possibly realize just what you let me go
through to-day, or how you let me go, but I'll tell you this:
You understand enough that if you had the money, and
would offer it to me, I wouldn't touch it now. And I'll
tell you this much more. I'll get it myself. I'll raise it,
and do it some honest way. I am going back to-morrow,
the next day, and the next. You need not come out, I'll do
the night work, and hoe the turnips."
It was ten o'clock when the chickens, pigs, and cattle
were fed, the turnips hoed, and a heap of bean vines was
stacked beside the back door.
Wesley Sinton walked down the road half a
mile and turned at the lane leading to his home.
His heart was hot and filled with indignation.
He had told Elnora he did not blame her mother,
but he did. His wife met him at the door.
"Did you see anything of Elnora?" she questioned.
"Most too much, Maggie," he answered. "What do
you say to going to town? There's a few things has
to be got right away."
"Where did you see her, Wesley?"
"Along the old Limberlost trail, my girl, torn to
pieces sobbing. Her courage always has been fine, but the
thing she met to-day was too much for her. We ought to have
known better than to let her go that way. It wasn't only
clothes; there were books, and entrance fees for out-oftown
people, that she didn't know about; while there must
have been jeers, whispers, and laughing. Maggie, I feel
as if I'd been a traitor to those girls of ours. I ought to
have gone in and seen about this school business.
Don't cry, Maggie. Get me some supper, and I'll hitch up
and see what we can do now."
"What can we do, Wesley?
"I don't just know. But we've got to do something.
Kate Comstock will be a handful, while Elnora will be
two, but between us we must see that the girl is not too
hard pressed about money, and that she is dressed so she
is not ridiculous. She's saved us the wages of a woman
many a day, can't you make her some decent dresses?"
"Well, I'm not just what you call expert, but I could
beat Kate Comstock all to pieces. I know that skirts
should be pleated to the band instead of gathered, and full
enough to sit in, and short enough to walk in. I could try.
There are patterns for sale. Let's go right away, Wesley."
"Set me a bit of supper, while I hitch up."
Margaret built a fire, made coffee, and fried ham and eggs.
She set out pie and cake and had enough for a hungry
man by the time the carriage was at the door, but she
had no appetite. She dressed while Wesley ate, put away
the food while he dressed, and then they drove toward
the city through the beautiful September evening,
and as they went they planned for Elnora. The trouble
was, not whether they were generous enough to buy what
she needed, but whether she would accept their purchases,
and what her mother would say.
They went to a drygoods store and when a clerk asked
what they wanted to see neither of them knew, so they
stepped aside and held a whispered consultation.
"What had we better get, Wesley?"
"Dresses," said Wesley promptly,
"But how many dresses, and what kind?"
"Blest if I know!" exclaimed Wesley. "I thought you
would manage that. I know about some things I'm going
to get."
At that instant several high school girls came into the
store and approached them.
"There!" exclaimed Wesley breathlessly. "There, Maggie!
Like them! That's what she needs! Buy like they have!"
Margaret stared. What did they wear? They were
rapidly passing; they seemed to have so much, and she
could not decide so quickly. Before she knew it she was
among them.
"I beg your pardon, but won't you wait one minute?"
she asked.
The girls stopped with wondering faces.
"It's your clothes," explained Mrs. Sinton. "You look
just beautiful to me. You look exactly as I should have
wanted to see my girls. They both died of diphtheria
when they were little, but they had yellow hair, dark eyes
and pink cheeks, and everybody thought they were lovely.
If they had lived, they'd been near your age now, and I'd
want them to look like you."
There was sympathy on every girl face.
"Why thank you!" said one of them. "We are very
sorry for you."
"Of course you are," said Margaret. "Everybody always
has been. And because I can't ever have the joy of
a mother in thinking for my girls and buying pretty things
for them, there is nothing left for me, but to do what I can
for some one who has no mother to care for her. I know
a girl, who would be just as pretty as any of you, if she had
the clothes, but her mother does not think about her, so I
mother her some myself."
"She must be a lucky girl," said another.
"Oh, she loves me," said Margaret, "and I love her.
I want her to look just like you do. Please tell me
about your clothes. Are these the dresses and hats you
wear to school? What kind of goods are they, and where
do you buy them?"
The girls began to laugh and cluster around Margaret.
Wesley strode down the store with his head high through
pride in her, but his heart was sore over the memory of two
little faces under Brushwood sod. He inquired his way to
the shoe department.
"Why, every one of us have on gingham or linen
dresses," they said, "and they are our school clothes."
For a few moments there was a babel of laughing voices
explaining to the delighted Margaret that school dresses
should be bright and pretty, but simple and plain, and
until cold weather they should wash.
"I'll tell you," said Ellen Brownlee, "my father owns
this store, I know all the clerks. I'll take you to Miss
Hartley. You tell her just how much you want to spend,
and what you want to buy, and she will know how to get
the most for your money. I've heard papa say she was
the best clerk in the store for people who didn't know
precisely what they wanted."
"That's the very thing," agreed Margaret. "But before
you go, tell me about your hair. Elnora's hair is
bright and wavy, but yours is silky as hackled flax.
How do you do it?"
"Elnora?" asked four girls in concert.
"Yes, Elnora is the name of the girl I want these things for."
"Did she come to the high school to-day?" questioned
one of them.
"Was she in your classes?" demanded Margaret without reply.
Four girls stood silent and thought fast. Had there
been a strange girl among them, and had she been overlooked
and passed by with indifference, because she was so
very shabby? If she had appeared as much better than
they, as she had looked worse, would her reception have
been the same?
"There was a strange girl from the country in the Freshman
class to-day," said Ellen Brownlee, "and her name was Elnora."
"That was the girl," said Margaret.
"Are her people so very poor?" questioned Ellen.
"No, not poor at all, come to think of it," answered Margaret.
"It's a peculiar case. Mrs. Comstock had a great trouble
and she let it change her whole life and make a different
woman of her. She used to be lovely; now she is forever
saving and scared to death for fear they will go to the
poorhouse; but there is a big farm, covered with lots
of good timber. The taxes are high for women who can't
manage to clear and work the land. There ought to be
enough to keep two of them in good shape all their lives,
if they only knew how to do it. But no one ever told
Kate Comstock anything, and never will, for she won't listen.
All she does is droop all day, and walk the edge of the
swamp half the night, and neglect Elnora. If you girls
would make life just a little easier for her it would
be the finest thing you ever did."
All of them promised they would.
"Now tell me about your hair," persisted Margaret Sinton.
So they took her to a toilet counter, and she bought the
proper hair soap, also a nail file, and cold cream, for use
after windy days. Then they left her with the experienced
clerk, and when at last Wesley found her she was loaded with
bundles and the light of other days was in her beautiful eyes.
Wesley also carried some packages.
"Did you get any stockings?" he whispered.
"No, I didn't," she said. "I was so interested in dresses
and hair ribbons and a--a hat----" she hesitated and
glanced at Wesley. "Of course, a hat!" prompted
Wesley. "That I forgot all about those horrible shoes.
She's got to have decent shoes, Wesley."
"Sure!" said Wesley. "She's got decent shoes. But
the man said some brown stockings ought to go with them.
Take a peep, will you!"
Wesley opened a box and displayed a pair of thicksoled,
beautifully shaped brown walking shoes of low
cut. Margaret cried out with pleasure.
"But do you suppose they are the right size, Wesley?
What did you get?"
"I just said for a girl of sixteen with a slender foot."
"Well, that's about as near as I could come. If they
don't fit when she tries them, we will drive straight in
and change them. Come on now, let's get home."
All the way they discussed how they should give Elnora
their purchases and what Mrs. Comstock would say.
"I am afraid she will be awful mad," said Margaret.
"She'll just rip!" replied Wesley graphically. "But if
she wants to leave the raising of her girl to the neighbours,
she needn't get fractious if they take some pride in doing
a good job. From now on I calculate Elnora shall go
to school; and she shall have all the clothes and books
she needs, if I go around on the back of Kate Comstock's
land and cut a tree, or drive off a calf to pay for them.
Why I know one tree she owns that would put Elnora in
heaven for a year. Just think of it, Margaret! It's not
fair. One-third of what is there belongs to Elnora by
law, and if Kate Comstock raises a row I'll tell her so,
and see that the girl gets it. You go to see Kate in the
morning, and I'll go with you. Tell her you want Elnora's
pattern, that you are going to make her a dress, for
helping us. And sort of hint at a few more things.
If Kate balks, I'll take a hand and settle her. I'll go
to law for Elnora's share of that land and sell enough to
educate her."
"Why, Wesley Sinton, you're perfectly wild."
"I'm not! Did you ever stop to think that such cases are
so frequent there have been laws made to provide for them?
I can bring it up in court and force Kate to educate
Elnora, and board and clothe her till she's of age,
and then she can take her share."
"Wesley, Kate would go crazy!"
"She's crazy now. The idea of any mother living with as
sweet a girl as Elnora. and letting her suffer till I find
her crying like a funeral. It makes me fighting mad.
All uncalled for. Not a grain of sense in it. I've offered
and offered to oversee clearing her land and working
her fields. Let her sell a good tree, or a few acres.
Something is going to be done, right now. Elnora's been
fairly happy up to this, but to spoil the school life she's
planned, is to ruin all her life. I won't have it! If Elnora
won't take these things, so help me, I'll tell her
what she is worth, and loan her the money and she can
pay me back when she comes of age. I am going to have
it out with Kate Comstock in the morning. Here we are!
You open up what you got while I put away the horses,
and then I'll show you."
When Wesley came from the barn Margaret had four
pieces of crisp gingham, a pale blue, a pink, a gray with
green stripes and a rich brown and blue plaid. On each
of them lay a yard and a half of wide ribbon to match.
There were handkerchiefs and a brown leather belt. In her
hands she held a wide-brimmed tan straw hat, having a
high crown banded with velvet strips each of which fastened
with a tiny gold buckle.
"It looks kind of bare now," she explained. "It had
three quills on it here."
"Did you have them taken off?" asked Wesley.
"Yes, I did. The price was two and a half for the
hat, and those things were a dollar and a half apiece.
I couldn't pay that."
"It does seem considerable," admitted Wesley, "but
will it look right without them?"
"No, it won't!" said Margaret. "It's going to have
quills on it. Do you remember those beautiful peacock
wing feathers that Phoebe Simms gave me? Three of
them go on just where those came off, and nobody will
ever know the difference. They match the hat to a
moral, and they are just a little longer and richer than
the ones that I had taken off. I was wondering whether
I better sew them on to-night while I remember how they
set, or wait till morning."
"Don't risk it!" exclaimed Wesley anxiously. "Don't you
risk it! Sew them on right now!"
"Open your bundles, while I get the thread," said Margaret.
Wesley unwrapped the shoes. Margaret took them up
and pinched the leather and stroked them.
"My, but they are fine!" she cried.
Wesley picked up one and slowly turned it in his big hands.
He glanced at his foot and back to the shoe.
"It's a little bit of a thing, Margaret," he said softly.
"Like as not I'll have to take it back. It seems as if it
couldn't fit."
"It seems as if it didn't dare do anything else," said Margaret.
"That's a happy little shoe to get the chance to carry as
fine a girl as Elnora to high school. Now what's in the
other box?"
Wesley looked at Margaret doubtfully.
"Why," he said, "you know there's going to be rainy
days, and those things she has now ain't fit for anything
but to drive up the cows----"
"Wesley, did you get high shoes, too?"
"Well, she ought to have them! The man said he
would make them cheaper if I took both pairs at once."
Margaret laughed aloud. "Those will do her past
Christmas," she exulted. "What else did you buy?"
"Well sir," said Wesley, "I saw something to-day.
You told me about Kate getting that tin pail for Elnora
to carry to high school and you said you told her it was
a shame. I guess Elnora was ashamed all right, for
to-night she stopped at the old case Duncan gave her,
and took out that pail, where it had been all day, and
put a napkin inside it. Coming home she confessed
she was half starved because she hid her dinner under
a culvert, and a tramp took it. She hadn't had a bite
to eat the whole day. But she never complained at all,
she was pleased that she hadn't lost the napkin. So I
just inquired around till I found this, and I think it's
about the ticket."
Wesley opened the package and laid a brown leather
lunch box on the table. "Might be a couple of books,
or drawing tools or most anything that's neat and genteel.
You see, it opens this way."
It did open, and inside was a space for sandwiches,
a little porcelain box for cold meat or fried chicken,
another for salad, a glass with a lid which screwed on, held
by a ring in a corner, for custard or jelly, a flask for tea or
milk, a beautiful little knife, fork, and spoon fastened in
holders, and a place for a napkin.
Margaret was almost crying over it.
"How I'd love to fill it!" she exclaimed.
"Do it the first time, just to show Kate Comstock
what love is!" said Wesley. "Get up early in the morning
and make one of those dresses to-morrow. Can't you
make a plain gingham dress in a day? I'll pick a chicken,
and you fry it and fix a little custard for the cup,
and do it up brown. Go on, Maggie, you do it!"
"I never can," said Margaret. "I am slow as the
itch about sewing, and these are not going to be plain
dresses when it comes to making them. There are going
to be edgings of plain green, pink, and brown to the bias
strips, and tucks and pleats around the hips, fancy belts
and collars, and all of it takes time."
"Then Kate Comstock's got to help," said Wesley. "Can the
two of you make one, and get that lunch to-morrow?"
"Easy, but she'll never do it!"
"You see if she doesn't!" said Wesley. "You get
up and cut it out, and soon as Elnora is gone I'll go after
Kate myself. She'll take what I'll say better alone.
But she'll come, and she'll help make the dress. These other
things are our Christmas gifts to Elnora. She'll no doubt
need them more now than she will then, and we can give
them just as well. That's yours, and this is mine, or
whichever way you choose."
Wesley untied a good brown umbrella and shook out
the folds of a long, brown raincoat. Margaret dropped
the hat, arose and took the coat. She tried it on, felt it,
cooed over it and matched it with the umbrella.
"Did it look anything like rain to-night?" she inquired
so anxiously that Wesley laughed.
"And this last bundle?" she said, dropping back in her
chair, the coat still over her shoulders.
"I couldn't buy this much stuff for any other woman
and nothing for my own," said Wesley. "It's Christmas
for you, too, Margaret!" He shook out fold after fold
of soft gray satiny goods that would look lovely against
Margaret's pink cheeks and whitening hair.
"Oh, you old darling!" she exclaimed, and fled sobbing
into his arms.
But she soon dried her eyes, raked together the coals
in the cooking stove and boiled one of the dress patterns
in salt water for half an hour. Wesley held the lamp
while she hung the goods on the line to dry. Then she
set the irons on the stove so they would be hot the first
thing in the morning.
Four o'clock the following morning Elnora
was shelling beans. At six she fed the chickens
and pigs, swept two of the rooms of the cabin,
built a fire, and put on the kettle for breakfast. Then she
climbed the narrow stairs to the attic she had occupied since
a very small child, and dressed in the hated shoes and
brown calico, plastered down her crisp curls, ate what
breakfast she could, and pinning on her hat started for town.
"There is no sense in your going for an hour yet,"
said her mother.
"I must try to discover some way to earn those books,"
replied Elnora. "I am perfectly positive I shall not
find them lying beside the road wrapped in tissue paper,
and tagged with my name."
She went toward the city as on yesterday. Her perplexity
as to where tuition and books were to come from was
worse but she did not feel quite so badly. She never
again would have to face all of it for the first time.
There had been times yesterday when she had prayed to
be hidden, or to drop dead, and neither had happened.
"I believe the best way to get an answer to prayer is
to work for it," muttered Elnora grimly.
Again she followed the trail to the swamp, rearranged
her hair and left the tin pail. This time she folded a couple
of sandwiches in the napkin, and tied them in a neat light
paper parcel which she carried in her hand. Then she
hurried along the road to Onabasha and found a book-store.
There she asked the prices of the list of books that
she needed, and learned that six dollars would not quite
supply them. She anxiously inquired for second-hand
books, but was told that the only way to secure them was
from the last year's Freshmen. Just then Elnora felt that
she positively could not approach any of those she supposed
to be Sophomores and ask to buy their old books.
The only balm the girl could see for the humiliation of
yesterday was to appear that day with a set of new books.
"Do you wish these?" asked the clerk hurriedly, for the
store was rapidly filling with school children wanting
anything from a dictionary to a pen.
"Yes," gasped Elnora, "Oh, yes! But I cannot pay for
them just now. Please let me take them, and I will pay
for them on Friday, or return them as perfect as they are.
Please trust me for them a few days."
"I'll ask the proprietor," he said. When he came back
Elnora knew the answer before he spoke.
"I'm sorry," he said, "but Mr. Hann doesn't recognize
your name. You are not a customer of ours, and he feels
that he can't take the risk."
Elnora clumped out of the store, the thump of her heavy,
shoes beating as a hammer on her brain. She tried two
other dealers with the same result, and then in sick despair
came into the street. What could she do? She was too
frightened to think. Should she stay from school that
day and canvass the homes appearing to belong to the
wealthy, and try to sell beds of wild ferns, as she had
suggested to Wesley Sinton? What would she dare ask for
bringing in and planting a clump of ferns? How could she
carry them? Would people buy them? She slowly moved
past the hotel and then glanced around to see if there
were a clock anywhere, for she felt sure the young people
passing her constantly were on their way to school.
There it stood in a bank window in big black letters
staring straight at her:
Elnora caught the wicket at the cashier's desk with both
hands to brace herself against disappointment.
"Who is it wants to buy cocoons, butterflies, and
moths?" she panted.
"The Bird Woman," answered the cashier. "Have you
some for sale?"
"I have some, I do not know if they are what she would want."
"Well, you had better see her," said the cashier. "Do you
know where she lives?"
"Yes," said Elnora. "Would you tell me the time?"
"Twenty-one after eight," was the answer.
She had nine minutes to reach the auditorium or be late.
Should she go to school, or to the Bird Woman? Several girls
passed her walking swiftly and she remembered their faces.
They were hurrying to school. Elnora caught the infection.
She would see the Bird Woman at noon. Algebra came first,
and that professor was kind. Perhaps she could slip to the
superintendent and ask him for a book for the next lesson,
and at noon--"Oh, dear Lord make it come true," prayed Elnora,
at noon possibly she could sell some of those wonderful
shining-winged things she had been collecting all her life
around the outskirts of the Limberlost.
As she went down the long hall she noticed the professor
of mathematics standing in the door of his recitation room.
When she passed him he smiled and spoke to her.
"I have been watching for you," he said, and Elnora
stopped bewildered.
"For me?" she questioned.
"Yes," said Professor Henley. "Step inside."
Elnora followed him into the room and closed the door
behind them.
"At teachers' meeting last evening, one of the professors
mentioned that a pupil had betrayed in class that she had
expected her books to be furnished by the city. I thought
possibly it was you. Was it?"
"Yes," breathed Elnora.
"That being the case," said Professor Henley, "it just
occurred to me as you had expected that, you might require
a little time to secure them, and you are too fine a
mathematician to fall behind for want of supplies. So I
telephoned one of our Sophomores to bring her last year's
books this morning. I am sorry to say they are somewhat
abused, but the text is all here. You can have them for
two dollars, and pay when you are ready. Would you
care to take them?"
Elnora sat suddenly, because she could not stand another instant.
She reached both hands for the books, and said never a word.
The professor was silent also. At last Eleanor arose,
hugging those books to her heart as a mother clasps a baby.
"One thing more," said the professor. "You may pay
your tuition quarterly. You need not bother about the
first instalment this month. Any time in October will do."
It seemed as if Elnora's gasp of relief must have reached
the soles of her brogans.
"Did any one ever tell you how beautiful you are!" she cried.
As the professor was lank, tow-haired and so nearsighted,
that he peered at his pupils through spectacles,
no one ever had.
"No," said Professor Henley, "I've waited some time
for that; for which reason I shall appreciate it all the more.
Come now, or we shall be late for opening exercises."
So Elnora entered the auditorium a second time. Her face was
like the brightest dawn that ever broke over the Limberlost.
No matter about the lumbering shoes and skimpy dress.
No matter about anything, she had the books. She could
take them home. In her garret she could commit them to
memory, if need be. She could prove that clothes were
not all. If the Bird Woman did not want any of the many
different kinds of specimens she had collected, she was
quite sure now she could sell ferns, nuts, and a great
many things. Then, too, a girl made a place for her
that morning, and several smiled and bowed. Elnora forgot
everything save her books, and that she was where she
could use them intelligently--everything except one
little thing away back in her head. Her mother had
known about the books and the tuition, and had not told
her when she agreed to her coming.
At noon Elnora took her little parcel of lunch and started
to the home of the Bird Woman. She must know about
the specimens first and then she would walk to the suburbs
somewhere and eat a few bites. She dropped the heavy
iron knocker on the door of a big red log cabin, and
her heart thumped at the resounding stroke.
"Is the Bird Woman at home?" she asked of the maid.
"She is at lunch," was the answer.
"Please ask her if she will see a girl from the Limberlost
about some moths?" inquired Elnora.
"I never need ask, if it's moths," laughed the girl.
"Orders are to bring any one with specimens right in.
Come this way."
Elnora followed down the hall and entered a long room with
high panelled wainscoting, old English fireplace with an
overmantel and closets of peculiar china filling the corners.
At a bare table of oak, yellow as gold, sat a woman Elnora
often had watched and followed covertly around the Limberlost.
The Bird Woman was holding out a hand of welcome.
I heard!" she laughed. "A little pasteboard box, or
just the mere word `specimen,' passes you at my door.
If it is moths I hope you have hundreds. I've been very
busy all summer and unable to collect, and I need so many.
Sit down and lunch with me, while we talk it over.
From the Limberlost, did you say?"
"I live near the swamp," replied Elnora. "Since it's
so cleared I dare go around the edge in daytime, though
we are all afraid at night."
"What have you collected?" asked the Bird Woman,
as she helped Elnora to sandwiches unlike any she ever
before had tasted, salad that seemed to be made of many
familiar things, and a cup of hot chocolate that would have
delighted any hungry schoolgirl.
"I am afraid I am bothering you for nothing, and imposing
on you," she said. "That 'collected' frightens me.
I've only gathered. I always loved everything outdoors,
so I made friends and playmates of them. When I learned
that the moths die so soon, I saved them especially,
because there seemed no wickedness in it."
"I have thought the same thing," said the Bird
Woman encouragingly. Then because the girl could
not eat until she learned about the moths, the Bird
Woman asked Elnora if she knew what kinds she had.
"Not all of them," answered Elnora. "Before Mr.
Duncan moved away he often saw me near the edge of
the swamp and he showed me the box he had fixed for
Freckles, and gave me the key. There were some books
and things, so from that time on I studied and tried to
take moths right, but I am afraid they are not what you want."
"Are they the big ones that fly mostly in June nights?"
asked the Bird Woman.
"Yes," said Elnora. "Big gray ones with reddish
markings, pale blue-green, yellow with lavender, and red
and yellow."
"What do you mean by `red and yellow?'" asked the
Bird Woman so quickly that the girl almost jumped
"Not exactly red," explained Elnora, with tremulous voice.
"A reddish, yellowish brown, with canary-coloured spots
and gray lines on their wings."
"How many of them?" It was the same quick question.
"I had over two hundred eggs," said Elnora, "but
some of them didn't hatch, and some of the caterpillars
died, but there must be at least a hundred perfect ones."
"Perfect! How perfect?" cried the Bird Woman.
"I mean whole wings, no down gone, and all their legs
and antennae," faltered Elnora.
"Young woman, that's the rarest moth in America,"
said the Bird Woman solemnly. "If you have a hundred
of them, they are worth a hundred dollars according to
my list. I can use all that are not damaged."
"What if they are not pinned right," quavered Elnora.
"If they are perfect, that does not make the
slightest difference. I know how to soften them so
that I can put them into any shape I choose.
Where are they? When may I see them?"
"They are in Freckles's old case in the Limberlost,"
said Elnora. "I couldn't carry many for fear of breaking
them, but I could bring a few after school."
"You come here at four," said the Bird Woman, "and
we will drive out with some specimen boxes, and a price
list, and see what you have to sell. Are they your very own?
Are you free to part with them?"
"They are mine," said Elnora. "No one but God
knows I have them. Mr. Duncan gave me the books
and the box. He told Freckles about me, and Freckles
told him to give me all he left. He said for me to stick
to the swamp and be brave, and my hour would come, and
it has! I know most of them are all right, and oh, I
do need the money!"
"Could you tell me?" asked the Bird Woman softly.
"You see the swamp and all the fields around it are so
full," explained Elnora. "Every day I felt smaller and
smaller, and I wanted to know more and more, and pretty
soon I grew desperate, just as Freckles did. But I am
better off than he was, for I have his books, and I have a
mother; even if she doesn't care for me as other girls'
mothers do for them, it's better than no one."
The Bird Woman's glance fell, for the girl was not
conscious of how much she was revealing. Her eyes
were fixed on a black pitcher filled with goldenrod in
the centre of the table and she was saying what she thought.
"As long as I could go to the Brushwood school I was
happy, but I couldn't go further just when things were
the most interesting, so I was determined I'd come to
high school and mother wouldn't consent. You see
there's plenty of land, but father was drowned when I
was a baby, and mother and I can't make money as men do.
The taxes are higher every year, and she said it was
too expensive. I wouldn't give her any rest, until at
last she bought me this dress, and these shoes and I came.
It was awful!"
"Do you live in that beautiful cabin at the northwest
end of the swamp?" asked the Bird Woman.
"Yes," said Elnora.
"I remember the place and a story about it, now.
You entered the high school yesterday?"
"It was rather bad?"
"Rather bad!" echoed Elnora.
The Bird Woman laughed.
"You can't tell me anything about that," she said.
"I once entered a city school straight from the country.
My dress was brown calico, and my shoes were heavy."
The tears began to roll down Elnora's cheeks.
"Did they----?" she faltered.
"They did!" said the Bird Woman. "All of it. I am
sure they did not miss one least little thing."
Then she wiped away some tears that began coursing
her cheeks, and laughed at the same time.
"Where are they now?" asked Elnora suddenly.
"They are widely scattered, but none of them have
attained heights out of range. Some of the rich are
poor, and some of the poor are rich. Some of the brightest
died insane, and some of the dullest worked out high
positions; some of the very worst to bear have gone out,
and I frequently hear from others. Now I am here,
able to remember it, and mingle laughter with what
used to be all tears; for every day I have my beautiful
work, and almost every day God sends some one like you
to help me. What is your name, my girl?"
"Elnora Comstock," answered Elnora. "Yesterday on the
board it changed to Cornstock, and for a minute I
thought I'd die, but I can laugh over that already."
The Bird Woman arose and kissed her. "Finish your
lunch," she said, "and I will bring my price lists, and
make a memorandum of what you think you have, so I
will know how many boxes to prepare. And remember this:
What you are lies with you. If you are lazy, and
accept your lot, you may live in it. If you are willing
to work, you can write your name anywhere you choose,
among the only ones who live beyond the grave in this
world, the people who write books that help, make exquisite
music, carve statues, paint pictures, and work for others.
Never mind the calico dress, and the coarse shoes.
Work at your books, and before long you will hear
yesterday's tormentors boasting that they were once
classmates of yours. `I could a tale unfold'----!"
She laughingly left the room and Elnora sat thinking,
until she remembered how hungry she was, so she ate the
food, drank the hot chocolate and began to feel better.
Then the Bird Woman came back and showed Elnora a
long printed slip giving a list of graduated prices for
moths, butterflies, and dragonflies.
"Oh, do you want them!" exulted Elnora. "I have
a few and I can get more by the thousand, with every
colour in the world on their wings."
"Yes," said the Bird Woman, "I will buy them, also the
big moth caterpillars that are creeping everywhere now,
and the cocoons that they will spin just about this time.
I have a sneaking impression that the mystery, wonder,
and the urge of their pure beauty, are going to force me
to picture and paint our moths and put them into a book
for all the world to see and know. We Limberlost people
must not be selfish with the wonders God has given to us.
We must share with those poor cooped-up city people the
best we can. To send them a beautiful book, that is the
way, is it not, little new friend of mine?"
"Yes, oh yes!" cried Elnora. "And please God they
find a way to earn the money to buy the books, as I have
those I need so badly."
"I will pay good prices for all the moths you can find,"
said the Bird Woman, "because you see I exchange them
with foreign collectors. I want a complete series of the
moths of America to trade with a German scientist,
another with a man in India, and another in Brazil.
Others I can exchange with home collectors for those of
California and Canada, so you see I can use all you can
raise, or find. The banker will buy stone axes, arrow
points, and Indian pipes. There was a teacher from the
city grade schools here to-day for specimens. There is
a fund to supply the ward buildings. I'll help you get
in touch with that. They want leaves of different trees,
flowers, grasses, moths, insects, birds' nests and anything
about birds."
Elnora's eyes were blazing. "Had I better go back to
school or open a bank account and begin being a millionaire?
Uncle Wesley and I have a bushel of arrow points gathered,
a stack of axes, pipes, skin-dressing tools, tubes and mortars.
I don't know how I ever shall wait three hours."
"You must go, or you will be late," said the Bird Woman.
"I will be ready at four."
After school closed Elnora, seated beside the Bird
Woman, drove to Freckles's room in the Limberlost. One at
a time the beautiful big moths were taken from the
interior of the old black case. Not a fourth of them could
be moved that night and it was almost dark when the last
box was closed, the list figured, and into Elnora's trembling
fingers were paid fifty-nine dollars and sixteen cents.
Elnora clasped the money closely.
"Oh you beautiful stuff!" she cried. "You are going to
buy the books, pay the tuition, and take me to high school."
Then because she was a woman, she sat on a log and
looked at her shoes. Long after the Bird Woman drove
away Elnora remained. She had her problem, and it was
a big one. If she told her mother, would she take the
money to pay the taxes? If she did not tell her, how could
she account for the books, and things for which she would
spend it. At last she counted out what she needed for
the next day, placed the remainder in the farthest corner
of the case, and locked the door. She then filled the front
of her skirt from a heap of arrow points beneath the case
and started home.
With the first streak of red above the Limberlost
Margaret Sinton was busy with the gingham and the
intricate paper pattern she had purchased.
Wesley cooked the breakfast and worked until he thought
Elnora would be gone, then he started to bring her mother.
"Now you be mighty careful," cautioned Margaret.
"I don't know how she will take it."
"I don't either," said Wesley philosophically, "but
she's got to take it some way. That dress has to be
finished by school time in the morning."
Wesley had not slept well that night. He had been so
busy framing diplomatic speeches to make to Mrs. Comstock
that sleep had little chance with him. Every step nearer
to her he approached his position seemed less enviable.
By the time he reached the front gate and started down
the walk between the rows of asters and lady slippers
he was perspiring, and every plausible and convincing
speech had fled his brain. Mrs. Comstock helped him.
She met him at the door.
"Good morning," she said. "Did Margaret send you
for something?"
"Yes," said Wesley. "She's got a job that's too big
for her, and she wants you to help."
"Of course I will," said Mrs. Comstock. It was no
one's affair how lonely the previous day had been, or
how the endless hours of the present would drag.
"What is she doing in such a rush?"
Now was his chance.
"She's making a dress for Elnora," answered, Wesley.
He saw Mrs. Comstock's form straighten, and her face
harden, so he continued hastily. "You see Elnora has
been helping us at harvest time, butchering, and with
unexpected visitors for years. We've made out that
she's saved us a considerable sum, and as she wouldn't
ever touch any pay for anything, we just went to town
and got a few clothes we thought would fix her up a little
for the high school. We want to get a dress done to-day
mighty bad, but Margaret is slow about sewing, and she
never can finish alone, so I came after you."
"And it's such a simple little matter, so dead easy;
and all so between old friends like, that you can't look
above your boots while you explain it," sneered Mrs. Comstock.
"Wesley Sinton, what put the idea into your head that
Elnora would take things bought with money, when she
wouldn't take the money?
Then Sinton's eyes came up straightly.
"Finding her on the trail last night sobbing as hard as
I ever saw any one at a funeral. She wasn't complaining
at all, but she's come to me all her life with her little hurts,
and she couldn't hide how she'd been laughed at, twitted,
and run face to face against the fact that there were books
and tuition, unexpected, and nothing will ever make me
believe you didn't know that, Kate Comstock."
"If any doubts are troubling you on that subject, sure
I knew it! She was so anxious to try the world, I thought
I'd just let her take a few knocks and see how she liked them."
"As if she'd ever taken anything but knocks all her life!"
cried Wesley Sinton. "Kate Comstock, you are a heartless,
selfish woman. You've never shown Elnora any real love in
her life. If ever she finds out that thing you'll lose her,
and it will serve you right."
"She knows it now," said Mrs. Comstock icily, "and
she'll be home to-night just as usual."
"Well, you are a brave woman if you dared put a girl of
Elnora's make through what she suffered yesterday, and will
suffer again to-day, and let her know you did it on purpose.
I admire your nerve. But I've watched this since Elnora
was born, and I got enough. Things have come to a pass
where they go better for her, or I interfere."
"As if you'd ever done anything but interfere all her life!
Think I haven't watched you? Think I, with my heart raw
in my breast, and too numb to resent it openly,
haven't seen you and Mag Sinton trying to turn Elnora
against me day after day? When did you ever tell her
what her father meant to me? When did you ever try to
make her see the wreck of my life, and what I've suffered?
No indeed! Always it's been poor little abused Elnora,
and cakes, kissing, extra clothes, and encouraging her
to run to you with a pitiful mouth every time I tried to
make a woman of her."
"Kate Comstock, that's unjust," cried Sinton. "Only last
night I tried to show her the picture I saw the day she
was born. I begged her to come to you and tell you
pleasant what she needed, and ask you for what I happen
to know you can well afford to give her."
"I can't!" cried Mrs. Comstock. "You know I can't!"
"Then get so you can!" said Wesley Sinton. "Any day
you say the word you can sell six thousand worth of
rare timber off this place easy. I'll see to clearing and
working the fields cheap as dirt, for Elnora's sake.
I'll buy you more cattle to fatten. All you've got to do
is sign a lease, to pull thousands from the ground in oil,
as the rest of us are doing all around you!"
"Cut down Robert's trees!" shrieked Mrs. Comstock.
"Tear up his land! Cover everything with horrid,
greasy oil! I'll die first."
"You mean you'll let Elnora go like a beggar, and hurt
and mortify her past bearing. I've got to the place where
I tell you plain what I am going to do. Maggie and I
went to town last night, and we bought what things Elnora
needs most urgent to make her look a little like the rest of
the high school girls. Now here it is in plain English.
You can help get these things ready, and let us give them to
her as we want----"
"She won't touch them!" cried Mrs. Comstock.
"Then you can pay us, and she can take them as her right----"
"I won't!"
"Then I will tell Elnora just what you are worth, what
you can afford, and how much of this she owns. I'll loan
her the money to buy books and decent clothes, and
when she is of age she can sell her share and pay me."
Mrs. Comstock gripped a chair-back and opened her
lips, but no words came.
"And," Sinton continued, "if she is so much like you
that she won't do that, I'll go to the county seat and lay
complaint against you as her guardian before the judge.
I'll swear to what you are worth, and how you are raising
her, and have you discharged, or have the judge appoint
some man who will see that she is comfortable, educated,
and decent looking!"
"You--you wouldn't!" gasped Kate Comstock.
"I won't need to, Kate!" said Sinton, his heart softening
the instant the hard words were said. "You won't
show it, but you do love Elnora! You can't help it!
You must see how she needs things; come help us fix them,
and be friends. Maggie and I couldn't live without her,
and you couldn't either. You've got to love such a fine
girl as she is; let it show a little!"
"You can hardly expect me to love her," said Mrs.
Comstock coldly. "But for her a man would stand back
of me now, who would beat the breath out of your sneaking
body for the cowardly thing with which you threaten me.
After all I've suffered you'd drag me to court and
compel me to tear up Robert's property. If I ever go they
carry me. If they touch one tree, or put down one greasy
old oil well, it will be over all I can shoot, before they
begin. Now, see how quick you can clear out of here!"
"You won't come and help Maggie with the dress?"
For answer Mrs. Comstock looked around swiftly for
some object on which to lay her hands. Knowing her
temper, Wesley Sinton left with all the haste consistent
with dignity. But he did not go home. He crossed a
field, and in an hour brought another neighbour who was
skilful with her needle. With sinking heart Margaret saw
them coming.
"Kate is too busy to help to-day, she can't sew before
to-morrow," said Wesley cheerfully as they entered.
That quieted Margaret's apprehension a little, though
she had some doubts. Wesley prepared the lunch, and
by four o'clock the dress was finished as far as it possibly
could be until it was fitted on Elnora. If that did not
entail too much work, it could be completed in two hours.
Then Margaret packed their purchases into the big
market basket. Wesley took the hat, umbrella, and raincoat,
and they went to Mrs. Comstock's. As they reached
the step, Margaret spoke pleasantly to Mrs. Comstock,
who sat reading just inside the door, but she did not
answer and deliberately turned a leaf without looking up.
Wesley Sinton opened the door and went in followed by Margaret.
"Kate," he said, "you needn't take out your mad over
our little racket on Maggie. I ain't told her a word I said
to you, or you said to me. She's not so very strong, and
she's sewed since four o'clock this morning to get this dress
ready for to-morrow. It's done and we came down to try
it on Elnora."
"Is that the truth, Mag Sinton?" demanded Mrs. Comstock.
"You heard Wesley say so," proudly affirmed Mrs. Sinton.
"I want to make you a proposition," said Wesley.
"Wait till Elnora comes. Then we'll show her the things
and see what she says."
"How would it do to see what she says without bribing
her," sneered Mrs. Comstock.
"If she can stand what she did yesterday, and will today,
she can bear 'most anything," said Wesley. "Put away
the clothes if you want to, till we tell her."
"Well, you don't take this waist I'm working on,"
said Margaret, "for I have to baste in the sleeves and set
the collar. Put the rest out of sight if you like."
Mrs. Comstock picked up the basket and bundles,
placed them inside her room and closed the door.
Margaret threaded her needle and began to sew.
Mrs. Comstock returned to her book, while Wesley fidgeted
and raged inwardly. He could see that Margaret was
nervous and almost in tears, but the lines in Mrs.
Comstock's impassive face were set and cold. So they
sat while the clock ticked off the time--one hour, two,
dusk, and no Elnora. Just when Margaret and Wesley were
discussing whether he had not better go to town to meet
Elnora, they heard her coming up the walk. Wesley dropped
his tilted chair and squared himself. Margaret gripped
her sewing, and turned pleading eyes toward the door.
Mrs. Comstock closed her book and grimly smiled.
"Mother, please open the door," called Elnora.
Mrs. Comstock arose, and swung back the screen.
Elnora stepped in beside her, bent half double, the whole
front of her dress gathered into a sort of bag filled with a
heavy load, and one arm stacked high with books. In the
dim light she did not see the Sintons.
"Please hand me the empty bucket in the kitchen,
mother," she said. "I just had to bring these arrow
points home, but I'm scared for fear I've spoiled my dress
and will have to wash it. I'm to clean them, and take
them to the banker in the morning, and oh, mother, I've
sold enough stuff to pay for my books, my tuition, and
maybe a dress and some lighter shoes besides. Oh, mother
I'm so happy! Take the books and bring the bucket!"
Then she saw Margaret and Wesley. "Oh, glory!"
she exulted. "I was just wondering how I'd ever wait to
tell you, and here you are! It's too perfectly splendid to
be true!"
"Tell us, Elnora," said Sinton.
"Well sir," said Elnora, doubling down on the floor and
spreading out her skirt, "set the bucket here, mother.
These points are brittle, and should be put in one at a time.
If they are chipped I can't sell them. Well sir! I've had
a time! You know I just had to have books. I tried three
stores, and they wouldn't trust me, not even three days,
I didn't know what in this world I could do quickly enough.
Just when I was almost frantic I saw a sign in a bank window
asking for caterpillars, cocoons, butterflies, arrow points,
and everything. I went in, and it was this Bird Woman who
wants the insects, and the banker wants the stones. I had
to go to school then, but, if you'll believe it"--Elnora
beamed on all of them in turn as she talked and slipped
the arrow points from her dress to the pail--"if you'll
believe it--but you won't, hardly, until you look at the
books--there was the mathematics teacher, waiting at his
door, and he had a set of books for me that he had
telephoned a Sophomore to bring."
"How did he happen to do that, Elnora?" interrupted Sinton.
Elnora blushed.
"It was a fool mistake I made yesterday in thinking
books were just handed out to one. There was a teachers'
meeting last night and the history teacher told about that.
Professor Henley thought of me. You know I told you what
he said about my algebra, mother. Ain't I glad I studied
out some of it myself this summer! So he telephoned and
a girl brought the books. Because they are marked and
abused some I get the whole outfit for two dollars.
I can erase most of the marks, paste down the covers,
and fix them so they look better. But I must hurry to
the joy part. I didn't stop to eat, at noon, I just
ran to the Bird Woman's, and I had lunch with her. It was
salad, hot chocolate, and lovely things, and she wants
to buy most every old scrap I ever gathered. She wants
dragonflies, moths, butterflies, and he--the banker, I
mean--wants everything Indian. This very night she
came to the swamp with me and took away enough stuff to
pay for the books and tuition, and to-morrow she is going
to buy some more."
Elnora laid the last arrow point in the pail and arose,
shaking leaves and bits of baked earth from her dress.
She reached into her pocket, produced her money and
waved it before their wondering eyes.
"And that's the joy part!" she exulted. "Put it up in
the clock till morning, mother. That pays for the books
and tuition and--" Elnora hesitated, for she saw the
nervous grasp with which her mother's fingers closed on
the bills. Then she continued, but more slowly and
thinking before she spoke.
"What I get to-morrow pays for more books and tuition,
and maybe a few, just a few, things to wear. These shoes
are so dreadfully heavy and hot, and they make such a
noise on the floor. There isn't another calico dress in
the whole building, not among hundreds of us. Why, what
is that? Aunt Margaret, what are you hiding in your lap?"
She snatched the waist and shook it out, and her face
was beaming. "Have you taken to waists all fancy and
buttoned in the back? I bet you this is mine!"
"I bet you so too," said Margaret Sinton. "You undress
right away and try it on, and if it fits, it will be
done for morning. There are some low shoes, too!"
Elnora began to dance. "Oh, you dear people!"
she cried. "I can pay for them to-morrow night!
Isn't it too splendid! I was just thinking on the
way home that I certainly would be compelled to
have cooler shoes until later, and I was wondering
what I'd do when the fall rains begin."
"I meant to get you some heavy dress skirts and a
coat then," said Mrs. Comstock.
"I know you said so!" cried Elnora. "But you needn't, now!
I can buy every single stitch I need myself. Next summer
I can gather up a lot more stuff, and all winter on the
way to school. I am sure I can sell ferns, I know
I can nuts, and the Bird Woman says the grade rooms
want leaves, grasses, birds' nests, and cocoons. Oh, isn't
this world lovely! I'll be helping with the tax, next, mother!"
Elnora waved the waist and started for the bedroom.
When she opened the door she gave a little cry.
"What have you people been doing?" she demanded.
"I never saw so many interesting bundles in all my life.
I'm `skeered' to death for fear I can't pay for them, and
will have to give up something."
"Wouldn't you take them, if you could not pay for
them, Elnora?" asked her mother instantly.
"Why, not unless you did," answered Elnora. "People have
no right to wear things they can't afford, have they?"
"But from such old friends as Maggie and Wesley!"
Mrs. Comstock's voice was oily with triumph.
"From them least of all," cried Elnora stoutly. "From a
stranger sooner than from them, to whom I owe so much more
than I ever can pay now."
"Well, you don't have to," said Mrs. Comstock.
"Maggie just selected these things, because she is more
in touch with the world, and has got such good taste.
You can pay as long as your money holds out, and if
there's more necessary, maybe I can sell the butcher a
calf, or if things are too costly for us, of course,
they can take them back. Put on the waist now, and then
you can look over the rest and see if they are suitable,
and what you want."
Elnora stepped into the adjoining room and closed the door.
Mrs. Comstock picked up the bucket and started for the well
with it. At the bedroom she paused.
"Elnora, were you going to wash these arrow points?"
"Yes. The Bird Woman says they sell better if they are clean,
so it can be seen that there are no defects in them."
"Of course," said Mrs. Comstock. "Some of them
seem quite baked. Shall I put them to soak? Do you
want to take them in the morning?"
"Yes, I do," answered Elnora. "If you would just
fill the pail with water."
Mrs. Comstock left the room. Wesley Sinton sat
with his back to the window in the west end of the cabin
which overlooked the well. A suppressed sound behind
him caused him to turn quickly. Then he arose and
leaned over Margaret.
"She's out there laughing like a blamed monkey!"
he whispered indignantly.
"Well, she can't help it!" exclaimed Margaret.
"I'm going home!" said Wesley.
"Oh no, you are not!" retorted Margaret. "You are
missing the point. The point is not how you look,
or feel. It is to get these things in Elnora's possession
past dispute. You go now, and to-morrow Elnora will
wear calico, and Kate Comstock will return these goods.
Right here I stay until everything we bought is Elnora's."
"What are you going to do?" asked Wesley.
"I don't know yet, myself," said Margaret.
Then she arose and peered from the window. At the
well curb stood Katharine Comstock. The strain
of the day was finding reaction. Her chin was in the
air, she was heaving, shaking and strangling to suppress
any sound. The word that slipped between Margaret
Sinton's lips shocked Wesley until he dropped on his
chair, and recalled her to her senses. She was fairly
composed as she turned to Elnora, and began the fitting.
When she had pinched, pulled, and patted she called,
"Come see if you think this fits, Kate."
Mrs. Comstock had gone around to the back door and
answered from the kitchen. "You know more about
it than I do. Go ahead! I'm getting supper.
Don't forget to allow for what it will shrink in washing!"
"I set the colours and washed the goods last night;
it can be made to fit right now," answered Margaret.
When she could find nothing more to alter she told
Elnora to heat some water. After she had done that the
girl began opening packages.
The hat came first.
"Mother!" cried Elnora. "Mother, of course, you
have seen this, but you haven't seen it on me. I must
try it on."
"Don't you dare put that on your head until your hair
is washed and properly combed," said Margaret.
"Oh!" cried Elnora. "Is that water to wash my hair?
I thought it was to set the colour in another dress."
"Well, you thought wrong," said Margaret simply.
"Your hair is going to be washed and brushed until
it shines like copper. While it dries you can eat your
supper, and this dress will be finished. Then you can
put on your new ribbon, and your hat. You can try
your shoes now, and if they don't fit, you and Wesley
can drive to town and change them. That little round
bundle on the top of the basket is your stockings."
Margaret sat down and began sewing swiftly, and a little
later opened the machine, and ran several long seams.
Elnora returned in a few minutes holding up her skirts
and stepping daintily in the new shoes.
"Don't soil them, honey, else you're sure they fit,"
cautioned Wesley.
"They seem just a trifle large, maybe," said Elnora
dubiously, and Wesley knelt to feel. He and Margaret
thought them a fit, and then Elnora appealed to
her mother. Mrs. Comstock appeared wiping her hands
on her apron. She examined the shoes critically.
"They seem to fit," she said, "but they are away too
fine to walk country roads."
"I think so, too," said Elnora instantly. "We had
better take these back and get a cheaper pair."
"Oh, let them go for this time," said Mrs. Comstock.
"They are so pretty, I hate to part with them. You can
get cheaper ones after this."
Wesley and Margaret scarcely breathed for a long time.
When Wesley went to do the feeding. Elnora set
the table. When the water was hot, Margaret pinned a
big towel around Elnora's shoulders and washed and
dried the lovely hair according to the instructions she
had been given the previous night. As the hair began
to dry it billowed out in a sparkling sheen that caught the
light and gleamed and flashed.
"Now, the idea is to let it stand naturally, just as the
curl will make it. Don't you do any of that nasty, untidy
snarling, Elnora," cautioned Margaret. "Wash it this
way every two weeks while you are in school, shake it
out, and dry it. Then part it in the middle and turn a
front quarter on each side from your face. You tie the
back at your neck with a string--so, and the ribbon goes
in a big, loose bow. I'll show you." One after another
Margaret Sinton tied the ribbons, creasing each of them
so they could not be returned, as she explained that she
was trying to find the colour most becoming. Then she
produced the raincoat which carried Elnora into transports.
Mrs. Comstock objected. "That won't be warm enough for
cold weather, and you can't afford it and a coat, too."
"I'll tell you what I thought," said Elnora. "I was
planning on the way home. These coats are fine because
they keep you dry. I thought I would get one, and a
warm sweater to wear under it cold days. Then I always
would be dry, and warm. The sweater only costs three
dollars, so I could get it and the raincoat both for half
the price of a heavy cloth coat."
"You are right about that," said Mrs. Comstock.
"You can change more with the weather, too. Keep the
raincoat, Elnora."
"Wear it until you try the hat," said Margaret. "It will
have to do until the dress is finished."
Elnora picked up the hat dubiously. "Mother, may
I wear my hair as it is now?" she asked.
"Let me take a good look," said Katharine Comstock.
Heaven only knows what she saw. To Wesley and
to Margaret the bright young face of Elnora, with its
pink tints, its heavy dark brows, its bright blue-gray
eyes, and its frame of curling reddish-brown hair was
the sweetest sight on earth, and at that instant Elnora
was radiant.
"So long as it's your own hair, and combed back as plain
as it will go, I don't suppose it cuts much ice whether
it's tied a little tighter or looser," conceded Mrs. Comstock.
"If you stop right there, you may let it go at that."
Elnora set the hat on her head. It was only a wide
tan straw with three exquisite peacock quills at one side.
Margaret Sinton cried out, Wesley slapped his knee and
sighed deeply while Mrs. Comstock stood speechless
for a second.
"I wish you had asked the price before you put that
on," she said impatiently. "We never can afford it."
"It's not so much as you think," said Margaret.
"Don't you see what I did? I had them take off the
quills, and put on some of those Phoebe Simms gave me
from her peacocks. The hat will only cost you a dollar
and a half."
She avoided Wesley's eyes, and looked straight at
Mrs. Comstock. Elnora removed the hat to examine it.
"Why, they are those reddish-tan quills of yours!"
she cried. "Mother, look how beautifully they are
set on! I'd much rather have them than those from
the store."
"So would I," said Mrs. Comstock. "If Margaret
wants to spare them, that will make you a beautiful
hat; dirt cheap, too! You must go past Mrs. Simms
and show her. She would be pleased to see them."
Elnora sank into a chair and contemplated her toe.
"Landy, ain't I a queen?" she murmured. "What else
have I got?"
"Just a belt, some handkerchiefs, and a pair of top
shoes for rainy days and colder weather," said Margaret.
"About those high shoes, that was my idea," said Wesley.
"Soon as it rains, low shoes won't do, and by taking
two pairs at once I could get them some cheaper. The low
ones are two and the high ones two fifty, together three
seventy-five. Ain't that cheap?"
"That's a real bargain," said Mrs. Comstock, "if they
are good shoes, and they look it."
"This" said Wesley, producing the last package, "is
your Christmas present from your Aunt Maggie. I got
mine, too, but it's at the house. I'll bring it up in
the morning."
He handed Margaret the umbrella, and she passed it
over to Elnora who opened it and sat laughing under
its shelter. Then she kissed both of them. She brought a
pencil and a slip of paper to set down the prices they gave
her of everything they had brought except the umbrella,
added the sum, and said laughingly: "Will you please wait
till to-morrow for the money? I will have it then, sure."
"Elnora," said Wesley Sinton. "Wouldn't you----"
"Elnora, hustle here a minute!" called Mrs. Comstock
from the kitchen. "I need you!"
"One second, mother," answered Elnora, throwing off
the coat and hat, and closing the umbrella as she ran.
There were several errands to do in a hurry, and then supper.
Elnora chattered incessantly, Wesley and Margaret talked
all they could, while Mrs. Comstock said a word now and then,
which was all she ever did. But Wesley Sinton was watching
her, and time and again he saw a peculiar little twist
around her mouth. He knew that for the first time in
sixteen years she really was laughing over something.
She had all she could do to preserve her usually sober face.
Wesley knew what she was thinking.
After supper the dress was finished, the pattern for
the next one discussed, and then the Sintons went home.
Elnora gathered her treasures. When she started upstairs
she stopped. "May I kiss you good-night, mother?"
she asked lightly.
"Never mind any slobbering," said Mrs. Comstock.
"I should think you'd lived with me long enough to know
that I don't care for it."
"Well, I'd love to show you in some way how happy I
am, and how I thank you."
"I wonder what for?" said Mrs. Comstock. "Mag Sinton
chose that stuff and brought it here and you pay for it."
"Yes, but you seemed willing for me to have it, and
you said you would help me if I couldn't pay all."
"Maybe I did," said Mrs. Comstock. "Maybe I did.
I meant to get you some heavy dress skirts about
Thanksgiving, and I still can get them. Go to bed,
and for any sake don't begin mooning before a mirror,
and make a dunce of yourself."
Mrs. Comstock picked up several papers and blew out
the kitchen light. She stood in the middle of the sittingroom
floor for a time and then went into her room and
closed the door. Sitting on the edge of the bed she thought
for a few minutes and then suddenly buried her face in the
pillow and again heaved with laughter.
Down the road plodded Margaret and Wesley Sinton.
Neither of them had words to utter their united thought.
"Done!" hissed Wesley at last. "Done brown! Did you
ever feel like a bloomin', confounded donkey? How did
the woman do it?"
"She didn't do it!" gulped Margaret through her tears.
"She didn't do anything. She trusted to Elnora's great
big soul to bring her out right, and really she was right,
and so it had to bring her. She's a darling, Wesley!
But she's got a time before her. Did you see Kate Comstock
grab that money? Before six months she'll be out combing
the Limberlost for bugs and arrow points to help pay the tax.
I know her."
"Well, I don't!" exclaimed Sinton, "she's too many for me.
But there is a laugh left in her yet! I didn't s'pose
there was. Bet you a dollar, if we could see her this
minute, she'd be chuckling over the way we got left."
Both of them stopped in the road and looked back.
"There's Elnora's light in her room," said Margaret.
"The poor child will feel those clothes, and pore over
her books till morning, but she'll look decent to go to
school, anyway. Nothing is too big a price to pay for that."
"Yes, if Kate lets her wear them. Ten to one, she
makes her finish the week with that old stuff!"
"No, she won't," said Margaret. "She'll hardly dare.
Kate made some concessions, all right; big ones for her--
if she did get her way in the main. She bent some, and
if Elnora proves that she can walk out barehanded in the
morning and come back with that much money in her
pocket, an armful of books, and buy a turnout like that,
she proves that she is of some consideration, and Kate's
smart enough. She'll think twice before she'll do that.
Elnora won't wear a calico dress to high school again.
You watch and see if she does. She may have the best
clothes she'll get for a time, for the least money, but she
won't know it until she tries to buy goods herself at the
same rates. Wesley, what about those prices? Didn't they
shrink considerable?"
"You began it," said Wesley. "Those prices were all right.
We didn't say what the goods cost us, we said what they
would cost her. Surely, she's mistaken about being able
to pay all that. Can she pick up stuff of that value
around the Limberlost? Didn't the Bird Woman see her
trouble, and just give her the money?"
"I don't think so," said Margaret. "Seems to me
I've heard of her paying, or offering to pay those who
would take the money, for bugs and butterflies, and I've
known people who sold that banker Indian stuff. Once I
heard that his pipe collection beat that of the Government
at the Philadelphia Centennial. Those things have come
to have a value."
"Well, there's about a bushel of that kind of valuables
piled up in the woodshed, that belongs to Elnora. At least,
I picked them up because she said she wanted them.
Ain't it queer that she'd take to stones, bugs, and
butterflies, and save them. Now they are going to bring her
the very thing she wants the worst. Lord, but this is a funny
world when you get to studying! Looks like things didn't
all come by accident. Looks as if there was a plan back
of it, and somebody driving that knows the road, and how
to handle the lines. Anyhow, Elnora's in the wagon, and
when I get out in the night and the dark closes around me,
and I see the stars, I don't feel so cheap. Maggie, how the
nation did Kate Comstock do that?"
"You will keep on harping, Wesley. I told you she
didn't do it. Elnora did it! She walked in and took
things right out of our hands. All Kate had to do was to
enjoy having it go her way, and she was cute enough to
put in a few questions that sort of guided Elnora. But I
don't know, Wesley. This thing makes me think, too.
S'pose we'd taken Elnora when she was a baby, and we'd
heaped on her all the love we can't on our own, and we'd
coddled, petted, and shielded her, would she have made
the woman that living alone, learning to think for herself,
and taking all the knocks Kate Comstock could give, have
made of her?"
"You bet your life!" cried Wesley, warmly. "Loving anybody
don't hurt them. We wouldn't have done anything but love her.
You can't hurt a child loving it. She'd have learned to work,
to study, and grown into a woman with us, without suffering
like a poor homeless dog."
"But you don't see the point, Wesley. She would have
grown into a fine woman with us; but as we would have
raised her, would her heart ever have known the world as it
does now? Where's the anguish, Wesley, that child can't
comprehend? Seeing what she's seen of her mother hasn't
hardened her. She can understand any mother's sorrow.
Living life from the rough side has only broadened her.
Where's the girl or boy burning with shame, or struggling
to find a way, that will cross Elnora's path and not get
a lift from her? She's had the knocks, but there'll never
be any of the thing you call `false pride' in her. I guess
we better keep out. Maybe Kate Comstock knows what she's doing.
Sure as you live, Elnora has grown bigger on knocks than she
would on love."
"I don't s'pose there ever was a very fine point to
anything but I missed it," said Wesley, "because I am
blunt, rough, and have no book learning to speak of.
Since you put it into words I see what you mean, but it's
dinged hard on Elnora, just the same. And I don't keep out.
I keep watching closer than ever. I got my slap in the
face, but if I don't miss my guess, Kate Comstock learned
her lesson, same as I did. She learned that I was in
earnest, that I would haul her to court if she didn't
loosen up a bit, and she'll loosen. You see if she doesn't.
It may come hard, and the hinges creak, but she'll fix
Elnora decent after this, if Elnora doesn't prove that she
can fix herself. As for me, I found out that what I was
doing was as much for myself as for Elnora. I wanted her
to take those things from us, and love us for giving them.
It didn't work, and but for you, I'd messed the whole
thing and stuck like a pig in crossing a bridge. But you
helped me out; Elnora's got the clothes, and by morning,
maybe I won't grudge Kate the only laugh she's had in
sixteen years. You been showing me the way quite a
spell now, ain't you, Maggie?"
In her attic Elnora lighted two candles, set them on her
little table, stacked the books, and put away the
precious clothes. How lovingly she hung the hat and umbrella,
folded the raincoat, and spread the new dress over a chair.
She fingered the ribbons, and tried to smooth the creases
from them. She put away the hose neatly folded, touched
the handkerchiefs, and tried the belt. Then she slipped
into her white nightdress, shook down her hair that it
might become thoroughly dry, set a chair before the table,
and reverently opened one of the books. A stiff draught
swept the attic, for it stretched the length of the cabin,
and had a window in each end. Elnora arose and going to the
east window closed it. She stood for a minute looking at
the stars, the sky, and the dark outline of the straggling
trees of the rapidly dismantling Limberlost. In the region
of her case a tiny point of light flashed and disappeared.
Elnora straightened and wondered. Was it wise to leave
her precious money there? The light flashed once more,
wavered a few seconds, and died out. The girl waited.
She did not see it again, so she turned to her books.
In the Limberlost the hulking figure of a man sneaked
down the trail.
"The Bird Woman was at Freckles's room this evening,"
he muttered. "Wonder what for?"
He left the trail, entered the enclosure still distinctly
outlined, and approached the case. The first point of light
flashed from the tiny electric lamp on his vest. He took
a duplicate key from his pocket, felt for the padlock and
opened it. The door swung wide. The light flashed the
second time. Swiftly his glance swept the interior.
"'Bout a fourth of her moths gone. Elnora must
have been with the Bird Woman and given them to her."
Then he stood tense. His keen eyes discovered the
roll of bills hastily thrust back in the bottom of the case.
He snatched them up, shut off the light, relocked the
case by touch, and swiftly went down the trail. Every few
seconds he paused and listened intently. Just as he
reached the road, a second figure approached him.
"Is it you, Pete?" came the whispered question.
"Yes," said the first man.
"I was coming down to take a peep, when I saw your
flash," he said. "I heard the Bird Woman had been at
the case to-day. Anything doing?"
"Not a thing," said Pete. "She just took away about
a fourth of the moths. Probably had the Comstock girl
getting them for her. Heard they were together.
Likely she'll get the rest to-morrow. Ain't picking
gettin' bare these days?"
"Well, I should say so," said the second man, turning
back in disgust. "Coming home, now?"
"No, I am going down this way," answered Pete,
for his eyes caught the gleam from the window of the
Comstock cabin, and he had a desire to learn why Elnora's
attic was lighted at that hour.
He slouched down the road, occasionally feeling the
size of the roll he had not taken time to count.
The attic was too long, the light too near the other
end, and the cabin stood much too far back from the road.
He could see nothing although he climbed the fence
and walked back opposite the window. He knew
Mrs. Comstock was probably awake, and that she
sometimes went to the swamp behind her home at night.
At times a cry went up from that locality that paralyzed
any one near, or sent them fleeing as if for life. He did
not care to cross behind the cabin. He returned to the
road, passed, and again climbed the fence. Opposite the
west window he could see Elnora. She sat before
a small table reading from a book between two candles.
Her hair fell in a bright sheen around her, and with one
hand she lightly shook, and tossed it as she studied.
The man stood out in the night and watched.
For a long time a leaf turned at intervals and the
hair-drying went on. The man drew nearer. The picture
grew more beautiful as he approached. He could not
see so well as he desired, for the screen was of white
mosquito netting, and it angered him. He cautiously
crept closer. The elevation shut off his view. Then he
remembered the large willow tree shading the well and
branching across the window fit the west end of the cabin.
From childhood Elnora had stepped from the sill to a limb
and slid down the slanting trunk of the tree. He reached
it and noiselessly swung himself up. Three steps out
on the big limb the man shuddered. He was within a
few feet of the girl.
He could see the throb of her breast under its thin
covering and smell the fragrance of the tossing hair.
He could see the narrow bed with its pieced calico cover,
the whitewashed walls with gay lithographs, and every
crevice stuck full of twigs with dangling cocoons.
There were pegs for the few clothes, the old chest,
the little table, the two chairs, the uneven floor covered
with rag rugs and braided corn husk. But nothing was worth
a glance except the perfect face and form within reach by
one spring through the rotten mosquito bar. He gripped
the limb above that on which he stood, licked his lips,
and breathed through his throat to be sure he was making
no sound. Elnora closed the book and laid it aside.
She picked up a towel, and turning the gathered ends of
her hair rubbed them across it, and dropping the towel on
her lap, tossed the hair again. Then she sat in deep thought.
By and by words began to come softly. Near as he was
the man could not hear at first. He bent closer and
listened intently.
"--ever could be so happy," murmured the soft voice.
"The dress is so pretty, such shoes, the coat, and everything.
I won't have to be ashamed again, not ever again,
for the Limberlost is full of precious moths, and
I always can collect them. The Bird Woman will buy
more to-morrow, and the next day, and the next. When they
are all gone, I can spend every minute gathering
cocoons, and hunting other things I can sell. Oh, thank
God, for my precious, precious money. Why, I didn't
pray in vain after all! I thought when I asked the Lord
to hide me, there in that big hall, that He wasn't doing
it, because I wasn't covered from sight that instant.
But I'm hidden now, I feel that." Elnora lifted her eyes
to the beams above her. "I don't know much about praying
properly," she muttered, "but I do thank you, Lord, for
hiding me in your own time and way."
Her face was so bright that it shone with a white radiance.
Two big tears welled from her eyes, and rolled down her
smiling cheeks. "Oh, I do feel that you have hidden me,"
she breathed. Then she blew out the lights, and the little
wooden bed creaked under her weight.
Pete Corson dropped from the limb and found his way
to the road. He stood still a long time, then started back
to the Limberlost. A tiny point of light flashed in the
region of the case. He stopped with an oath.
"Another hound trying to steal from a girl," he exclaimed.
"But it's likely he thinks if he gets anything it will be
from a woman who can afford it, as I did."
He went on, but beside the fences, and very cautiously.
"Swamp seems to be alive to-night," he muttered.
"That's three of us out."
He entered a deep place at the northwest corner, sat
on the ground and taking a pencil from his pocket, he
tore a leaf from a little notebook, and laboriously wrote
a few lines by the light he carried. Then he went back
to the region of the case and waited. Before his eyes
swept the vision of the slender white creature with
tossing hair. He smiled, and worshipped it, until a
distant rooster faintly announced dawn.
Then he unlocked the case again, and replaced the
money, laid the note upon it, and went back to
concealment, where he remained until Elnora came down the
trail in the morning, appearing very lovely in her new
dress and hat.
It would be difficult to describe how happy Elnora
was that morning as she hurried through her work,
bathed and put on the neat, dainty gingham dress,
and the tan shoes. She had a struggle with her hair.
It crinkled, billowed, and shone, and she could
not avoid seeing the becoming frame it made around
her face. But in deference to her mother's feelings the
girl set her teeth, and bound her hair closely to her head
with a shoe-string. "Not to be changed at the case,"
she told herself.
That her mother was watching she was unaware. Just as
she picked up the beautiful brown ribbon Mrs. Comstock spoke.
"You had better let me tie that. You can't reach
behind yourself and do it right."
Elnora gave a little gasp. Her mother never before
had proposed to do anything for the girl that by any
possibility she could do herself. Her heart quaked at
the thought of how her mother would arrange that bow,
but Elnora dared not refuse. The offer was too precious.
It might never be made again.
"Oh thank you!" said the girl, and sitting down she
held out the ribbon.
Her mother stood back and looked at her critically.
"You haven't got that like Mag Sinton had it last
night," she announced. "You little idiot! You've tried
to plaster it down to suit me, and you missed it. I liked
it away better as Mag fixed it, after I saw it. You didn't
look so peeled."
"Oh mother, mother!" laughed Elnora, with a half
sob in her voice.
"Hold still, will you?" cried Mrs. Comstock. "You'll be
late, and I haven't packed your dinner yet."
She untied the string and shook out the hair. It rose
with electricity and clung to her fingers and hands. Mrs.
Comstock jumped back as if bitten. She knew that touch.
Her face grew white, and her eyes angry.
"Tie it yourself," she said shortly, "and then I'll put
on the ribbon. But roll it back loose like Mag did.
It looked so pretty that way."
Almost fainting Elnora stood before the glass, divided
off the front parts of her hair, and rolled them as Mrs.
Sinton had done; tied it at the nape of her neck, then sat
while her mother arranged the ribbon.
"If I pull it down till it comes tight in these creases
where she had it, it will be just right, won't it?" queried
Mrs. Comstock, and the amazed Elnora stammered
When she looked in the glass the bow was perfectly
tied, and how the gold tone of the brown did match the
lustre of the shining hair! "That's pretty," commented
Mrs. Comstock's soul, but her stiff lips had said all that
could be forced from them for once. Just then Wesley
Sinton came to the door.
"Good morning," he cried heartily. "Elnora, you
look a picture! My, but you're sweet! If any of the
city boys get sassy you tell your Uncle Wesley, and
he'll horsewhip them. Here's your Christmas present
from me." He handed Elnora the leather lunch box, with
her name carved across the strap in artistic lettering.
"Oh Uncle Wesley!" was all Elnora could say.
"Your Aunt Maggie filled it for me for a starter," he said.
"Now, if you are ready, I'm going to drive past your way
and you can ride almost to Onabasha with me, and save
the new shoes that much."
Elnora was staring at the box. "Oh I hope it isn't
impolite to open it before you," she said. "I just feel
as if I must see inside."
"Don't you stand on formality with the neighbours,"
laughed Sinton. "Look in your box if you want to!"
Elnora slipped the strap and turned back the lid.
This disclosed the knife, fork, napkin, and spoon, the
milk flask, and the interior packed with dainty sandwiches
wrapped in tissue paper, and the little compartments for
meat, salad, and the custard cup.
"Oh mother!" cried Elnora. "Oh mother, isn't it fine?
What made you think of it, Uncle Wesley? How will I ever
thank you? No one will have a finer lunch box than I.
Oh I do thank you! That's the nicest gift I ever had.
How I love Christmas in September!"
"It's a mighty handy thing," assented Mrs. Comstock,
taking in every detail with sharp eyes. "I guess you are
glad now you went and helped Mag and Wesley when you
could, Elnora?"
"Deedy, yes," laughed Elnora, "and I'm going again first
time they have a big day if I stay from school to do it."
"You'll do no such thing!" said the delighted Sinton.
"Come now, if you're going!"
"If I ride, can you spare me time to run into the swamp
to my box a minute?" asked Elnora.
The light she had seen the previous night troubled her.
"Sure," said Wesley largely. So they drove away and
left a white-faced woman watching them from the door,
her heart a little sorer than usual.
"I'd give a pretty to hear what he'll say to her!" she
commented bitterly. "Always sticking in, always doing
things I can't ever afford. Where on earth did he get that
thing and what did it cost?"
Then she entered the cabin and began the day's work,
but mingled with the brooding bitterness of her soul was
the vision of a sweet young face, glad with a gladness
never before seen on it, and over and over she repeated:
"I wonder what he'll say to her!"
What he said was that she looked as fresh and sweet as a
posy, and to be careful not to step in the mud or scratch
her shoes when she went to the case.
Elnora found her key and opened the door. Not where
she had placed it, but conspicuously in front lay her little
heap of bills, and a crude scrawl of writing beside it.
Elnora picked up the note in astonishment.
the lord amighty is hiding you all right done you ever dout it this
money of yourn was took for some time las nite but it is returned with
intres for god sake done ever come to the swamp at nite or late evnin
or mornin or far in any time sompin worse an you know could git you
Elnora began to tremble. She hastily glanced around.
The damp earth before the case had been trodden by
large, roughly shod feet. She caught up the money and
the note, thrust them into her guimpe, locked the case,
and ran to the road.
She was so breathless and her face so white Sinton noticed it.
"What in the world's the matter, Elnora?" he asked.
"I am half afraid!" she panted.
"Tut, tut, child!" said Wesley Sinton. "Nothing in
the world to be afraid of. What happened?"
"Uncle Wesley," said Elnora, "I had more money than I
brought home last night, and I put it in my case. Some one
has been there. The ground is all trampled, and they
left this note."
"And took your money, I'll wager," said Sinton angrily.
"No," answered Elnora. "Read the note, and oh
Uncle Wesley, tell me what it means!"
Sinton's face was a study. "I don't know what it
means," he said. "Only one thing is clear. It means
some beast who doesn't really want to harm you has got
his eye on you, and he is telling you plain as he can, not
to give him a chance. You got to keep along the roads,
in the open, and not let the biggest moth that ever flew
toll you out of hearing of us, or your mother. It means
that, plain and distinct."
"Just when I can sell them! Just when everything is so
lovely on account of them! I can't! I can't stay away
from the swamp. The Limberlost is going to buy the books,
the clothes, pay the tuition, and even start a college fund.
I just can't!"
"You've got to," said Sinton. "This is plain enough.
You go far in the swamp at your own risk, even in daytime."
"Uncle Wesley," said the girl, "last night before I went
to bed, I was so happy I tried to pray, and I thanked God
for hiding me `under the shadow of His wing.' But how
in the world could any one know it?"
Wesley Sinton's heart leaped in his breast. His face
was whiter than the girl's now.
"Were you praying out loud, honey?" he almost whispered.
"I might have said words," answered Elnora. "I know
I do sometimes. I've never had any one to talk with,
and I've played with and talked to myself all my life.
You've caught me at it often, but it always makes mother
angry when she does. She says it's silly. I forget
and do it, when I'm alone. But Uncle Wesley, if I said
anything last night, you know it was the merest whisper,
because I'd have been so afraid of waking mother.
Don't you see? I sat up late, and studied two lessons."
Sinton was steadying himself "I'll stop and examine
the case as I come back," he said. "Maybe I can find
some clue. That other--that was just accidental. It's a
common expression. All the preachers use it. If I tried
to pray, that would be the very first thing I'd say."
The colour returned to Elnora's face.
"Did you tell your mother about this money, Elnora?"
he asked.
"No, I didn't," said Elnora. "It's dreadful not to, but
I was afraid. You see they are clearing the swamp so fast.
Every year it grows more difficult to find things, and
Indian stuff becomes scarcer. I want to graduate, and
that's four years unless I can double on the course.
That means twenty dollars tuition each year, and new books,
and clothes. There won't ever be so much at one time
again, that I know. I just got to hang to my money. I was
afraid to tell her, for fear she would want it for taxes,
and she really must sell a tree or some cattle for that,
mustn't she, Uncle Wesley?"
"On your life, she must!" said Wesley. "You put your
little wad in the bank all safe, and never mention it
to a living soul. It doesn't seem right, but your case
is peculiar. Every word you say is a true word. Each year
you will find less in the swamp, and things everywhere will
be scarcer. If you ever get a few dollars ahead, that can start
your college fund. You know you are going to college, Elnora!"
"Of course I am," said Elnora. "I settled that as soon
as I knew what a college was. I will put all my money in
the bank, except what I owe you. I'll pay that now."
"If your arrows are heavy," said Wesley, "I'll drive on
to Onabasha with you."
"But they are not. Half of them were nicked, and this
little box held all the good ones. It's so surprising how
many are spoiled when you wash them."
"What does he pay?"
"Ten cents for any common perfect one, fifty for revolvers,
a dollar for obsidian, and whatever is right for enormous
big ones."
"Well, that sounds fair," said Sinton. "You can come
down Saturday and wash the stuff at our house, and I'll
take it in when we go marketing in the afternoon."
Elnora jumped from the carriage. She soon found that
with her books, her lunch box, and the points she had a
heavy load. She had almost reached the bridge crossing
the culvert when she heard distressed screams of a child.
Across an orchard of the suburbs came a small boy, after
him a big dog, urged by a man in the background.
Elnora's heart was with the small fleeing figure in any
event whatever. She dropped her load on the bridge,
and with practised hand flung a stone at the dog.
The beast curled double with a howl. The boy reached
the fence, and Elnora was there to help him over. As he
touched the top she swung him to the ground, but he clung
to her, clasping her tightly, sobbing with fear.
Elnora helped him to the bridge, and sat with him in her arms.
For a time his replies to her questions were indistinct, but
at last he became quieter and she could understand.
He was a mite of a boy, nothing but skin-covered bones,
his burned, freckled face in a mortar of tears and dust, his
clothing unspeakably dirty, one great toe in a festering
mass from a broken nail, and sores all over the visible
portions of the small body.
"You won't let the mean old thing make his dog get me!" he wailed.
"Indeed no," said Elnora, holding him closely.
"You wouldn't set a dog on a boy for just taking a few
old apples when you fed 'em to pigs with a shovel every
day, would you?"
"No, I would not," said Elnora hotly.
"You'd give a boy all the apples he wanted, if he hadn't
any breakfast, and was so hungry he was all twisty inside,
wouldn't you?"
"Yes, I would," said Elnora.
"If you had anything to eat you would give me something
right now, wouldn't you?"
"Yes," said Elnora. "There's nothing but just stones in
the package. But my dinner is in that case. I'll gladly divide."
She opened the box. The famished child gave a little
cry and reached both hands. Elnora caught them back.
"Did you have any supper?"
"Any dinner yesterday?"
"An apple and some grapes I stole."
"Whose boy are you?"
"Old Tom Billings's."
"Why doesn't your father get you something to eat?"
"He does most days, but he's drunk now."
"Hush, you must not!" said Elnora. "He's your father!"
"He's spent all the money to get drunk, too," said the
boy, "and Jimmy and Belle are both crying for breakfast.
I'd a got out all right with an apple for myself, but I tried
to get some for them and the dog got too close. Say, you
can throw, can't you?"
"Yes," admitted Elnora. She poured half the milk
into the cup. "Drink this," she said, holding it to him.
The boy gulped the milk and swore joyously, gripping
the cup with shaking fingers.
"Hush!" cried Elnora. "That's dreadful!"
"What's dreadful?"
"To say such awful words."
"Huh! pa says worser 'an that every breath he draws."
Elnora saw that the child was older than she had thought.
He might have been forty judging by his hard, unchildish expression.
"Do you want to be like your father?"
"No, I want to be like you. Couldn't a angel be
prettier 'an you. Can I have more milk?"
Elnora emptied the flask. The boy drained the cup.
He drew a breath of satisfaction as he gazed into her face.
"You wouldn't go off and leave your little boy, would
you?" he asked.
"Did some one go away and leave you?"
"Yes, my mother went off and left me, and left Jimmy
and Belle, too," said the boy. "You wouldn't leave
your little boy, would you?"
The boy looked eagerly at the box. Elnora lifted a
sandwich and uncovered the fried chicken. The boy
gasped with delight.
"Say, I could eat the stuff in the glass and the other
box and carry the bread and the chicken to Jimmy and
Belle," he offered.
Elnora silently uncovered the custard with preserved
cherries on top and handed it and the spoon to the child.
Never did food disappear faster. The salad went next,
and a sandwich and half a chicken breast followed.
"I better leave the rest for Jimmy and Belle," he
said, "they're 'ist fightin' hungry."
Elnora gave him the remainder of the carefully prepared lunch.
The boy clutched it and ran with a sidewise hop like a
wild thing. She covered the dishes and cup, polished the
spoon, replaced it, and closed the case. She caught her
breath in a tremulous laugh.
"If Aunt Margaret knew that, she'd never forgive me,"
she said. "It seems as if secrecy is literally forced upon
me, and I hate it. What shall I do for lunch? I'll have to
sell my arrows and keep enough money for a restaurant sandwich."
So she walked hurriedly into town, sold her points at a
good price, deposited her funds, and went away with a
neat little bank book and the note from the Limberlost
carefully folded inside. Elnora passed down the hall that
morning, and no one paid the slightest attention to her.
The truth was she looked so like every one else that she
was perfectly inconspicuous. But in the coat room there
were members of her class. Surely no one intended it,
but the whisper was too loud.
"Look at the girl from the Limberlost in the clothes that
woman gave her!"
Elnora turned on them. "I beg your pardon," she said
unsteadily, "I couldn't help hearing that! No one gave
me these clothes. I paid for them myself."
Some one muttered, "Pardon me," but incredulous faces
greeted her.
Elnora felt driven. "Aunt Margaret selected them, and she
meant to give them to me," she explained, "but I wouldn't
take them. I paid for them myself." There was silence.
"Don't you believe me?" panted Elnora.
"Really, it is none of our affair," said another girl.
"Come on, let's go."
Elnora stepped before the girl who had spoken. "You have
made this your affair," she said, "because you told a
thing which was not true. No one gave me what I am wearing.
I paid for my clothes myself with money I earned selling
moths to the Bird Woman. I just came from the bank where
I deposited what I did not use. Here is my credit."
Elnora drew out and offered the little red book.
"Surely you will believe that," she said.
"Why of course," said the girl who first had spoken.
"We met such a lovely woman in Brownlee's store, and she
said she wanted our help to buy some things for a girl,
and that's how we came to know."
"Dear Aunt Margaret," said Elnora, "it was like her to
ask you. Isn't she splendid?"
"She is indeed," chorused the girls. Elnora set down her
lunch box and books, unpinned her hat, hanging it beside
the others, and taking up the books she reached to set the
box in its place and dropped it. With a little cry she
snatched at it and caught the strap on top. That pulled
from the fastening, the cover unrolled, the box fell away
as far as it could, two porcelain lids rattled on the floor,
and the one sandwich rolled like a cartwheel across the room.
Elnora lifted a ghastly face. For once no one laughed.
She stood an instant staring.
"It seems to be my luck to be crucified at every point of
the compass," she said at last. "First two days you
thought I was a pauper, now you will think I'm a fraud.
All of you will believe I bought an expensive box, and then
was too poor to put anything but a restaurant sandwich in it.
You must stop till I prove to you that I'm not."
Elnora gathered up the lids, and kicked the sandwich
into a corner.
"I had milk in that bottle, see! And custard in the cup.
There was salad in the little box, fried chicken in the large
one, and nut sandwiches in the tray. You can see the
crumbs of all of them. A man set a dog on a child who was
so starved he was stealing apples. I talked with him, and
I thought I could bear hunger better, he was such a little boy,
so I gave him my lunch, and got the sandwich at the restaurant."
Elnora held out the box. The girls were laughing by
that time. "You goose," said one, "why didn't you give
him the money, and save your lunch?"
"He was such a little fellow, and he really was hungry,"
said Elnora. "I often go without anything to eat at noon
in the fields and woods, and never think of it."
She closed the box and set it beside the lunches of other
country pupils. While her back was turned, into the
room came the girl of her encounter on the first day,
walked to the rack, and with an exclamation of approval
took down Elnora's hat.
"Just the thing I have been wanting!" she said. "I never
saw such beautiful quills in all my life. They match
my new broadcloth to perfection. I've got to have that
kind of quills for my hat. I never saw the like! Whose is
it, and where did it come from?"
No one said a word, for Elnora's question, the reply, and
her answer, had been repeated. Every one knew that the
Limberlost girl had come out ahead and Sadie Reed had
not been amiable, when the little flourish had been added
to Elnora's name in the algebra class. Elnora's swift
glance was pathetic, but no one helped her. Sadie Reed
glanced from the hat to the faces around her and wondered.
"Why, this is the Freshman section, whose hat is it?"
she asked again, this time impatiently.
"That's the tassel of the cornstock," said Elnora with a
forced laugh.
The response was genuine. Every one shouted. Sadie Reed
blushed, but she laughed also.
"Well, it's beautiful," she said, "especially the quills.
They are exactly what I want. I know I don't deserve
any kindness from you, but I do wish you would tell me
at whose store you found those quills."
"Gladly!" said Elnora. You can't buy quills like those
at a store. They are from a living bird. Phoebe Simms
gathers them in her orchard as her peacocks shed them.
They are wing quills from the males."
Then there was perfect silence. How was Elnora to
know that not a girl there would have told that?
"I haven't a doubt but I can get you some," she offered.
"She gave Aunt Margaret a large bunch, and those are part
of them. I am quite sure she has more, and would spare some."
Sadie Reed laughed shortly. "You needn't trouble,"
she said, "I was fooled. I thought they were expensive quills.
I wanted them for a twenty-dollar velvet toque to match my
new suit. If they are gathered from the ground, really,
I couldn't use them."
"Only in spots!" said Elnora. "They don't just cover
the earth. Phoebe Simms's peacocks are the only ones
within miles of Onabasha, and they moult but once a year.
If your hat cost only twenty dollars, it's scarcely good
enough for those quills. You see, the Almighty made and
coloured those Himself; and He puts the same kind on
Phoebe Simms's peacocks that He put on the head of the
family in the forests of Ceylon, away back in the beginning.
Any old manufactured quill from New York or Chicago
will do for your little twenty-dollar hat. You should have
something infinitely better than that to be worthy of quills
that are made by the Creator."
How those girls did laugh! One of them walked with
Elnora to the auditorium, sat beside her during exercises,
and tried to talk whenever she dared, to keep Elnora
from seeing the curious and admiring looks bent upon her.
For the brown-eyed boy whistled, and there was pantomime
of all sorts going on behind Elnora's back that day.
Happy with her books, no one knew how much she saw,
and from her absorption in her studies it was evident she
cared too little to notice.
After school she went again to the home of the Bird
Woman, and together they visited the swamp and carried
away more specimens. This time Elnora asked the Bird
Woman to keep the money until noon of the next day,
when she would call for it and have it added to her
bank account. She slowly walked home, for the visit to
the swamp had brought back full force the experience of
the morning. Again and again she examined the crude little
note, for she did not know what it meant, yet it bred
vague fear. The only thing of which Elnora knew herself
afraid was her mother; when with wild eyes and ears deaf to
childish pleading, she sometimes lost control of herself in
the night and visited the pool where her husband had sunk
before her, calling his name in unearthly tones and begging
of the swamp to give back its dead.
It was Wesley Sinton who really wrestled with
Elnora's problem while he drove about his business.
He was not forced to ask himself what it meant; he knew.
The old Corson gang was still holding together.
Elder members who had escaped the law had been joined by
a younger brother of Jack's, and they met in the thickest
of the few remaining fast places of the swamp to drink,
gamble, and loaf. Then suddenly, there would be a
robbery in some country house where a farmer that day had
sold his wheat or corn and not paid a visit to the bank;
or in some neighbouring village.
The home of Mrs. Comstock and Elnora adjoined the swamp.
Sinton's land lay next, and not another residence or man
easy to reach in case of trouble. Whoever wrote that
note had some human kindness in his breast, but the fact
stood revealed that he feared his strength if Elnora were
delivered into his hands. Where had he been the previous
night when he heard that prayer? Was that the first time
he had been in such proximity? Sinton drove fast,
for he wished to reach the swamp before Elnora and the
Bird Woman would go there.
At almost four he came to the case, and dropping on his
knees studied the ground, every sense alert. He found
two or three little heel prints. Those were made by
Elnora or the Bird Woman. What Sinton wanted to learn
was whether all the remainder were the footprints of
one man. It was easily seen, they were not. There were
deep, even tracks made by fairly new shoes, and others
where a well-worn heel cut deeper on the inside of
the print than at the outer edge. Undoubtedly some of
Corson's old gang were watching the case, and the visits
of the women to it. There was no danger that any one
would attack the Bird Woman. She never went to the
swamp at night, and on her trips in the daytime, every one
knew that she carried a revolver, understood how to use it,
and pursued her work in a fearless manner.
Elnora, prowling around the swamp and lured into the
interior by the flight of moths and butterflies; Elnora,
without father, money, or friends save himself, to defend
her--Elnora was a different proposition. For this to
happen just when the Limberlost was bringing the very
desire of her heart to the girl, it was too bad.
Sinton was afraid for her, yet he did not want to add
the burden of fear to Katharine Comstock's trouble, or to
disturb the joy of Elnora in her work. He stopped at the
cabin and slowly went up the walk. Mrs. Comstock was
sitting on the front steps with some sewing. The work
seemed to Sinton as if she might be engaged in putting a
tuck in a petticoat. He thought of how Margaret had
shortened Elnora's dress to the accepted length for girls of
her age, and made a mental note of Mrs. Comstock's occupation.
She dropped her work on her lap, laid her hands on it
and looked into his face with a sneer.
"You didn't let any grass grow under your feet," she said.
Sinton saw her white, drawn face and comprehended.
"I went to pay a debt and see about this opening of the
ditch, Kate."
"You said you were going to prosecute me."
"Good gracious, Kate!" cried Sinton. "Is that what
you have been thinking all day? I told you before I left
yesterday that I would not need do that. And I won't!
We can't afford to quarrel over Elnora. She's all we've got.
Now that she has proved that if you don't do just
what I think you ought by way of clothes and schooling,
she can take care of herself, I put that out of my head.
What I came to see you about is a kind of scare I've
had to-day. I want to ask you if you ever see anything
about the swamp that makes you think the old Corson gang
is still at work?"
"Can't say that I do," said Mrs. Comstock. "There's kind
of dancing lights there sometimes, but I supposed it
was just people passing along the road with lanterns.
Folks hereabout are none too fond of the swamp. I hate
it like death. I've never stayed here a night in my
life without Robert's revolver, clean and loaded, under
my pillow, and the shotgun, same condition, by the bed.
I can't say that I'm afraid here at home. I'm not. I can
take care of myself. But none of the swamp for me!"
"Well, I'm glad you are not afraid, Kate, because I
must tell you something. Elnora stopped at the case
this morning, and somebody had been into it in the night."
"Broke the lock?"
"No. Used a duplicate key. To-day I heard there was
a man here last night. I want to nose around a little."
Sinton went to the east end of the cabin and looked
up at the window. There was no way any one could
have reached it without a ladder, for the logs were hewed
and mortar filled the cracks even. Then he went to the
west end, the willow faced him as he turned the corner.
He examined the trunk carefully. There was no mistake
about small particles of black swamp muck adhering to
the sides of the tree. He reached the low branches and
climbed the willow. There was earth on the large limb
crossing Elnora's window. He stood on it, holding the
branch as had been done the night before, and looked into
the room. He could see very little, but he knew that if
it had been dark outside and sufficiently light for Elnora
to study inside he could have seen vividly. He brought
his face close to the netting, and he could see the bed with
its head to the east, at its foot the table with the candles
and the chair before it, and then he knew where the man
had been who had heard Elnora's prayer.
Mrs. Comstock had followed around the corner and stood
watching him. "Do you think some slinking hulk was up
there peekin' in at Elnora?" she demanded indignantly.
"There is muck on the trunk, and plenty on the limb,"
said Sinton. "Hadn't you better get a saw and let me
take this branch off?"
"No, I hadn't," said Mrs. Comstock. "First place,
Elnora's climbed from that window on that limb all her
life, and it's hers. Second place, no one gets ahead of me
after I've had warning. Any crow that perches on that
roost again will get its feathers somewhat scattered.
Look along the fence, there, and see if you can find
where he came in."
The place was easy to find as was a trail leading for
some distance west of the cabin.
"You just go home, and don't fret yourself," said
Mrs. Comstock. "I'll take care of this. If you should
hear the dinner bell at any time in the night you come down.
But I wouldn't say anything to Elnora. She better
keep her mind on her studies, if she's going to school."
When the work was finished that night Elnora took
her books and went to her room to prepare some lessons,
but every few minutes she looked toward the swamp to
see if there were lights near the case. Mrs. Comstock
raked together the coals in the cooking stove, got out
the lunch box, and sitting down she studied it grimly.
At last she arose.
"Wonder how it would do to show Mag Sinton a frill
or two," she murmured.
She went to her room, knelt before a big black-walnut
chest and hunted through its contents until she found
an old-fashioned cook book. She tended the fire as she
read and presently was in action. She first sawed an
end from a fragrant, juicy, sugar-cured ham and put
it to cook. Then she set a couple of eggs boiling, and
after long hesitation began creaming butter and sugar
in a crock. An hour later the odour of the ham, mingled
with some of the richest spices of "happy Araby," in a
combination that could mean nothing save spice cake,
crept up to Elnora so strongly that she lifted her head
and sniffed amazedly. She would have given all her
precious money to have gone down and thrown her arms
around her mother's neck, but she did not dare move.
Mrs. Comstock was up early, and without a word
handed Elnora the case as she left the next morning.
"Thank you, mother," said Elnora, and went on her way.
She walked down the road looking straight ahead until
she came to the corner, where she usually entered
the swamp. She paused, glanced that way and smiled.
Then she turned and looked back. There was no one
coming in any direction. She followed the road until
well around the corner, then she stopped and sat on a
grassy spot, laid her books beside her and opened the
lunch box. Last night's odours had in a measure prepared
her for what she would see, but not quite. She scarcely
could believe her senses. Half the bread compartment
was filled with dainty sandwiches of bread and butter
sprinkled with the yolk of egg and the remainder with three
large slices of the most fragrant spice cake imaginable.
The meat dish contained shaved cold ham, of which she
knew the quality, the salad was tomatoes and celery,
and the cup held preserved pear, clear as amber.
There was milk in the bottle, two tissue-wrapped cucumber
pickles in the folding drinking-cup, and a fresh napkin in
the ring. No lunch was ever daintier or more palatable;
of that Elnora was perfectly sure. And her mother had
prepared it for her! "She does love me!" cried the happy girl.
"Sure as you're born she loves me; only she hasn't found
it out yet!"
She touched the papers daintily, and smiled at the
box as if it were a living thing. As she began closing
it a breath of air swept by, lifting the covering of
the cake. It was like an invitation, and breakfast was
several hours away. Elnora picked up a piece and ate it.
That cake tasted even better than it looked. Then she
tried a sandwich. How did her mother come to think of
making them that way. They never had any at home.
She slipped out the fork, sampled the salad, and one-quarter
of pear. Then she closed the box and started down the
road nibbling one of the pickles and trying to decide
exactly how happy she was, but she could find no standard
high enough for a measure.
She was to go to the Bird Woman's after school for
the last load from the case. Saturday she would take
the arrow points and specimens to the bank. That would
exhaust her present supplies and give her enough money
ahead to pay for books, tuition, and clothes for at
least two years. She would work early and late
gathering nuts. In October she would sell all the ferns
she could find. She must collect specimens of all tree
leaves before they fell, gather nests and cocoons later,
and keep her eyes wide open for anything the grades could use.
She would see the superintendent that night about selling
specimens to the ward buildings. She must be ahead of
any one else if she wanted to furnish these things. So she
approached the bridge.
That it was occupied could be seen from a distance.
As she came up she found the small boy of yesterday
awaiting her with a confident smile.
"We brought you something!" he announced without greeting.
"This is Jimmy and Belle--and we brought you a present."
He offered a parcel wrapped in brown paper.
"Why, how lovely of you!" said Elnora. "I supposed
you had forgotten me when you ran away so fast yesterday."
"Naw, I didn't forget you," said the boy. "I wouldn't
forget you, not ever! Why, I was ist a-hurrying to take
them things to Jimmy and Belle. My they was glad!"
Elnora glanced at the children. They sat on the edge
of the bridge, obviously clad in a garment each, very dirty
and unkept, a little boy and a girl of about seven and nine.
Elnora's heart began to ache.
"Say," said the boy. "Ain't you going to look what
we have gave you?"
"I thought it wasn't polite to look before people,"
answered Elnora. "Of course, I will, if you would like
to have me."
Elnora opened the package. She had been presented
with a quarter of a stale loaf of baker's bread, and a
big piece of ancient bologna.
"But don't you want this yourselves?" she asked in surprise.
"Gosh, no! I mean ist no," said the boy. "We always
have it. We got stacks this morning. Pa's come out
of it now, and he's so sorry he got more 'an ever we
can eat. Have you had any before?"
"No," said Elnora, "I never did!"
The boy's eyes brightened and the girl moved restlessly.
"We thought maybe you hadn't," said the boy. "First you
ever have, you like it real well; but when you don't
have anything else for a long time, years an' years, you
git so tired." He hitched at the string which held his
trousers and watched Elnora speculatively.
"I don't s'pose you'd trade what you got in that box
for ist old bread and bologna now, would you? Mebby you'd
like it! And I know, I ist know, what you got would
taste like heaven to Jimmy and Belle. They never had
nothing like that! Not even Belle, and she's most ten!
No, sir-ee, they never tasted things like you got!"
It was in Elnora's heart to be thankful for even a taste
in time, as she knelt on the bridge, opened the box and
divided her lunch into three equal parts, the smaller boy
getting most of the milk. Then she told them it was
school time and she must go.
"Why don't you put your bread and bologna in the nice box?"
asked the boy.
"Of course," said Elnora. "I didn't think."
When the box was arranged to the children's satisfaction
all of them accompanied Elnora to the corner where she
turned toward the high school.
"Billy," said Elnora, "I would like you much better if
you were cleaner. Surely, you have water! Can't you
children get some soap and wash yourselves? Gentlemen are
never dirty. You want to be a gentleman, don't you?"
"Is being clean all you have to do to be a gentleman?"
"No," said Elnora. "You must not say bad words, and
you must be kind and polite to your sister."
"Must Belle be kind and polite to me, else she ain't a lady?"
"Then Belle's no lady!" said Billy succinctly.
Elnora could say nothing more just then, and she bade
them good-bye and started them home.
"The poor little souls!" she mused. "I think the Almighty
put them in my way to show me real trouble. I won't be
likely to spend much time pitying myself while I can
see them." She glanced at the lunchbox. "What on
earth do I carry this for? I never had anything that was
so strictly ornamental! One sure thing! I can't take
this stuff to the high school. You never seem to know
exactly what is going to happen to you while you are there."
As if to provide a way out of her difficulty a big dog
arose from a lawn, and came toward the gate wagging his tail.
"If those children ate the stuff, it can't possibly kill him!"
thought Elnora, so she offered the bologna. The dog
accepted it graciously, and being a beast of pedigree
he trotted around to a side porch and laid the bologna
before his mistress. The woman snatched it, screaming:
"Come, quick! Some one is trying to poison Pedro!"
Her daughter came running from the house. "Go see
who is on the street. Hurry!" cried the excited mother.
Ellen Brownlee ran and looked. Elnora was half a
block away, and no one nearer. Ellen called loudly, and
Elnora stopped. Ellen came running toward her.
"Did you see any one give our dog something?" she
cried as she approached.
Elnora saw no escape.
"I gave it a piece of bologna myself," she said. "It was
fit to eat. It wouldn't hurt the dog."
Ellen stood and looked at her. "Of course, I didn't
know it was your dog," explained Elnora. "I had something
I wanted to throw to some dog, and that one looked big
enough to manage it."
Ellen had arrived at her conclusions. "Pass over that
lunch box," she demanded.
"I will not!" said Elnora.
"Then I will have you arrested for trying to poison our
dog," laughed the girl as she took the box.
"One chunk of stale bread, one half mile of antique
bologna contributed for dog feed; the remains of cake, salad
and preserves in an otherwise empty lunch box. One ham
sandwich yesterday. I think it's lovely you have the box.
Who ate your lunch to-day?"
"Same," confessed Elnora, "but there were three of
them this time."
"Wait, until I run back and tell mother about the dog,
and get my books."
Elnora waited. That morning she walked down the
hall and into the auditorium beside one of the very nicest
girls in Onabasha, and it was the fourth day. But the
surprise came at noon when Ellen insisted upon Elnora
lunching at the Brownlee home, and convulsed her parents
and family, and overwhelmed Elnora with a greatly magnified,
but moderately accurate history of her lunch box.
"Gee! but it's a box, daddy!" cried the laughing girl.
"It's carved leather and fastens with a strap that has her
name on it. Inside are trays for things all complete, and
it bears evidence of having enclosed delicious food, but
Elnora never gets any. She's carried it two days now, and
both times it has been empty before she reached school.
Isn't that killing?"
"It is, Ellen, in more ways than one. No girl is going
to eat breakfast at six o'clock, walk three miles, and do
good work without her lunch. You can't tell me anything
about that box. I sold it last Monday night to Wesley
Sinton, one of my good country customers. He told me it
was a present for a girl who was worthy of it, and I see he
was right."
"He's so good to me," said Elnora. "Sometimes I look
at him and wonder if a neighbour can be so kind to one,
what a real father would be like. I envy a girl with a
father unspeakably."
"You have cause," said Ellen Brownlee. "A father is
the very dearest person in the whole round world, except a
mother, who is just a dear." The girl, starting to pay
tribute to her father, saw that she must include her mother,
and said the thing before she remembered what Mrs. Sinton
had told the girls in the store. She stopped in dismay.
Elnora's face paled a trifle, but she smiled bravely.
"Then I'm fortunate in having a mother," she said.
Mr. Brownlee lingered at the table after the girls had
excused themselves and returned to school.
"There's a girl Ellen can't see too much of, in my
opinion," he said. "She is every inch a lady, and not a
foolish notion or action about her. I can't understand
just what combination of circumstances produced her in
this day."
"It has been an unusual case of repression, for one thing.
She waits on her elders and thinks before she speaks,"
said Mrs. Brownlee.
"She's mighty pretty. She looks so sound and wholesome,
and she's neatly dressed."
"Ellen says she was a fright the first two days. Long brown
calico dress almost touching the floor, and big,
lumbering shoes. Those Sinton people bought her clothes.
Ellen was in the store, and the woman stopped her crowd
and asked them about their dresses. She said the girl
was not poor, but her mother was selfish and didn't
care for her. But Elnora showed a bank book the next
day, and declared that she paid for the things herself,
so the Sinton people must just have selected them.
There's something peculiar about it, but nothing wrong
I am sure. I'll encourage Ellen to ask her again."
"I should say so, especially if she is going to keep on
giving away her lunch."
"She lunched with the Bird Woman one day this week."
"She did!"
"Yes, she lives out by the Limberlost. You know the
Bird Woman works there a great deal, and probably
knows her that way. I think the girl gathers specimens
for her. Ellen says she knows more than the teachers
about any nature question that comes up, and she is going
to lead all of them in mathematics, and make them work
in any branch."
When Elnora entered the coat room after having had
luncheon with Ellen Brownlee there was such a difference
in the atmosphere that she could feel it.
"I am almost sorry I have these clothes," she said to Ellen.
"In the name of sense, why?" cried the astonished girl.
"Every one is so nice to me in them, it sets me to
wondering if in time I could have made them be equally
friendly in the others."
Ellen looked at her introspectively. "I believe you
could," she announced at last. "But it would have taken
time and heartache, and your mind would have been less
free to work on your studies. No one is happy without
friends, and I just simply can't study when I am unhappy."
That night the Bird Woman made the last trip to the swamp.
Every specimen she possibly could use had been purchased
at a fair price, and three additions had been made to the
bank book, carrying the total a little past two hundred dollars.
There remained the Indian relics to sell on Saturday,
and Elnora had secured the order to furnish material for
nature work for the grades. Life suddenly grew very full.
There was the most excitingly interesting work for every hour,
and that work was to pay high school expenses and start the
college fund. There was one little rift in her joy.
All of it would have been so much better if she could have
told her mother, and given the money into her keeping;
but the struggle to get a start had been so terrible,
Elnora was afraid to take the risk. When she reached home,
she only told her mother that the last of the things had
been sold that evening.
"I think," said Mrs. Comstock, "that we will ask Wesley
to move that box over here back of the garden for you.
There you are apt to get tolled farther into the swamp
than you intend to go, and you might mire or something.
There ought to be just the same things in our woods,
and along our swampy places, as there are in the Limberlost.
Can't you hunt your stuff here?"
"I can try," said Elnora. "I don't know what I can
find until I do. Our woods are undisturbed, and there
is a possibility they might be even better hunting than
the swamp. But I wouldn't have Freckles's case moved for
the world. He might come back some day, and not like it.
I've tried to keep his room the best I could, and taking out
the box would make a big hole in one side of it. Store boxes
don't cost much. I will have Uncle Wesley buy me one,
and set it up wherever hunting looks the best, early in
the spring. I would feel safer at home."
"Shall we do the work or have supper first?"
"Let's do the work," said Elnora. "I can't say that
I'm hungry now. Doesn't seem as if I ever could be
hungry again with such a lunch. I am quite sure no one
carried more delicious things to eat than I."
Mrs. Comstock was pleased. "I put in a pretty good
hunk of cake. Did you divide it with any one?"
"Why, yes, I did," admitted Elnora.
This was becoming uncomfortable. "I ate the biggest
piece myself," said Elnora, "and gave the rest to a couple
of boys named Jimmy and Billy and a girl named Belle.
They said it was the very best cake they ever tasted in all
their lives."
Mrs. Comstock sat straight. "I used to be a master
hand at spice cake," she boasted. "But I'm a little out
of practice. I must get to work again. With the very
weeds growing higher than our heads, we should raise
plenty of good stuff to eat on this land, if we can't afford
anything else but taxes."
Elnora laughed and hurried up stairs to change her dress.
Margaret Sinton came that night bringing a beautiful blue
one in its place, and carried away the other to launder.
"Do you mean to say those dresses are to be washed
every two days?" questioned Mrs. Comstock.
"They have to be, to look fresh," replied Margaret.
"We want our girl sweet as a rose."
"Well, of all things!" cried Mrs. Comstock. "Every two days!
Any girl who can't keep a dress clean longer than that is a
dirty girl. You'll wear the goods out and fade the colours
with so much washing."
"We'll have a clean girl, anyway."
"Well, if you like the job you can have it," said Mrs. Comstock.
"I don't mind the washing, but I'm so inconvenient with an iron."
Elnora sat late that night working over her lessons.
The next morning she put on her blue dress and ribbon
and in those she was a picture. Mrs. Comstock caught
her breath with a queer stirring around her heart, and
looked twice to be sure of what she saw. As Elnora
gathered her books her mother silently gave her the lunch box.
"Feels heavy," said Elnora gaily. "And smelly! Like as not
I'll be called upon to divide again."
"Then you divide!" said Mrs. Comstock. "Eating is
the one thing we don't have to economize on, Elnora.
Spite of all I can do food goes to waste in this soil
every day. If you can give some of those city children
a taste of the real thing, why, don't be selfish."
Elnora went down the road thinking of the city children
with whom she probably would divide. Of course,
the bridge would be occupied again. So she stopped and
opened the box.
"I don't want to be selfish," murmured Elnora, "but
it really seems as if I can't give away this lunch.
If mother did not put love into it, she's substituted
something that's likely to fool me."
She almost felt her steps lagging as she approached
the bridge. A very hungry dog had been added to the trio
of children. Elnora loved all dogs, and as usual, this one
came to her in friendliness. The children said "Good morning!"
with alacrity, and another paper parcel layconspicuous.
"How are you this morning?" inquired Elnora.
"All right!" cried the three, while the dog sniffed ravenously
at the lunch box, and beat a perfect tattoo with his tail.
"How did you like the bologna?" questioned Billy eagerly.
"One of the girls took me to lunch at her home yesterday,"
answered Elnora.
Dawn broke beautifully over Billy's streaked face.
He caught the package and thrust it toward Elnora.
"Then maybe you'd like to try the bologna to-day!"
The dog leaped in glad apprehension of something, and
Belle scrambled to her feet and took a step forward.
The look of famished greed in her eyes was more than Elnora
could endure. It was not that she cared for the food
so much. Good things to eat had been in abundance all
her life. She wanted with this lunch to try to absorb
what she felt must be an expression of some sort from her
mother, and if it were not a manifestation of love, she
did not know what to think it. But it was her mother
who had said "be generous." She knelt on the bridge.
"Keep back the dog!" she warned the elder boy.
She opened the box and divided the milk between Billy
and the girl. She gave each a piece of cake leaving
one and a sandwich. Billy pressed forward eagerly, bitter
disappointment on his face, and the elder boy forgot his charge.
"Aw, I thought they'd be meat!" lamented Billy.
Elnora could not endure that.
"There is!" she said gladly. "There is a little pigeon bird.
I want a teeny piece of the breast, for a sort of keepsake,
just one bite, and you can have the rest among you".
Elnora drew the knife from its holder and cut off
the wishbone. Then she held the bird toward the girl.
"You can divide it," she said. The dog made a bound
and seizing the squab sprang from the bridge and ran
for life. The girl and boy hurried after him. With awful
eyes Billy stared and swore tempestuously. Elnora caught
him and clapped her hand over the little mouth.
A delivery wagon came tearing down the street, the horse
running full speed, passed the fleeing dog with the girl
and boy in pursuit, and stopped at the bridge. High school
girls began to roll from all sides of it.
"A rescue! A rescue!" they shouted.
It was Ellen Brownlee and her crowd, and every girl
of them carried a big parcel. They took in the scene
as they approached. The fleeing dog with something
in its mouth, the half-naked girl and boy chasing it told
the story. Those girls screamed with laughter as they
watched the pursuit.
"Thank goodness, I saved the wishbone!" said Elnora.
"As usual, I can prove that there was a bird."
She turned toward the box. Billy had improved the time.
He had the last piece of cake in one hand, and the last
bite of salad disappeared in one great gulp. Then the
girls shouted again.
"Let's have a sample ourselves," suggested one. She caught
up the box and handed out the remaining sandwich. Another girl
divided it into bites each little over an inch square, and
then she lifted the cup lid and deposited a preserved
strawberry on each bite. "One, two, three, altogether now!"
she cried.
"You old mean things!" screamed Billy.
In an instant he was down in the road and handfuls of dust
began to fly among them. The girls scattered before him.
"Billy!" cried Elnora. "Billy! I'll never give you
another bite, if you throw dust on any one!"
Then Billy dropped the dust, bored both fists into his
eyes, and fled sobbing into Elnora's new blue skirt.
She stooped to meet him and consolation began. Those girls
laughed on. They screamed and shouted until the little
bridge shook.
"To-morrow might as well be a clear day," said Ellen,
passing around and feeding the remaining berries to the
girls as they could compose themselves enough to take them.
"Billy, I admire your taste more than your temper."
Elnora looked up. "The little soul is nothing but skin
and bones," she said. "I never was really hungry myself;
were any of you?"
"Well, I should say so," cried a plump, rosy girl.
"I'm famished right now. Let's have breakfast immediate!"
"We got to refill this box first!" said Ellen Brownlee.
"Who's got the butter?" A girl advanced with a wooden tray.
"Put it in the preserve cup, a little strawberry flavour
won't hurt it. Next!" called Ellen.
A loaf of bread was produced and Ellen cut off a piece
which filled the sandwich box.
"Next!" A bottle of olives was unwrapped. The grocer's
boy who was waiting opened that, and Ellen filled the
salad dish.
A bag of macaroons was produced and the cake compartment filled.
"I don't suppose this will make quite as good dog feed
as a bird," laughed a girl holding open a bag of sliced
ham while Ellen filled the meat dish.
A box of candy was handed her and she stuffed every
corner of the lunch box with chocolates and nougat.
Then it was closed and formally presented to Elnora.
The girls each helped themselves to candy and olives,
and gave Billy the remainder of the food. Billy took
one bite of ham, and approved. Belle and Jimmy had
given up chasing the dog, and angry and ashamed, stood
waiting half a block away.
"Come back!" cried Billy. "You great big dunces,
come back! They's a new kind of meat, and cake and candy."
The boy delayed, but the girl joined Billy. Ellen wiped
her fingers, stepped to the cement abutment and began
reciting "Horatio at the Bridge!" substituting Elnora
wherever the hero appeared in the lines.
Elnora gathered up the sacks, and gave them to Belle,
telling her to take the food home, cut and spread the
bread, set things on the table, and eat nicely.
Then Elnora was taken into the wagon with the girls,
and driven on the run to the high school. They sang a
song beginning--
"Elnora, please give me a sandwich.
I'm ashamed to ask for cake"
as they went. Elnora did not know it, but that was
her initiation. She belonged to "the crowd." She only
knew that she was happy, and vaguely wondered what
her mother and Aunt Margaret would have said about
the proceedings.
Saturday morning Elnora helped her mother with the work.
When she had finished Mrs. Comstock told her to go to
Sintons' and wash her Indian relics, so that she would
be ready to accompany Wesley to town in the afternoon.
Elnora hurried down the road and was soon at the cistern
with a tub busily washing arrow points, stone axes, tubes,
pipes, and skin-cleaning implements.
Then she went home, dressed and was waiting when the
carriage reached the gate. She stopped at the bank with
the box, and Sinton went to do his marketing and some
shopping for his wife.
At the dry goods store Mr. Brownlee called to him,
"Hello, Sinton! How do you like the fate of your lunch
box?" Then he began to laugh--
"I always hate to see a man laughing alone," said Sinton.
It looks so selfish! Tell me the fun, and let me
help you."
Mr. Brownlee wiped his eyes.
"I supposed you knew, but I see she hasn't told."
Then the three days' history of the lunch box was
repeated with particulars which included the dog.
"Now laugh!" concluded Mr. Brownlee.
"Blest if I see anything funny!" replied Wesley Sinton.
"And if you had bought that box and furnished one of
those lunches yourself, you wouldn't either. I call such
a work a shame! I'll have it stopped."
"Some one must see to that, all right. They are
little leeches. Their father earns enough to support them,
but they have no mother, and they run wild. I suppose
they are crazy for cooked food. But it is funny, and
when you think it over you will see it, if you don't now."
"About where would a body find that father?" inquired
Wesley Sinton grimly. Mr. Brownlee told him and he
started, locating the house with little difficulty.
House was the proper word, for of home there was no sign.
Just a small empty house with three unkept little children
racing through and around it. The girl and the elder
boy hung back, but dirty little Billy greeted Sinton with:
"What you want here?"
"I want to see your father," said Sinton.)
"Well, he's asleep," said Billy.
"Where?" asked Sinton.
"In the house," answered Billy, "and you can't wake him."
"Well, I'll try," said Wesley.
Billy led the way. "There he is!" he said. "He is
drunk again."
On a dirty mattress in a corner lay a man who appeared
to be strong and well. Billy was right. You could not
awake him. He had gone the limit, and a little beyond.
He was now facing eternity. Sinton went out and closed
the door.
"Your father is sick and needs help," he said.
"You stay here, and I will send a man to see him."
"If you just let him 'lone, he'll sleep it off,"
volunteered Billy. "He's that way all the time,
but he wakes up and gets us something to eat after awhile.
Only waitin' twists you up inside pretty bad."
The boy wore no air of complaint. He was merely
stating facts.
Wesley Sinton looked intently at Billy. "Are you
twisted up inside now?" he asked.
Billy laid a grimy hand on the region of his stomach and
the filthy little waist sank close to the backbone.
"Bet yer life, boss," he said cheerfully.
"How long have you been twisted?" asked Sinton.
Billy appealed to the others. "When was it we had the
stuff on the bridge?"
"Yesterday morning," said the girl.
"Is that all gone?" asked Sinton.
"She went and told us to take it home," said Billy ruefully,
"and 'cos she said to, we took it. Pa had come back,
he was drinking some more, and he ate a lot of it--
almost the whole thing, and it made him sick as a dog, and
he went and wasted all of it. Then he got drunk some
more, and now he's asleep again. We didn't get hardly none."
"You children sit on the steps until the man comes,"
said Sinton. "I'll send you some things to eat with him.
What's your name, sonny?"
"Billy," said the boy.
"Well, Billy, I guess you better come with me. I'll take
care of him," Sinton promised the others. He reached a
hand to Billy.
"I ain't no baby, I'm a boy!" said Billy, as he shuffled
along beside Sinton, taking a kick at every movable object
without regard to his battered toes.
Once they passed a Great Dane dog lolling after its master,
and Billy ascended Sinton as if he were a tree, and
clung to him with trembling hot hands.
"I ain't afraid of that dog," scoffed Billy, as he was
again placed on the walk, "but onc't he took me for a rat
or somepin' and his teeth cut into my back. If I'd a done
right, I'd a took the law on him."
Sinton looked down into the indignant little face. The child
was bright enough, he had a good head, but oh, such a body!
"I 'bout got enough of dogs," said Billy. "I used to
like 'em, but I'm getting pretty tired. You ought to seen
the lickin' Jimmy and Belle and me give our dog when we
caught him, for taking a little bird she gave us. We waited
'till he was asleep 'nen laid a board on him and all of us
jumped on it to onc't. You could a heard him yell a mile.
Belle said mebbe we could squeeze the bird out of him.
But, squeeze nothing! He was holler as us, and that bird
was lost long 'fore it got to his stummick. It was ist a
little one, anyway. Belle said it wouldn't 'a' made a bite
apiece for three of us nohow, and the dog got one good swaller.
We didn't get much of the meat, either. Pa took most
of that. Seems like pas and dogs gets everything."
Billy laughed dolefully. Involuntarily Wesley Sinton
reached his hand. They were coming into the business part
of Onabasha and the streets were crowded. Billy understood
it to mean that he might lose his companion and took a grip.
That little hot hand clinging tight to his, the sore feet
recklessly scouring the walk, the hungry child panting for
breath as he tried to keep even, the brave soul jesting in
the face of hard luck, caught Sinton in a tender, empty spot.
"Say, son," he said. "How would you like to be
washed clean, and have all the supper your skin could
hold, and sleep in a good bed?"
"Aw, gee!" said Billy. "I ain't dead yet! Them things
is in heaven! Poor folks can't have them. Pa said so."
"Well, you can have them if you want to go with me and
get them," promised Sinton.
"Yes, honest."
"Crost yer heart?"
"Yes," said Sinton.
"Kin I take some to Jimmy and Belle?"
"If you'll come with me and be my boy, I'll see that they
have plenty."
"What will pa say?"
"Your pa is in that kind of sleep now where he won't
wake up, Billy," said Sinton. "I am pretty sure the law
will give you to me, if you want to come."
"When people don't ever wake up they're dead,"
announced Billy. "Is my pa dead?"
"Yes, he is," answered Sinton.
"And you'll take care of Jimmy and Belle, too?"
"I can't adopt all three of you," said Sinton. "I'll take
you, and see that they are well provided for. Will you come?"
"Yep, I'll come," said Billy. "Let's eat, first thing we do."
"All right," agreed Sinton. "Come into this restaurant."
He lifted Billy to the lunch counter and ordered the clerk
to give him as many glasses of milk as he wanted, and a biscuit.
"I think there's going to be fried chicken when we get home,
Billy," he said, "so you just take the edge off now, and fill
up later."
While Billy lunched Sinton called up the different departments
and notified the proper authorities ending with the Women's
Relief Association. He sent a basket of food to Belle and Jimmy,
bought Billy a pair of trousers, and a shirt, and went to
bring Elnora.
"Why, Uncle Wesley!" cried the girl. "Where did you
find Billy?"
"I've adopted him for the time being, if not longer,"
replied Wesley Sinton.
"Where did you get him?"
"Well, young woman," said Wesley Sinton, "Mr. Brownlee
told me the history of your lunch box. It didn't
seem so funny to me as it does to the rest of them; so I
went to look up the father of Billy's family, and make him
take care of them, or allow the law to do it for him.
It will have to be the law."
"He's deader than anything!" broke in Billy. "He can't
ever take all the meat any more."
"Billy!" gasped Elnora.
"Never you mind!" said Sinton. "A child doesn't say
such things about a father who loved and raised him right.
When it happens, the father alone is to blame. You won't
hear Billy talk like that about me when I cross over."
"You don't mean you are going to take him to keep!"
"I'll soon need help," said Wesley. "Billy will come
in just about right ten years from now, and if I raise him
I'll have him the way I want him."
"But Aunt Margaret doesn't like boys," objected Elnora.
"Well, she likes me, and I used to be a boy. Anyway, as
I remember she has had her way about everything at our
house ever since we were married. I am going to please
myself about Billy. Hasn't she always done just as she
chose so far as you know? Honest, Elnora!"
"Honest!" replied Elnora. "You are beautiful to all of
us, Uncle Wesley; but Aunt Margaret won't like Billy.
She won't want him in her home."
"In our home," corrected Wesley.
"What makes you want him?" marvelled Elnora.
"God only knows," said Sinton. "Billy ain't so beautiful,
and he ain't so smart, I guess it's because he's so human.
My heart goes out to him."
"So did mine," said Elnora. "I love him. I'd rather
see him eat my lunch than have it myself any time."
"What makes you like him?" asked Wesley.
"Why, I don't know," pondered Elnora. "He's so little,
he needs so much, he's got such splendid grit, and
he's perfectly unselfish with his brother and sister.
But we must wash him before Aunt Margaret sees him.
I wonder if mother----"
"You needn't bother. I'm going to take him home the
way he is," said Sinton. "I want Maggie to see the
worst of it."
"I'm afraid----" began Elnora.
"So am I," said Wesley, "but I won't give him up.
He's taken a sort of grip on my heart. I've always
been crazy for a boy. Don't let him hear us."
"Don't let him be killed!" cried Elnora. During their
talk Billy had wandered to the edge of the walk and
barely escaped the wheels of a passing automobile in an
effort to catch a stray kitten that seemed in danger.
Wesley drew Billy back to the walk, and held his hand closely.
"Are you ready, Elnora?"
"Yes; you were gone a long time," she said.
Wesley glanced at a package she carried. "Have to
have another book?" he asked.
"No, I bought this for mother. I've had such splendid
luck selling my specimens, I didn't feel right about keeping
all the money for myself, so I saved enough from the
Indian relics to get a few things I wanted. I would have
liked to have gotten her a dress, but I didn't dare, so I
compromised on a book."
"What did you select, Elnora?" asked Wesley wonderingly.
"Well," said she, "I have noticed mother always seemed
interested in anything Mark Twain wrote in the newspapers,
and I thought it would cheer her up a little, so I just
got his `Innocents Abroad.' I haven't read it myself,
but I've seen mention made of it all my life, and the
critics say it's genuine fun."
"Good!" cried Sinton. "Good! You've made a
splendid choice. It will take her mind off herself
a lot. But she will scold you."
"Of course," assented Elnora. "But, possibly she will
read it, and feel better. I'm going to serve her a trick.
I am going to hide it until Monday, and set it on her little
shelf of books the last thing before I go away. She must
have all of them by heart. When, she sees a new one she
can't help being glad, for she loves to read, and if she has
all day to become interested, maybe she'll like it so she
won't scold so much."
"We are both in for it, but I guess we are prepared.
I don't know what Margaret will say, but I'm going to take
Billy home and see. Maybe he can win with her, as he
did with us."
Elnora had doubts, but she did not say anything more.
When they started home Billy sat on the front seat.
He drove with the hitching strap tied to the railing of
the dash-board, flourished the whip, and yelled
with delight. At first Sinton laughed with him, but
by the time he left Elnora with several packages at her
gate, he was looking serious enough.
Margaret was at the door as they drove up the lane.
Wesley left Billy in the carriage, hitched the horses and
went to explain to her. He had not reached her before she
cried, "Look, Wesley, that child! You'll have a runaway!"
Wesley looked and ran. Billy was standing in the
carriage slashing the mettlesome horses with the whip.
"See me make 'em go!" he shouted as the whip fell a
second time.
He did make them go. They took the hitching post
and a few fence palings, which scraped the paint from
a wheel. Sinton missed the lines at the first effort,
but the dragging post impeded the horses, and he soon
caught them. He led them to the barn, and ordered Billy
to remain in the carriage while he unhitched. Then leading
Billy and carrying his packages he entered the yard.
"You run play a few minutes, Billy," he said. "I want
to talk to the nice lady."
The nice lady was looking rather stupefied as Wesley
approached her.
"Where in the name of sense did you get that awful
child?" she demanded.
"He is a young gentleman who has been stopping Elnora
and eating her lunch every day, part of the time
with the assistance of his brother and sister, while our
girl went hungry. Brownlee told me about it at the store.
It's happened three days running. The first time she
went without anything, the second time Brownlee's girl
took her to lunch, and the third a crowd of high school
girls bought a lot of stuff and met them at the bridge.
The youngsters seemed to think they could rob her every
day, so I went to see their father about having it stopped."
"Well, I should think so!" cried Margaret.
"There were three of them, Margaret," said Wesley,
"that little fellow----"
"Hyena, you mean," interpolated Margaret.
"Hyena," corrected Wesley gravely, "and another
boy and a girl, all equally dirty and hungry. The man
was dead. They thought he was in a drunken sleep,
but he was stone dead. I brought the little boy with
me, and sent the officers and other help to the house.
He's half starved. I want to wash him, and put clean
clothes on him, and give him some supper."
"Have you got anything to put on him?"
"Where did you get it?"
"Bought it. It ain't much. All I got didn't cost a dollar."
"A dollar is a good deal when you work and save for
it the way we do."
"Well, I don't know a better place to put it. Have you
got any hot water? I'll use this tub at the cistern.
Please give me some soap and towels."
Instead Margaret pushed by him with a shriek. Billy had
played by producing a cord from his pocket, and having
tied the tails of Margaret's white kittens together, he had
climbed on a box and hung them across the clothes line.
Wild with fright the kittens were clawing each other
to death, and the air was white with fur. The string
had twisted and the frightened creatures could not
recognize friends. Margaret stepped back with bleeding hands.
Sinton cut the cord with his knife and the poor little cats
raced under the house bleeding and disfigured.
Margaret white with wrath faced Wesley.
"If you don't hitch up and take that animal back to
town," she said, "I will."
Billy threw himself on the grass and began to scream.
"You said I could have fried chicken for supper,"
he wailed. "You said she was a nice lady!"
Wesley lifted him and something in his manner of
handling the child infuriated Margaret. His touch was
so gentle. She reached for Billy and gripped his shirt
collar in the back. Wesley's hand closed over hers.
"Gently, girl!" he said. "This little body is covered
with sores."
"Sores!" she ejaculated. "Sores? What kind of sores?"
"Oh, they might be from bruises made by fists or boot
toes, or they might be bad blood, from wrong eating,
or they might be pure filth. Will you hand me some towels?"
"No, I won't!" said Margaret.
"Well, give me some rags, then."
Margaret compromised on pieces of old tablecloth.
Wesley led Billy to the cistern, pumped cold water into
the tub, poured in a kettle of hot, and beginning at the
head scoured him. The boy shut his little teeth, and
said never a word though he twisted occasionally when
the soap struck a raw spot. Margaret watched the process
from the window in amazed and ever-increasing anger.
Where did Wesley learn it? How could his big hands be
so gentle? He came to the door.
"Have you got any peroxide?" he asked.
"A little," she answered stiffly.
"Well, I need about a pint, but I'll begin on what you have."
Margaret handed him the bottle. Wesley took a cup,
weakened the drug and said to Billy: "Man, these sores
on you must be healed. Then you must eat the kind of
food that's fit for little men. I am going to put some
medicine on you, and it is going to sting like fire. If it
just runs off, I won't use any more. If it boils, there is
poison in these places, and they must be tied up, dosed
every day, and you must be washed, and kept mighty clean.
Now, hold still, because I am going to put it on."
"I think the one on my leg is the worst," said the undaunted
Billy, holding out a raw place. Sinton poured on the drug.
Billy's body twisted and writhed, but he did not run.
"Gee, look at it boil!" he cried. "I guess they's poison.
You'll have to do it to all of them."
Wesley's teeth were set, as he watched the boy's face.
He poured the drug, strong enough to do effective work,
on a dozen places over that little body and bandaged all
he could. Billy's lips quivered at times, and his chin
jumped, but he did not shed a tear or utter a sound other
than to take a deep interest in the boiling. As Wesley
put the small shirt on the boy, and fastened the trousers,
he was ready to reset the hitching post and mend the fence
without a word.
"Now am I clean?" asked Billy.
"Yes, you are clean outside," said Wesley. "There is
some dirty blood in your body, and some bad words in
your mouth, that we have to get out, but that takes time.
If we put right things to eat into your stomach
that will do away with the sores, and if you know that
I don't like bad words you won't say them any oftener
than you can help, will you Billy?"
Billy leaned against Wesley in apparent indifference.
"I want to see me!" he demanded.
Wesley led the boy into the house, and lifted him to a mirror.
"My, I'm purty good-looking, ain't I?" bragged Billy.
Then as Wesley stooped to set him on the floor Billy's
lips passed close to the big man's ear and hastily
whispered a vehement "No!" as he ran for the door.
"How long until supper, Margaret?" asked Wesley
as he followed.
"You are going to keep him for supper?" she asked
"Sure!" said Wesley. "That's what I brought him for.
It's likely he never had a good square meal of decent
food in his life. He's starved to the bone."
Margaret arose deliberately, removed the white cloth
from the supper table and substituted an old red one
she used to wrap the bread. She put away the pretty
dishes they commonly used and set the table with old
plates for pies and kitchen utensils. But she fried the
chicken, and was generous with milk and honey, snowy
bread, gravy, potatoes, and fruit.
Wesley repainted the scratched wheel. He mended the
fence, with Billy holding the nails and handing the pickets.
Then he filled the old hole, digged a new one and set the
hitching post.
Billy hopped on one foot at his task of holding the post
steady as the earth was packed around it. There was
not the shadow of a trouble on his little freckled face.
Sinton threw in stones and pounded the earth solid around
the post. The sound of a gulping sob attracted him to Billy.
The tears were rolling down his cheeks. "If I'd a knowed
you'd have to get down in a hole, and work so hard I
wouldn't 'a' hit the horses," he said.
"Never you mind, Billy," said Wesley. "You will
know next time, so you can think over it, and make up
your mind whether you really want to before you strike."
Wesley went to the barn to put away the tools. He
thought Billy was at his heels, but the boy lagged on
the way. A big snowy turkey gobbler resented the small
intruder in his especial preserves, and with spread tail
and dragging wings came toward him threateningly. If that
turkey gobbler had known the sort of things with which
Billy was accustomed to holding his own, he never would
have issued the challenge. Billy accepted instantly.
He danced around with stiff arms at his sides and imitated
the gobbler. Then came his opportunity, and he jumped
on the big turkey's back. Wesley heard Margaret's scream
in time to see the flying leap and admire its dexterity.
The turkey tucked its tail and scampered. Billy slid from
its back and as he fell he clutched wildly, caught the
folded tail, and instinctively clung to it. The turkey
gave one scream and relaxed its muscles. Then it fled
in disfigured defeat to the haystack. Billy scrambled
to his feet holding the tail, while his eyes were bulging.
"Why, the blasted old thing came off!" he said to
Wesley, holding out the tail in amazed wonder.
The man, caught suddenly, forgot everything and roared.
Seeing which, Billy thought a turkey tail of no
account and flung that one high above him shouting in
wild childish laughter, when the feathers scattered and fell.
Margaret, watching, began to cry. Wesley had gone mad.
For the first time in her married life she wanted
to tell her mother. When Wesley had waited until he
was so hungry he could wait no longer he invaded the
kitchen to find a cooked supper baking on the back of the
stove, while Margaret with red eyes nursed a pair of
demoralized white kittens.
"Is supper ready?" he asked.
"It has been for an hour," answered Margaret.
"Why didn't you call us?"
That "us" had too much comradeship in it. It irritated Margaret.
"I supposed it would take you even longer than this to
fix things decent again. As for my turkey, and my poor
little kittens, they don't matter."
"I am mighty sorry about them, Margaret, you know that.
Billy is very bright, and he will soon learn----"
"Soon learn!" cried Margaret. "Wesley Sinton, you
don't mean to say that you think of keeping that creature
here for some time?"
"No, I think of keeping a well-behaved little boy."
Margaret set the supper on the table. Seeing the old
red cloth Wesley stared in amazement. Then he understood.
Billy capered around in delight.
"Ain't that pretty?" he exulted. "I wish Jimmy and
Belle could see. We, why we ist eat out of our hands or
off a old dry goods box, and when we fix up a lot, we
have newspaper. We ain't ever had a nice red cloth like this."
Wesley looked straight at Margaret, so intently that she
turned away, her face flushing. He stacked the dictionary
and the geography of the world on a chair, and lifted Billy
beside him. He heaped a plate generously, cut the food,
put a fork into Billy's little fist, and made him eat slowly
and properly. Billy did his best. Occasionally greed
overcame him, and he used his left hand to pop a bite into
his mouth with his fingers. These lapses Wesley patiently
overlooked, and went on with his general instructions.
Luckily Billy did not spill anything on his clothing or
the cloth. After supper Wesley took him to the barn while
he finished the night work. Then he went and sat beside
Margaret on the front porch. Billy appropriated the
hammock, and swung by pulling a rope tied around a tree.
The very energy with which he went at the work of
swinging himself appealed to Wesley.
"Mercy, but he's an active little body," he said.
"There isn't a lazy bone in him. See how he works
to pay for his fun."
"There goes his foot through it!" cried Margaret.
"Wesley, he shall not ruin my hammock."
"Of course he shan't!" said Wesley. "Wait, Billy, let
me show you."
Thereupon he explained to Billy that ladies wearing
beautiful white dresses sat in hammocks, so little boys
must not put their dusty feet in them. Billy immediately
sat, and allowed his feet to swing.
"Margaret," said Wesley after a long silence on the
porch, "isn't it true that if Billy had been a half-starved
sore cat, dog, or animal of any sort, that you would have
pitied, and helped care for it, and been glad to see me get
any pleasure out of it I could?"
"Yes," said Margaret coldly.
"But because I brought a child with an immortal soul,
there is no welcome."
"That isn't a child, it's an animal."
"You just said you would have welcomed an animal."
"Not a wild one. I meant a tame beast."
"Billy is not a beast!" said Wesley hotly. "He is a
very dear little boy. Margaret, you've always done the
church-going and Bible reading for this family. How do
you reconcile that `Suffer little children to come unto Me'
with the way you are treating Billy?"
Margaret arose. "I haven't treated that child. I have
only let him alone. I can barely hold myself. He needs
the hide tanned about off him!"
"If you'd cared to look at his body, you'd know that you
couldn't find a place to strike without cutting into a raw
spot," said Wesley. "Besides, Billy has not done a
thing for which a child should be punished. He is only
full of life, no training, and with a boy's love of mischief.
He did abuse your kittens, but an hour before I saw him
risk his life to save one from being run over. He minds
what you tell him, and doesn't do anything he is told not to.
He thinks of his brother and sister right away when
anything pleases him. He took that stinging medicine
with the grit of a bulldog. He is just a bully little chap,
and I love him."
"Oh good heavens!" cried Margaret, going into the
house as she spoke.
Sinton sat still. At last Billy tired of the swing, came
to him and leaned his slight body against the big knee.
"Am I going to sleep here?" he asked.
"Sure you are!" said Sinton.
Billy swung his feet as he laid across Wesley's knee.
"Come on," said Wesley, "I must clean you up for bed."
"You have to be just awful clean here," announced Billy.
"I like to be clean, you feel so good, after the hurt is over."
Sinton registered that remark, and worked with especial
tenderness as he redressed the ailing places and
washed the dust from Billy's feet and hands.
"Where can he sleep?" he asked Margaret.
"I'm sure I don't know," she answered.
"Oh, I can sleep ist any place," said Billy. "On the
floor or anywhere. Home, I sleep on pa's coat on a storebox,
and Jimmy and Belle they sleep on the storebox, too.
"I sleep between them, so's I don't roll off and crack
my head. Ain't you got a storebox and a old coat?"
Wesley arose and opened a folding lounge. Then he
brought an armload of clean horse blankets from a closet.
"These don't look like the nice white bed a little boy
should have, Billy," he said, "but we'll make them do.
This will beat a storebox all hollow."
Billy took a long leap for the lounge. When he found
it bounced, he proceeded to bounce, until he was tired.
By that time the blankets had to be refolded. Wesley had
Billy take one end and help, while both of them seemed to
enjoy the job. Then Billy lay down and curled up in his
clothes like a small dog. But sleep would not come.
Finally he sat up. He stared around restlessly. Then he
arose, went to Wesley, and leaned against his knee. He picked
up the boy and folded his arms around him. Billy sighed
in rapturous content.
"That bed feels so lost like," he said. "Jimmy always
jabbed me on one side, and Belle on the other, and so I
knew I was there. Do you know where they are?"
"They are with kind people who gave them a fine supper,
a clean bed, and will always take good care of them."
"I wisht I was--" Billy hesitated and looked earnestly
at Wesley. "I mean I wish they was here."
"You are about all I can manage, Billy," said Wesley.
Billy sat up. "Can't she manage anything?" he asked,
waving toward Margaret.
"Indeed, yes," said Wesley. "She has managed me
for twenty years."
"My, but she made you nice!" said Billy. "I just love you.
I wisht she'd take Jimmy and Belle and make them nice as you."
"She isn't strong enough to do that, Billy. They will
grow into a good boy and girl where they are."
Billy slid from Wesley's arms and walked toward
Margaret until he reached the middle of the room. Then he
stopped, and at last sat on the floor. Finally he lay
down and closed his eyes. "This feels more like my bed;
if only Jimmy and Belle was here to crowd up a little, so it
wasn't so alone like."
"Won't I do, Billy?" asked Wesley in a husky voice.
Billy moved restlessly. "Seems like--seems like
toward night as if a body got kind o' lonesome for a
woman person--like her."
Billy indicated Margaret and then closed his eyes so
tight his small face wrinkled.
Soon he was up again. "Wisht I had Snap," he said.
"Oh, I ist wisht I had Snap!"
"I thought you laid a board on Snap and jumped on
it," said Wesley.
"We did!" cried Billy--"oh, you ought to heard him
squeal!" Billy laughed loudly, then his face clouded.
"But I want Snap to lay beside me so bad now--that if he
was here I'd give him a piece of my chicken, 'for, I ate any.
Do you like dogs?"
"Yes, I do," said Wesley.
Billy was up instantly. "Would you like Snap?"
"I am sure I would," said Wesley.
"Would she?" Billy indicated Margaret. And then
he answered his own question. "But of course, she
wouldn't, cos she likes cats, and dogs chases cats.
Oh, dear, I thought for a minute maybe Snap could
come here." Billy lay down and closed his eyes resolutely.
Suddenly they flew open. "Does it hurt to be dead?"
he demanded.
"Nothing hurts you after you are dead, Billy," said Wesley.
"Yes, but I mean does it hurt getting to be dead?"
"Sometimes it does. It did not hurt your father, Billy.
It came softly while he was asleep."
"It ist came softly?"
"I kind o' wisht he wasn't dead!" said Billy. "'Course I
like to stay with you, and the fried chicken, and the nice
soft bed, and--and everything, and I like to be clean, but
he took us to the show, and he got us gum, and he never
hurt us when he wasn't drunk."
Billy drew a deep breath, and tightly closed his eyes.
But very soon they opened. Then he sat up. He looked
at Wesley pitifully, and then he glanced at Margaret.
"You don't like boys, do you?" he questioned.
"I like good boys," said Margaret.
Billy was at her knee instantly. "Well say, I'm a good
boy!" he announced joyously.
"I do not think boys who hurt helpless kittens and pull
out turkeys' tails are good boys."
"Yes, but I didn't hurt the kittens," explained Billy.
"They got mad 'bout ist a little fun and scratched each other.
I didn't s'pose they'd act like that. And I didn't pull
the turkey's tail. I ist held on to the first thing I
grabbed, and the turkey pulled. Honest, it was the
turkey pulled." He turned to Wesley. "You tell her!
Didn't the turkey pull? I didn't know its tail was loose,
did I?"
"I don't think you did, Billy," said Wesley.
Billy stared into Margaret's cold face. "Sometimes at night,
Belle sits on the floor, and I lay my head in her lap.
I could pull up a chair and lay my head in your lap.
Like this, I mean." Billy pulled up a chair, climbed
on it and laid his head on Margaret's lap. Then he shut
his eyes again. Margaret could have looked little more
repulsed if he had been a snake. Billy was soon up.
"My, but your lap is hard," he said. "And you are
a good deal fatter 'an Belle, too!" He slid from the
chair and came back to the middle of the room.
"Oh but I wisht he wasn't dead!" he cried. The flood
broke and Billy screamed in desperation.
Out of the night a soft, warm young figure flashed
through the door and with a swoop caught him in her arms.
She dropped into a chair, nestled him closely, drooped
her fragrant brown head over his little bullet-eyed
red one, and rocked softly while she crooned over him--
"Billy, boy, where have you been?
Oh, I have been to seek a wife,
She's the joy of my life,
But then she's a young thing and she can't leave her mammy!"
Billy clung to her frantically. Elnora wiped his eyes,
kissed his face, swayed and sang.
"Why aren't you asleep?" she asked at last.
"I don't know," said Billy. "I tried. I tried awful
hard cos I thought he wanted me to, but it ist wouldn't come.
Please tell her I tried." He appealed to Margaret.
"He did try to go to sleep," admitted Margaret.
"Maybe he can't sleep in his clothes," suggested Elnora.
"Haven't you an old dressing sacque? I could roll
the sleeves."
Margaret got an old sacque, and Elnora put it on Billy.
Then she brought a basin of water and bathed his face
and head. She gathered him up and began to rock again.
"Have you got a pa?" asked Billy.
"No," said Elnora.
"Is he dead like mine?"
"Did it hurt him to die?"
"I don't know."
Billy was wide awake again. "It didn't hurt my pa,"
he boasted; "he ist died while he was asleep. He didn't
even know it was coming."
"I am glad of that," said Elnora, pressing the small
head against her breast again.
Billy escaped her hand and sat up. "I guess I won't go
to sleep," he said. "It might `come softly' and get me."
"It won't get you, Billy," said Elnora, rocking and
singing between sentences. "It doesn't get little boys.
It just takes big people who are sick."
"Was my pa sick?"
"Yes," said Elnora. "He had a dreadful sickness
inside him that burned, and made him drink things.
That was why he would forget his little boys and girl.
If he had been well, he would have gotten you good things
to eat, clean clothes, and had the most fun with you."
Billy leaned against her and closed his eyes, and Elnora
rocked hopefully.
"If I was dead would you cry?" he was up again.
"Yes, I would," said Elnora, gripping him closer until
Billy almost squealed with the embrace.
"Do you love me tight as that?" he questioned blissfully.
"Yes, bushels and bushels," said Elnora. "Better than
any little boy in the whole world."
Billy looked at Margaret. "She don't!" he said.
"She'd be glad if it would get me `softly,' right now.
She don't want me here 't all."
Elnora smothered his face against her breast and rocked.
"You love me, don't you?"
"I will, if you will go to sleep."
"Every single day you will give me your dinner for
the bologna, won't you," said Billy.
"Yes, I will," replied Elnora. "But you will have as
good lunch as I do after this. You will have milk, eggs,
chicken, all kinds of good things, little pies, and cakes, maybe."
Billy shook his head. "I am going back home soon as
it is light," he said, "she don't want me. She thinks
I'm a bad boy. She's going to whip me--if he lets her.
She said so. I heard her. Oh, I wish he hadn't died!
I want to go home." Billy shrieked again.
Mrs. Comstock had started to walk slowly to meet Elnora.
The girl had been so late that her mother reached the
Sinton gate and followed the path until the picture inside
became visible. Elnora had told her about Wesley
taking Billy home. Mrs. Comstock had some curiosity
to see how Margaret bore the unexpected addition to
her family. Billy's voice, raised with excitement, was
plainly audible. She could see Elnora holding him, and
hear his excited wail. Wesley's face was drawn and haggard,
and Margaret's set and defiant. A very imp of perversity
entered the breast of Mrs. Comstock.
"Hoity, toity!" she said as she suddenly appeared
in the door. "Blest if I ever heard a man making sounds
like that before!"
Billy ceased suddenly. Mrs. Comstock was tall, angular,
and her hair was prematurely white. She was only
thirty-six, although she appeared fifty. But there
was an expression on her usually cold face that was
attractive just then, and Billy was in search of attractions.
"Have I stayed too late, mother?" asked Elnora anxiously.
"I truly intended to come straight back, but I thought
I could rock Billy to sleep first. Everything is strange,
and he's so nervous."
"Is that your ma?" demanded Billy.
"Does she love you?"
"Of course!"
"My mother didn't love me," said Billy. "She went
away and left me, and never came back. She don't care
what happens to me. You wouldn't go away and leave
your little girl, would you?" questioned Billy.
"No," said Katharine Comstock, "and I wouldn't
leave a little boy, either."
Billy began sliding from Elnora's knees.
"Do you like boys?" he questioned.
"If there is anything I love it is a boy," said Mrs.
Comstock assuringly. Billy was on the floor.
"Do you like dogs?"
"Yes. Almost as well as boys. I am going to buy a
dog as soon as I can find a good one."
Billy swept toward her with a whoop.
"Do you want a boy?" he shouted.
Katharine Comstock stretched out her arms, and
gathered him in.
"Of course, I want a boy!" she rejoiced.
"Maybe you'd like to have me?" offered Billy.
"Sure I would," triumphed Mrs. Comstock. "Any one
would like to have you. You are just a real boy, Billy."
"Will you take Snap?"
"I'd like to have Snap almost as well as you."
"Mother!" breathed Elnora imploringly. "Don't! Oh, don't!
He thinks you mean it!"
"And so I do mean it," said Mrs. Comstock. "I'll take
him in a jiffy. I throw away enough to feed a little
tyke like him every day. His chatter would be great
company while you are gone. Blood soon can be purified
with right food and baths, and as for Snap, I meant to
buy a bulldog, but possibly Snap will serve just as well.
All I ask of a dog is to bark at the right time. I'll do
the rest. Would you like to come and be my boy, Billy?"
Billy leaned against Mrs. Comstock, reached his arms
around her neck and gripped her with all his puny might.
"You can whip me all you want to," he said. "I won't
make a sound."
Mrs. Comstock held him closely and her hard face was
softening; of that there could be no doubt.
"Now, why would any one whip a nice little boy like
you?" she asked wonderingly.
"She"--Billy from his refuge waved toward Margaret
--"she was going to whip me 'cause her cats fought,
when I tied their tails together and hung them over the
line to dry. How did I know her old cats would fight?"
Mrs. Comstock began to laugh suddenly, and try as
she would she could not stop so soon as she desired.
Billy studied her.
"Have you got turkeys?" he demanded.
"Yes, flocks of them," said Mrs. Comstock, vainly
struggling to suppress her mirth, and settle her face in
its accustomed lines.
"Are their tails fast?" demanded Billy.
"Why, I think so," marvelled Mrs. Comstock.
"Hers ain't!" said Billy with the wave toward Margaret
that was becoming familiar. "Her turkey pulled,
and its tail comed right off. She's going to whip me if he
lets her. I didn't know the turkey would pull. I didn't
know its tail would come off. I won't ever touch one
again, will I?"
"Of course, you won't," said Mrs. Comstock. "And what's
more, I don't care if you do! I'd rather have a fine
little man like you than all the turkeys in the country.
Let them lose their old tails if they want to, and let
the cats fight. Cats and turkeys don't compare with boys,
who are going to be fine big men some of these days."
Then Billy and Mrs. Comstock hugged each other
rapturously, while their audience stared in silent amazement.
"You like boys!" exulted Billy, and his head dropped
against Mrs. Comstock in unspeakable content.
"Yes, and if I don't have to carry you the whole way
home, we must start right now," said Mrs. Comstock.
"You are going to be asleep before you know it."
Billy opened his eyes and braced himself. "I can
walk," he said proudly.
"All right, we must start. Come, Elnora! Good-night, folks!"
Mrs. Comstock set Billy on the floor, and arose gripping
his hand. "You take the other side, Elnora, and we will
help him as much as we can," she said.
Elnora stared piteously at Margaret, then at Wesley,
and arose in white-faced bewilderment.
"Billy, are you going to leave without even saying goodbye
to me?" asked Wesley, with a gulp.
Billy held tight to Mrs. Comstock and Elnora.
"Good-bye!" he said casually. "I'll come and see you
some time."
Wesley Sinton gave a smothered sob, and strode from
the room.
Mrs. Comstock started toward the door, dragging at
Billy while Elnora pulled back, but Mrs. Sinton was before
them, her eyes flashing.
"Kate Comstock, you think you are mighty smart,
don't you?" she cried.
"I ain't in the lunatic asylum, where you belong,
anyway,"said Mrs. Comstock. "I am smart enough to tell
a dandy boy when I see him, and I'm good and glad to
get him. I'll love to have him!"
"Well, you won't have him!" exclaimed Margaret Sinton.
"That boy is Wesley's! He found him, and brought him here.
You can't come in and take him like that! Let go of him!"
"Not much, I won't!" cried Mrs. Comstock. "Leave the
poor sick little soul here for you to beat, because he
didn't know just how to handle things! Of course, he'll
make mistakes. He must have a lot of teaching, but not
the kind he'll get from you! Clear out of my way!"
"You let go of our boy," ordered Margaret.
"Why? Do you want to whip him, before he can go
to sleep?" jeered Mrs. Comstock.
"No, I don't!" said Margaret. "He's Wesley's, and
nobody shall touch him. Wesley!"
Wesley Sinton appeared behind Margaret in the doorway,
and she turned to him. "Make Kate Comstock let go of
our boy!" she demanded.
"Billy, she wants you now," said Wesley Sinton. "She won't
whip you, and she won't let any one else. You can have
stacks of good things to eat, ride in the carriage, and have
a great time. Won't you stay with us?"
Billy drew away from Mrs. Comstock and Elnora.
He faced Margaret, his eyes shrewd with unchildish wisdom.
Necessity had taught him to strike the hot iron, to
drive the hard bargain.
"Can I have Snap to live here always?" he demanded.
"Yes, you can have all the dogs you want," said Margaret Sinton.
"Can I sleep close enough so's I can touch you?"
"Yes, you can move your lounge up so that you can
hold my hand," said Margaret.
"Do you love me now?" questioned Billy.
"I'll try to love you, if you are a good boy," said Margaret.
"Then I guess I'll stay," said Billy, walking over to her.
Out in the night Elnora and her mother went down the
road in the moonlight; every few rods Mrs. Comstock
laughed aloud.
"Mother, I don't understand you," sobbed Elnora.
"Well, maybe when you have gone to high school longer
you will," said Mrs. Comstock. "Anyway, you saw me
bring Mag Sinton to her senses, didn't you?"
"Yes, I did," answered Elnora, "but I thought you
were in earnest. So did Billy, and Uncle Wesley, and
Aunt Margaret."
"Well, wasn't I?" inquired Mrs. Comstock.
"But you just said you brought Aunt Margaret to!"
"Well, didn't I?"
"I don't understand you."
"That's the reason I am recommending more schooling!"
Elnora took her candle and went to bed. Mrs. Comstock
was feeling too good to sleep. Twice of late she
really had enjoyed herself for the first in sixteen years,
and greediness for more of the same feeling crept into her
blood like intoxication. As she sat brooding alone she
knew the truth. She would have loved to have taken Billy.
She would not have minded his mischief, his chatter, or his dog.
He would have meant a distraction from herself that she
greatly needed; she was even sincere about the dog.
She had intended to tell Wesley to buy her one at the very
first opportunity. Her last thought was of Billy.
She chuckled softly, for she was not saintly, and now she
knew how she could even a long score with Margaret and Wesley
in a manner that would fill her soul with grim satisfaction.
Immediately after dinner on Sunday Wesley Sinton
stopped at the Comstock gate to ask if Elnora wanted
to go to town with them. Billy sat beside him and he
did not appear as if he were on his way to a funeral.
Elnora said she had to study and could not go, but she
suggested that her mother take her place. Mrs. Comstock
put on her hat and went at once, which surprised Elnora.
She did not know that her mother was anxious for an
opportunity to speak with Sinton alone. Elnora knew
why she was repeatedly cautioned not to leave their land,
if she went specimen hunting.
She studied two hours and was several lessons ahead of
her classes. There was no use to go further. She would
take a walk and see if she could gather any caterpillars or
find any freshly spun cocoons. She searched the bushes
and low trees behind the garden and all around the edge of
the woods on their land, and having little success, at
last came to the road. Almost the first thorn bush she
examined yielded a Polyphemus cocoon. Elnora lifted
her head with the instinct of a hunter on the chase, and
began work. She reached the swamp before she knew it,
carrying five fine cocoons of different species as her reward.
She pushed back her hair and gazed around longingly. A few
rods inside she thought she saw cocoons on a bush, to
which she went, and found several. Sense of caution was
rapidly vanishing; she was in a fair way to forget everything
and plunge into the swamp when she thought she heard
footsteps coming down the trail. She went back, and came
out almost facing Pete Corson.
That ended her difficulty. She had known him since childhood.
When she sat on the front bench of the Brushwood schoolhouse,
Pete had been one of the big boys at the back of the room.
He had been rough and wild, but she never had been afraid of
him, and often he had given her pretty things from the swamp.
"What luck!" she cried. "I promised mother I would
not go inside the swamp alone, and will you look at the
cocoons I've found! There are more just screaming for
me to come get them, because the leaves will fall with the
first frost, and then the jays and crows will begin to tear
them open. I haven't much time, since I'm going to school.
You will go with me, Pete! Please say yes! Just a little way!"
"What are those things?" asked the man, his keen
black eyes staring at her.
"They are the cases these big caterpillars spin for
winter, and in the spring they come out great night moths,
and I can sell them. Oh, Pete, I can sell them for enough
to take me through high school and dress me so like the
others that I don't look different, and if I have very good
luck I can save some for college. Pete, please go with me?"
"Why don't you go like you always have?"
"Well, the truth is, I had a little scare," said Elnora.
"I never did mean to go alone; sometimes I sort of wandered
inside farther than I intended, chasing things. You know
Duncan gave me Freckles's books, and I have been gathering
moths like he did. Lately I found I could sell them.
If I can make a complete collection, I can get three
hundred dollars for it. Three such collections would
take me almost through college, and I've four years in the
high school yet. That's a long time. I might collect them."
"Can every kind there is be found here?"
"No, not all of them, but when I get more than I need
of one kind, I can trade them with collectors farther north
and west, so I can complete sets. It's the only way I see
to earn the money. Look what I have already. Big gray
Cecropias come from this kind; brown Polyphemus from that,
and green Lunas from these. You aren't working on Sunday.
Go with me only an hour, Pete!"
The man looked at her narrowly. She was young,
wholesome, and beautiful. She was innocent, intensely in
earnest, and she needed the money, he knew that.
"You didn't tell me what scared you," he said.
"Oh, I thought I did! Why you know I had Freckles's
box packed full of moths and specimens, and one evening
I sold some to the Bird Woman. Next morning I found
a note telling me it wasn't safe to go inside the swamp.
That sort of scared me. I think I'll go alone, rather than
miss the chance, but I'd be so happy if you would take
care of me. Then I could go anywhere I chose, because if
I mired you could pull me out. You will take care of me, Pete?"
"Yes, I'll take care of you," promised Pete Corson.
"Goody!" said Elnora. "Let's start quick! And Pete,
you look at these closely, and when you are hunting or
going along the road, if one dangles under your nose, you
cut off the little twig and save it for me, will you?"
"Yes, I'll save you all I see," promised Pete. He pushed
back his hat and followed Elnora. She plunged fearlessly
among bushes, over underbrush, and across dead logs.
One minute she was crying wildly, that here was a
big one, the next she was reaching for a limb above her
head or on her knees overturning dead leaves under a
hickory or oak tree, or working aside black muck with her
bare hands as she searched for buried pupae cases. For the
first hour Pete bent back bushes and followed, carrying
what Elnora discovered. Then he found one.
"Is this the kind of thing you are looking for?" he asked
bashfully, as he presented a wild cherry twig.
"Oh Pete, that's a Promethea! I didn't even hope to
find one."
"What's the bird like?" asked Pete.
"Almost black wings," said Elnora, "with clay-coloured
edges, and the most wonderful wine-coloured flush over the
under side if it's a male, and stronger wine above and below
if it's a female. Oh, aren't I happy!"
"How would it do to make what you have into a bunch
that we could leave here, and come back for them?"
"That would be all right."
Relieved of his load Pete began work. First, he narrowly
examined the cocoons Elnora had found. He questioned
her as to what other kinds would be like. He began to
use the eyes of a trained woodman and hunter in her behalf.
He saw several so easily, and moved through the forest
so softly, that Elnora forgot the moths in watching him.
Presently she was carrying the specimens, and he was
making the trips of investigation to see which was a
cocoon and which a curled leaf, or he was on his knees
digging around stumps. As he worked he kept asking questions.
What kind of logs were best to look beside, what trees were
pupae cases most likely to be under; on what bushes did
caterpillars spin most frequently? Time passed, as it
always does when one's occupation is absorbing.
When the Sintons took Mrs. Comstock home, they stopped
to see Elnora. She was not there. Mrs. Comstock called
at the edge of her woods and received no reply.
Then Wesley turned and drove back to the Limberlost.
He left Margaret and Mrs. Comstock holding the team and
entertaining Billy, while he entered the swamp.
Elnora and Pete had made a wide trail behind them.
Before Sinton had thought of calling, he heard voices
and approached with some caution. Soon he saw Elnora,
her flushed face beaming as she bent with an armload of
twigs and branches and talked to a kneeling man.
"Now go cautiously!" she was saying. "I am just sure
we will find an Imperialis here. It's their very kind of
a place. There! What did I tell you! Isn't that splendid?
Oh, I am so glad you came with me!"
Wesley stood staring in speechless astonishment, for
the man had arisen, brushed the dirt from his hands, and
held out to Elnora a small shining dark pupa case.
As his face came into view Sinton almost cried out, for he
was the one man of all others Wesley knew with whom he
most feared for Elnora's safety. She had him on his
knees digging pupae cases for her from the swamp.
"Elnora!" called Sinton. "Elnora!"
"Oh, Uncle Wesley!" cried the girl. "See what luck
we've had! I know we have a dozen and a half cocoons
and we have three pupae cases. It's much harder to get
the cases because you have to dig for them, and you can't
see where to look. But Pete is fine at it! He's found
three, and he says he will keep watch beside the roads,
and through the woods while he hunts. Isn't that splendid
of him? Uncle Wesley, there is a college over there
on the western edge of the swamp. Look closely, and
you can see the great dome up among the clouds."
"I should say you have had luck," said Wesley, striving
to make his voice natural. "But I thought you were not
coming to the swamp?"
"Well, I wasn't," said Elnora, "but I couldn't find
many anywhere else, honest, I couldn't, and just as soon
as I came to the edge I began to see them here. I kept
my promise. I didn't come in alone. Pete came with me.
He's so strong, he isn't afraid of anything, and
he's perfectly splendid to locate cocoons! He's found
half of these. Come on, Pete, it's getting dark now, and
we must go."
They started toward the trail, Pete carrying the cocoons.
He left them at the case, while Elnora and Wesley went
on to the carriage together.
"Elnora Comstock, what does this mean?" demanded
her mother.
"It's all right, one of the neighbours was with her, and
she got several dollars' worth of stuff," interposed Wesley.
"You oughter seen my pa," shouted Billy. "He was ist
all whited out, and he laid as still as anything.
They put him away deep in the ground."
"Billy!" breathed Margaret in a prolonged groan.
"Jimmy and Belle are going to be together in a nice place.
They are coming to see me, and Snap is right down here
by the wheel. Here, Snap! My, but he'll be tickled
to get something to eat! He's 'most twisted as me.
They get new clothes, and all they want to eat, too,
but they'll miss me. They couldn't have got along
without me. I took care of them. I had a lot of things
give to me 'cause I was the littlest, and I always divided
with them. But they won't need me now."
When she left the carriage Mrs. Comstock gravely
shook hands with Billy. "Remember," she said to him,
"I love boys, and I love dogs. Whenever you don't
have a good time up there, take your dog and come right
down and be my little boy. We will just have loads of fun.
You should hear the whistles I can make. If you
aren't treated right you come straight to me."
Billy wagged his head sagely. "You ist bet I will!"
he said.
"Mother, how could you?" asked Elnora as they walked
up the path.
"How could I, missy? You better ask how couldn't I?
I just couldn't! Not for enough to pay, my road tax!
Not for enough to pay the road tax, and the dredge tax, too!"
"Aunt Margaret always has been lovely to me, and I
don't think it's fair to worry her."
"I choose to be lovely to Billy, and let her sweat out
her own worries just as she has me, these sixteen years.
There is nothing in all this world so good for people as
taking a dose of their own medicine. The difference is
that I am honest. I just say in plain English, `if they
don't treat you right, come to me.' They have only
said it in actions and inferences. I want to teach Mag
Sinton how her own doses taste, but she begins to sputter
before I fairly get the spoon to her lips. Just you wait!"
"When I think what I owe her----" began Elnora.
"Well, thank goodness, I don't owe her anything, and
so I'm perfectly free to do what I choose. Come on,
and help me get supper. I'm hungry as Billy!"
Margaret Sinton rocked slowly back and forth in her chair.
On her breast lay Billy's red head, one hand clutched her
dress front with spasmodic grip, even after he was unconscious.
"You mustn't begin that, Margaret," said Sinton.
"He's too heavy. And it's bad for him. He's better
off to lie down and go to sleep alone."
"He's very light, Wesley. He jumps and quivers so.
He has to be stronger than he is now, before he will
sleep soundly."
Elnora missed the little figure at the bridge the
following morning. She slowly walked up the
street and turned in at the wide entrance to the
school grounds. She scarcely could comprehend that
only a week ago she had gone there friendless, alone, and
so sick at heart that she was physically ill. To-day she
had decent clothing, books, friends, and her mind was at
ease to work on her studies.
As she approached home that night the girl paused
in amazement. Her mother had company, and she was laughing.
Elnora entered the kitchen softly and peeped into the
sitting-room. Mrs. Comstock sat in her chair holding
a book and every few seconds a soft chuckle broke into
a real laugh. Mark Twain was doing his work; while
Mrs. Comstock was not lacking in a sense of humour.
Elnora entered the room before her mother saw her.
Mrs. Comstock looked up with flushed face.
"Where did you get this?" she demanded.
"I bought it," said Elnora.
"Bought it! With all the taxes due!"
"I paid for it out of my Indian money, mother," said Elnora.
"I couldn't bear to spend so much on myself and nothing
at all on you. I was afraid to buy the dress I should
have liked to, and I thought the book would be company,
while I was gone. I haven't read it, but I do hope it's good."
"Good! It's the biggest piece of foolishness I have
read in all my life. I've laughed all day, ever since I
found it. I had a notion to go out and read some of it
to the cows and see if they wouldn't laugh."
"If it made you laugh, it's a wise book," said Elnora.
"Wise!" cried Mrs. Comstock. "You can stake your life
it's a wise book. It takes the smartest man there is
to do this kind of fooling," and she began laughing again.
Elnora, highly satisfied with her purchase, went to her
room and put on her working clothes. Thereafter she
made a point of bringing a book that she thought would
interest her mother, from the library every week, and
leaving it on the sitting-room table. Each night she
carried home at least two school books and studied until
she had mastered the points of her lessons. She did
her share of the work faithfully, and every available
minute she was in the fields searching for cocoons, for
the moths promised to become her largest source of income.
She gathered baskets of nests, flowers, mosses, insects,
and all sorts of natural history specimens and sold them
to the grade teachers. At first she tried to tell these
instructors what to teach their pupils about the specimens;
but recognizing how much more she knew than they, one after
another begged her to study at home, and use her spare hours
in school to exhibit and explain nature subjects to
their pupils. Elnora loved the work, and she needed the
money, for every few days some matter of expense arose
that she had not expected.
From the first week she had been received and invited
with the crowd of girls in her class, and it was their
custom in passing through the business part of the city
to stop at the confectioners' and take turns in treating
to expensive candies, ice cream sodas, hot chocolate, or
whatever they fancied. When first Elnora was asked she
accepted without understanding. The second time she
went because she seldom had tasted these things, and
they were so delicious she could not resist. After that
she went because she knew all about it, and had decided
to go.
She had spent half an hour on the log beside the trail
in deep thought and had arrived at her conclusions.
She worked harder than usual for the next week, but she
seemed to thrive on work. It was October and the red
leaves were falling when her first time came to treat.
As the crowd flocked down the broad walk that night
Elnora called, "Girls, it's my treat to-night! Come on!"
She led the way through the city to the grocery they
patronized when they had a small spread, and entering
came out with a basket, which she carried to the bridge
on her home road. There she arranged the girls in two
rows on the cement abutments and opening her basket
she gravely offered each girl an exquisite little basket of
bark, lined with red leaves, in one end of which nestled a
juicy big red apple and in the other a spicy doughnut not
an hour from Margaret Sinton's frying basket.
Another time she offered big balls of popped corn stuck
together with maple sugar, and liberally sprinkled with
beechnut kernels. Again it was hickory-nut kernels
glazed with sugar, another time maple candy, and once
a basket of warm pumpkin pies. She never made any
apology, or offered any excuse. She simply gave what
she could afford, and the change was as welcome to those
city girls accustomed to sodas and French candy, as were
these same things to Elnora surfeited on popcorn and pie.
In her room was a little slip containing a record of the
number of weeks in the school year, the times it would be
her turn to treat and the dates on which such occasions
would fall, with a number of suggestions beside each.
Once the girls almost fought over a basket lined with
yellow leaves, and filled with fat, very ripe red haws.
In late October there was a riot over one which was lined
with red leaves and contained big fragrant pawpaws
frost-bitten to a perfect degree. Then hazel nuts were
ripe, and once they served. One day Elnora at her wits'
end, explained to her mother that the girls had given her
things and she wanted to treat them. Mrs. Comstock,
with characteristic stubbornness, had said she would leave
a basket at the grocery for her, but firmly declined to say
what would be in it. All day Elnora struggled to keep
her mind on her books. For hours she wavered in tense
uncertainty. What would her mother do? Should she
take the girls to the confectioner's that night or risk
the basket? Mrs. Comstock could make delicious things to
eat, but would she?
As they left the building Elnora made a final rapid
mental calculation. She could not see her way clear to
a decent treat for ten people for less than two dollars and
if the basket proved to be nice, then the money would
be wasted. She decided to risk it. As they went to the
bridge the girls were betting on what the treat would be,
and crowding near Elnora like spoiled small children.
Elnora set down the basket.
"Girls," she said, "I don't know what this is myself, so
all of us are going to be surprised. Here goes!"
She lifted the cover and perfumes from the land of spices
rolled up. In one end of the basket lay ten enormous
sugar cakes the tops of which had been liberally dotted
with circles cut from stick candy. The candy had melted
in baking and made small transparent wells of waxy sweetness
and in the centre of each cake was a fat turtle made from
a raisin with cloves for head and feet. The remainder
of the basket was filled with big spiced pears that could
be held by their stems while they were eaten. The girls
shrieked and attacked the cookies, and of all the treats
Elnora offered perhaps none was quite so long remembered
as that.
When Elnora took her basket, placed her books in it,
and started home, all the girls went with her as far as the
fence where she crossed the field to the swamp. At parting
they kissed her good-bye. Elnora was a happy girl as she
hurried home to thank her mother. She was happy over her
books that night, and happy all the way to school the
following morning.
When the music swelled from the orchestra her heart
almost broke with throbbing joy. For music always had
affected her strangely, and since she had been comfortable
enough in her surroundings to notice things, she had
listened to every note to find what it was that literally hurt
her heart, and at last she knew. It was the talking of
the violins. They were human voices, and they spoke a
language Elnora understood. It seemed to her that she
must climb up on the stage, take the instruments from the
fingers of the players and make them speak what was in
her heart.
That night she said to her mother, "I am perfectly crazy
for a violin. I am sure I could play one, sure as I live.
Did any one----" Elnora never completed that sentence.
"Hush!" thundered Mrs. Comstock. "Be quiet!
Never mention those things before me again--never as
long as you live! I loathe them! They are a snare of the
very devil himself! They were made to lure men and
women from their homes and their honour. If ever I see
you with one in your fingers I will smash it in pieces."
Naturally Elnora hushed, but she thought of nothing else
after she had finished her lessons. At last there came
a day when for some reason the leader of the orchestra
left his violin on the grand piano. That morning Elnora
made her first mistake in algebra. At noon, as soon as the
building was empty, she slipped into the auditorium, found
the side door which led to the stage, and going through the
musicians' entrance she took the violin. She carried it back
into the little side room where the orchestra assembled, closed
all the doors, opened the case and lifted out the instrument.
She laid it on her breast, dropped her chin on it and
drew the bow softly across the strings. One after another
she tested the open notes. Gradually her stroke ceased to
tremble and she drew the bow firmly. Then her fingers
began to fall and softly, slowly she searched up and down
those strings for sounds she knew. Standing in the middle
of the floor, she tried over and over. It seemed scarcely a
minute before the hall was filled with the sound of hurrying
feet, and she was forced to put away the violin and go
to her classes. The next day she prayed that the violin
would be left again, but her petition was not answered.
That night when she returned from the school she made an
excuse to go down to see Billy. He was engaged in hulling
walnuts by driving them through holes in a board. His
hands were protected by a pair of Margaret's old gloves,
but he had speckled his face generously. He appeared
well, and greeted Elnora hilariously.
"Me an' the squirrels are laying up our winter stores,"
he shouted. "Cos the cold is coming, an' the snow an'
if we have any nuts we have to fix 'em now. But I'm
ahead, cos Uncle Wesley made me this board, and I can
hull a big pile while the old squirrel does only ist one
with his teeth."
Elnora picked him up and kissed him. "Billy, are you
happy?" she asked.
"Yes, and so's Snap," answered Billy. "You ought to
see him make the dirt fly when he gets after a chipmunk.
I bet you he could dig up pa, if anybody wanted him to."
"Billy!" gasped Margaret as she came out to them.
"Well, me and Snap don't want him up, and I bet you
Jimmy and Belle don't, either. I ain't been twisty
inside once since I been here, and I don't want to go away,
and Snap don't, either. He told me so."
"Billy! That is not true. Dogs can't talk,"
cautioned Margaret.
"Then what makes you open the door when he asks you to?"
demanded Billy.
"Scratching and whining isn't talking."
"Anyway, it's the best Snap can talk, and you get up
and do things he wants done. Chipmunks can talk too.
You ought to hear them damn things holler when Snap
gets them!"
"Billy! When you want a cooky for supper and I don't
give it to you it is because you said a wrong word."
"Well, for----" Billy clapped his hand over his mouth
and stained his face in swipes. "Well, for--anything!
Did I go an' forget again! The cookies will get all
hard, won't they? I bet you ten dollars I don't say that
any more."
He espied Wesley and ran to show him a walnut too big
to go through the holes, and Elnora and Margaret entered
the house.
They talked of many things for a time and then Elnora
said suddenly: "Aunt Margaret, I like music."
"I've noticed that in you all your life," answered Margaret.
"If dogs can't talk, I can make a violin talk," announced
Elnora, and then in amazement watched the face of
Margaret Sinton grow pale.
"A violin!" she wavered. "Where did you get a violin?"
"They fairly seemed to speak to me in the orchestra.
One day the conductor left his in the auditorium, and I
took it, and Aunt Margaret, I can make it do the wind in
the swamp, the birds, and the animals. I can make any
sound I ever heard on it. If I had a chance to practise
a little, I could make it do the orchestra music, too.
I don't know how I know, but I do."
"Did--did you ever mention it to your mother?"
faltered Margaret.
"Yes, and she seems prejudiced against them. But oh,
Aunt Margaret, I never felt so about anything, not even
going to school. I just feel as if I'd die if I didn't
have one. I could keep it at school, and practise at noon
a whole hour. Soon they'd ask me to play in the orchestra.
I could keep it in the case and practise in the woods
in summer. You'd let me play over here Sunday.
Oh, Aunt Margaret, what does one cost? Would it be wicked
for me to take of my money, and buy a very cheap one?
I could play on the least expensive one made."
"Oh, no you couldn't! A cheap machine makes cheap music.
You got to have a fine fiddle to make it sing. But there's
no sense in your buying one. There isn't a decent reason
on earth why you shouldn't have your fa----"
"My father's!" cried Elnora. She caught Margaret
Sinton by the arm. "My father had a violin! He played it.
That's why I can! Where is it! Is it in our house?
Is it in mother's room?"
"Elnora!" panted Margaret. "Your mother will kill me!
She always hated it."
"Mother dearly loves music," said Elnora.
"Not when it took the man she loved away from her to
make it!"
"Where is my father's violin?"
"I've never seen a picture of my father. I've never
heard his name mentioned. I've never had a scrap that
belonged to him. Was he my father, or am I a charity
child like Billy, and so she hates me?"
"She has good pictures of him. Seems she just can't bear
to hear him talked about. Of course, he was your father.
They lived right there when you were born. She doesn't
dislike you; she merely tries to make herself think
she does. There's no sense in the world in you not
having his violin. I've a great notion----"
"Has mother got it?"
"No. I've never heard her mention it. It was not at
home when he--when he died."
"Do you know where it is?"
"Yes. I'm the only person on earth who does, except
the one who has it."
"Who is that?"
"I can't tell you, but I will see if they have it yet, and get
it if I can. But if your mother finds it out she will never
forgive me."
"I can't help it," said Elnora. I want that violin."
"I'll go to-morrow, and see if it has been destroyed."
"Destroyed! Oh, Aunt Margaret! Would any one dare?"
"I hardly think so. It was a good instrument. He played
it like a master."
"Tell me!" breathed Elnora.
"His hair was red and curled more than yours, and his
eyes were blue. He was tall, slim, and the very imp
of mischief. He joked and teased all day until he picked
up that violin. Then his head bent over it, and his eyes
got big and earnest. He seemed to listen as if he first
heard the notes, and then copied them. Sometimes he
drew the bow trembly, like he wasn't sure it was right, and
he might have to try again. He could almost drive you
crazy when he wanted to, and no man that ever lived could
make you dance as he could. He made it all up as he went.
He seemed to listen for his dancing music, too. It appeared
to come to him; he'd begin to play and you had to keep time.
You couldn't be still; he loved to sweep a crowd around with
that bow of his. I think it was the thing you call inspiration.
I can see him now, his handsome head bent, his cheeks red,
his eyes snapping, and that bow going across the strings,
and driving us like sheep. He always kept his body swinging,
and he loved to play. He often slighted his work shamefully,
and sometimes her a little; that is why she hated it--Elnora,
what are you making me do?"
The tears were rolling down Elnora's cheeks. "Oh, Aunt
Margaret," she sobbed. "Why haven't you told me about
him sooner? I feel as if you had given my father to me
living, so that I could touch him. I can see him, too!
Why didn't you ever tell me before? Go on! Go on!"
"I can't, Elnora! I'm scared silly. I never meant to
say anything. If I hadn't promised her not to talk of
him to you she wouldn't have let you come here.
She made me swear it."
"But why? Why? Was he a shame? Was he disgraced?"
"Maybe it was that unjust feeling that took possession
of her when she couldn't help him from the swamp. She had
to blame some one, or go crazy, so she took it out on you.
At times, those first ten years, if I had talked to you,
and you had repeated anything to her, she might have
struck you too hard. She was not master of herself.
You must be patient with her, Elnora. God only knows
what she has gone through, but I think she is a little
better, lately."
"So do I," said Elnora. "She seems more interested in
my clothes, and she fixes me such delicious lunches that the
girls bring fine candies and cake and beg to trade. I gave
half my lunch for a box of candy one day, brought it
home to her, and told her. Since, she has wanted me to
carry a market basket and treat the crowd every day, she
was so pleased. Life has been too monotonous for her.
I think she enjoys even the little change made by my going
and coming. She sits up half the night to read the library
books I bring, but she is so stubborn she won't even admit
that she touches them. Tell me more about my father."
"Wait until I see if I can find the violin."
So Elnora went home in suspense, and that night she
added to her prayers: "Dear Lord, be merciful to my
father, and oh, do help Aunt Margaret to get his violin."
Wesley and Billy came in to supper tired and hungry.
Billy ate heartily, but his eyes often rested on a plate of
tempting cookies, and when Wesley offered them to the
boy he reached for one. Margaret was compelled to explain
that cookies were forbidden that night.
"What!" said Wesley. "Wrong words been coming again.
Oh Billy, I do wish you could remember! I can't sit
and eat cookies before a little boy who has none.
I'll have to put mine back, too." Billy's face twisted
in despair.
"Aw go on!" he said gruffly, but his chin was jumping,
for Wesley was his idol.
"Can't do it," said Wesley. "It would choke me."
Billy turned to Margaret. "You make him," he appealed.
"He can't, Billy," said Margaret. "I know how he feels.
You see, I can't myself."
Then Billy slid from his chair, ran to the couch, buried his
face in the pillow and cried heart-brokenly. Wesley hurried
to the barn, and Margaret to the kitchen. When the dishes
were washed Billy slipped from the back door.
Wesley piling hay into the mangers heard a sound behind him
and inquired, "That you, Billy?"
"Yes," answered Billy, "and it's all so dark you can't
see me now, isn't it?"
"Well, mighty near," answered Wesley.
"Then you stoop down and open your mouth."
Sinton had shared bites of apple and nuts for weeks, for
Billy had not learned how to eat anything without dividing
with Jimmy and Belle. Since he had been separated
from them, he shared with Wesley and Margaret. So he
bent over the boy and received an instalment of cooky
that almost choked him.
"Now you can eat it!" shouted Billy in delight.
"It's all dark! I can't see what you're doing at all!"
Wesley picked up the small figure and set the boy on the
back of a horse to bring his face level so that they could
talk as men. He never towered from his height above
Billy, but always lifted the little soul when important
matters were to be discussed.
"Now what a dandy scheme," he commented. "Did you
and Aunt Margaret fix it up?"
"No. She ain't had hers yet. But I got one for her.
Ist as soon as you eat yours, I am going to take hers, and
feed her first time I find her in the dark."
"But Billy, where did you get the cookies? You know
Aunt Margaret said you were not to have any."
"I ist took them," said Billy, "I didn't take them for me.
I ist took them for you and her."
Wesley thought fast. In the warm darkness of the barn
the horses crunched their corn, a rat gnawed at a corner of
the granary, and among the rafters the white pigeon cooed
a soft sleepy note to his dusky mate.
"Did--did--I steal?" wavered Billy.
Wesley's big hands closed until he almost hurt the boy.
"No!" he said vehemently. "That is too big a word.
You made a mistake. You were trying to be a fine
little man, but you went at it the wrong way. You only
made a mistake. All of us do that, Billy. The world
grows that way. When we make mistakes we can see them;
that teaches us to be more careful the next time, and
so we learn."
"How wouldn't it be a mistake?"
"If you had told Aunt Margaret what you wanted to do, and
asked her for the cookies she would have given them to you."
"But I was 'fraid she wouldn't, and you ist had to have it."
"Not if it was wrong for me to have it, Billy. I don't
want it that much."
"Must I take it back?"
"You think hard, and decide yourself."
"Lift me down," said Billy, after a silence, "I got
to put this in the jar, and tell her."
Wesley set the boy on the floor, but as he did so he
paused one second and strained him close to his breast.
Margaret sat in her chair sewing; Billy slipped in and
crept beside her. The little face was lined with tragedy.
"Why Billy, whatever is the matter?" she cried as she
dropped her sewing and held out her arms. Billy stood back.
He gripped his little fists tight and squared his shoulders.
"I got to be shut up in the closet," he said.
"Oh Billy! What an unlucky day! What have you
done now?"
"I stold!" gulped Billy. "He said it was ist a mistake,
but it was worser 'an that. I took something you told
me I wasn't to have."
"Stole!" Margaret was in despair. "What, Billy?"
"Cookies!" answered Billy in equal trouble.
"Billy!" wailed Margaret. "How could you?"
"It was for him and you," sobbed Billy. "He said
he couldn't eat it 'fore me, but out in the barn it's all
dark and I couldn't see. I thought maybe he could there.
Then we might put out the light and you could have yours.
He said I only made it worse, cos I mustn't take things,
so I got to go in the closet. Will you hold me tight a
little bit first? He did."
Margaret opened her arms and Billy rushed in and clung
to her a few seconds, with all the force of his being,
then he slipped to the floor and marched to the closet.
Margaret opened the door. Billy gave one glance at
the light, clinched his fists and, walking inside, climbed
on a box. Margaret closed the door.
Then she sat and listened. Was the air pure enough?
Possibly he might smother. She had read something once.
Was it very dark? What if there should be a mouse in
the closet and it should run across his foot and
frighten him into spasms. Somewhere she had heard--
Margaret leaned forward with tense face and listened.
Something dreadful might happen. She could bear it
no longer. She arose hurriedly and opened the door.
Billy was drawn up on the box in a little heap, and he
lifted a disapproving face to her.
"Shut that door!" he said. "I ain't been in here near
long enough yet!"
The following night Elnora hurried to Sintons'.
She threw open the back door and with anxious
eyes searched Margaret's face.
"You got it!" panted Elnora. "You got it! I can
see by your face that you did. Oh, give it to me!"
"Yes, I got it, honey, I got it all right, but don't be
so fast. It had been kept in such a damp place it needed
glueing, it had to have strings, and a key was gone.
I knew how much you wanted it, so I sent Wesley right
to town with it. They said they could fix it good as
new, but it should be varnished, and that it would take
several days for the glue to set. You can have it Saturday."
"You found it where you thought it was? You know
it's his?"
"Yes, it was just where I thought, and it's the same
violin I've seen him play hundreds of times. It's all
right, only laying so long it needs fixing."
"Oh Aunt Margaret! Can I ever wait?"
"It does seem a long time, but how could I help it?
You couldn't do anything with it as it was. You see,
it had been hidden away in a garret, and it needed cleaning
and drying to make it fit to play again. You can
have it Saturday sure. But Elnora, you've got to promise
me that you will leave it here, or in town, and not let
your mother get a hint of it. I don't know what she'd do."
"Uncle Wesley can bring it here until Monday. Then I will
take it to school so that I can practise at noon. Oh, I
don't know how to thank you. And there's more than the
violin for which to be thankful. You've given me my father.
Last night I saw him plainly as life."
"Elnora you were dreaming!"
"I know I was dreaming, but I saw him. I saw him so
closely that a tiny white scar at the corner of his
eyebrow showed. I was just reaching out to touch him
when he disappeared."
"Who told you there was a scar on his forehead?"
"No one ever did in all my life. I saw it last night
as he went down. And oh, Aunt Margaret! I saw what
she did, and I heard his cries! No matter what she does,
I don't believe I ever can be angry with her again. Her heart
is broken, and she can't help it. Oh, it was terrible,
but I am glad I saw it. Now, I will always understand."
"I don't know what to make of that," said Margaret.
I don't believe in such stuff at all, but you couldn't make
it up, for you didn't know."
"I only know that I played the violin last night, as
he played it, and while I played he came through the
woods from the direction of Carneys'. It was summer
and all the flowers were in bloom. He wore gray
trousers and a blue shirt, his head was bare, and his
face was beautiful. I could almost touch him when he sank."
Margaret stood perplexed. "I don't know what to
think of that!" she ejaculated. "I was next to the last
person who saw him before he was drowned. It was late
on a June afternoon, and he was dressed as you describe.
He was bareheaded because he had found a quail's nest
before the bird began to brood, and he gathered the eggs
in his hat and left it in a fence corner to get on his way
home; they found it afterward."
"Was he coming from Carneys'?"
"He was on that side of the quagmire. Why he ever skirted
it so close as to get caught is a mystery you will have to
dream out. I never could understand it."
"Was he doing something he didn't want my mother to know?"
"Because if he had been, he might have cut close the
swamp so he couldn't be seen from the garden. You know,
the whole path straight to the pool where he sank can be
seen from our back door. It's firm on our side.
The danger is on the north and east. If he didn't want
mother to know, he might have tried to pass on either of
those sides and gone too close. Was he in a hurry?"
"Yes, he was," said Margaret. "He had been away
longer than he expected, and he almost ran when he
started home."
"And he'd left his violin somewhere that you knew, and
you went and got it. I'll wager he was going to play,
and didn't want mother to find it out!"
"It wouldn't make any difference to you if you knew
every little thing, so quit thinking about it, and just be
glad you are to have what he loved best of anything."
"That's true. Now I must hurry home. I am dreadfully late."
Elnora sprang up and ran down the road, but when
she approached the cabin she climbed the fence, crossed
the open woods pasture diagonally and entered at the
back garden gate. As she often came that way when she
had been looking for cocoons her mother asked no questions.
Elnora lived by the minute until Saturday, when,
contrary to his usual custom, Wesley went to town in
the forenoon, taking her along to buy some groceries.
Wesley drove straight to the music store, and asked for
the violin he had left to be mended.
In its new coat of varnish, with new keys and strings,
it seemed much like any other violin to Sinton, but to
Elnora it was the most beautiful instrument ever made,
and a priceless treasure. She held it in her arms, touched
the strings softly and then she drew the bow across them
in whispering measure. She had no time to think what
a remarkably good bow it was for sixteen years' disuse.
The tan leather case might have impressed her as being
in fine condition also, had she been in a state to
question anything. She did remember to ask for the bill
and she was gravely presented with a slip calling for
four strings, one key, and a coat of varnish, total, one
dollar fifty. It seemed to Elnora she never could put the
precious instrument in the case and start home. Wesley left
her in the music store where the proprietor showed her all
he could about tuning, and gave her several beginners'
sheets of notes and scales. She carried the violin in her
arms as far as the crossroads at the corner of their land,
then reluctantly put it under the carriage seat.
As soon as her work was done she ran down to Sintons'
and began to play, and on Monday the violin went to
school with her. She made arrangements with the superintendent
to leave it in his office and scarcely took time for her food
at noon, she was so eager to practise. Often one of the
girls asked her to stay in town all night for some lecture
or entertainment. She could take the violin with her,
practise, and secure help. Her skill was so great that
the leader of the orchestra offered to give her lessons
if she would play to pay for them, so her progress was
rapid in technical work. But from the first day the
instrument became hers, with perfect faith that she could
play as her father did, she spent half her practice time in
imitating the sounds of all outdoors and improvising the
songs her happy heart sang in those days.
So the first year went, and the second and third were
a repetition; but the fourth was different, for that was the
close of the course, ending with graduation and all its
attendant ceremonies and expenses. To Elnora these
appeared mountain high. She had hoarded every cent,
thinking twice before she parted with a penny, but teaching
natural history in the grades had taken time from her studies
in school which must be made up outside. She was a
conscientious student, ranking first in most of her classes,
and standing high in all branches. Her interest in
her violin had grown with the years. She went to school
early and practised half an hour in the little room adjoining
the stage, while the orchestra gathered. She put in a
full hour at noon, and remained another half hour at night.
She carried the violin to Sintons' on Saturday and practised
all the time she could there, while Margaret watched the
road to see that Mrs. Comstock was not coming. She had
become so skilful that it was a delight to hear her play
music of any composer, but when she played her own, that
was joy inexpressible, for then the wind blew, the water
rippled, the Limberlost sang her songs of sunshine, shadow,
black storm, and white night.
Since her dream Elnora had regarded her mother with
peculiar tenderness. The girl realized, in a measure, what
had happened. She avoided anything that possibly could
stir bitter memories or draw deeper a line on the hard,
white face. This cost many sacrifices, much work, and
sometimes delayed progress, but the horror of that awful
dream remained with Elnora. She worked her way cheerfully,
doing all she could to interest her mother in things
that happened in school, in the city, and by carrying books
that were entertaining from the public library.
Three years had changed Elnora from the girl of sixteen
to the very verge of womanhood. She had grown tall,
round, and her face had the loveliness of perfect
complexion, beautiful eyes and hair and an added touch
from within that might have been called comprehension.
It was a compound of self-reliance, hard knocks, heart
hunger, unceasing work, and generosity. There was no
form of suffering with which the girl could not sympathize,
no work she was afraid to attempt, no subject she had
investigated she did not understand. These things combined
to produce a breadth and depth of character altogether unusual.
She was so absorbed in her classes and her music that she
had not been able to gather many specimens. When she
realized this and hunted assiduously, she soon found
that changing natural conditions had affected such work.
Men all around were clearing available land. The trees
fell wherever corn would grow. The swamp was broken by
several gravel roads, dotted in places around the edge
with little frame houses, and the machinery of oil wells;
one especially low place around the region of Freckles's
room was nearly all that remained of the original.
Wherever the trees fell the moisture dried, the creeks
ceased to flow, the river ran low, and at times the
bed was dry. With unbroken sweep the winds of the
west came, gathering force with every mile and howled and
raved; threatening to tear the shingles from the roof,
blowing the surface from the soil in clouds of fine dust and
rapidly changing everything. From coming in with two or
three dozen rare moths in a day, in three years' time Elnora
had grown to be delighted with finding two or three.
Big pursy caterpillars could not be picked from their favourite
bushes, when there were no bushes. Dragonflies would
not hover over dry places, and butterflies became scarce
in proportion to the flowers, while no land yields over three
crops of Indian relics.
All the time the expense of books, clothing and
incidentals had continued. Elnora added to her bank
account whenever she could, and drew out when she was
compelled, but she omitted the important feature of calling
for a balance. So, one early spring morning in the last
quarter of the fourth year, she almost fainted when she
learned that her funds were gone. Commencement with its
extra expense was coming, she had no money, and very few
cocoons to open in June, which would be too late. She had
one collection for the Bird Woman complete to a pair of
Imperialis moths, and that was her only asset. On the
day she added these big Yellow Emperors she had been
promised a check for three hundred dollars, but she would
not get it until these specimens were secured.
She remembered that she never had found an Emperor
before June.
Moreover, that sum was for her first year in college.
Then she would be of age, and she meant to sell enough of
her share of her father's land to finish. She knew her
mother would oppose her bitterly in that, for Mrs.
Comstock had clung to every acre and tree that belonged to
her husband. Her land was almost complete forest where her
neighbours owned cleared farms, dotted with wells that
every hour sucked oil from beneath her holdings, but she
was too absorbed in the grief she nursed to know or care.
The Brushwood road and the redredging of the big Limberlost
ditch had been more than she could pay from her income,
and she had trembled before the wicket as she asked
the banker if she had funds to pay it, and wondered why he
laughed when he assured her she had. For Mrs. Comstock
had spent no time on compounding interest, and
never added the sums she had been depositing through
nearly twenty years. Now she thought her funds were
almost gone, and every day she worried over expenses.
She could see no reason in going through the forms of
graduation when pupils had all in their heads that was
required to graduate. Elnora knew she had to have her
diploma in order to enter the college she wanted to attend,
but she did not dare utter the word, until high school
was finished, for, instead of softening as she hoped her
mother had begun to do, she seemed to remain very
much the same.
When the girl reached the swamp she sat on a log and
thought over the expense she was compelled to meet.
Every member of her particular set was having a large
photograph taken to exchange with the others. Elnora loved
these girls and boys, and to say she could not have
their pictures to keep was more than she could endure.
Each one would give to all the others a handsome
graduation present. She knew they would prepare gifts for
her whether she could make a present in return or not.
Then it was the custom for each graduating class to give a
great entertainment and use the funds to present the school
with a statue for the entrance hall. Elnora had been cast
for and was practising a part in that performance. She was
expected to furnish her dress and personal necessities.
She had been told that she must have a green gauze dress,
and where was it to come from?
Every girl of the class would have three beautiful new
frocks for Commencement: one for the baccalaureate
sermon, another, which could be plain, for graduation
exercises, and a handsome one for the banquet and ball.
Elnora faced the past three years and wondered how she
could have spent so much money and not kept account of it.
She did not realize where it had gone. She did not
know what she could do now. She thought over the
photographs, and at last settled that question to
her satisfaction. She studied longer over the gifts,
ten handsome ones there must be, and at last decided she
could arrange for them. The green dress came first.
The lights would be dim in the scene, and the setting
deep woods. She could manage that. She simply could not
have three dresses. She would have to get a very simple one
for the sermon and do the best she could for graduation.
Whatever she got for that must be made with a guimpe that
could be taken out to make it a little more festive for
the ball. But where could she get even two pretty dresses?
The only hope she could see was to break into the collection
of the man from India, sell some moths, and try to replace
them in June. But in her soul she knew that never
would do. No June ever brought just the things she
hoped it would. If she spent the college money she knew
she could not replace it. If she did not, the only way was
to secure a room in the grades and teach a year. Her work
there had been so appreciated that Elnora felt with
the recommendation she knew she could get from the
superintendent and teachers she could secure a position.
She was sure she could pass the examinations easily.
She had once gone on Saturday, taken them and secured a
license for a year before she left the Brushwood school.
She wanted to start to college when the other girls were going.
If she could make the first year alone, she could manage
the remainder. But make that first year herself, she must.
Instead of selling any of her collection, she must hunt
as she never before had hunted and find a Yellow Emperor.
She had to have it, that was all. Also, she had to have
those dresses. She thought of Wesley and dismissed it.
She thought of the Bird Woman, and knew she could not
tell her. She thought of every way in which she ever had
hoped to earn money and realized that with the play,
committee meetings, practising, and final examinations
she scarcely had time to live, much less to do more than
the work required for her pictures and gifts. Again Elnora
was in trouble, and this time it seemed the worst of all.
It was dark when she arose and went home.
"Mother," she said, "I have a piece of news that is
decidedly not cheerful."
"Then keep it to yourself!" said Mrs. Comstock. "I think
I have enough to bear without a great girl like you
piling trouble on me."
"My money is all gone!" said Elnora.
"Well, did you think it would last forever? It's been
a marvel to me that it's held out as well as it has, the way
you've dressed and gone."
"I don't think I've spent any that I was not compelled
to," said Elnora. "I've dressed on just as little as I
possibly could to keep going. I am heartsick. I thought
I had over fifty dollars to put me through Commencement,
but they tell me it is all gone."
"Fifty dollars! To put you through Commencement!
What on earth are you proposing to do?"
"The same as the rest of them, in the very cheapest
way possible."
"And what might that be?"
Elnora omitted the photographs, the gifts and the play.
She told only of the sermon, graduation exercises, and the ball.
"Well, I wouldn't trouble myself over that," sniffed
Mrs. Comstock. "If you want to go to a sermon, put on
the dress you always use for meeting. If you need white
for the exercises wear the new dress you got last spring.
As for the ball, the best thing for you to do is to stay a
mile away from such folly. In my opinion you'd best
bring home your books, and quit right now. You can't
be fixed like the rest of them, don't be so foolish
as to run into it. Just stay here and let these last few
days go. You can't learn enough more to be of any account."
"But, mother," gasped Elnora. "You don't understand!"
"Oh, yes, I do!" said Mrs. Comstock. "I understand perfectly.
So long as the money lasted, you held up your head,
and went sailing without even explaining how you got it
from the stuff you gathered. Goodness knows I couldn't see.
But now it's gone, you come whining to me. What have I got?
Have you forgot that the ditch and the road completely
strapped me? I haven't any money. There's nothing for you
to do but get out of it."
"I can't!" said Elnora desperately. "I've gone on too long.
It would make a break in everything. They wouldn't let me
have my diploma!"
"What's the difference? You've got the stuff in your head.
I wouldn't give a rap for a scrap of paper. That don't
mean anything!"
"But I've worked four years for it, and I can't enter--
I ought to have it to help me get a school, when I want
to teach. If I don't have my grades to show, people
will think I quit because I couldn't pass my examinations.
I must have my diploma!"
"Then get it!" said Mrs. Comstock.
"The only way is to graduate with the others."
"Well, graduate if you are bound to!"
"But I can't, unless I have things enough like the
class, that I don't look as I did that first day."
"Well, please remember I didn't get you into this,
and I can't get you out. You are set on having your
own way. Go on, and have it, and see how you like it!"
Elnora went upstairs and did not come down again
that night, which her mother called pouting.
"I've thought all night," said the girl at breakfast,
"and I can't see any way but to borrow the money of
Uncle Wesley and pay it back from some that the Bird
Woman will owe me, when I get one more specimen.
But that means that I can't go to--that I will have to
teach this winter, if I can get a city grade or a
country school."
"Just you dare go dinging after Wesley Sinton for money,"
cried Mrs. Comstock. "You won't do any such a thing!"
"I can't see any other way. I've got to have the money!"
"Quit, I tell you!"
"I can't quit!--I've gone too far!"
"Well then, let me get your clothes, and you can pay
me back."
"But you said you had no money!"
"Maybe I can borrow some at the bank. Then you
can return it when the Bird Woman pays you."
"All right," said Elnora. "I don't need expensive things.
Just some kind of a pretty cheap white dress for the sermon,
and a white one a little better than I had last summer,
for Commencement and the ball. I can use the white
gloves and shoes I got myself for last year, and you can
get my dress made at the same place you did that one.
They have my measurements, and do perfect work.
Don't get expensive things. It will be warm so I can
go bareheaded."
Then she started to school, but was so tired and
discouraged she scarcely could walk. Four years' plans
going in one day! For she felt that if she did not start
to college that fall she never would. Instead of feeling
relieved at her mother's offer, she was almost too ill to
go on. For the thousandth time she groaned: "Oh, why
didn't I keep account of my money?"
After that the days passed so swiftly she scarcely had
time to think, but several trips her mother made to town,
and the assurance that everything was all right,
satisfied Elnora. She worked very hard to pass good
final examinations and perfect herself for the play.
For two days she had remained in town with the Bird Woman
in order to spend more time practising and at her work.
Often Margaret had asked about her dresses for graduation,
and Elnora had replied that they were with a woman in the
city who had made her a white dress for last year's
Commencement when she was a junior usher, and they would
be all right. So Margaret, Wesley, and Billy concerned
themselves over what they would give her for a present.
Margaret suggested a beautiful dress. Wesley said that
would look to every one as if she needed dresses.
The thing was to get a handsome gift like all the others
would have. Billy wanted to present her a five-dollar gold
piece to buy music for her violin. He was positive Elnora
would like that best of anything.
It was toward the close of the term when they drove to
town one evening to try to settle this important question.
They knew Mrs. Comstock had been alone several days,
so they asked her to accompany them. She had
been more lonely than she would admit, filled with unusual
unrest besides, and so she was glad to go. But before
they had driven a mile Billy had told that they were going
to buy Elnora a graduation present, and Mrs. Comstock
devoutly wished that she had remained at home. She was
prepared when Billy asked: "Aunt Kate, what are you going
to give Elnora when she graduates?"
"Plenty to eat, a good bed to sleep in, and do all
the work while she trollops," answered Mrs. Comstock dryly.
Billy reflected. "I guess all of them have that," he said.
"I mean a present you buy at the store, like Christmas?"
"It is only rich folks who buy presents at stores,"
replied Mrs.Comstock. "I can't afford it."
"Well, we ain't rich," he said, "but we are going to buy
Elnora something as fine as the rest of them have if we sell
a corner of the farm. Uncle Wesley said so."
"A fool and his land are soon parted," said Mrs.
Comstock tersely. Wesley and Billy laughed, but
Margaret did not enjoy the remark.
While they were searching the stores for something on
which all of them could decide, and Margaret was holding
Billy to keep him from saying anything before Mrs. Comstock
about the music on which he was determined, Mr. Brownlee
met Wesley and stopped to shake hands.
"I see your boy came out finely," he said.
"I don't allow any boy anywhere to be finer than Billy,"
said Wesley.
"I guess you don't allow any girl to surpass Elnora,"
said Mr. Brownlee. "She comes home with Ellen often,
and my wife and I love her. Ellen says she is great in her
part to-night. Best thing in the whole play! Of course,
you are in to see it! If you haven't reserved seats, you'd
better start pretty soon, for the high school auditorium
only seats a thousand. It's always jammed at these hometalent
plays. All of us want to see how our children perform."
"Why yes, of course," said the bewildered Wesley.
Then he hurried to Margaret. "Say," he said, "there is
going to be a play at the high school to-night; and Elnora
is in it. Why hasn't she told us?"
"I don't know," said Margaret, "but I'm going."
"So am I," said Billy.
"Me too!" said Wesley, "unless you think for some
reason she doesn't want us. Looks like she would have
told us if she had. I'm going to ask her mother."
"Yes, that's what's she's been staying in town for," said
Mrs. Comstock. "It's some sort of a swindle to raise
money for her class to buy some silly thing to stick up in
the school house hall to remember them by. I don't know
whether it's now or next week, but there's something of the
kind to be done."
"Well, it's to-night," said Wesley, "and we are going.
It's my treat, and we've got to hurry or we won't get in.
There are reserved seats, and we have none, so it's the
gallery for us, but I don't care so I get to take one good
peep at Elnora."
"S'pose she plays?" whispered Margaret in his ear.
"Aw, tush! She couldn't!" said Wesley.
"Well, she's been doing it three years in the orchestra,
and working like a slave at it."
"Oh, well that's different. She's in the play to-night.
Brownlee told me so. Come on, quick! We'll drive and
hitch closest place we can find to the building."
Margaret went in the excitement of the moment, but
she was troubled.
When they reached the building Wesley tied the team
to a railing and Billy sprang out to help Margaret.
Mrs. Comstock sat still.
"Come on, Kate," said Wesley, reaching his hand.
"I'm not going anywhere," said Mrs. Comstock,
settling comfortably back against the cushions.
All of them begged and pleaded, but it was no use. Not an
inch would Mrs. Comstock budge. The night was warm and
the carriage comfortable, the horses were securely hitched.
She did not care to see what idiotic thing a pack of school
children were doing, she would wait until the Sintons returned.
Wesley told her it might be two hours, and she said she did
not care if it were four, so they left her.
"Did you ever see such----?"
"Cookies!" cried Billy.
"Such blamed stubbornness in all your life?" demanded Wesley.
"Won't come to see as fine a girl as Elnora in a
stage performance. Why, I wouldn't miss it for fifty dollars!
"I think it's a blessing she didn't," said Margaret placidly.
"I begged unusually hard so she wouldn't. I'm scared of my
life for fear Elnora will play."
They found seats near the door where they could see
fairly well. Billy stood at the back of the hall and had a
good view. By and by, a great volume of sound welled
from the orchestra, but Elnora was not playing.
"Told you so!" said Sinton. "Got a notion to go out
and see if Kate won't come now. She can take my seat,
and I'll stand with Billy."
"You sit still!" said Margaret emphatically. "This is
not over yet."
So Wesley remained in his seat. The play opened and
progressed very much as all high school plays have gone
for the past fifty years. But Elnora did not appear in any
of the scenes.
Out in the warm summer night a sour, grim woman
nursed an aching heart and tried to justify herself.
The effort irritated her intensely. She felt that she
could not afford the things that were being done.
The old fear of losing the land that she and Robert
Comstock had purchased and started clearing was strong
upon her. She was thinking of him, how she needed him,
when the orchestra music poured from the open windows
near her. Mrs. Comstock endured it as long as she
could, and then slipped from the carriage and fled down
the street.
She did not know how far she went or how long she stayed,
but everything was still, save an occasional raised
voice when she wandered back. She stood looking at
the building. Slowly she entered the wide gates and
followed up the walk. Elnora had been coming here for
almost four years. When Mrs. Comstock reached the door she
looked inside. The wide hall was lighted with electricity,
and the statuary and the decorations of the walls did not
seem like pieces of foolishness. The marble appeared
pure, white, and the big pictures most interesting.
She walked the length of the hall and slowly read the titles
of the statues and the names of the pupils who had donated them.
She speculated on where the piece Elnora's class would buy
could be placed to advantage.
Then she wondered if they were having a large enough
audience to buy marble. She liked it better than the
bronze, but it looked as if it cost more. How white the
broad stairway was! Elnora had been climbing those
stairs for years and never told her they were marble.
Of course, she thought they were wood. Probably the upper
hall was even grander than this. She went over to the
fountain, took a drink, climbed to the first landing and
looked around her, and then without thought to the second.
There she came opposite the wide-open doors and the
entrance to the auditorium packed with people and a
crowd standing outside. When they noticed a tall
woman with white face and hair and black dress, one by
one they stepped a little aside, so that Mrs. Comstock
could see the stage. It was covered with curtains, and no
one was doing anything. Just as she turned to go a sound
so faint that every one leaned forward and listened,
drifted down the auditorium. It was difficult to tell just
what it was; after one instant half the audience looked
toward the windows, for it seemed only a breath of wind
rustling freshly opened leaves; merely a hint of stirring air.
Then the curtains were swept aside swiftly. The stage
had been transformed into a lovely little corner of creation,
where trees and flowers grew and moss carpeted the earth.
A soft wind blew and it was the gray of dawn. Suddenly a
robin began to sing, then a song sparrow joined him, and
then several orioles began talking at once. The light grew
stronger, the dew drops trembled, flower perfume began
to creep out to the audience; the air moved the branches
gently and a rooster crowed. Then all the scene was
shaken with a babel of bird notes in which you could hear
a cardinal whistling, and a blue finch piping. Back somewhere
among the high branches a dove cooed and then a horse
neighed shrilly. That set a blackbird crying, "T'check,"
and a whole flock answered it. The crows began to caw and
a lamb bleated. Then the grosbeaks, chats, and vireos
had something to say, and the sun rose higher, the light
grew stronger and the breeze rustled the treetops
loudly; a cow bawled and the whole barnyard answered.
The guineas were clucking, the turkey gobbler strutting,
the hens calling, the chickens cheeping, the light streamed
down straight overhead and the bees began to hum. The air
stirred strongly, and away in an unseen field a reaper
clacked and rattled through ripening wheat while the
driver whistled. An uneasy mare whickered to her colt,
the colt answered, and the light began to decline.
Miles away a rooster crowed for twilight, and dusk was
coming down. Then a catbird and a brown thrush sang
against a grosbeak and a hermit thrush. The air was
tremulous with heavenly notes, the lights went out in the
hall, dusk swept across the stage, a cricket sang and a
katydid answered, and a wood pewee wrung the heart with
its lonesome cry. Then a night hawk screamed, a whippoor-
will complained, a belated killdeer swept the sky,
and the night wind sang a louder song. A little screech owl
tuned up in the distance, a barn owl replied, and a great
horned owl drowned both their voices. The moon shone and the
scene was warm with mellow light. The bird voices died
and soft exquisite melody began to swell and roll. In the
centre of the stage, piece by piece the grasses, mosses and
leaves dropped from an embankment, the foliage softly
blew away, while plainer and plainer came the outlines of a
lovely girl figure draped in soft clinging green. In her
shower of bright hair a few green leaves and white blossoms
clung, and they fell over her robe down to her feet. Her white
throat and arms were bare, she leaned forward a little and
swayed with the melody, her eyes fast on the clouds above her,
her lips parted, a pink tinge of exercise in her cheeks as
she drew her bow. She played as only a peculiar chain of
circumstances puts it in the power of a very few to play.
All nature had grown still, the violin sobbed, sang,
danced and quavered on alone, no voice in particular;
the soul of the melody of all nature combined in one
great outpouring.
At the doorway, a white-faced woman endured it as long
as she could and then fell senseless. The men nearest
carried her down the hall to the fountain, revived her, and
then placed her in the carriage to which she directed them.
The girl played on and never knew. When she finished,
the uproar of applause sounded a block down the street, but
the half-senseless woman scarcely realized what it meant.
Then the girl came to the front of the stage, bowed, and
lifting the violin she played her conception of an invitation
to dance. Every living soul within sound of her notes
strained their nerves to sit still and let only their hearts
dance with her. When that began the woman ran toward
the country. She never stopped until the carriage overtook
her half-way to her cabin. She said she had grown
tired of sitting, and walked on ahead. That night she
asked Billy to remain with her and sleep on Elnora's bed.
Then she pitched headlong upon her own, and suffered
agony of soul such as she never before had known.
The swamp had sent back the soul of her loved dead and
put it into the body of the daughter she resented,
and it was almost more than she could endure and live.
That was Friday night. Elnora came home Saturday morning
and began work. Mrs. Comstock asked no questions, and
the girl only told her that the audience had been large
enough to more than pay for the piece of statuary the class
had selected for the hall. Then she inquired about her
dresses and was told they would be ready for her. She had
been invited to go to the Bird Woman's to prepare for both
the sermon and Commencement exercises. Since there was so
much practising to do, it had been arranged that she should
remain there from the night of the sermon until after she
was graduated. If Mrs. Comstock decided to attend she was
to drive in with the Sintons. When Elnora begged her to
come she said she cared nothing about such silliness.
It was almost time for Wesley to come to take Elnora to
the city, when fresh from her bath, and dressed to her outer
garment, she stood with expectant face before her mother
and cried: "Now my dress, mother!"
Mrs. Comstock was pale as she replied: "It's on my bed.
Help yourself."
Elnora opened the door and stepped into her mother's
room with never a misgiving. Since the night Margaret
and Wesley had brought her clothing, when she first started
to school, her mother had selected all of her dresses, with
Mrs. Sinton's help made most of them, and Elnora had
paid the bills. The white dress of the previous spring was
the first made at a dressmaker's. She had worn that as
junior usher at Commencement; but her mother had selected
the material, had it made, and it had fitted perfectly and
had been suitable in every way. So with her heart at rest on
that point, Elnora hurried to the bed to find only her last
summer's white dress, freshly washed and ironed. For an
instant she stared at it, then she picked up the garment,
looked at the bed beneath it, and her gaze slowly swept the room.
It was unfamiliar. Perhaps this was the third time she
had been in it since she was a very small child. Her eyes
ranged over the beautiful walnut dresser, the tall bureau,
the big chest, inside which she never had seen, and the row
of masculine attire hanging above it. Somewhere a
dainty lawn or mull dress simply must be hanging: but it
was not. Elnora dropped on the chest because she felt too
weak to stand. In less than two hours she must be in
the church, at Onabasha. She could not wear a last
year's washed dress. She had nothing else. She leaned
against the wall and her father's overcoat brushed her face.
She caught the folds and clung to it with all her might.
"Oh father! Father!" she moaned. "I need you! I don't
believe you would have done this!" At last she
opened the door.
"I can't find my dress," she said.
"Well, as it's the only one there I shouldn't think it
would be much trouble."
"You mean for me to wear an old washed dress to-night?"
"It's a good dress. There isn't a hole in it! There's no
reason on earth why you shouldn't wear it."
"Except that I will not," said Elnora. "Didn't you
provide any dress for Commencement, either?"
"If you soil that to-night, I've plenty of time to wash
it again."
Wesley's voice called from the gate.
"In a minute," answered Elnora.
She ran upstairs and in an incredibly short time came
down wearing one of her gingham school dresses. Her face
cold and hard, she passed her mother and went into
the night. Half an hour later Margaret and Billy stopped
for Mrs. Comstock with the carriage. She had determined
fully that she would not go before they called. With the
sound of their voices a sort of horror of being left seized her,
so she put on her hat, locked the door and went out to them.
"How did Elnora look?" inquired Margaret anxiously.
"Like she always does," answered Mrs. Comstock curtly.
"I do hope her dresses are as pretty as the others,"
said Margaret. "None of them will have prettier faces or
nicer ways."
Wesley was waiting before the big church to take care of
the team. As they stood watching the people enter the
building, Mrs. Comstock felt herself growing ill. When they
went inside among the lights, saw the flower-decked stage,
and the masses of finely dressed people, she grew no better.
She could hear Margaret and Billy softly commenting on what
was being done.
"That first chair in the very front row is Elnora's,"
exulted Billy, "cos she's got the highest grades, and so she
gets to lead the procession to the platform."
"The first chair!" "Lead the procession!" Mrs. Comstock
was dumbfounded. The notes of the pipe organ began to fill
the building in a slow rolling march. Would Elnora lead
the procession in a gingham dress? Or would she be absent
and her chair vacant on this great occasion? For now, Mrs.
Comstock could see that it was a great occasion. Every one
would remember how Elnora had played a few nights before,
and they would miss her and pity her. Pity? Because she had
no one to care for her. Because she was worse off than if she
had no mother. For the first time in her life, Mrs. Comstock
began to study herself as she would appear to others.
Every time a junior girl came fluttering down the aisle,
leading some one to a seat, and Mrs. Comstock saw a beautiful
white dress pass, a wave of positive illness swept over her.
What had she done? What would become of Elnora?
As Elnora rode to the city, she answered Wesley's
questions in monosyllables so that he thought she was
nervous or rehearsing her speech and did not care to talk.
Several times the girl tried to tell him and realized that if
she said the first word it would bring uncontrollable tears.
The Bird Woman opened the screen and stared unbelievingly.
"Why, I thought you would be ready; you are so late!"
she said. "If you have waited to dress here, we must hurry."
"I have nothing to put on," said Elnora.
In bewilderment the Bird Woman drew her inside.
"Did--did--" she faltered. "Did you think you would wear that?"
"No. I thought I would telephone Ellen that there had
been an accident and I could not come. I don't know yet
how to explain. I'm too sick to think. Oh, do you suppose
I can get something made by Tuesday, so that I can graduate?"
"Yes; and you'll get something on you to-night, so that
you can lead your class, as you have done for four years.
Go to my room and take off that gingham, quickly. Anna, drop
everything, and come help me."
The Bird Woman ran to the telephone and called Ellen Brownlee.
"Elnora has had an accident. She will be a little late,"
she said. "You have got to make them wait. Have them
play extra music before the march."
Then she turned to the maid. "Tell Benson to have the
carriage at the gate, just as soon as he can get it there.
Then come to my room. Bring the thread box from the
sewing-room, that roll of wide white ribbon on the cutting
table, and gather all the white pins from every dresser in
the house. But first come with me a minute."
"I want that trunk with the Swamp Angel's stuff in it,
from the cedar closet," she panted as they reached the top
of the stairs.
They hurried down the hall together and dragged the
big trunk to the Bird Woman's room. She opened it and
began tossing out white stuff.
"How lucky that she left these things!" she cried.
"Here are white shoes, gloves, stockings, fans, everything!"
"I am all ready but a dress," said Elnora.
The Bird Woman began opening closets and pulling out
drawers and boxes.
"I think I can make it this way," she said.
She snatched up a creamy lace yoke with long sleeves
that recently had been made for her and held it out.
Elnora slipped into it, and the Bird Woman began smoothing
out wrinkles and sewing in pins. It fitted very well
with a little lapping in the back. Next, from among the
Angel's clothing she caught up a white silk waist with low
neck and elbow sleeves, and Elnora put it on. It was
large enough, but distressingly short in the waist, for the
Angel had worn it at a party when she was sixteen. The Bird
Woman loosened the sleeves and pushed them to a puff on
the shoulders, catching them in places with pins.
She began on the wide draping of the yoke, fastening it
front, back and at each shoulder. She pulled down the
waist and pinned it. Next came a soft white dress skirt
of her own. By pinning her waist band quite four inches
above Elnora's, the Bird Woman could secure a perfect
Empire sweep, with the clinging silk. Then she began
with the wide white ribbon that was to trim a new frock for
herself, bound it three times around the high waist effect
she had managed, tied the ends in a knot and let them fall
to the floor in a beautiful sash.
"I want four white roses, each with two or three
leaves," she cried.
Anna ran to bring them, while the Bird Woman added pins.
"Elnora," she said, "forgive me, but tell me truly. Is your
mother so poor as to make this necessary?"
"No," answered Elnora. "Next year I am heir to my share
of over three hundred acres of land covered with almost
as valuable timber as was in the Limberlost. We adjoin it.
There could be thirty oil wells drilled that would yield
to us the thousands our neighbours are draining from under
us, and the bare land is worth over one hundred dollars an
acre for farming. She is not poor, she is--I don't know
what she is. A great trouble soured and warped her.
It made her peculiar. She does not in the least understand,
but it is because she doesn't care to, instead of ignorance.
She does not----"
Elnora stopped.
"She is--is different," finished the girl.
Anna came with the roses. The Bird Woman set one
on the front of the draped yoke, one on each shoulder and
the last among the bright masses of brown hair. Then she
turned the girl facing the tall mirror.
"Oh!" panted Elnora. "You are a genius! Why, I
will look as well as any of them."
"Thank goodness for that!" cried the Bird Woman.
"If it wouldn't do, I should have been ill. You are lovely;
altogether lovely! Ordinarily I shouldn't say that; but
when I think of how you are carpentered, I'm admiring
the result."
The organ began rolling out the march as they came in sight.
Elnora took her place at the head of the procession,
while every one wondered. Secretly they had hoped that
she would be dressed well enough, that she would not
appear poor and neglected. What this radiant young
creature, gowned in the most recent style, her smooth skin
flushed with excitement, and a rose-set coronet of red gold
on her head, had to do with the girl they knew was difficult
to decide. The signal was given and Elnora began the
slow march across the vestry and down the aisle. The music
welled softly, and Margaret began to sob without knowing why.
Mrs. Comstock gripped her hands together and shut
her eyes. It seemed an eternity to the suffering woman
before Margaret caught her arm and whispered, "Oh, Kate!
For any sake look at her! Here! The aisle across!"
Mrs. Comstock opened her eyes and directing them
where she was told, gazed intently, and slid down in
her seat close to collapse. She was saved by Margaret's
tense clasp and her command: "Here! Idiot! Stop that!"
In the blaze of light Elnora climbed the steps to the
palm-embowered platform, crossed it and took her place.
Sixty young men and women, each of them dressed the
best possible, followed her. There were manly, finelooking
men in that class which Elnora led. There were
girls of beauty and grace, but not one of them was handsomer
or clothed in better taste than she.
Billy thought the time never would come when Elnora
would see him, but at last she met his eye, then Margaret
and Wesley had faint signs of recognition in turn,
but there was no softening of the girl's face and no hint
of a smile when she saw her mother.
Heartsick, Katharine Comstock tried to prove to herself
that she was justified in what she had done, but she
could not. She tried to blame Elnora for not saying that
she was to lead a procession and sit on a platform in the
sight of hundreds of people; but that was impossible, for
she realized that she would have scoffed and not understood
if she had been told. Her heart pained until she suffered
with every breath.
When at last the exercises were over she climbed into
the carriage and rode home without a word. She did
not hear what Margaret and Billy were saying. She scarcely
heard Wesley, who drove behind, when he told her that
Elnora would not be home until Wednesday. Early the next
morning Mrs. Comstock was on her way to Onabasha.
She was waiting when the Brownlee store opened.
She examined ready-made white dresses, but they had
only one of the right size, and it was marked forty dollars.
Mrs. Comstock did not hesitate over the price, but whether
the dress would be suitable. She would have to ask Elnora.
She inquired her way to the home of the Bird Woman and knocked.
"Is Elnora Comstock here?" she asked the maid.
"Yes, but she is still in bed. I was told to let her
sleep as long as she would."
"Maybe I could sit here and wait," said Mrs. Comstock.
"I want to see about getting her a dress for to-morrow.
I am her mother."
"Then you don't need wait or worry," said the girl cheerfully.
"There are two women up in the sewing-room at work on a
dress for her right now. It will be done in time, and it will
be a beauty."
Mrs. Comstock turned and trudged back to the Limberlost.
The bitterness in her soul became a physical actuality,
which water would not wash from her lips. She was
too late! She was not needed. Another woman was
mothering her girl. Another woman would prepare a
beautiful dress such as Elnora had worn the previous night.
The girl's love and gratitude would go to her. Mrs. Comstock
tried the old process of blaming some one else, but she felt
no better. She nursed her grief as closely as ever in
the long days of the girl's absence. She brooded
over Elnora's possession of the forbidden violin and her
ability to play it until the performance could not have
been told from her father's. She tried every refuge her
mind could conjure, to quiet her heart and remove the fear
that the girl never would come home again, but it persisted.
Mrs. Comstock could neither eat nor sleep. She wandered
around the cabin and garden. She kept far from the pool
where Robert Comstock had sunk from sight for she felt
that it would entomb her also if Elnora did not come home
Wednesday morning. The mother told herself that she would
wait, but the waiting was as bitter as anything she ever had known.
When Elnora awoke Monday another dress was in the hands
of a seamstress and was soon fitted. It had belonged
to the Angel, and was a soft white thing that with a
little alteration would serve admirably for Commencement
and the ball. All that day Elnora worked, helping prepare
the auditorium for the exercises, rehearsing the march
and the speech she was to make in behalf of the class.
The following day was even busier. But her mind was at
rest, for the dress was a soft delicate lace easy to
change, and the marks of alteration impossible to detect.
The Bird Woman had telephoned to Grand Rapids, explained
the situation and asked the Angel if she might use it.
The reply had been to give the girl the contents of the chest.
When the Bird Woman told Elnora, tears filled her eyes.
"I will write at once and thank her," she said. "With all
her beautiful gowns she does not need them, and I do.
They will serve for me often, and be much finer than anything
I could afford. It is lovely of her to give me the dress
and of you to have it altered for me, as I never could."
The Bird Woman laughed. "I feel religious to-day,"
she said. "You know the first and greatest rock of my
salvation is `Do unto others.' I'm only doing to you
what there was no one to do for me when I was a girl
very like you. Anna tells me your mother was here early
this morning and that she came to see about getting you
a dress."
"She is too late!" said Elnora coldly. "She had over
a month to prepare my dresses, and I was to pay for them,
so there is no excuse."
"Nevertheless, she is your mother," said the Bird
Woman, softly. "I think almost any kind of a mother
must be better than none at all, and you say she has had
great trouble."
"She loved my father and he died," said Elnora. "The same
thing, in quite as tragic a manner, has happened to
thousands of other women, and they have gone on with
calm faces and found happiness in life by loving others.
There was something else I am afraid I never shall forget;
this I know I shall not, but talking does not help. I must
deliver my presents and photographs to the crowd. I have
a picture and I made a present for you, too, if you would
care for them."
"I shall love anything you give me," said the Bird Woman.
"I know you well enough to know that whatever you do will
be beautiful."
Elnora was pleased over that, and as she tried on her
dress for the last fitting she was really happy. She was
lovely in the dainty gown: it would serve finely for the ball
and many other like occasions, and it was her very own.
The Bird Woman's driver took Elnora in the carriage and
she called on all the girls with whom she was especially
intimate, and left her picture and the package containing
her gift to them. By the time she returned parcels for
her were arriving. Friends seemed to spring from everywhere.
Almost every one she knew had some gift for her, while
because they so loved her the members of her crowd had
made her beautiful presents. There were books, vases,
silver pieces, handkerchiefs, fans, boxes of flowers
and candy. One big package settled the trouble at Sinton's,
for it contained a dainty dress from Margaret,
a five-dollar gold piece, conspicuously labelled,
"I earned this myself," from Billy, with which to buy
music; and a gorgeous cut-glass perfume bottle, it would
have cost five dollars to fill with even a moderatepriced
scent, from Wesley.
In an expressed crate was a fine curly-maple dressing
table, sent by Freckles. The drawers were filled with
wonderful toilet articles from the Angel. The Bird
Woman added an embroidered linen cover and a small
silver vase for a few flowers, so no girl of the class had
finer gifts. Elnora laid her head on the table sobbing
happily, and the Bird Woman was almost crying herself.
Professor Henley sent a butterfly book, the grade rooms in
which Elnora had taught gave her a set of volumes covering
every phase of life afield, in the woods, and water.
Elnora had no time to read so she carried one of these
books around with her hugging it as she went. After she
had gone to dress a queer-looking package was brought
by a small boy who hopped on one foot as he handed it
in and said: "Tell Elnora that is from her ma."
"Who are you?" asked the Bird Woman as she took
the bundle.
"I'm Billy!" announced the boy. "I gave her the five dollars.
I earned it myself dropping corn, sticking onions, and
pulling weeds. My, but you got to drop, and stick, and
pull a lot before it's five dollars' worth."
"Would you like to come in and see Elnora's gifts?"
"Yes, ma'am!" said Billy, trying to stand quietly.
"Gee-mentley!" he gasped. "Does Elnora get all this?"
"I bet you a thousand dollars I be first in my class
when I graduate. Say, have the others got a lot more
than Elnora?"
"I think not."
"Well, Uncle Wesley said to find out if I could, and if
she didn't have as much as the rest, he'd buy till she did,
if it took a hundred dollars. Say, you ought to know him!
He's just scrumptious! There ain't anybody any where finer
'an he is. My, he's grand!"
"I'm very sure of it!" said the Bird Woman. "I've often
heard Elnora say so."
"I bet you nobody can beat this!" he boasted. Then he
stopped, thinking deeply. "I don't know, though,"
he began reflectively. "Some of them are awful rich;
they got big families to give them things and wagon loads
of friends, and I haven't seen what they have. Now, maybe
Elnora is getting left, after all!"
"Don't worry, Billy," she said. "I will watch, and
if I find Elnora is `getting left' I'll buy her some more
things myself. But I'm sure she is not. She has more
beautiful gifts now than she will know what to do with, and
others will come. Tell your Uncle Wesley his girl is
bountifully remembered, very happy, and she sends her
dearest love to all of you. Now you must go, so I can
help her dress. You will be there to-night of course?"
"Yes, sir-ee! She got me a seat, third row from the
front, middle section, so I can see, and she's going to
wink at me, after she gets her speech off her mind.
She kissed me, too! She's a perfect lady, Elnora is.
I'm going to marry her when I am big enough."
"Why isn't that splendid!" laughed the Bird Woman
as she hurried upstairs.
"Dear!" she called. "Here is another gift for you."
Elnora was half disrobed as she took the package and,
sitting on a couch, opened it. The Bird Woman bent over
her and tested the fabric with her fingers.
"Why, bless my soul!" she cried. "Hand-woven, handembroidered
linen, fine as silk. It's priceless' I haven't
seen such things in years. My mother had garments like
those when I was a child, but my sisters had them cut up
for collars, belts, and fancy waists while I was small.
Look at the exquisite work!"
"Where could it have come from?" cried Elnora.
She shook out a petticoat, with a hand-wrought ruffle
a foot deep, then an old-fashioned chemise the neck and
sleeve work of which was elaborate and perfectly wrought.
On the breast was pinned a note that she hastily opened.
"I was married in these," it read, "and I had intended
to be buried in them, but perhaps it would be more sensible
for you to graduate and get married in them yourself, if
you like. Your mother."
"From my mother!" Wide-eyed, Elnora looked at
the Bird Woman. "I never in my life saw the like.
Mother does things I think I never can forgive, and when
I feel hardest, she turns around and does something that
makes me think she just must love me a little bit, after all.
Any of the girls would give almost anything to graduate
in hand-embroidered linen like that. Money can't buy
such things. And they came when I was thinking she
didn't care what became of me. Do you suppose she can
be insane?"
"Yes," said the Bird Woman. "Wildly insane, if she
does not love you and care what becomes of you."
Elnora arose and held the petticoat to her. "Will you
look at it?" she cried. "Only imagine her not getting my
dress ready, and then sending me such a petticoat as this!
Ellen would pay fifty dollars for it and never blink.
I suppose mother has had it all my life, and I never saw
it before."
"Go take your bath and put on those things," said the
Bird Woman. "Forget everything and be happy. She is
not insane. She is embittered. She did not understand
how things would be. When she saw, she came at once to
provide you a dress. This is her way of saying she is
sorry she did not get the other. You notice she has not
spent any money, so perhaps she is quite honest in saying
she has none."
"Oh, she is honest!" said Elnora. "She wouldn't care
enough to tell an untruth. She'd say just how things were,
no matter what happened."
Soon Elnora was ready for her dress. She never had
looked so well as when she again headed the processional
across the flower and palm decked stage of the high
school auditorium. As she sat there she could have
reached over and dropped a rose she carried into the
seat she had occupied that September morning when she
entered the high school. She spoke the few words she
had to say in behalf of the class beautifully, had the
tiny wink ready for Billy, and the smile and nod of
recognition for Wesley and Margaret. When at last she
looked into the eyes of a white-faced woman next them,
she slipped a hand to her side and raised her skirt the
fraction of an inch, just enough to let the embroidered
edge of a petticoat show a trifle. When she saw the look
of relief which flooded her mother's face, Elnora knew
that forgiveness was in her heart, and that she would
go home in the morning.
It was late afternoon before she arrived, and a dray
followed with a load of packages. Mrs. Comstock was
overwhelmed. She sat half dazed and made Elnora show
her each costly and beautiful or simple and useful gift,
tell her carefully what it was and from where it came.
She studied the faces of Elnora's particular friends.
The gifts from them had to be set in a group. Several times
she started to speak and then stopped. At last, between
her dry lips, came a harsh whisper.
"Elnora, what did you give back for these things?"
"I'll show you," said Elnora cheerfully. "I made the
same gifts for the Bird Woman, Aunt Margaret and you
if you care for it. But I have to run upstairs to get it."
When she returned she handed her mother an oblong frame,
hand carved, enclosing Elnora's picture, taken by a
schoolmate's camera. She wore her storm-coat and carried
a dripping umbrella. From under it looked her bright face;
her books and lunchbox were on her arm, and across the
bottom of the frame was carved, "Your Country Classmate."
Then she offered another frame.
"I am strong on frames," she said. "They seemed to
be the best I could do without money. I located the
maple and the black walnut myself, in a little corner that
had been overlooked between the river and the ditch.
They didn't seem to belong to any one so I just took them.
Uncle Wesley said it was all right, and he cut and hauled
them for me. I gave the mill half of each tree for sawing
and curing the remainder. Then I gave the wood-carver
half of that for making my frames. A photographer gave
me a lot of spoiled plates, and I boiled off the emulsion, and
took the specimens I framed from my stuff. The man
said the white frames were worth three and a half, and the
black ones five. I exchanged those little framed pictures
for the photographs of the others. For presents, I gave
each one of my crowd one like this, only a different moth.
The Bird Woman gave me the birch bark. She got it up
north last summer."
Elnora handed her mother a handsome black-walnut
frame a foot and a half wide by two long. It finished a
small, shallow glass-covered box of birch bark, to the
bottom of which clung a big night moth with delicate pale
green wings and long exquisite trailers.
"So you see I did not have to be ashamed of my gifts,"
said Elnora. "I made them myself and raised and
mounted the moths."
"Moth, you call it," said Mrs. Comstock. "I've seen a
few of the things before."
"They are numerous around us every June night, or at
least they used to be," said Elnora. "I've sold hundreds
of them, with butterflies, dragonflies, and other specimens.
Now, I must put away these and get to work, for it is
almost June and there are a few more I want dreadfully.
If I find them I will be paid some money for which I have
been working."
She was afraid to say college at that time. She thought it
would be better to wait a few days and see if an opportunity
would not come when it would work in more naturally.
Besides, unless she could secure the Yellow Emperor she
needed to complete her collection, she could not talk
college until she was of age, for she would have no money.
Elnora, bring me the towel, quick!" cried Mrs Comstock.
"In a minute, mother," mumbled Elnora.
She was standing before the kitchen mirror, tying the
back part of her hair, while the front turned over her face.
"Hurry! There's a varmint of some kind!"
Elnora ran into the sitting-room and thrust the heavy
kitchen towel into her mother's hand. Mrs. Comstock
swung open the screen door and struck at some object,
Elnora tossed the hair from her face so that she could see
past her mother. The girl screamed wildly.
"Don't! Mother, don't!"
Mrs. Comstock struck again. Elnora caught her arm.
"It's the one I want! It's worth a lot of money!
Don't! Oh, you shall not!"
"Shan't, missy?" blazed Mrs. Comstock. "When did
you get to bossing me?"
The hand that held the screen swept a half-circle and
stopped at Elnora's cheek. She staggered with the blow,
and across her face, paled with excitement, a red mark
arose rapidly. The screen slammed shut, throwing the
creature on the floor before them. Instantly Mrs.
Comstock crushed it with her foot. Elnora stepped back.
Excepting the red mark, her face was very white.
"That was the last moth I needed," she said, "to complete
a collection worth three hundred dollars. You've ruined
it before my eyes!"
"Moth!" cried Mrs. Comstock. "You say that because
you are mad. Moths have big wings. I know a moth!"
"I've kept things from you," said Elnora, "because I
didn't dare confide in you. You had no sympathy with me.
But you know I never told you untruths in all my life."
"It's no moth!" reiterated Mrs. Comstock.
"It is!" cried Elnora. "It's from a case in the ground.
Its wings take two or three hours to expand and harden."
"If I had known it was a moth----" Mrs. Comstock wavered.
"You did know! I told you! I begged you to stop!
It meant just three hundred dollars to me."
"Bah! Three hundred fiddlesticks!"
"They are what have paid for books, tuition, and clothes
for the past four years. They are what I could have
started on to college. You've ruined the very one I needed.
You never made any pretence of loving me. At last I'll
be equally frank with you. I hate you! You are a selfish,
wicked woman! I hate you!"
Elnora turned, went through the kitchen and from the
back door. She followed the garden path to the gate and
walked toward the swamp a short distance when reaction
overtook her. She dropped on the ground and leaned
against a big log. When a little child, desperate as now,
she had tried to die by holding her breath. She had
thought in that way to make her mother sorry, but she had
learned that life was a thing thrust upon her and she could
not leave it at her wish.
She was so stunned over the loss of that moth, which
she had childishly named the Yellow Emperor, that she
scarcely remembered the blow. She had thought no luck
in all the world would be so rare as to complete her
collection; now she had been forced to see a splendid
Imperialis destroyed before her. There was a possibility
that she could find another, but she was facing the
certainty that the one she might have had and with which she
undoubtedly could have attracted others, was spoiled by
her mother. How long she sat there Elnora did not know
or care. She simply suffered in dumb, abject misery, an
occasional dry sob shaking her. Aunt Margaret was right.
Elnora felt that morning that her mother never would be
any different. The girl had reached the place where she
realized that she could endure it no longer.
As Elnora left the room, Mrs. Comstock took one step
after her.
"You little huzzy!" she gasped.
But Elnora was gone. Her mother stood staring.
"She never did lie to me," she muttered. "I guess
it was a moth. And the only one she needed to get three
hundred dollars, she said. I wish I hadn't been so fast!
I never saw anything like it. I thought it was some
deadly, stinging, biting thing. A body does have to be
mighty careful here. But likely I've spilt the milk now.
Pshaw! She can find another! There's no use to be foolish.
Maybe moths are like snakes, where there's one, there are two."
Mrs. Comstock took the broom and swept the moth out
of the door. Then she got down on her knees and
carefully examined the steps, logs and the earth of the
flower beds at each side. She found the place where
the creature had emerged from the ground, and the hard,
dark-brown case which had enclosed it, still wet inside.
Then she knew Elnora had been right. It was a moth.
Its wings had been damp and not expanded. Mrs. Comstock
never before had seen one in that state, and she
did not know how they originated. She had thought all
of them came from cases spun on trees or against walls
or boards. She had seen only enough to know that there
were such things; as a flash of white told her that an ermine
was on her premises, or a sharp "buzzzzz" warned her
of a rattler.
So it was from creatures like that Elnora had secured
her school money. In one sickening sweep there rushed
into the heart of the woman a full realization of the
width of the gulf that separated her from her child.
Lately many things had pointed toward it, none more plainly
than when Elnora, like a reincarnation of her father, had
stood fearlessly before a large city audience and played
with even greater skill than he, on what Mrs. Comstock
felt very certain was his violin. But that little crawling
creature of earth, crushed by her before its splendid yellow
and lavender wings could spread and carry it into the
mystery of night, had performed a miracle.
"We are nearer strangers to each other than we are with
any of the neighbours," she muttered.
So one of the Almighty's most delicate and beautiful
creations was sacrificed without fulfilling the law, yet
none of its species ever served so glorious a cause, for
at last Mrs. Comstock's inner vision had cleared. She went
through the cabin mechanically. Every few minutes
she glanced toward the back walk to see if Elnora
were coming. She knew arrangements had been made with
Margaret to go to the city some time that day, so she
grew more nervous and uneasy every moment. She was
haunted by the fear that the blow might discolour
Elnora's cheek; that she would tell Margaret. She went
down the back walk, looking intently in all directions,
left the garden and followed the swamp path. Her step
was noiseless on the soft, black earth, and soon she
came close enough to see Elnora. Mrs. Comstock stood
looking at the girl in troubled uncertainty. Not knowing
what to say, at last she turned and went back to the cabin.
Noon came and she prepared dinner, calling, as she
always did, when Elnora was in the garden, but she got
no response, and the girl did not come. A little after
one o'clock Margaret stopped at the gate.
"Elnora has changed her mind. She is not going,"
called Mrs. Comstock.
She felt that she hated Margaret as she hitched her
horse and came up the walk instead of driving on.
"You must be mistaken," said Margaret. "I was
going on purpose for her. She asked me to take her.
I had no errand. Where is she?"
"I will call her," said Mrs. Comstock.
She followed the path again, and this time found Elnora
sitting on the log. Her face was swollen and discoloured,
and her eyes red with crying. She paid no attention
to her mother.
"Mag Sinton is here," said Mrs. Comstock harshly.
"I told her you had changed your mind, but she said
you asked her to go with you, and she had nothing to
go for herself."
Elnora arose, recklessly waded through the deep swamp
grasses and so reached the path ahead of her mother.
Mrs. Comstock followed as far as the garden, but she
could not enter the cabin. She busied herself among
the vegetables, barely looking up when the back-door
screen slammed noisily. Margaret Sinton approached
colourless, her eyes so angry that Mrs. Comstock shrank back.
"What's the matter with Elnora's face?" demanded Margaret.
Mrs. Comstock made no reply.
"You struck her, did you?"
"I thought you wasn't blind!"
"I have been, for twenty long years now, Kate Comstock,"
said Margaret Sinton, "but my eyes are open at last.
What I see is that I've done you no good and Elnora a
big wrong. I had an idea that it would kill you to know,
but I guess you are tough enough to stand anything.
Kill or cure, you get it now!"
"What are you frothing about?" coolly asked Mrs. Comstock.
"You!" cried Margaret. "You! The woman who doesn't
pretend to love her only child. Who lets her grow to
a woman, as you have let Elnora, and can't be satisfied
with every sort of neglect, but must add abuse yet;
and all for a fool idea about a man who wasn't worth
his salt!"
Mrs. Comstock picked up a hoe.
"Go right on!" she said. "Empty yourself. It's the
last thing you'll ever do!"
"Then I'll make a tidy job of it," said Margaret.
"You'll not touch me. You'll stand there and hear
the truth at last, and because I dare face you and tell
it, you will know in your soul it is truth. When Robert
Comstock shaved that quagmire out there so close he
went in, he wanted to keep you from knowing where he
was coming from. He'd been to see Elvira Carney.
They had plans to go to a dance that night----"
"Close your lips!" said Mrs. Comstock in a voice of
deadly quiet.
"You know I wouldn't dare open them if I wasn't
telling you the truth. I can prove what I say. I was
coming from Reeds. It was hot in the woods and I
stopped at Carney's as I passed for a drink.
Elvira's bedridden old mother heard me, and she was so
crazy for some one to talk with, I stepped in a minute.
I saw Robert come down the path. Elvira saw him, too, so
she ran out of the house to head him off. It looked funny,
and I just deliberately moved where I could see and hear.
He brought her his violin, and told her to get ready and
meet him in the woods with it that night, and they would
go to a dance. She took it and hid it in the loft to the
well-house and promised she'd go."
"Are you done?" demanded Mrs. Comstock.
"No. I am going to tell you the whole story. You don't
spare Elnora anything. I shan't spare you. I hadn't
been here that day, but I can tell you just how he was
dressed, which way he went and every word they said,
though they thought I was busy with her mother
and wouldn't notice them. Put down your hoe, Kate.
I went to Elvira, told her what I knew and made her give
me Comstock's violin for Elnora over three years ago.
She's been playing it ever since. I won't see her
slighted and abused another day on account of a man
who would have broken your heart if he had lived.
Six months more would have showed you what everybody
else knew. He was one of those men who couldn't trust
himself, and so no woman was safe with him. Now, will
you drop grieving over him, and do Elnora justice?"
Mrs. Comstock grasped the hoe tighter and turning she
went down the walk, and started across the woods to the
home of Elvira Carney. With averted head she passed
the pool, steadily pursuing her way. Elvira Carney,
hanging towels across the back fence, saw her coming
and went toward the gate to meet her. Twenty years
she had dreaded that visit. Since Margaret Sinton
had compelled her to produce the violin she had hidden
so long, because she was afraid to destroy it, she had
come closer expectation than dread. The wages of sin
are the hardest debts on earth to pay, and they are always
collected at inconvenient times and unexpected places.
Mrs. Comstock's face and hair were so white, that her
dark eyes seemed burned into their setting. Silently she
stared at the woman before her a long time.
"I might have saved myself the trouble of coming,"
she said at last, "I see you are guilty as sin!"
"What has Mag Sinton been telling you?" panted the
miserable woman, gripping the fence.
"The truth!" answered Mrs. Comstock succinctly.
"Guilt is in every line of your face, in your eyes, all over
your wretched body. If I'd taken a good look at you
any time in all these past years, no doubt I could have
seen it just as plain as I can now. No woman or man
can do what you've done, and not get a mark set on them
for every one to read."
"Mercy!" gasped weak little Elvira Carney. "Have mercy!"
"Mercy?" scoffed Mrs. Comstock. "Mercy! That's a
nice word from you! How much mercy did you have
on me? Where's the mercy that sent Comstock to the
slime of the bottomless quagmire, and left me to see it,
and then struggle on in agony all these years?
How about the mercy of letting me neglect my baby all
the days of her life? Mercy! Do you really dare use
the word to me?"
"If you knew what I've suffered!"
"Suffered?" jeered Mrs. Comstock. "That's interesting.
And pray, what have you suffered?"
"All the neighbours have suspected and been down
on me. I ain't had a friend. I've always felt guilty
of his death! I've seen him go down a thousand times,
plain as ever you did. Many's the night I've stood on the
other bank of that pool and listened to you, and I tried
to throw myself in to keep from hearing you, but I
didn't dare. I knew God would send me to burn forever,
but I'd better done it; for now, He has set the burning
on my body, and every hour it is slowly eating the life
out of me. The doctor says it's a cancer----"
Mrs. Comstock exhaled a long breath. Her grip on the
hoe relaxed and her stature lifted to towering height.
"I didn't know, or care, when I came here, just what I
did," she said. "But my way is beginning to clear. If the
guilt of your soul has come to a head, in a cancer on
your body, it looks as if the Almighty didn't need any of
my help in meting out His punishments. I really couldn't
fix up anything to come anywhere near that. If you are
going to burn until your life goes out with that sort of fire,
you don't owe me anything!"
"Oh, Katharine Comstock!" groaned Elvira Carney,
clinging to the fence for support.
"Looks as if the Bible is right when it says, `The wages
of sin is death,' doesn't it?" asked Mrs. Comstock.
"Instead of doing a woman's work in life, you chose the
smile of invitation, and the dress of unearned cloth.
Now you tell me you are marked to burn to death with the
unquenchable fire. And him! It was shorter with him, but
let me tell you he got his share! He left me with an
untruth on his lips, for he told me he was going to take
his violin to Onabasha for a new key, when he carried it
to you. Every vow of love and constancy he ever made me
was a lie, after he touched your lips, so when he tried
the wrong side of the quagmire, to hide from me the
direction in which he was coming, it reached out for him,
and it got him. It didn't hurry, either! It sucked him
down, slow and deliberate."
"Mercy!" groaned Elvira Carney. "Mercy!"
"I don't know the word," said Mrs. Comstock. "You took
all that out of me long ago. The past twenty years
haven't been of the sort that taught mercy. I've never
had any on myself and none on my child. Why in the
name of justice, should I have mercy on you, or on him?
You were both older than I, both strong, sane people, you
deliberately chose your course when you lured him, and he,
when he was unfaithful to me. When a Loose Man and a
Light Woman face the end the Almighty ordained for
them, why should they shout at me for mercy? What did
I have to do with it?"
Elvira Carney sobbed in panting gasps.
"You've got tears, have you?" marvelled Mrs. Comstock.
"Mine all dried long ago. I've none left to shed
over my wasted life, my disfigured face and hair, my years
of struggle with a man's work, my wreck of land among the
tilled fields of my neighbours, or the final knowledge that
the man I so gladly would have died to save, wasn't worth
the sacrifice of a rattlesnake. If anything yet could wring
a tear from me, it would be the thought of the awful
injustice I always have done my girl. If I'd lay hand on
you for anything, it would be for that."
"Kill me if you want to," sobbed Elvira Carney. "I know
that I deserve it, and I don't care."
"You are getting your killing fast enough to suit me,"
said Mrs. Comstock. "I wouldn't touch you, any more
than I would him, if I could. Once is all any man or
woman deceives me about the holiest things of life.
I wouldn't touch you any more than I would the
black plague. I am going back to my girl."
Mrs. Comstock turned and started swiftly through the woods,
but she had gone only a few rods when she stopped, and
leaning on the hoe, she stood thinking deeply. Then she
turned back. Elvira still clung to the fence, sobbing bitterly.
"I don't know," said Mrs. Comstock, "but I left a
wrong impression with you. I don't want you to think
that I believe the Almighty set a cancer to burning you as
a punishment for your sins. I don't! I think a lot
more of the Almighty. With a whole sky-full of worlds on
His hands to manage, I'm not believing that He has time
to look down on ours, and pick you out of all the millions
of us sinners, and set a special kind of torture to eating you.
It wouldn't be a gentlemanly thing to do, and first
of all, the Almighty is bound to be a gentleman. I think
likely a bruise and bad blood is what caused your trouble.
Anyway, I've got to tell you that the cleanest housekeeper
I ever knew, and one of the noblest Christian women, was
slowly eaten up by a cancer. She got hers from the careless
work of a poor doctor. The Almighty is to forgive sin
and heal disease, not to invent and spread it."
She had gone only a few steps when she again turned back.
"If you will gather a lot of red clover bloom, make a tea
strong as lye of it, and drink quarts, I think likely it will
help you, if you are not too far gone. Anyway, it will cool
your blood and make the burning easier to bear."
Then she swiftly went home. Enter the lonely cabin
she could not, neither could she sit outside and think.
She attacked a bed of beets and hoed until the perspiration
ran from her face and body, then she began on the potatoes.
When she was too tired to take another stroke she
bathed and put on dry clothing. In securing her dress she
noticed her husband's carefully preserved clothing lining
one wall. She gathered it in an armload and carried it to
the swamp. Piece by piece she pitched into the green
maw of the quagmire all those articles she had dusted
carefully and fought moths from for years, and stood
watching as it slowly sucked them down. She went back
to her room and gathered every scrap that had in any way
belonged to Robert Comstock, excepting his gun and revolver,
and threw it into the swamp. Then for the first time she
set her door wide open.
She was too weary now to do more, but an urging unrest
drove her. She wanted Elnora. It seemed to her she
never could wait until the girl came and delivered
her judgment. At last in an effort to get nearer to
her, Mrs. Comstock climbed the stairs and stood looking
around Elnora's room. It was very unfamiliar. The pictures
were strange to her. Commencement had filled it with
packages and bundles. The walls were covered with
cocoons; moths and dragonflies were pinned everywhere.
Under the bed she could see half a dozen large white boxes.
She pulled out one and lifted the lid. The bottom was
covered with a sheet of thin cork, and on long pins sticking
in it were large, velvet-winged moths. Each one was
labelled, always there were two of a kind, in many cases
four, showing under and upper wings of both male and female.
They were of every colour and shape.
Mrs. Comstock caught her breath sharply. When and
where had Elnora found them? They were the most
exquisite sight the woman ever had seen, so she opened all
the boxes to feast on their beautiful contents. As she did
so there came more fully a sense of the distance between
her and her child. She could not understand how Elnora
had gone to school, and performed so much work secretly.
When it was finished, to the last moth, she, the mother
who should have been the first confidant and helper, had
been the one to bring disappointment. Small wonder Elnora
had come to hate her.
Mrs. Comstock carefully closed and replaced the boxes;
and again stood looking around the room. This time her
eyes rested on some books she did not remember having
seen before, so she picked up one and found that it was a
moth book. She glanced over the first pages and was soon
eagerly reading. When the text reached the classification
of species, she laid it down, took up another and read the
introductory chapters. By that time her brain was in a
confused jumble of ideas about capturing moths with
differing baits and bright lights.
She went down stairs thinking deeply. Being unable to
sit still and having nothing else to do she glanced at the
clock and began preparing supper. The work dragged.
A chicken was snatched up and dressed hurriedly. A spice
cake sprang into being. Strawberries that had been
intended for preserves went into shortcake. Delicious odours
crept from the cabin. She put many extra touches
on the table and then commenced watching the road.
Everything was ready, but Elnora did not come. Then began
the anxious process of trying to keep cooked food warm
and not spoil it. The birds went to bed and dusk came.
Mrs. Comstock gave up the fire and set the supper
on the table. Then she went out and sat on the front-door
step watching night creep around her. She started eagerly
as the gate creaked, but it was only Wesley Sinton coming.
"Katharine, Margaret and Elnora passed where I was
working this afternoon, and Margaret got out of the
carriage and called me to the fence. She told me what she
had done. I've come to say to you that I am sorry. She has
heard me threaten to do it a good many times, but I
never would have got it done. I'd give a good deal if I
could undo it, but I can't, so I've come to tell you how
sorry I am."
"You've got something to be sorry for," said Mrs. Comstock,
"but likely we ain't thinking of the same thing. It hurts
me less to know the truth, than to live in ignorance.
If Mag had the sense of a pewee, she'd told me long ago.
That's what hurts me, to think that both of you knew
Robert was not worth an hour of honest grief, yet you'd let
me mourn him all these years and neglect Elnora while I
did it. If I have anything to forgive you, that is what it is."
Wesley removed his hat and sat on a bench.
"Katharine," he said solemnly, "nobody ever knows how
to take you."
"Would it be asking too much to take me for having a few
grains of plain common sense?" she inquired. "You've known
all this time that Comstock got what he deserved,
when he undertook to sneak in an unused way across a
swamp, with which he was none too familiar. Now I
should have thought that you'd figure that knowing the
same thing would be the best method to cure me of pining
for him, and slighting my child."
"Heaven only knows we have thought of that, and
talked of it often, but we were both too big cowards.
We didn't dare tell you."
"So you have gone on year after year, watching me
show indifference to Elnora, and yet a little horse-sense
would have pointed out to you that she was my salvation.
Why look at it! Not married quite a year. All his vows
of love and fidelity made to me before the Almighty
forgotten in a few months, and a dance and a Light Woman so
alluring he had to lie and sneak for them. What kind of a
prospect is that for a life? I know men and women.
An honourable man is an honourable man, and a liar is a liar;
both are born and not made. One cannot change to the
other any more than that same old leopard can change
its spots. After a man tells a woman the first untruth
of that sort, the others come piling thick, fast, and
mountain high. The desolation they bring in their wake
overshadows anything I have suffered completely. If he
had lived six months more I should have known him for what
he was born to be. It was in the blood of him. His father
and grandfather before him were fiddling, dancing people; but
I was certain of him. I thought we could leave Ohio and
come out here alone, and I could so love him and interest
him in his work, that he would be a man. Of all the fool,
fruitless jobs, making anything of a creature that begins
by deceiving her, is the foolest a sane woman ever undertook.
I am more than sorry you and Margaret didn't see your way
clear to tell me long ago. I'd have found it out in a
few more months if he had lived, and I wouldn't have
borne it a day. The man who breaks his vows to me once,
doesn't get the second chance. I give truth and honour.
I have a right to ask it in return. I am glad I understand
at last. Now, if Elnora will forgive me, we will take a new
start and see what we can make out of what is left of life.
If she won't, then it will be my time to learn what suffering
really means."
"But she will," said Wesley. "She must! She can't
help it when things are explained."
"I notice she isn't hurrying any about coming home.
Do you know where she is or what she is doing?"
"I do not. But likely she will be along soon. I must
go help Billy with the night work. Good-bye, Katharine.
Thank the Lord you have come to yourself at last!"
They shook hands and Wesley went down the road while
Mrs. Comstock entered the cabin. She could not swallow food.
She stood in the back door watching the sky for moths,
but they did not seem to be very numerous. Her spirits
sank and she breathed unevenly. Then she heard the
front screen. She reached the middle door as Elnora
touched the foot of the stairs.
"Hurry, and get ready, Elnora," she said. "Your supper
is almost spoiled now."
Elnora closed the stair door behind her, and for the first
time in her life, threw the heavy lever which barred out
anyone from down stairs. Mrs. Comstock heard the thud,
and knew what it meant. She reeled slightly and caught
the doorpost for support. For a few minutes she clung
there, then sank to the nearest chair. After a long time
she arose and stumbling half blindly, she put the food in
the cupboard and covered the table. She took the lamp
in one hand, the butter in the other, and started to the
spring house. Something brushed close by her face, and she
looked just in time to see a winged creature rise above the
cabin and sail away.
"That was a night bird," she muttered. As she stopped
to set the butter in the water, came another thought.
"Perhaps it was a moth!" Mrs. Comstock dropped the
butter and hurried out with the lamp; she held it high
above her head and waited until her arms ached.
Small insects of night gathered, and at last a little
dusty miller, but nothing came of any size.
"I must go where they are, if I get them," muttered
Mrs. Comstock.
She went to the barn after the stout pair of high boots
she used in feeding stock in deep snow. Throwing these
beside the back door she climbed to the loft over the spring
house, and hunted an old lard oil lantern and one of first
manufacture for oil. Both these she cleaned and filled.
She listened until everything up stairs had been still for
over half an hour. By that time it was past eleven o'clock.
Then she took the lantern from the kitchen, the two old
ones, a handful of matches, a ball of twine, and went from
the cabin, softly closing the door.
Sitting on the back steps, she put on the boots, and then
stood gazing into the perfumed June night, first in the
direction of the woods on her land, then toward the Limberlost.
Its outline was so dark and forbidding she shuddered
and went down the garden, following the path toward the
woods, but as she neared the pool her knees wavered and
her courage fled. The knowledge that in her soul she was
now glad Robert Comstock was at the bottom of it made a
coward of her, who fearlessly had mourned him there,
nights untold. She could not go on. She skirted the
back of the garden, crossed a field, and came out on
the road. Soon she reached the Limberlost. She hunted
until she found the old trail, then followed it stumbling
over logs and through clinging vines and grasses.
The heavy boots clumped on her feet, overhanging branches
whipped her face and pulled her hair. But her eyes were
on the sky as she went straining into the night, hoping to
find signs of a living creature on wing.
By and by she began to see the wavering flight of something
she thought near the right size. She had no idea
where she was, but she stopped, lighted a lantern and
hung it as high as she could reach. A little distance away
she placed the second and then the third. The objects
came nearer and sick with disappointment she saw that
they were bats. Crouching in the damp swamp grasses,
without a thought of snakes or venomous insects, she
waited, her eyes roving from lantern to lantern. Once she
thought a creature of high flight dropped near the lard oil
light, so she arose breathlessly waiting, but either it
passed or it was an illusion. She glanced at the old lantern,
then at the new, and was on her feet in an instant creeping close.
Something large as a small bird was fluttering around.
Mrs. Comstock began to perspire, while her hand shook wildly.
Closer she crept and just as she reached for it, something
similar swept past and both flew away together.
Mrs. Comstock set her teeth and stood shivering. For a
long time the locusts rasped, the whip-poor-wills cried and
a steady hum of night life throbbed in her ears. Away in
the sky she saw something coming when it was no larger
than a falling leaf. Straight toward the light it flew.
Mrs. Comstock began to pray aloud.
"This way, O Lord! Make it come this way! Please!
O Lord, send it lower!"
The moth hesitated at the first light, then slowly,
easily it came toward the second, as if following a path
of air. It touched a leaf near the lantern and settled.
As Mrs. Comstock reached for it a thin yellow spray wet
her hand and the surrounding leaves. When its wings
raised above its back, her fingers came together.
She held the moth to the light. It was nearer brown than
yellow, and she remembered having seen some like it in
the boxes that afternoon. It was not the one needed to
complete the collection, but Elnora might want it, so
Mrs. Comstock held on. Then the Almighty was kind,
or nature was sufficient, as you look at it, for following
the law of its being when disturbed, the moth again threw
the spray by which some suppose it attracts its kind,
and liberally sprinkled Mrs. Comstock's dress front
and arms. From that instant, she became the best moth
bait ever invented. Every Polyphemus in range hastened
to her, and other fluttering creatures of night followed.
The influx came her way. She snatched wildly here and
there until she had one in each hand and no place to
put them. She could see more coming, and her aching
heart, swollen with the strain of long excitement,
hurt pitifully. She prayed in broken exclamations that
did not always sound reverent, but never was human soul
in more intense earnest.
Moths were coming. She had one in each hand.
They were not yellow, and she did not know what to do.
She glanced around to try to discover some way to keep
what she had, and her throbbing heart stopped and
every muscle stiffened. There was the dim outline of
a crouching figure not two yards away, and a pair of
eyes their owner thought hidden, caught the light in a
cold stream. Her first impulse was to scream and fly
for life. Before her lips could open a big moth alighted
on her breast while she felt another walking over her hair.
All sense of caution deserted her. She did not care to
live if she could not replace the yellow moth she had killed.
She turned her eyes to those among the leaves.
"Here, you!" she cried hoarsely. "I need you! Get yourself
out here, and help me. These critters are going to get away
from me. Hustle!"
Pete Corson parted the bushes and stepped into the light.
"Oh, it's you!" said Mrs. Comstock. "I might have known!
But you gave me a start. Here, hold these until I make some
sort of bag for them. Go easy! If you break them I don't
guarantee what will happen to you!"
"Pretty fierce, ain't you!" laughed Pete, but he advanced
and held out his hands. "For Elnora, I s'pose?"
"Yes," said Mrs. Comstock. "In a mad fit, I trampled
one this morning, and by the luck of the old boy himself
it was the last moth she needed to complete a collection.
I got to get another one or die."
"Then I guess it's your funeral," said Pete. "There ain't
a chance in a dozen the right one will come. What colour
was it?"
"Yellow, and big as a bird."
"The Emperor, likely," said Pete. "You dig for
that kind, and they are not numerous, so's 'at you can
smash 'em for fun."
"Well, I can try to get one, anyway," said Mrs. Comstock.
"I forgot all about bringing anything to put them in.
You take a pinch on their wings until I make a poke."
Mrs. Comstock removed her apron, tearing off the strings.
She unfastened and stepped from the skirt of her
calico dress. With one apron string she tied shut the
band and placket. She pulled a wire pin from her hair,
stuck it through the other string, and using it as a bodkin
ran it around the hem of her skirt, so shortly she had a
large bag. She put several branches inside to which the
moths could cling, closed the mouth partially and held
it toward Pete.
"Put your hand well down and let the things go!" she ordered.
"But be careful, man! Don't run into the twigs! Easy!
That's one. Now the other. Is the one on my head gone?
There was one on my dress, but I guess it flew. Here comes
a kind of a gray-looking one."
Pete slipped several more moths into the bag.
"Now, that's five, Mrs. Comstock," he said. "I'm sorry,
but you'll have to make that do. You must get out of
here lively. Your lights will be taken for hurry
calls, and inside the next hour a couple of men will ride
here like fury. They won't be nice Sunday-school men,
and they won't hold bags and catch moths for you.
You must go quick!"
Mrs. Comstock laid down the bag and pulled one of
the lanterns lower.
"I won't budge a step," she said. "This land doesn't
belong to you. You have no right to order me off it.
Here I stay until I get a Yellow Emperor, and no little
petering thieves of this neighbourhood can scare me away."
"You don't understand," said Pete. "I'm willing to
help Elnora, and I'd take care of you, if I could, but
there will be too many for me, and they will be mad at
being called out for nothing."
"Well, who's calling them out?" demanded Mrs. Comstock.
"I'm catching moths. If a lot of good-for-nothings get
fooled into losing some sleep, why let them, they can't
hurt me, or stop my work."
"They can, and they'll do both."
"Well, I'll see them do it!" said Mrs. Comstock. "I've got
Robert's revolver in my dress, and I can shoot as straight
as any man, if I'm mad enough. Any one who interferes
with me to-night will find me mad a-plenty. There goes another!"
She stepped into the light and waited until a big brown
moth settled on her and was easily taken. Then in light,
airy flight came a delicate pale green thing, and Mrs.
Comstock started in pursuit. But the scent was not right.
The moth fluttered high, then dropped lower, still lower,
and sailed away. With outstretched hands Mrs. Comstock
pursued it. She hurried one way and another, then ran
over an object which tripped her and she fell.
She regained her feet in an instant, but she had lost sight
of the moth. With livid face she turned to the crouching man.
"You nasty, sneaking son of Satan!" she cried. "Why are
you hiding there? You made me lose the one I wanted
most of any I've had a chance at yet. Get out of here!
Go this minute, or I'll fill your worthless carcass so full
of holes you'll do to sift cornmeal. Go, I say! I'm using
the Limberlost to-night, and I won't be stopped by the
devil himself! Cut like fury, and tell the rest of them
they can just go home. Pete is going to help me, and
he is all of you I need. Now go!"
The man turned and went. Pete leaned against a tree,
held his mouth shut and shook inwardly. Mrs. Comstock
came back panting.
"The old scoundrel made me lose that!" she said. "If any
one else comes snooping around here I'll just blow them
up to start with. I haven't time to talk. Suppose that
had been yellow! I'd have killed that man, sure!
The Limberlost isn't safe to-night, and the sooner those
whelps find it out, the better it will be for them."
Pete stopped laughing to look at her. He saw that
she was speaking the truth. She was quite past reason,
sense, or fear. The soft night air stirred the wet hair
around her temples, the flickering lanterns made her face
a ghastly green. She would stop at nothing, that was evident.
Pete suddenly began catching moths with exemplary industry.
In putting one into the bag, another escaped.
"We must not try that again," said Mrs. Comstock.
"Now, what will we do?"
"We are close to the old case," said Pete. "I think
I can get into it. Maybe we could slip the rest in there."
"That's a fine idea!" said Mrs. Comstock. "They'll have
so much room there they won't be likely to hurt
themselves, and the books say they don't fly in daytime
unless they are disturbed, so they will settle when it's
light, and I can come with Elnora to get them."
They captured two more, and then Pete carried them
to the case.
"Here comes a big one!" he cried as he returned.
Mrs. Comstock looked up and stepped out with a prayer
on her lips. She could not tell the colour at that
distance, but the moth appeared different from the others.
On it came, dropping lower and darting from light to light.
As it swept near her, "O Heavenly Father!" exulted Mrs.
Comstock, "it's yellow! Careful Pete! Your hat, maybe!"
Pete made a long sweep. The moth wavered above
the hat and sailed away. Mrs. Comstock leaned against
a tree and covered her face with her shaking hands.
"That is my punishment!" she cried. "Oh, Lord, if
you will give a moth like that into my possession, I'll
always be a better woman!"
The Emperor again came in sight. Pete stood tense
and ready. Mrs. Comstock stepped into the light and
watched the moth's course. Then a second appeared
in pursuit of the first. The larger one wavered into
the radius of light once more. The perspiration rolled
down the man's face. He half lifted the hat.
"Pray, woman! Pray now!" he panted.
"I guess I best get over by that lard oil light and go
to work," breathed Mrs. Comstock. "The Lord knows
this is all in prayer, but it's no time for words just now.
Ready, Pete! You are going to get a chance first!"
Pete made another long, steady sweep, but the moth
darted beneath the hat. In its flight it came straight
toward Mrs. Comstock. She snatched off the remnant
of apron she had tucked into her petticoat band and
held the calico before her. The moth struck full against
it and clung to the goods. Pete crept up stealthily.
The second moth followed the first, and the spray
showered the apron.
"Wait!" gasped Mrs. Comstock. "I think they have settled.
The books say they won't leave now."
The big pale yellow creature clung firmly, lowering
and raising its wings. The other came nearer. Mrs.
Comstock held the cloth with rigid hands, while Pete
could hear her breathing in short gusts.
"Shall I try now?" he implored.
"Wait!" whispered the woman. "Something seems to
say wait!"
The night breeze stiffened and gently waved the apron.
Locusts rasped, mosquitoes hummed and frogs sang uninterruptedly.
A musky odour slowly filled the air.
"Now shall I?" questioned Pete.
"No. Leave them alone. They are safe now. They are mine.
They are my salvation. God and the Limberlost gave them
to me! They won't move for hours. The books all say so.
O Heavenly Father, I am thankful to You, and you, too,
Pete Corson! You are a good man to help me. Now, I can
go home and face my girl."
Instead, Mrs. Comstock dropped suddenly. She spread
the apron across her knees. The moths remained undisturbed.
Then her tired white head dropped, the tears she had thought
forever dried gushed forth, and she sobbed for pure joy.
"Oh, I wouldn't do that now, you know!" comforted Pete.
"Think of getting two! That's more than you ever could
have expected. A body would think you would cry, if you
hadn't got any. Come on, now. It's almost morning.
Let me help you home."
Pete took the bag and the two old lanterns. Mrs. Comstock
carried her moths and the best lantern and went ahead to
light the way.
Elnora had sat beside her window far into the night.
At last she undressed and went to bed, but sleep would
not come. She had gone to the city to talk with members of
the School Board about a room in the grades. There was
a possibility that she might secure the moth, and so be able
to start to college that fall, but if she did not, then she
wanted the school. She had been given some encouragement,
but she was so unhappy that nothing mattered. She could
not see the way open to anything in life, save a long
series of disappointments, while she remained with
her mother. Yet Margaret Sinton had advised her to go
home and try once more. Margaret had seemed so sure
there would be a change for the better, that Elnora had
consented, although she had no hope herself. So strong is
the bond of blood, she could not make up her mind to seek
a home elsewhere, even after the day that had passed.
Unable to sleep she arose at last, and the room being warm,
she sat on the floor close the window. The lights in the
swamp caught her eye. She was very uneasy, for quite a
hundred of her best moths were in the case. However, there
was no money, and no one ever had touched a book or any
of her apparatus. Watching the lights set her thinking,
and before she realized it, she was in a panic of fear.
She hurried down the stairway softly calling her mother.
There was no answer. She lightly stepped across the
sitting-room and looked in at the open door. There was
no one, and the bed had not been used. Her first thought
was that her mother had gone to the pool; and the Limberlost
was alive with signals. Pity and fear mingled in the
heart of the girl. She opened the kitchen door, crossed the
garden and ran back to the swamp. As she neared it she
listened, but she could hear only the usual voices of night.
"Mother!" she called softly. Then louder, "Mother!"
There was not a sound. Chilled with fright she hurried
back to the cabin. She did not know what to do.
She understood what the lights in the Limberlost meant.
Where was her mother? She was afraid to enter, while
she was growing very cold and still more fearful about
remaining outside. At last she went to her mother's room,
picked up the gun, carried it into the kitchen, and crowding
in a little corner behind the stove, she waited in trembling
anxiety. The time was dreadfully long before she heard
her mother's voice. Then she decided some one had been
ill and sent for her, so she took courage, and stepping
swiftly across the kitchen she unbarred the door and drew
back from sight beside the table.
Mrs. Comstock entered dragging her heavy feet. Her dress
skirt was gone, her petticoat wet and drabbled, and
the waist of her dress was almost torn from her body.
Her hair hung in damp strings; her eyes were red with crying.
In one hand she held the lantern, and in the other stiffly
extended before her, on a wad of calico reposed a
magnificent pair of Yellow Emperors. Elnora stared, her
lips parted.
"Shall I put these others in the kitchen?" inquired a
man's voice.
The girl shrank back to the shadows.
"Yes, anywhere inside the door," replied Mrs. Comstock
as she moved a few steps to make way for him.
Pete's head appeared. He set down the moths and was gone.
"Thank you, Pete, more than ever woman thanked you before!"
said Mrs. Comstock.
She placed the lantern on the table and barred the door.
As she turned Elnora came into view. Mrs. Comstock
leaned toward her, and held out the moths. In a voice
vibrant with tones never before heard she said: "Elnora,
my girl, mother's found you another moth!"
Elnora awoke at dawn and lay gazing around the
unfamiliar room. She noticed that every vestige
of masculine attire and belongings was gone, and
knew, without any explanation, what that meant.
For some reason every tangible evidence of her father
was banished, and she was at last to be allowed to
take his place. She turned to look at her mother.
Mrs. Comstock's face was white and haggard, but on it
rested an expression of profound peace Elnora never
before had seen. As she studied the features on the
pillow beside her, the heart of the girl throbbed in tenderness.
She realized as fully as any one else could what her mother
had suffered. Thoughts of the night brought shuddering fear.
She softly slipped from the bed, went to her room, dressed and
entered the kitchen to attend the Emperors and prepare breakfast.
The pair had been left clinging to the piece of calico.
The calico was there and a few pieces of beautiful wing.
A mouse had eaten the moths!
"Well, of all the horrible luck!" gasped Elnora.
With the first thought of her mother, she caught up the
remnants of the moths, burying them in the ashes of the stove.
She took the bag to her room, hurriedly releasing its
contents, but there was not another yellow one. Her mother
had said some had been confined in the case in the Limberlost.
There was still a hope that an Emperor might be among them.
She peeped at her mother, who still slept soundly.
Elnora took a large piece of mosquito netting, and ran
to the swamp. Throwing it over the top of the case, she
unlocked the door. She reeled, faint with distress.
The living moths that had been confined there in their
fluttering to escape to night and the mates they sought
not only had wrecked the other specimens of the case,
but torn themselves to fringes on the pins. A third of the
rarest moths of the collection for the man of India were
antennaless, legless, wingless, and often headless.
Elnora sobbed aloud.
"This is overwhelming," she said at last. "It is making
a fatalist of me. I am beginning to think things
happen as they are ordained from the beginning, this
plainly indicating that there is to be no college, at least,
this year, for me. My life is all mountain-top or canon.
I wish some one would lead me into a few days of `green pastures.'
Last night I went to sleep on mother's arm, the moths all
secured, love and college, certainties. This morning I wake
to find all my hopes wrecked. I simply don't dare let mother
know that instead of helping me, she has ruined my collection.
Everything is gone--unless the love lasts. That actually
seemed true. I believe I will go see."
The love remained. Indeed, in the overflow of the longhardened,
pent-up heart, the girl was almost suffocated
with tempestuous caresses and generous offerings. Before the
day was over, Elnora realized that she never had known
her mother. The woman who now busily went through the
cabin, her eyes bright, eager, alert, constantly planning,
was a stranger. Her very face was different, while it did
not seem possible that during one night the acid of twenty
years could disappear from a voice and leave it sweet and pleasant.
For the next few days Elnora worked at mounting the
moths her mother had taken. She had to go to the Bird
Woman and tell about the disaster, but Mrs. Comstock
was allowed to think that Elnora delivered the moths
when she made the trip. If she had told her what actually
happened, the chances were that Mrs. Comstock again
would have taken possession of the Limberlost, hunting
there until she replaced all the moths that had been destroyed.
But Elnora knew from experience what it meant to collect
such a list in pairs. It would require steady work for at
least two summers to replace the lost moths. When she left
the Bird Woman she went to the president of the Onabasha
schools and asked him to do all in his power to secure her
a room in one of the ward buildings.
The next morning the last moth was mounted, and the
housework finished. Elnora said to her mother, "If you
don't mind, I believe I will go into the woods pasture
beside Sleepy Snake Creek and see if I can catch some
dragonflies or moths."
"Wait until I get a knife and a pail and I will go along,"
answered Mrs. Comstock. "The dandelions are plenty
tender for greens among the deep grasses, and I might just
happen to see something myself. My eyes are pretty sharp."
"I wish you could realize how young you are," said Elnora.
"I know women in Onabasha who are ten years older than you,
yet they look twenty years younger. So could you, if you
would dress your hair becomingly, and wear appropriate clothes."
"I think my hair puts me in the old woman class permanently,"
said Mrs. Comstock.
"Well, it doesn't!" cried Elnora. "There is a woman
of twenty-eight who has hair as white as yours from sick
headaches, but her face is young and beautiful. If your
face would grow a little fuller and those lines would go
away, you'd be lovely!"
"You little pig!" laughed Mrs. Comstock. "Any one
would think you would be satisfied with having a splinter
new mother, without setting up a kick on her looks,
first thing. Greedy!"
"That is a good word," said Elnora. "I admit the charge.
I am greedy over every wasted year. I want you young,
lovely, suitably dressed and enjoying life like the
other girls' mothers."
Mrs. Comstock laughed softly as she pushed back her
sunbonnet so that shrubs and bushes beside the way could
be scanned closely. Elnora walked ahead with a case over
her shoulder, a net in her hand. Her head was bare, the
rolling collar of her lavender gingham dress was cut in a V
at the throat, the sleeves only reached the elbows. Every few
steps she paused and examined the shrubbery carefully,
while Mrs. Comstock was watching until her eyes ached,
but there were no dandelions in the pail she carried.
Early June was rioting in fresh grasses, bright flowers,
bird songs, and gay-winged creatures of air. Down the
footpath the two went through the perfect morning, the
love of God and all nature in their hearts. At last they
reached the creek, following it toward the bridge. Here Mrs.
Comstock found a large bed of tender dandelions and stopped
to fill her pail. Then she sat on the bank, picking over the
greens, while she listened to the creek softly singing its June song.
Elnora remained within calling distance, and was having
good success. At last she crossed the creek, following
it up to a bridge. There she began a careful examination
of the under sides of the sleepers and flooring for cocoons.
Mrs. Comstock could see her and the creek for several
rods above. The mother sat beating the long green leaves
across her hand, carefully picking out the white buds,
because Elnora liked them, when a splash up the creek
attracted her attention.
Around the bend came a man. He was bareheaded,
dressed in a white sweater, and waders which reached
his waist. He walked on the bank, only entering the
water when forced. He had a queer basket strapped on
his hip, and with a small rod he sent a long line spinning
before him down the creek, deftly manipulating with
it a little floating object. He was closer Elnora than
her mother, but Mrs. Comstock thought possibly by
hurrying she could remain unseen and yet warn the girl
that a stranger was coming. As she approached the
bridge, she caught a sapling and leaned over the water to
call Elnora. With her lips parted to speak she hesitated
a second to watch a sort of insect that flashed past on the
water, when a splash from the man attracted the girl.
She was under the bridge, one knee planted in the
embankment and a foot braced to support her. Her hair
was tousled by wind and bushes, her face flushed,
and she lifted her arms above her head, working to loosen
a cocoon she had found. The call Mrs. Comstock had
intended to utter never found voice, for as Elnora looked
down at the sound, "Possibly I could get that for you,"
suggested the man.
Mrs. Comstock drew back. He was a young man with a
wonderfully attractive face, although it was too
white for robust health, broad shoulders, and slender,
upright frame.
"Oh, I do hope you can!" answered Elnora. "It's quite
a find! It's one of those lovely pale red cocoons
described in the books. I suspect it comes from having
been in a dark place and screened from the weather."
"Is that so?" cried the man. "Wait a minute. I've never
seen one. I suppose it's a Cecropia, from the location."
"Of course," said Elnora. "It's so cool here the moth
hasn't emerged. The cocoon is a big, baggy one, and it
is as red as fox tail."
"What luck!" he cried. "Are you making a collection?"
He reeled in his line, laid his rod across a bush and
climbed the embankment to Elnora's side, produced a
knife and began the work of whittling a deep groove
around the cocoon.
"Yes. I paid my way through the high school in
Onabasha with them. Now I am starting a collection
which means college."
"Onabasha!" said the man. "That is where I am visiting.
Possibly you know my people--Dr. Ammon's? The doctor is
my uncle. My home is in Chicago. I've been having typhoid
fever, something fierce. In the hospital six weeks.
Didn't gain strength right, so Uncle Doc sent for me.
I am to live out of doors all summer, and exercise until
I get in condition again. Do you know my uncle?"
"Yes. He is Aunt Margaret's doctor, and he would
be ours, only we are never ill."
"Well, you look it!" said the man, appraising Elnora
at a glance.
"Strangers always mention it," sighed Elnora. "I wonder
how it would seem to be a pale, languid lady and ride
in a carriage."
"Ask me!" laughed the man. "It feels like the--dickens!
I'm so proud of my feet. It's quite a trick to stand
on them now. I have to keep out of the water all I can
and stop to baby every half-mile. But with interesting
outdoor work I'll be myself in a week."
"Do you call that work?" Elnora indicated the creek.
"I do, indeed! Nearly three miles, banks too soft to brag
on and never a strike. Wouldn't you call that hard labour?"
"Yes," laughed Elnora. "Work at which you might
kill yourself and never get a fish. Did any one tell you
there were trout in Sleepy Snake Creek?"
"Uncle said I could try."
"Oh, you can," said Elnora. "You can try no end,
but you'll never get a trout. This is too far south and
too warm for them. If you sit on the bank and use
worms you might catch some perch or catfish."
"But that isn't exercise."
"Well, if you only want exercise, go right on fishing.
You will have a creel full of invisible results every night."
"I object," said the man emphatically. He stopped
work again and studied Elnora. Even the watching
mother could not blame him. In the shade of the bridge
Elnora's bright head and her lavender dress made a
picture worthy of much contemplation.
"I object!" repeated the man. "When I work I want
to see results. I'd rather exercise sawing wood, making
one pile grow little and the other big than to cast all day
and catch nothing because there is not a fish to take.
Work for work's sake doesn't appeal to me."
He digged the groove around the cocoon with skilled hand.
"Now there is some fun in this!" he said. It's going to
be a fair job to cut it out, but when it comes, it is
not only beautiful, but worth a price; it will help you on
your way. I think I'll put up my rod and hunt moths.
That would be something like! Don't you want help?"
Elnora parried the question. "Have you ever hunted
moths, Mr. Ammon?
"Enough to know the ropes in taking them and to
distinguish the commonest ones. I go wild on Catocalae.
There's too many of them, all too much alike for Philip,
but I know all these fellows. One flew into my room when
I was about ten years old, and we thought it a miracle.
None of us ever had seen one so we took it over to the
museum to Dr. Dorsey. He said they were common enough,
but we didn't see them because they flew at night.
He showed me the museum collection, and I was so
interested I took mine back home and started to hunt them.
Every year after that we went to our cottage a month
earlier, so I could find them, and all my family helped.
I stuck to it until I went to college. Then, keeping
the little moths out of the big ones was too much for the
mater, so father advised that I donate mine to the museum.
He bought a fine case for them with my name on it,
which constitutes my sole contribution to science. I know
enough to help you all right."
"Aren't you going north this year?"
"All depends on how this fever leaves me. Uncle says
the nights are too cold and the days too hot there
for me. He thinks I had better stay in an even
temperature until I am strong again. I am going to stick
pretty close to him until I know I am. I wouldn't admit
it to any one at home, but I was almost gone. I don't
believe anything can eat up nerve much faster than the
burning of a slow fever. No, thanks, I have enough.
I stay with Uncle Doc, so if I feel it coming again he can
do something quickly."
"I don't blame you," said Elnora. "I never have been
sick, but it must be dreadful. I am afraid you are tiring
yourself over that. Let me take the knife awhile."
"Oh, it isn't so bad as that! I wouldn't be wading
creeks if it were. I only need a few more days to get
steady on my feet again. I'll soon have this out."
"It is kind of you to get it," said Elnora. "I should
have had to peel it, which would spoil the cocoon for a'
specimen and ruin the moth."
"You haven't said yet whether I may help you while
I am here."
Elnora hesitated.
"You better say `yes,'" he persisted. "It would be a
real kindness. It would keep me outdoors all day and
give an incentive to work. I'm good at it. I'll show you
if I am not in a week or so. I can `sugar,' manipulate
lights, and mirrors, and all the expert methods. I'll wager,
moths are numerous in the old swamp over there."
"They are," said Elnora. "Most I have I took there.
A few nights ago my mother caught a number, but we
don't dare go alone."
"All the more reason why you need me. Where do
you live? I can't get an answer from you, I'll go tell
your mother who I am and ask her if I may help you.
I warn you, young lady, I have a very effective way
with mothers. They almost never turn me down."
"Then it's probable you will have a new experience
when you meet mine," said Elnora. "She never was
known to do what any one expected she surely would."
The cocoon came loose. Philip Ammon stepped down
the embankment turning to offer his hand to Elnora.
She ran down as she would have done alone, and taking
the cocoon turned it end for end to learn if the imago it
contained were alive. Then Ammon took back the cocoon
to smooth the edges. Mrs. Comstock gave them one
long look as they stood there, and returned to
her dandelions. While she worked she paused occasionally,
listening intently. Presently they came down the creek,
the man carrying the cocoon as if it were a jewel, while
Elnora made her way along the bank, taking a lesson in casting.
Her face was flushed with excitement, her eyes shining,
the bushes taking liberties with her hair. For a picture
of perfect loveliness she scarcely could have been surpassed,
and the eyes of Philip Ammon seemed to be in working order.
"Moth-er!" called Elnora.
There was an undulant, caressing sweetness in the girl's
voice, as she sung out the call in perfect confidence
that it would bring a loving answer, that struck deep in
Mrs. Comstock's heart. She never had heard that word
so pronounced before and a lump arose in her throat.
"Here!" she answered, still cleaning dandelions.
"Mother, this is Mr. Philip Ammon, of Chicago,"
said Elnora. "He has been ill and he is staying with
Dr. Ammon in Onabasha. He came down the creek
fishing and cut this cocoon from under the bridge for me.
He feels that it would be better to hunt moths than to
fish, until he is well. What do you think about it?"
Philip Ammon extended his hand. "I am glad to
know you," he said.
"You may take the hand-shaking for granted," replied
Mrs. Comstock. "Dandelions have a way of making
fingers sticky, and I like to know a man before I
take his hand, anyway. That introduction seems mighty
comprehensive on your part, but it still leaves
me unclassified. My name is Comstock."
Philip Ammon bowed.
"I am sorry to hear you have been sick," said Mrs. Comstock.
"But if people will live where they have such vile water as
they do in Chicago, I don't see what else they are to expect."
Philip studied her intently.
"I am sure I didn't have a fever on purpose," he said.
"You do seem a little wobbly on your legs," she observed.
"Maybe you had better sit and rest while I finish
these greens. It's late for the genuine article, but
in the shade, among long grass they are still tender."
"May I have a leaf?" he asked, reaching for one as he sat
on the bank, looking from the little creek at his feet, away
through the dim cool spaces of the June forest on the
opposite side. He drew a deep breath. "Glory, but this
is good after almost two months inside hospital walls!"
He stretched on the grass and lay gazing up at the
leaves, occasionally asking the interpretation of a bird note
or the origin of an unfamiliar forest voice. Elnora began
helping with the dandelions.
"Another, please," said the young man, holding out his hand.
"Do you suppose this is the kind of grass Nebuchadnezzar
ate?" Elnora asked, giving the leaf.
"He knew a good thing if it is."
"Oh, you should taste dandelions boiled with bacon and
served with mother's cornbread."
"Don't! My appetite is twice my size now. While it
is--how far is it to Onabasha, shortest cut?"
"Three miles."
The man lay in perfect content, nibbling leaves.
"This surely is a treat," he said. "No wonder you find
good hunting here. There seems to be foliage for almost
every kind of caterpillar. But I suppose you have to
exchange for northern species and Pacific Coast kinds?"
"Yes. And every one wants Regalis in trade. I never
saw the like. They consider a Cecropia or a Polyphemus
an insult, and a Luna is barely acceptable."
"What authorities have you?"
Elnora began to name text-books which started a discussion.
Mrs. Comstock listened. She cleaned dandelions with greater
deliberation than they ever before were examined.
In reality she was taking stock of the young man's long,
well-proportioned frame, his strong hands, his smooth,
fine-textured skin, his thick shock of dark hair,
and making mental notes of his simple manly speech and
the fact that he evidently did know much about moths.
It pleased her to think that if he had been a neighbour boy
who had lain beside her every day of his life while she
worked, he could have been no more at home. She liked
the things he said, but she was proud that Elnora had a
ready answer which always seemed appropriate.
At last Mrs. Comstock finished the greens.
"You are three miles from the city and less than a mile
from where we live," she said. "If you will tell me what
you dare eat, I suspect you had best go home with us and
rest until the cool of the day before you start back.
Probably some one that you can ride in with will be passing
before evening."
"That is mighty kind of you," said Philip. "I think I will.
It doesn't matter so much what I eat, the point is that
I must be moderate. I am hungry all the time."
"Then we will go," said Mrs. Comstock, "and we will
not allow you to make yourself sick with us."
Philip Ammon arose: picking up the pail of greens and
his fishing rod, he stood waiting. Elnora led the way.
Mrs. Comstock motioned Philip to follow and she walked
in the rear. The girl carried the cocoon and the box of
moths she had taken, searching every step for more.
The young man frequently set down his load to join in
the pursuit of a dragonfly or moth, while Mrs. Comstock watched
the proceedings with sharp eyes. Every time Philip picked
up the pail of greens she struggled to suppress a smile.
Elnora proceeded slowly, chattering about everything
beside the trail. Philip was interested in all the objects
she pointed out, noticing several things which escaped her.
He carried the greens as casually when they took a short
cut down the roadway as on the trail. When Elnora
turned toward the gate of her home Philip Ammon
stopped, took a long look at the big hewed log cabin, the
vines which clambered over it, the flower garden ablaze
with beds of bright bloom interspersed with strawberries
and tomatoes, the trees of the forest rising north and west
like a green wall and exclaimed: "How beautiful!"
Mrs. Comstock was pleased. "If you think that," she
said, "perhaps you will understand how, in all this presentday
rush to be modern, I have preferred to remain as I began.
My husband and I took up this land, and enough
trees to build the cabin, stable, and outbuildings are
nearly all we ever cut. Of course, if he had lived,
I suppose we should have kept up with our neighbours. I hear
considerable about the value of the land, the trees which
are on it, and the oil which is supposed to be under it,
but as yet I haven't brought myself to change anything.
So we stand for one of the few remaining homes of first
settlers in this region. Come in. You are very welcome
to what we have."
Mrs. Comstock stepped forward and took the lead.
She had a bowl of soft water and a pair of boots to offer
for the heavy waders, for outer comfort, a glass of cold
buttermilk and a bench on which to rest, in the circular
arbour until dinner was ready. Philip Ammon splashed
in the water. He followed to the stable and exchanged
boots there. He was ravenous for the buttermilk, and
when he stretched on the bench in the arbour the
flickering patches of sunlight so tantalized his tired eyes,
while the bees made such splendid music, he was soon
sound asleep. When Elnora and her mother came out with a
table they stood a short time looking at him. It is probable
Mrs. Comstock voiced a united thought when she said: "What a
refined, decent looking young man! How proud his mother must
be of him! We must be careful what we let him eat."
Then they returned to the kitchen where Mrs. Comstock
proceeded to be careful. She broiled ham of her own
sugar-curing, creamed potatoes, served asparagus on
toast, and made a delicious strawberry shortcake. As she
cooked dandelions with bacon, she feared to serve them to
him, so she made an excuse that it took too long to prepare
them, blanched some and made a salad. When everything
was ready she touched Philip's sleeve.
"Best have something to eat, lad, before you get too
hungry," she said.
"Please hurry!" he begged laughingly as he held a plate
toward her to be filled. "I thought I had enough selfrestraint
to start out alone, but I see I was mistaken.
If you would allow me, just now, I am afraid I should start
a fever again. I never did smell food so good as this.
It's mighty kind of you to take me in. I hope I will be man
enough in a few days to do something worth while in return."
Spots of sunshine fell on the white cloth and blue china,
the bees and an occasional stray butterfly came searching
for food. A rose-breasted grosbeak, released from a three
hours' siege of brooding, while his independent mate took
her bath and recreation, mounted the top branch of a
maple in the west woods from which he serenaded the
dinner party with a joyful chorus in celebration of his freedom.
Philip's eyes strayed to the beautiful cabin, to the
mixture of flowers and vegetables stretching down to the
road, and to the singing bird with his red-splotched breast
of white and he said: "I can't realize now that I ever lay in
ice packs in a hospital. How I wish all the sick folks could
come here to grow strong!"
The grosbeak sang on, a big Turnus butterfly sailed
through the arbour and poised over the table. Elnora held
up a lump of sugar and the butterfly, clinging to her
fingers, tasted daintily. With eager eyes and parted
lips, the girl held steadily. When at last it wavered
away, "That made a picture!" said Philip. "Ask me some
other time how I lost my illusions concerning butterflies.
I always thought of them in connection with sunshine,
flower pollen, and fruit nectar, until one sad day."
"I know!" laughed Elnora. "I've seen that, too, but
it didn't destroy any illusion for me. I think quite as
much of the butterflies as ever."
Then they talked of flowers, moths, dragonflies, Indian
relics, and all the natural wonders the swamp afforded,
straying from those subjects to books and school work.
When they cleared the table Philip assisted, carrying
several tray loads to the kitchen. He and Elnora mounted
specimens while Mrs Comstock washed the dishes. Then she
came out with a ruffle she was embroidering.
"I wonder if I did not see a picture of you in Onabasha
last night," Philip said to Elnora. "Aunt Anna took me
to call on Miss Brownlee. She was showing me her
crowd--of course, it was you! But it didn't half do you
justice, although it was the nearest human of any of them.
Miss Brownlee is very fond of you. She said the finest things."
Then they talked of Commencement, and at last Philip said
he must go or his friends would become anxious about him.
Mrs. Comstock brought him a blue bowl of creamy milk
and a plate of bread. She stopped a passing team and
secured a ride to the city for him, as his exercise of the
morning had been too violent, and he was forced to admit
he was tired.
"May I come to-morrow afternoon and hunt moths awhile?"
he asked Mrs. Comstock as he arose. "We will `sugar' a
tree and put a light beside it, if I can get stuff to
make the preparation. Possibly we can take some that way.
I always enjoy moth hunting, I'd like to help Miss Elnora,
and it would be a charity to me. I've got to remain
outdoors some place, and I'm quite sure I'd get well
faster here than anywhere else. Please say I may come."
"I have no objections, if Elnora really would like help,"
said Mrs. Comstock.
In her heart she wished he would not come. She wanted
her newly found treasure all to herself, for a time,
at least. But Elnora's were eager, shining eyes.
She thought it would be splendid to have help, and
great fun to try book methods for taking moths, so it
was arranged. As Philip rode away, Mrs. Comstock's eyes
followed him. "What a nice young man!" she said.
"He seems fine," agreed Elnora.
"He comes of a good family, too. I've often heard of
his father. He is a great lawyer."
"I am glad he likes it here. I need help. Possibly----"
"Possibly what?"
"We can find many moths."
"What did he mean about the butterflies?"
"That he always had connected them with sunshine,
flowers, and fruits, and thought of them as the most
exquisite of creations; then one day he found some
clustering thickly over carrion."
"Come to think of it, I have seen butterflies----"
"So had he," laughed Elnora. "And that is what he meant."
The next morning Mrs. Comstock called to Elnora,
"The mail carrier stopped at our box."
Elnora ran down the walk and came back carrying an
official letter. She tore it open and read:
At the weekly meeting of the Onabasha School Board last night, it
was decided to add the position of Lecturer on Natural History to
our corps of city teachers. It will be the duty of this person to
spend two hours a week in each of the grade schools exhibiting and
explaining specimens of the most prominent objects in nature:
animals, birds, insects, flowers, vines, shrubs, bushes, and trees.
These specimens and lectures should be appropriate to the seasons
and the comprehension of the grades. This position was unanimously
voted to you. I think you will find the work delightful and much
easier than the routine grind of the other teachers. It is my advice
that you accept and begin to prepare yourself at once. Your salary
will be $750 a year, and you will be allowed $200 for expenses in
procuring specimens and books. Let us know at once if you want the
position, as it is going to be difficult to fill satisfactorily if
you do not.
Very truly yours,
DAVID THOMPSON, President, Onabasha Schools.
"I hardly understand," marvelled Mrs. Comstock.
"It is a new position. They never have had anything
like it before. I suspect it arose from the help I've been
giving the grade teachers in their nature work. They are
trying to teach the children something, and half the
instructors don't know a blue jay from a king-fisher, a
beech leaf from an elm, or a wasp from a hornet."
"Well, do you?" anxiously inquired Mrs. Comstock.
"Indeed, I do!" laughed Elnora, "and several other
things beside. When Freckles bequeathed me the
swamp, he gave me a bigger inheritance than he knew.
While you have thought I was wandering aimlessly, I
have been following a definite plan, studying hard, and
storing up the stuff that will earn these seven hundred
and fifty dollars. Mother dear, I am going to accept
this, of course. The work will be a delight. I'd love
it most of anything in teaching. You must help me.
We must find nests, eggs, leaves, queer formations in
plants and rare flowers. I must have flower boxes made
for each of the rooms and filled with wild things.
I should begin to gather specimens this very day."
Elnora's face was flushed and her eyes bright.
"Oh, what great work that will be!" she cried. "You must
go with me so you can see the little faces when I tell
them how the goldfinch builds its nest, and how the
bees make honey."
So Elnora and her mother went into the woods behind
the cabin to study nature.
"I think," said Elnora, "the idea is to begin with fall
things in the fall, keeping to the seasons throughout the year."
"What are fall things?" inquired Mrs. Comstock.
"Oh, fringed gentians, asters, ironwort, every fall
flower, leaves from every tree and vine, what makes them
change colour, abandoned bird nests, winter quarters
of caterpillars and insects, what becomes of the
butterflies and grasshoppers--myriads of stuff. I shall
have to be very wise to select the things it will be most
beneficial for the children to learn."
"Can I really help you?" Mrs. Comstock's strong face
was pathetic.
"Indeed, yes!" cried Elnora. "I never can get through
it alone. There will be an immense amount of work
connected with securing and preparing specimens."
Mrs. Comstock lifted her head proudly and began
doing business at once. Her sharp eyes ranged from
earth to heaven. She investigated everything, asking
innumerable questions. At noon Mrs. Comstock took
the specimens they had collected, and went to prepare
dinner, while Elnora followed the woods down to the
Sintons' to show her letter.
She had to explain what became of her moths, and why
college would have to be abandoned for that year, but
Margaret and Wesley vowed not to tell. Wesley waved
the letter excitedly, explaining it to Margaret as if it
were a personal possession. Margaret was deeply impressed,
while Billy volunteered first aid in gathering material.
"Now anything you want in the ground, Snap can dig
it out," he said. "Uncle Wesley and I found a hole
three times as big as Snap, that he dug at the roots of
a tree."
"We will train him to hunt pupae cases," said Elnora.
"Are you going to the woods this afternoon?" asked Billy.
"Yes," answered Elnora. "Dr. Ammon's nephew
from Chicago is visiting in Onabasha. He is going to
show me how men put some sort of compound on a tree,
hang a light beside it, and take moths that way. It will
be interesting to watch and learn."
"May I come?" asked Billy.
"Of course you may come!" answered Elnora.
"Is this nephew of Dr. Ammon a young man?" inquired Margaret.
"About twenty-six, I should think," said Elnora.
"He said he had been out of college and at work in his
father's law office three years."
"Does he seem nice?" asked Margaret, and Wesley smiled.
"Finest kind of a person," said Elnora. "He can
teach me so much. It is very interesting to hear
him talk. He knows considerable about moths that will
be a help to me. He had a fever and he has to stay
outdoors until he grows strong again."
"Billy, I guess you better help me this afternoon,"
said Margaret. "Maybe Elnora had rather not bother
with you."
"There's no reason on earth why Billy should not
come!" cried Elnora, and Wesley smiled again.
"I must hurry home or I won't be ready," she added.
Hastening down the road she entered the cabin, her
face glowing.
"I thought you never would come," said Mrs. Comstock.
"If you don't hurry Mr. Ammon will be here before you
are dressed."
"I forgot about him until just now," said Elnora.
"I am not going to dress. He's not coming to visit.
We are only going to the woods for more specimens.
I can't wear anything that requires care. The limbs
take the most dreadful liberties with hair and clothing."
Mrs. Comstock opened her lips, looked at Elnora and
closed them. In her heart she was pleased that the
girl was so interested in her work that she had forgotten
Philip Ammon's coming. But it did seem to her that
such a pleasant young man should have been greeted
by a girl in a fresh dress. "If she isn't disposed to primp
at the coming of a man, heaven forbid that I should be
the one to start her," thought Mrs. Comstock.
Philip came whistling down the walk between the
cinnamon pinks, pansies, and strawberries. He carried
several packages, while his face flushed with more colour
than on the previous day.
"Only see what has happened to me!" cried Elnora,
offering her letter.
"I'll wager I know!" answered Philip. "Isn't it great!
Every one in Onabasha is talking about it. At last there
is something new under the sun. All of them are pleased.
They think you'll make a big success. This will give an
incentive to work. In a few days more I'll be myself
again, and we'll overturn the fields and woods around here."
He went on to congratulate Mrs. Comstock.
"Aren't you proud of her, though?" he asked. "You should
hear what folks are saying! They say she created the
necessity for the position, and every one seems to feel
that it is a necessity. Now, if she succeeds, and she will,
all of the other city schools will have such departments,
and first thing you know she will have made the whole
world a little better. Let me rest a few seconds; my feet
are acting up again. Then we will cook the moth compound
and put it to cool."
He laughed as he sat breathing shortly.
"It doesn't seem possible that a fellow could lose his
strength like this. My knees are actually trembling,
but I'll be all right in a minute. Uncle Doc said I
could come. I told him how you took care of me, and he
said I would be safe here."
Then he began unwrapping packages and explaining
to Mrs. Comstock how to cook the compound to attract
the moths. He followed her into the kitchen, kindled
the fire, and stirred the preparation as he talked.
While the mixture cooled, he and Elnora walked through
the vegetable garden behind the cabin and strayed from
there into the woods.
"What about college?" he asked. "Miss Brownlee said
you were going."
"I had hoped to," replied Elnora, "but I had a streak
of dreadful luck, so I'll have to wait until next year.
If you won't speak of it, I'll tell you."
Philip promised, so Elnora recited the history of the
Yellow Emperor. She was so interested in doing the
Emperor justice she did not notice how many personalities
went into the story. A few pertinent questions
told him the remainder. He looked at the girl in wonder.
In face and form she was as lovely as any one of her age
and type he ever had seen. Her school work far surpassed
that of most girls of her age he knew. She differed in
other ways. This vast store of learning she had gathered
from field and forest was a wealth of attraction no other
girl possessed. Her frank, matter-of-fact manner was an
inheritance from her mother, but there was something more.
Once, as they talked he thought "sympathy" was the word
to describe it and again "comprehension." She seemed to
possess a large sense of brotherhood for all human and
animate creatures. She spoke to him as if she had known
him all her life. She talked to the grosbeak in exactly
the same manner, as she laid strawberries and potato bugs
on the fence for his family. She did not swerve an inch
from her way when a snake slid past her, while the squirrels
came down from the trees and took corn from her fingers.
She might as well have been a boy, so lacking was she in
any touch of feminine coquetry toward him. He studied
her wonderingly. As they went along the path they reached
a large slime-covered pool surrounded by decaying stumps
and logs thickly covered with water hyacinths and blue flags.
Philip stopped.
"Is that the place?" he asked.
Elnora assented. "The doctor told you?"
"Yes. It was tragic. Is that pool really bottomless?"
"So far as we ever have been able to discover."
Philip stood looking at the water, while the long, sweet
grasses, thickly sprinkled with blue flag bloom, over which
wild bees clambered, swayed around his feet. Then he
turned to the girl. She had worked hard. The same
lavender dress she had worn the previous day clung to her
in limp condition. But she was as evenly coloured and of
as fine grain as a wild rose petal, her hair was really brown,
but never was such hair touched with a redder glory, while
her heavy arching brows added a look of strength to her
big gray-blue eyes.
"And you were born here?"
He had not intended to voice that thought.
"Yes," she said, looking into his eyes. "Just in time
to prevent my mother from saving the life of my father.
She came near never forgiving me."
"Ah, cruel!" cried Philip.
"I find much in life that is cruel, from our standpoints,"
said Elnora. "It takes the large wisdom of the Unfathomable,
the philosophy of the Almighty, to endure some of it.
But there is always right somewhere, and at last it seems
to come."
"Will it come to you?" asked Philip, who found himself
deeply affected.
"It has come," said the girl serenely. "It came a week ago.
It came in fullest measure when my mother ceased to regret
that I had been born. Now, work that I love has come--that
should constitute happiness. A little farther along is my
violet bed. I want you to see it."
As Philip Ammon followed he definitely settled upon the
name of the unusual feature of Elnora's face. It should be
called "experience." She had known bitter experiences
early in life. Suffering had been her familiar more than joy.
He watched her earnestly, his heart deeply moved. She led
him into a swampy half-open space in the woods, stopped
and stepped aside. He uttered a cry of surprised delight.
A few decaying logs were scattered around, the grass
grew in tufts long and fine. Blue flags waved, clusters of
cowslips nodded gold heads, but the whole earth was purple
with a thick blanket of violets nodding from stems a foot
in length. Elnora knelt and slipping her fingers between
the leaves and grasses to the roots, gathered a few violets
and gave them to Philip.
"Can your city greenhouses surpass them?" she asked.
He sat on a log to examine the blooms.
"They are superb!" he said. "I never saw such
length of stem or such rank leaves, while the flowers are
the deepest blue, the truest violet I ever saw growing wild.
They are coloured exactly like the eyes of the girl I am
going to marry."
Elnora handed him several others to add to those he held.
"She must have wonderful eyes," she commented.
"No other blue eyes are quite so beautiful," he said.
"In fact, she is altogether lovely."
"Is it customary for a man to think the girl he is going
to marry lovely? I wonder if I should find her so."
"You would," said Philip. "No one ever fails to. She is
tall as you, very slender, but perfectly rounded; you
know about her eyes; her hair is black and wavy--while
her complexion is clear and flushed with red."
"Why, she must be the most beautiful girl in the whole
world!" she cried.
"No, indeed!" he said. "She is not a particle better
looking in her way than you are in yours. She is a type
of dark beauty, but you are equally as perfect. She is
unusual in her combination of black hair and violet eyes,
although every one thinks them black at a little distance.
You are quite as unusual with your fair face, black brows,
and brown hair; indeed, I know many people who would
prefer your bright head to her dark one. It's all a question
of taste--and being engaged to the girl," he added.
"That would be likely to prejudice one," laughed Elnora.
"Edith has a birthday soon; if these last will you let me
have a box of them to send her?"
"I will help gather and pack them for you, so they will
carry nicely. Does she hunt moths with you?"
Back went Philip Ammon's head in a gale of laughter.
"No!" he cried. "She says they are `creepy.' She would
go into a spasm if she were compelled to touch those
caterpillars I saw you handling yesterday."
"Why would she?" marvelled Elnora. "Haven't you
told her that they are perfectly clean, helpless,
and harmless as so much animate velvet?"
"No, I have not told her. She wouldn't care enough
about caterpillars to listen."
"In what is she interested?"
"What interests Edith Carr? Let me think! First, I
believe she takes pride in being a little handsomer and
better dressed than any girl of her set. She is interested
in having a beautiful home, fine appointments, in being
petted, praised, and the acknowledged leader of society.
"She likes to find new things which amuse her, and to always
and in all circumstances have her own way about everything."
"Good gracious!" cried Elnora, staring at him. "But what
does she do? How does she spend her time?"
"Spend her time!" repeated Philip. "Well, she would call
that a joke. Her days are never long enough. There is
endless shopping, to find the pretty things; regular visits
to the dressmakers, calls, parties, theatres, entertainments.
She is always rushed. I never am able to be with her half as
much as I would like."
"But I mean work," persisted Elnora. "In what is she
interested that is useful to the world?"
"Me!" cried Philip promptly.
"I can understand that," laughed Elnora. "What I
can't understand is how you can be in----" She stopped in
confusion, but she saw that he had finished the sentence as
she had intended. "I beg your pardon!" she cried. "I didn't
intend to say that. But I cannot understand these people
I hear about who live only for their own amusement.
Perhaps it is very great; I'll never have a chance to know.
To me, it seems the only pleasure in this world worth
having is the joy we derive from living for those we love,
and those we can help. I hope you are not angry with me."
Philip sat silently looking far away, with deep thought
in his eyes.
"You are angry," faltered Elnora.
His look came back to her as she knelt before him among
the flowers and he gazed at her steadily.
"No doubt I should be," he said, "but the fact is I
am not. I cannot understand a life purely for personal
pleasure myself. But she is only a girl, and this is
her playtime. When she is a woman in her own home, then
she will be different, will she not?"
Elnora never resembled her mother so closely as when
she answered that question.
"I would have to be well acquainted with her to know,
but I should hope so. To make a real home for a tired
business man is a very different kind of work from that
required to be a leader of society. It demands different
talent and education. Of course, she means to change, or
she would not have promised to make a home for you. I suspect
our dope is cool now, let's go try for some butterflies."
As they went along the path together Elnora talked of
many things but Philip answered absently. Evidently he
was thinking of something else. But the moth bait
recalled him and he was ready for work as they made their
way back to the woods. He wanted to try the Limberlost,
but Elnora was firm about remaining on home ground.
She did not tell him that lights hung in the swamp would
be a signal to call up a band of men whose presence
she dreaded. So they started, Ammon carrying the dope,
Elnora the net, Billy and Mrs. Comstock following with
cyanide boxes and lanterns.
First they tried for butterflies and captured several fine
ones without trouble. They also called swarms of ants,
bees, beetles, and flies. When it grew dusk, Mrs. Comstock
and Philip went to prepare supper. Elnora and Billy
remained until the butterflies disappeared. Then they
lighted the lanterns, repainted the trees and followed
the home trail.
"Do you 'spec you'll get just a lot of moths?" asked
Billy, as he walked beside Elnora.
"I am sure I hardly know," said the girl. "This is a
new way for me. Perhaps they will come to the lights, but
few moths eat; and I have some doubt about those which
the lights attract settling on the right trees. Maybe the
smell of that dope will draw them. Between us, Billy, I
think I like my old way best. If I can find a hidden moth,
slip up and catch it unawares, or take it in full flight,
it's my captive, and I can keep it until it dies naturally.
But this way you seem to get it under false pretences, it has no
chance, and it will probably ruin its wings struggling for
freedom before morning."
"Well, any moth ought to be proud to be taken anyway,
by you," said Billy. "Just look what you do! You can
make everybody love them. People even quit hating
caterpillars when they see you handle them and hear you
tell all about them. You must have some to show people
how they are. It's not like killing things to see if you
can, or because you want to eat them, the way most men
kill birds. I think it is right for you to take enough for
collections, to show city people, and to illustrate the
Bird Woman's books. You go on and take them! The moths
don't care. They're glad to have you. They like it!"
"Billy, I see your future," said Elnora. "We will
educate you and send you up to Mr. Ammon to make a
great lawyer. You'd beat the world as a special pleader.
You actually make me feel that I am doing the moths a
kindness to take them."
"And so you are!" cried Billy. "Why, just from what
you have taught them Uncle Wesley and Aunt Margaret
never think of killing a caterpillar until they look whether
it's the beautiful June moth kind, or the horrid tent ones.
That's what you can do. You go straight ahead!"
"Billy, you are a jewel!" cried Elnora, throwing her arm
across his shoulders as they came down the path.
"My, I was scared!" said Billy with a deep breath.
"Scared?" questioned Elnora.
"Yes sir-ee! Aunt Margaret scared me. May I ask
you a question?"
"Of course, you may!"
"Is that man going to be your beau?"
"Billy! No! What made you think such a thing?"
"Aunt Margaret said likely he would fall in love with
you, and you wouldn't want me around any more. Oh, but
I was scared! It isn't so, is it?"
"Indeed, no!"
"I am your beau, ain't I?"
"Surely you are!" said Elnora, tightening her arm.
"I do hope Aunt Kate has ginger cookies," said Billy
with a little skip of delight.
Mrs. Comstock and Elnora were finishing breakfast
the following morning when they heard a cheery whistle
down the road. Elnora with surprised eyes looked at
her mother.
"Could that be Mr. Ammon?" she questioned.
"I did not expect him so soon," commented Mrs. Comstock.
It was sunrise, but the musician was Philip Ammon.
He appeared stronger than on yesterday.
"I hope I am not too early," he said. "I am consumed
with anxiety to learn if we have made a catch. If we
have, we should beat the birds to it. I promised Uncle
Doc to put on my waders and keep dry for a few days yet,
when I go to the woods. Let's hurry! I am afraid of crows.
There might be a rare moth."
The sun was topping the Limberlost when they started.
As they neared the place Philip stopped.
"Now we must use great caution," he said. "The lights
and the odours always attract numbers that don't settle
on the baited trees. Every bush, shrub, and limb may
hide a specimen we want."
So they approached with much care.
"There is something, anyway!" cried Philip.
"There are moths! I can see them!" exulted Elnora.
"Those you see are fast enough. It's the ones for
which you must search that will escape. The grasses
are dripping, and I have boots, so you look beside the
path while I take the outside," suggested Ammon.
Mrs. Comstock wanted to hunt moths, but she was
timid about making a wrong movement, so she wisely
sat on a log and watched Philip and Elnora to learn how
they proceeded. Back in the deep woods a hermit thrush
was singing his chant to the rising sun. Orioles were
sowing the pure, sweet air with notes of gold, poured out
while on wing. The robins were only chirping now, for
their morning songs had awakened all the other birds an
hour ago. Scolding red-wings tilted on half the bushes.
Excepting late species of haws, tree bloom was almost
gone, but wild flowers made the path border and all the
wood floor a riot of colour. Elnora, born among such
scenes, worked eagerly, but to the city man, recently from
a hospital, they seemed too good to miss. He frequently
stooped to examine a flower face, paused to listen
intently to the thrush or lifted his head to see the
gold flash which accompanied the oriole's trailing notes.
So Elnora uttered the first cry, as she softly lifted
branches and peered among the grasses.
"My find!" she called. "Bring the box, mother!"
Philip came hurrying also. When they reached her
she stood on the path holding a pair of moths. Her eyes
were wide with excitement, her cheeks pink, her red
lips parted, and on the hand she held out to them
clung a pair of delicate blue-green moths, with white
bodies, and touches of lavender and straw colour.
All around her lay flower-brocaded grasses, behind the
deep green background of the forest, while the sun slowly
sifted gold from heaven to burnish her hair. Mrs. Comstock
heard a sharp breath behind her.
"Oh, what a picture!" exulted Philip at her shoulder.
"She is absolutely and altogether lovely! I'd give a
small fortune for that faithfully set on canvas!"
He picked the box from Mrs. Comstock's fingers and
slowly advanced with it. Elnora held down her hand
and transferred the moths. Philip closed the box
carefully, but the watching mother saw that his eyes were
following the girl's face. He was not making the slightest
attempt to conceal his admiration.
"I wonder if a woman ever did anything lovelier than
to find a pair of Luna moths on a forest path, early on
a perfect June morning," he said to Mrs. Comstock,
when he returned the box.
She glanced at Elnora who was intently searching the bushes.
"Look here, young man," said Mrs. Comstock. "You seem
to find that girl of mine about right."
"I could suggest no improvement," said Philip. "I never
saw a more attractive girl anywhere. She seems absolutely
perfect to me."
"Then suppose you don't start any scheme calculated
to spoil her!" proposed Mrs. Comstock dryly. "I don't
think you can, or that any man could, but I'm not taking
any risks. You asked to come here to help in this work.
We are both glad to have you, if you confine yourself to work;
but it's the least you can do to leave us as you find us."
"I beg your pardon!" said Philip. "I intended no offence.
I admire her as I admire any perfect creation."
"And nothing in all this world spoils the average girl
so quickly and so surely," said Mrs. Comstock. She raised
her voice. "Elnora, fasten up that tag of hair over your
left ear. These bushes muss you so you remind me of a
sheep poking its nose through a hedge fence."
Mrs. Comstock started down the path toward the log
again, when she reached it she called sharply: "Elnora,
come here! I believe I have found something myself."
The "something" was a Citheronia Regalis which had
emerged from its case on the soft earth under the log.
It climbed up the wood, its stout legs dragging a big
pursy body, while it wildly flapped tiny wings the size
of a man's thumb-nail. Elnora gave one look and a cry
which brought Philip.
"That's the rarest moth in America!" he announced.
"Mrs. Comstock, you've gone up head. You can put
that in a box with a screen cover to-night, and attract
half a dozen, possibly."
"Is it rare, Elnora?" inquired Mrs. Comstock, as if no
one else knew.
"It surely is," answered Elnora. "If we can find
it a mate to-night, it will lay from two hundred and fifty
to three hundred eggs to-morrow. With any luck at
all I can raise two hundred caterpillars from them.
I did once before. And they are worth a dollar apiece."
"Was the one I killed like that?"
"No. That was a different moth, but its life processes
were the same as this. The Bird Woman calls this the
King of the Poets."
"Why does she?"
"Because it is named for Citheron who was a poet, and
regalis refers to a king. You mustn't touch it or you
may stunt wing development. You watch and don't let
that moth out of sight, or anything touch it. When the
wings are expanded and hardened we will put it in a box."
"I am afraid it will race itself to death," objected
Mrs. Comstock.
"That's a part of the game," said Philip. "It is starting
circulation now. When the right moment comes, it will
stop and expand its wings. If you watch closely you can
see them expand."
Presently the moth found a rough projection of bark
and clung with its feet, back down, its wings hanging.
The body was an unusual orange red, the tiny wings were
gray, striped with the red and splotched here and there
with markings of canary yellow. Mrs. Comstock watched
breathlessly. Presently she slipped from the log and
knelt to secure a better view.
"Are its wings developing?" called Elnora.
"They are growing larger and the markings coming
stronger every minute."
"Let's watch, too," said Elnora to Philip.
They came and looked over Mrs. Comstock's shoulder.
Lower drooped the gay wings, wider they spread, brighter
grew the markings as if laid off in geometrical patterns.
They could hear Mrs. Comstock's tense breath and see
her absorbed expression.
"Young people," she said solemnly, "if your studying
science and the elements has ever led you to feel that
things just happen, kind of evolve by chance, as it were,
this sight will be good for you. Maybe earth and air
accumulate, but it takes the wisdom of the Almighty God
to devise the wing of a moth. If there ever was a miracle,
this whole process is one. Now, as I understand it, this
creature is going to keep on spreading those wings, until
they grow to size and harden to strength sufficient to
bear its body. Then it flies away, mates with its kind,
lays its eggs on the leaves of a certain tree, and the eggs
hatch tiny caterpillars which eat just that kind of leaves,
and the worms grow and grow, and take on different
forms and colours until at last they are big caterpillars
six inches long, with large horns. Then they burrow into
the earth, build a water-proof house around themselves
from material which is inside them, and lie through rain
and freezing cold for months. A year from egg laying they
come out like this, and begin the process all over again.
They don't eat, they don't see distinctly, they live but
a few days, and fly only at night; then they drop off easy,
but the process goes on."
A shivering movement went over the moth. The wings
drooped and spread wider. Mrs. Comstock sank into
soft awed tones.
"There never was a moment in my life," she said,
"when I felt so in the Presence, as I do now. I feel as
if the Almighty were so real, and so near, that I could
reach out and touch Him, as I could this wonderful work
of His, if I dared. I feel like saying to Him: `To the
extent of my brain power I realize Your presence, and all
it is in me to comprehend of Your power. Help me to learn,
even this late, the lessons of Your wonderful creations.
Help me to unshackle and expand my soul to the fullest
realization of Your wonders. Almighty God, make me bigger,
make me broader!'"
The moth climbed to the end of the projection, up it
a little way, then suddenly reversed its wings, turned
the hidden sides out and dropped them beside its abdomen,
like a large fly. The upper side of the wings, thus
exposed, was far richer colour, more exquisite texture than
the under, and they slowly half lifted and drooped again.
Mrs. Comstock turned her face to Philip.
"Am I an old fool, or do you feel it, too?" she half whispered.
"You are wiser than you ever have been before,"
answered he. "I feel it, also."
"And I," breathed Elnora.
The moth spread its wings, shivered them tremulously,
opening and closing them rapidly. Philip handed the box
to Elnora.
She shook her head.
"I can't take that one," she said. "Give her freedom."
"But, Elnora," protested Mrs. Comstock, "I don't want to
let her go. She's mine. She's the first one I ever found
this way. Can't you put her in a big box, and let her live,
without hurting her? I can't bear to let her go. I want
to learn all about her."
"Then watch while we gather these on the trees," said Elnora.
"We will take her home until night and then decide what to do.
She won't fly for a long time yet."
Mrs. Comstock settled on the ground, gazing at the moth.
Elnora and Philip went to the baited trees, placing
several large moths and a number of smaller ones in the
cyanide jar, and searching the bushes beyond where they
found several paired specimens of differing families.
When they returned Elnora showed her mother how to
hold her hand before the moth so that it would climb upon
her fingers. Then they started back to the cabin, Elnora
and Philip leading the way; Mrs. Comstock followed
slowly, stepping with great care lest she stumble and
injure the moth. Her face wore a look of comprehension,
in her eyes was an exalted light. On she came to the bluebordered
pool lying beside her path.
A turtle scrambled from a log and splashed into the
water, while a red-wing shouted, "O-ka-lee!" to her.
Mrs. Comstock paused and looked intently at the slimecovered
quagmire, framed in a flower riot and homed over
by sweet-voiced birds. Then she gazed at the thing of
incomparable beauty clinging to her fingers and said softly:
"If you had known about wonders like these in the days of
your youth, Robert Comstock, could you ever have done what
you did?"
Elnora missed her mother, and turning to look for her,
saw her standing beside the pool. Would the old
fascination return? A panic of fear seized the girl.
She went back swiftly.
"Are you afraid she is going?" Elnora asked. "If you are,
cup your other hand over her for shelter. Carrying her
through this air and in the hot sunshine will dry her wings
and make them ready for flight very quickly. You can't trust
her in such air and light as you can in the cool dark woods."
While she talked she took hold of her mother's sleeve,
anxiously smiling a pitiful little smile that Mrs.
Comstock understood. Philip set his load at the back door,
returning to hold open the garden gate for Elnora and
Mrs. Comstock. He reached it in time to see them standing
together beside the pool. The mother bent swiftly and
kissed the girl on the lips. Philip turned and was busily
hunting moths on the raspberry bushes when they reached
the gate. And so excellent are the rewards of attending
your own business, that he found a Promethea on a lilac
in a corner; a moth of such rare wine-coloured, velvety
shades that it almost sent Mrs. Comstock to her knees again.
But this one was fully developed, able to fly, and had to
be taken into the cabin hurriedly. Mrs. Comstock stood in
the middle of the room holding up her Regalis.
"Now what must I do?" she asked.
Elnora glanced at Philip Ammon. Their eyes met and
both of them smiled; he with amusement at the tall, spare
figure, with dark eyes and white crown, asking the childish
question so confidingly; and Elnora with pride. She was
beginning to appreciate the character of her mother.
"How would you like to sit and see her finish development?
I'll get dinner," proposed the girl.
After they had dined, Philip and Elnora carried the dishes
to the kitchen, brought out boxes, sheets of cork, pins,
ink, paper slips and everything necessary for mounting and
classifying the moths they had taken. When the housework
was finished Mrs. Comstock with her ruffle sat near,
watching and listening. She remembered all they said
that she understood, and when uncertain she asked questions.
Occasionally she laid down her work to straighten some
flower which needed attention or to search the garden for
a bug for the grosbeak. In one of these absences Elnora
said to Philip: "These replace quite a number of the moths I
lost for the man of India. With a week of such luck,
I could almost begin to talk college again."
"There is no reason why you should not have the week
and the luck," said he. "I have taken moths until the
middle of August, though I suspect one is more likely to
find late ones in the north where it is colder than here.
The next week is hay-time, but we can count on a few
double-brooders and strays, and by working the exchange method
for all it is worth, I think we can complete the collection again."
"You almost make me hope," said Elnora, "but I must
not allow myself. I don't truly think I can replace all I
lost, not even with your help. If I could, I scarcely see my
way clear to leave mother this winter. I have found her
so recently, and she is so precious, I can't risk losing
her again. I am going to take the nature position in the
Onabasha schools, and I shall be most happy doing the work.
Only, these are a temptation."
"I wish you might go to college this fall with the other
girls," said Philip. "I feel that if you don't you never will.
Isn't there some way?"
"I can't see it if there is, and I really don't want to
leave mother."
"Well, mother is mighty glad to hear it," said Mrs.
Comstock, entering the arbour.
Philip noticed that her face was pale, her lips quivering,
her voice cold.
"I was telling your daughter that she should go to
college this winter," he explained, "but she says she
doesn't want to leave you."
"If she wants to go, I wish she could," said Mrs. Comstock,
a look of relief spreading over her face.
"Oh, all girls want to go to college," said Philip. "It's the
only proper place to learn bridge and embroidery; not to
mention midnight lunches of mixed pickles and fruit cake,
and all the delights of the sororities."
"I have thought for years of going to college," said
Elnora, "but I never thought of any of those things."
"That is because your education in fudge and bridge has
been sadly neglected," said Philip. "You should hear my
sister Polly! This was her final year! Lunches and
sororities were all I heard her mention, until Tom Levering
came on deck; now he is the leading subject. I can't
see from her daily conversation that she knows half as
much really worth knowing as you do, but she's ahead of
you miles on fun."
"Oh, we had some good times in the high school," said Elnora.
"Life hasn't been all work and study. Is Edith Carr a
college girl?"
"No. She is the very selectest kind of a private boardingschool
"Who is she?" asked Mrs. Comstock.
Philip opened his lips.
"She is a girl in Chicago, that Mr. Ammon knows very
well," said Elnora. "She is beautiful and rich, and a
friend of his sister's. Or, didn't you say that?"
"I don't remember, but she is," said Philip. "This moth
needs an alcohol bath to remove the dope."
"Won't the down come, too?" asked Elnora anxiously.
"No. You watch and you will see it come out, as
Polly would say, `a perfectly good' moth."
"Is your sister younger than you?" inquired Elnora.
"Yes," said Philip, "but she is three years older than you.
She is the dearest sister in all the world. I'd love
to see her now."
"Why don't you send for her," suggested Elnora.
"Perhaps she'd like to help us catch moths."
"Yes, I think Polly in a Virot hat, Picot embroidered
frock and three-inch heels would take more moths than
any one who ever tried the Limberlost," laughed Philip.
"Well, you find many of them, and you are her brother."
"Yes, but that is different. Father was reared in
Onabasha, and he loved the country. He trained me his
way and mother took charge of Polly. I don't quite
understand it. Mother is a great home body herself,
but she did succeed in making Polly strictly ornamental."
"Does Tom Levering need a `strictly ornamental' girl?"
"You are too matter of fact! Too `strictly' material.
He needs a darling girl who will love him plenty, and Polly
is that."
"Well, then, does the Limberlost need a `strictly ornamental' girl?"
"No!" cried Philip. "You are ornament enough for
the Limberlost. I have changed my mind. I don't want
Polly here. She would not enjoy catching moths, or anything
we do."
"She might," persisted Elnora. "You are her brother,
and surely you care for these things."
"The argument does not hold," said Philip. "Polly and
I do not like the same things when we are at home, but we
are very fond of each other. The member of my family
who would go crazy about this is my father. I wish he
could come, if only for a week. I'd send for him, but he is
tied up in preparing some papers for a great corporation
case this summer. He likes the country. It was his vote
that brought me here."
Philip leaned back against the arbour, watching the
grosbeak as it hunted food between a tomato vine and a
day lily. Elnora set him to making labels, and when he
finished them he asked permission to write a letter.
He took no pains to conceal his page, and from where she
sat opposite him, Elnora could not look his way without
reading: "My dearest Edith." He wrote busily for a time
and then sat staring across the garden.
"Have you run out of material so quickly?" asked Elnora.
"That's about it," said Philip. "I have said that I am
getting well as rapidly as possible, that the air is fine, the
folks at Uncle Doc's all well, and entirely too good to me;
that I am spending most of my time in the country helping
catch moths for a collection, which is splendid exercise;
now I can't think of another thing that will be interesting."
There was a burst of exquisite notes in the maple.
"Put in the grosbeak," suggested Elnora. "Tell her
you are so friendly with him you feed him potato bugs."
Philip lowered the pen to the sheet, bent forward,
then hesitated.
"Blest if I do!" he cried. "She'd think a grosbeak was
a depraved person with a large nose. She'd never dream
that it was a black-robed lover, with a breast of snow and
a crimson heart. She doesn't care for hungry babies and
potato bugs. I shall write that to father. He will find
it delightful."
Elnora deftly picked up a moth, pinned it and placed its wings.
She straightened the antennae, drew each leg into position
and set it in perfectly lifelike manner. As she lifted her
work to see if she had it right, she glanced at Philip.
He was still frowning and hesitating over the paper.
"I dare you to let me dictate a couple of paragraphs."
"Done!" cried Philip. "Go slowly enough that I can write it."
Elnora laughed gleefully.
"I am writing this," she began, "in an old grape arbour
in the country, near a log cabin where I had my dinner.
From where I sit I can see directly into the home of the
next-door neighbour on the west. His name is R. B. Grosbeak.
From all I have seen of him, he is a gentleman of the old
school; the oldest school there is, no doubt. He always
wears a black suit and cap and a white vest, decorated with
one large red heart, which I think must be the emblem of
some ancient order. I have been here a number of times,
and I never have seen him wear anything else, or his wife
appear in other than a brown dress with touches of white.
"It has appealed to me at times that she was a shade
neglectful of her home duties, but he does not seem to
feel that way. He cheerfully stays in the sitting-room,
while she is away having a good time, and sings while
he cares for the four small children. I must tell you about
his music. I am sure he never saw inside a conservatory.
I think he merely picked up what he knows by ear and without
vocal training, but there is a tenderness in his tones,
a depth of pure melody, that I never have heard surpassed.
It may be that I think more of his music than that of some
other good vocalists hereabout, because I see more of him
and appreciate his devotion to his home life.
"I just had an encounter with him at the west fence,
and induced him to carry a small gift to his children.
When I see the perfect harmony in which he lives, and
the depth of content he and the brown lady find in life,
I am almost persuaded to-- Now this is going to be
poetry," said Elnora. "Move your pen over here and
begin with a quote and a cap."
Philip's face had been an interesting study while he
wrote her sentences. Now he gravely set the pen where
she indicated, and Elnora dictated--
"Buy a nice little home in the country,
And settle down there for life."
"That's the truth!" cried Philip. "It's as big a temptation as
I ever had. Go on!"
"That's all," said Elnora. "You can finish. The moths
are done. I am going hunting for whatever I can find for
the grades."
"Wait a minute," begged Philip. "I am going, too."
"No. You stay with mother and finish your letter."
"It is done. I couldn't add anything to that."
"Very well! Sign your name and come on. But I
forgot to tell you all the bargain. Maybe you won't send
the letter when you hear that. The remainder is that
you show me the reply to my part of it."
"Oh, that's easy! I wouldn't have the slightest objection
to showing you the whole letter."
He signed his name, folded the sheets and slipped them
into his pocket.
"Where are we going and what do we take?"
"Will you go, mother?" asked Elnora.
"I have a little work that should be done," said
Mrs. Comstock. "Could you spare me? Where do you want
to go?"
"We will go down to Aunt Margaret's and see her a
few minutes and get Billy. We will be back in time
for supper."
Mrs. Comstock smiled as she watched them down the road.
What a splendid-looking pair of young creatures they were!
How finely proportioned, how full of vitality! Then her
face grew troubled as she saw them in earnest conversation.
Just as she was wishing she had not trusted her precious
girl with so much of a stranger, she saw Elnora stoop to
lift a branch and peer under. The mother grew content.
Elnora was thinking only of her work. She was to be
trusted utterly.
A few days later Philip handed Elnora a sheet
of paper and she read: "In your condition I
should think the moth hunting and life at that
cabin would be very good for you, but for any sake keep
away from that Grosbeak person, and don't come home
with your head full of granger ideas. No doubt he has a
remarkable voice, but I can't bear untrained singers, and
don't you get the idea that a June song is perennial.
You are not hearing the music he will make when the
four babies have the scarlet fever and the measles, and
the gadding wife leaves him at home to care for them then.
Poor soul, I pity her! How she exists where rampant
cows bellow at you, frogs croak, mosquitoes consume
you, the butter goes to oil in summer and bricks in winter,
while the pump freezes every day, and there is no
earthly amusement, and no society! Poor things!
Can't you influence him to move? No wonder she gads when
she has a chance! I should die. If you are thinking
of settling in the country, think also of a woman who
is satisfied with white and brown to accompany you!
Brown! Of all deadly colours! I should go mad in brown."
Elnora laughed while she read. Her face was dimpling,
as she returned the sheet. "Who's ahead?" she asked.
"Who do you think?" he parried.
"She is," said Elnora. "Are you going to tell her
in your next that R. B. Grosbeak is a bird, and that he
probably will spend the winter in a wild plum thicket
in Tennessee?"
"No," said Philip. "I shall tell her that I understand her
ideas of life perfectly, and, of course, I never
shall ask her to deal with oily butter and frozen pumps--"
"--and measley babies," interpolated Elnora.
"Exactly!" said Philip. "At the same time I find so
much to counterbalance those things, that I should not
object to bearing them myself, in view of the recompense.
Where do we go and what do we do to-day?"
"We will have to hunt beside the roads and around the
edge of the Limberlost to-day," said Elnora. "Mother is
making strawberry preserves, and she can't come until
she finishes. Suppose we go down to the swamp and
I'll show you what is left of the flower-room that
Terence O'More, the big lumber man of Great Rapids,
made when he was a homeless boy here. Of course,
you have heard the story?"
"Yes, and I've met the O'Mores who are frequently
in Chicago society. They have friends there. I think
them one ideal couple."
"That sounds as if they might be the only one," said
Elnora, "and, indeed, they are not. I know dozens.
Aunt Margaret and Uncle Wesley are another, the Brownlees
another, and my mathematics professor and his wife.
The world is full of happy people, but no one ever hears
of them. You must fight and make a scandal to get into
the papers. No one knows about all the happy people.
I am happy myself, and look how perfectly inconspicuous
I am."
"You only need go where you will be seen," began
Philip, when he remembered and finished. "What do
we take to-day?"
"Ourselves," said Elnora. "I have a vagabond streak in
my blood and it's in evidence. I am going to show you
where real flowers grow, real birds sing, and if I feel quite
right about it, perhaps I shall raise a note or two myself."
"Oh, do you sing?" asked Philip politely.
"At times," answered Elnora. "`As do the birds;
because I must,' but don't be scared. The mood does
not possess me often. Perhaps I shan't raise a note."
They went down the road to the swamp, climbed the
snake fence, followed the path to the old trail and then
turned south upon it. Elnora indicated to Philip the
trail with remnants of sagging barbed wire.
"It was ten years ago," she said. "I was a little school
girl, but I wandered widely even then, and no one cared.
I saw him often. He had been in a city institution all his
life, when he took the job of keeping timber thieves out of
this swamp, before many trees had been cut. It was a
strong man's work, and he was a frail boy, but he grew
hardier as he lived out of doors. This trail we are on is
the path his feet first wore, in those days when he was
insane with fear and eaten up with loneliness, but he stuck
to his work and won out. I used to come down to the road
and creep among the bushes as far as I dared, to watch
him pass. He walked mostly, at times he rode a wheel.
"Some days his face was dreadfully sad, others it was
so determined a little child could see the force in it, and
once he was radiant. That day the Swamp Angel was
with him. I can't tell you what she was like. I never
saw any one who resembled her. He stopped close here
to show her a bird's nest. Then they went on to a sort of
flower-room he had made, and he sang for her. By the
time he left, I had gotten bold enough to come out on
the trail, and I met the big Scotchman Freckles lived with.
He saw me catching moths and butterflies, so he took me
to the flower-room and gave me everything there.
I don't dare come alone often, so I can't keep it up as
he did, but you can see something of how it was."
Elnora led the way and Philip followed. The outlines
of the room were not distinct, because many of the
trees were gone, but Elnora showed how it had been as
nearly as she could.
"The swamp is almost ruined now," she said. "The maples,
walnuts, and cherries are all gone. The talking trees
are the only things left worth while."
"The `talking trees!' I don't understand," commented Philip.
"No wonder!" laughed Elnora. "They are my discovery.
You know all trees whisper and talk during the summer,
but there are two that have so much to say they keep on
the whole winter, when the others are silent. The beeches
and oaks so love to talk, they cling to their dead,
dry leaves. In the winter the winds are stiffest
and blow most, so these trees whisper, chatter, sob,
laugh, and at times roar until the sound is deafening.
They never cease until new leaves come out in the spring
to push off the old ones. I love to stand beneath them
with my ear to the trunks, interpreting what they say
to fit my moods. The beeches branch low, and their
leaves are small so they only know common earthly things;
but the oaks run straight above almost all other trees
before they branch, their arms are mighty, their leaves large.
They meet the winds that travel around the globe, and from
them learn the big things."
Philip studied the girls face. "What do the beeches
tell you, Elnora?" he asked gently.
"To be patient, to be unselfish, to do unto others as
I would have them do to me."
"And the oaks?"
"They say `be true,' `live a clean life,' `send your soul
up here and the winds of the world will teach it what
honour achieves.'"
"Wonderful secrets, those!" marvelled Philip. "Are they
telling them now? Could I hear?"
"No. They are only gossiping now. This is play-time.
They tell the big secrets to a white world, when the
music inspires them."
"The music?"
"All other trees are harps in the winter. Their trunks are
the frames, their branches the strings, the winds the musicians.
When the air is cold and clear, the world very white, and
the harp music swelling, then the talking trees tell the
strengthening, uplifting things."
"You wonderful girl!" cried Philip. "What a woman
you will be!"
"If I am a woman at all worth while, it will be because
I have had such wonderful opportunities," said Elnora.
"Not every girl is driven to the forest to learn what God
has to say there. Here are the remains of Freckles's room.
The time the Angel came here he sang to her, and I listened.
I never heard music like that. No wonder she loved him.
Every one who knew him did, and they do yet. Try that
log, it makes a fairly good seat. This old store box
was his treasure house, just as it's now mine. I will
show you my dearest possession. I do not dare take
it home because mother can't overcome her dislike for it.
It was my father's, and in some ways I am like him.
This is the strongest."
Elnora lifted the violin and began to play. She wore
a school dress of green gingham, with the sleeves rolled to
the elbows. She seemed a part of the setting all around her.
Her head shone like a small dark sun, and her face never
had seemed so rose-flushed and fair. From the instant
she drew the bow, her lips parted and her eyes turned
toward something far away in the swamp, and never did
she give more of that impression of feeling for her notes
and repeating something audible only to her. Philip was
too close to get the best effect. He arose and stepped back
several yards, leaning against a large tree, looking and
listening intently.
As he changed positions he saw that Mrs. Comstock had
followed them, and was standing on the trail, where she
could not have helped hearing everything Elnora had said.
So to Philip before her and the mother watching on the
trail, Elnora played the Song of the Limberlost. It seemed
as if the swamp hushed all its other voices and spoke
only through her dancing bow. The mother out on the
trail had heard it all, once before from the girl, many
times from her father. To the man it was a revelation.
He stood so stunned he forgot Mrs. Comstock. He tried
to realize what a city audience would say to that music,
from such a player, with a similar background, and he
could not imagine.
He was wondering what he dared say, how much he might
express, when the last note fell and the girl laid the
violin in the case, closed the door, locked it and hid the
key in the rotting wood at the end of a log. Then she came
to him. Philip stood looking at her curiously.
"I wonder," he said, "what people would say to that?"
"I played that in public once," said Elnora. "I think
they liked it, fairly well. I had a note yesterday offering
me the leadership of the high school orchestra in Onabasha.
I can take it as well as not. None of my talks to the
grades come the first thing in the morning. I can play
a few minutes in the orchestra and reach the rooms in
plenty of time. It will be more work that I love, and like
finding the money. I would gladly play for nothing,
merely to be able to express myself."
"With some people it makes a regular battlefield of the
human heart--this struggle for self-expression," said Philip.
"You are going to do beautiful work in the world, and do
it well. When I realize that your violin belonged to your
father, that he played it before you were born, and
it no doubt affected your mother strongly, and then couple
with that the years you have roamed these fields and
swamps finding in nature all you had to lavish your heart
upon, I can see how you evolved. I understand what you
mean by self-expression. I know something of what you
have to express. The world never so wanted your message
as it does now. It is hungry for the things you know.
I can see easily how your position came to you. What you
have to give is taught in no college, and I am not sure but
you would spoil yourself if you tried to run your mind
through a set groove with hundreds of others. I never
thought I should say such a thing to any one, but I do say
to you, and I honestly believe it; give up the college idea.
Your mind does not need that sort of development. Stick close
to your work in the woods. You are becoming so infinitely
greater on it, than the best college girl I ever knew,
that there is no comparison. When you have money to
spend, take that violin and go to one of the world's great
masters and let the Limberlost sing to him; if he thinks he
can improve it, very well. I have my doubts."
"Do you really mean that you would give up all idea of
going to college, in my place?"
"I really mean it," said Philip. "If I now held the
money in my hands to send you, and could give it to you
in some way you would accept I would not. I do not
know why it is the fate of the world always to want
something different from what life gives them. If you
only could realize it, my girl, you are in college, and
have been always. You are in the school of experience,
and it has taught you to think, and given you a heart.
God knows I envy the man who wins it! You have been in
the college of the Limberlost all your life, and I never
met a graduate from any other institution who could begin
to compare with you in sanity, clarity, and interesting knowledge.
I wouldn't even advise you to read too many books on your lines.
You acquire your material first hand, and you know that
you are right. What you should do is to begin early
to practise self-expression. Don't wait too long to tell us
about the woods as you know them."
"Follow the course of the Bird Woman, you mean?"
asked Elnora.
"In your own way; with your own light. She won't
live forever. You are younger, and you will be ready
to begin where she ends. The swamp has given you all
you need so far; now you give it to the world in payment.
College be confounded! Go to work and show people
what there is in you!"
Not until then did he remember Mrs. Comstock.
"Should we go out to the trail and see if your mother is
coming?" he asked.
"Here she is now," said Elnora. "Gracious, it's a mercy
I got that violin put away in time! I didn't expect her
so soon," whispered the girl as she turned and went
toward her mother. Mrs. Comstock's expression was peculiar
as she looked at Elnora.
"I forgot that you were making sun-preserves and they
didn't require much cooking," she said. "We should have
waited for you."
"Not at all!" answered Mrs. Comstock. "Have you
found anything yet?"
"Nothing that I can show you," said Elnora. "I am
almost sure I have found an idea that will revolutionize
the whole course of my work, thought, and ambitions."
"`Ambitions!' My, what a hefty word!" laughed Mrs. Comstock.
"Now who would suspect a little red-haired country girl
of harbouring such a deadly germ in her body? Can you tell
mother about it?"
"Not if you talk to me that way, I can't," said Elnora.
"Well, I guess we better let ambition lie. I've always
heard it was safest asleep. If you ever get a bona fide
attack, it will be time to attend it. Let's hunt specimens.
It is June. Philip and I are in the grades. You have an
hour to put an idea into our heads that will stick for a lifetime,
and grow for good. That's the way I look at your job. Now, what
are you going to give us? We don't want any old silly stuff
that has been hashed over and over, we want a big new idea
to plant in our hearts. Come on, Miss Teacher, what is the
boiled-down, double-distilled essence of June? Give it to
us strong. We are large enough to furnish it developing ground.
Hurry up! Time is short and we are waiting. What is the
miracle of June? What one thing epitomizes the whole month,
and makes it just a little different from any other?"
"The birth of these big night moths," said Elnora promptly.
Philip clapped his hands. The tears started to Mrs.
Comstock's eyes. She took Elnora in her arms, and kissed
her forehead.
"You'll do!" she said. "June is June, not because it
has bloom, bird, fruit, or flower, exclusive to it alone.
It's half May and half July in all of them. But to me,
it's just June, when it comes to these great, velvet-winged
night moths which sweep its moonlit skies, consummating
their scheme of creation, and dropping like a bloomedout
flower. Give them moths for June. Then make that
the basis of your year's work. Find the distinctive feature
of each month, the one thing which marks it a time apart,
and hit them squarely between the eyes with it. Even the
babies of the lowest grades can comprehend moths when
they see a few emerge, and learn their history, as it can be
lived before them. You should show your specimens in
pairs, then their eggs, the growing caterpillars, and then
the cocoons. You want to dig out the red heart of every
month in the year, and hold it pulsing before them.
"I can't name all of them off-hand, but I think of one
more right now. February belongs to our winter birds.
It is then the great horned owl of the swamp courts his
mate, the big hawks pair, and even the crows begin to
take notice. These are truly our birds. Like the poor
we have them always with us. You should hear the musicians
of this swamp in February, Philip, on a mellow night.
Oh, but they are in earnest! For twenty-one years I've
listened by night to the great owls, all the smaller sizes,
the foxes, coons, and every resident left in these woods,
and by day to the hawks, yellow-hammers, sap-suckers,
titmice, crows, and other winter birds. Only just now it's
come to me that the distinctive feature of February is not
linen bleaching, nor sugar making; it's the love month of our
very own birds. Give them hawks and owls for February, Elnora."
With flashing eyes the girl looked at Philip. "How's that?"
she said. "Don't you think I will succeed, with such help?
You should hear the concert she is talking about! It is
simply indescribable when the ground is covered with snow,
and the moonlight white."
"It's about the best music we have," said Mrs. Comstock.
"I wonder if you couldn't copy that and make a strong,
original piece out of it for your violin, Elnora?"
There was one tense breath, then---- "I could try," said
Elnora simply.
Philip rushed to the rescue. "We must go to work," he
said, and began examining a walnut branch for Luna moth eggs.
Elnora joined him while Mrs. Comstock drew her embroidery
from her pocket and sat on a log. She said she was tired,
they could come for her when they were ready to go.
She could hear their voices around her until she called
them at supper time. When they came to her she stood
waiting on the trail, the sewing in one hand, the
violin in the other. Elnora became very white, but
followed the trail without a word. Philip, unable to see
a woman carry a heavier load than he, reached for
the instrument. Mrs. Comstock shook her head. She carried
the violin home, took it into her room and closed the door.
Elnora turned to Philip.
"If she destroys that, I shall die!" cried the girl.
"She won't!" said Philip. "You misunderstand her.
She wouldn't have said what she did about the owls, if
she had meant to. She is your mother. No one loves
you as she does. Trust her! Myself--I think she's
simply great!"
Mrs. Comstock returned with serene face, and all of
them helped with the supper. When it was over Philip
and Elnora sorted and classified the afternoon's specimens,
and made a trip to the woods to paint and light several
trees for moths. When they came back Mrs. Comstock
sat in the arbour, and they joined her. The moonlight
was so intense, print could have been read by it.
The damp night air held odours near to earth, making
flower and tree perfume strong. A thousand insects were
serenading, and in the maple the grosbeak occasionally
said a reassuring word to his wife, while she answered
that all was well. A whip-poor-will wailed in the swamp and
beside the blue-bordered pool a chat complained disconsolately.
Mrs. Comstock went into the cabin, but she returned immediately,
laying the violin and bow across Elnora's lap. "I wish you
would give us a little music," she said.
Billy was swinging in the hammock, at peace with himself
and all the world, when he thought he heard something.
He sat bolt upright, his eyes staring. Once he opened
his lips, then thought again and closed them.
The sound persisted. Billy vaulted the fence,
and ran down the road with his queer sidewise hop.
When he neared the Comstock cabin, he left the
warm dust of the highway and stepped softly at slower
pace over the rank grasses of the roadside. He had
heard aright. The violin was in the grape arbour,
singing a perfect jumble of everything, poured out in
an exultant tumult. The strings were voicing the joy of
a happy girl heart.
Billy climbed the fence enclosing the west woods and
crept toward the arbour. He was not a spy and not a sneak.
He merely wanted to satisfy his child-heart as to
whether Mrs. Comstock was at home, and Elnora at last
playing her loved violin with her mother's consent.
One peep sufficed. Mrs. Comstock sat in the moonlight,
her head leaning against the arbour; on her face was a
look of perfect peace and contentment. As he stared at
her the bow hesitated a second and Mrs. Comstock spoke:
"That's all very melodious and sweet," she said, "but I
do wish you could play Money Musk and some of the
tunes I danced as a girl."
Elnora had been carefully avoiding every note that
might be reminiscent of her father. At the words she
laughed softly and began "Turkey in the Straw."
An instant later Mrs. Comstock was dancing in the
moon light. Ammon sprang to her side, caught her in
his arms, while to Elnora's laughter and the violin's
impetus they danced until they dropped panting on the
arbour bench.
Billy scarcely knew when he reached the road. His light
feet barely touched the soft way, so swiftly he flew.
He vaulted the fence and burst into the house.
"Aunt Margaret! Uncle Wesley!" he screamed. "Listen!
Listen! She's playing it! Elnora's playing her violin
at home! And Aunt Kate is dancing like anything
before the arbour! I saw her in the moonlight! I ran down!
Oh, Aunt Margaret!"
Billy fled sobbing to Margaret's breast.
"Why Billy!" she chided. "Don't cry, you little dunce!
That's what we've all prayed for these many years; but
you must be mistaken about Kate. I can't believe it."
Billy lifted his head. "Well, you just have to!" he said.
"When I say I saw anything, Uncle Wesley knows I did.
The city man was dancing with her. They danced together
and Elnora laughed. But it didn't look funny to me;
I was scared."
"Who was it said `wonders never cease,'" asked Wesley.
"You mark my word, once you get Kate Comstock started,
you can't stop her. There's a wagon load of penned-up
force in her. Dancing in the moonlight! Well, I'll
be hanged!"
Billy was at his side instantly. "Whoever does it will
have to hang me, too," he cried.
Sinton threw his arm around Billy and drew him closely.
"Tell us all about it, son," he said. Billy told. "And when
Elnora just stopped a breath, `Can't you play some
of the old things I knew when I was a girl?' said her ma.
Then Elnora began to do a thing that made you want to
whirl round and round, and quicker 'an scat there was her
ma a-whirling. The city man, he ups and grabs her and
whirls, too, and back in the woods I was going just like
they did. Elnora begins to laugh, and I ran to tell you,
cos I knew you'd like to know. Now, all the world is
right, ain't it?" ended Billy in supreme satisfaction.
"You just bet it is!" said Wesley.
Billy looked steadily at Margaret. "Is it, Aunt Margaret?"
Margaret Sinton smiled at him bravely.
An hour later when Billy was ready to climb the stairs
to his room, he went to Margaret to say good night.
He leaned against her an instant, then brought his lips
to her ear. "Wish I could get your little girls back
for you!" he whispered and dashed toward the stairs.
Down at the Comstock cabin the violin played on until
Elnora was so tired she scarcely could lift the bow.
Then Philip went home. The women walked to the gate
with him, and stood watching him from sight.
"That's what I call one decent young man!" said
Mrs. Comstock. "To see him fit in with us, you'd think
he'd been brought up in a cabin; but it's likely he's
always had the very cream o' the pot."
"Yes, I think so," laughed Elnora, "but it hasn't
hurt him. I've never seen anything I could criticise.
He's teaching me so much, unconsciously. You know
he graduated from Harvard, and has several degrees in law.
He's coming in the morning, and we are going to put in a
big day on Catocalae."
"Which is----?"
"Those gray moths with wings that fold back like big
flies, and they appear as if they had been carved from
old wood. Then, when they fly, the lower wings flash
out and they are red and black, or gold and black, or
pink and black, or dozens of bright, beautiful colours
combined with black. No one ever has classified all
of them and written their complete history, unless the
Bird Woman is doing it now. She wants everything
she can get about them."
"I remember," said Mrs. Comstock. "They are mighty
pretty things. I've started up slews of them from the
vines covering the logs, all my life. I must be cautious
and catch them after this, but they seem powerful spry.
I might get hold of something rare." She thought
intently and added, "And wouldn't know it if I did.
It would just be my luck. I've had the rarest thing on
earth in reach this many a day and only had the wit to
cinch it just as it was going. I'll bet I don't let
anything else escape me."
Next morning Philip came early, and he and Elnora
went at once to the fields and woods. Mrs. Comstock
had come to believe so implicitly in him that she now
stayed at home to complete the work before she joined
them, and when she did she often sat sewing, leaving
them wandering hours at a time. It was noon before
she finished, and then she packed a basket of lunch.
She found Elnora and Philip near the violet patch, which
was still in its prime. They all lunched together in the
shade of a wild crab thicket, with flowers spread at their
feet, and the gold orioles streaking the air with flashes
of light and trailing ecstasy behind them, while the redwings,
as always, asked the most impertinent questions.
Then Mrs. Comstock carried the basket back to the cabin,
and Philip and Elnora sat on a log, resting a few minutes.
They had unexpected luck, and both were eager to continue
the search.
"Do you remember your promise about these violets?"
asked he. "To-morrow is Edith's birthday, and if I'd
put them special delivery on the morning train, she'd
get them in the late afternoon. They ought to keep
that long. She leaves for the North next day."
"Of course, you may have them," said Elnora. "We will
quit long enough before supper to gather a large bunch.
They can be packed so they will carry all right.
They should be perfectly fresh, especially if we gather
them this evening and let them drink all night."
Then they went back to hunt Catocalae. It was a
long and a happy search. It led them into new,
unexplored nooks of the woods, past a red-poll nest,
and where goldfinches prospected for thistledown for
the cradles they would line a little later. It led
them into real forest, where deep, dark pools lay,
where the hermit thrush and the wood robin extracted
the essence from all other bird melody, and poured it
out in their pure bell-tone notes. It seemed as if
every old gray tree-trunk, slab of loose bark, and
prostrate log yielded the flashing gray treasures;
while of all others they seemed to take alarm most
easily, and be most difficult to capture.
Philip came to Elnora at dusk, daintily holding one
by the body, its dark wings showing and its long slender
legs trying to clasp his fingers and creep from his hold.
"Oh for mercy's sake!" cried Elnora, staring at him.
"I half believe it!" exulted Ammon.
"Did you ever see one?"
"Only in collections, and very seldom there."
Elnora studied the black wings intently. "I surely
believe that's Sappho," she marvelled. "The Bird Woman
will be overjoyed."
"We must get the cyanide jar quickly," said Philip.
"I wouldn't lose her for anything. Such a chase as she
led me!"
Elnora brought the jar and began gathering up paraphernalia.
"When you make a find like that," she said, "it's the
right time to quit and feel glorious all the rest of
that day. I tell you I'm proud! We will go now. We have
barely time to carry out our plans before supper.
Won't mother be pleased to see that we have a rare one?"
"I'd like to see any one more pleased than I am!" said
Philip Ammon. "I feel as if I'd earned my supper to-night.
Let's go."
He took the greater part of the load and stepped aside
for Elnora to precede him. She followed the path, broken
by the grazing cattle, toward the cabin and nearest the
violet patch she stopped, laid down her net, and the things
she carried. Philip passed her and hurried straight
toward the back gate.
"Aren't you going to----?" began Elnora.
"I'm going to get this moth home in a hurry," he said.
"This cyanide has lost its strength, and it's not
working well. We need some fresh in the jar."
He had forgotten the violets! Elnora stood looking
after him, a curious expression on her face. One second
so--then she picked up the net and followed. At the
blue-bordered pool she paused and half turned back, then
she closed her lips firmly and went on. It was nine o'clock
when Philip said good-bye, and started to town. His gay
whistle floated to them from the farthest corner of
the Limberlost. Elnora complained of being tired, so she
went to her room and to bed. But sleep would not come.
Thought was racing in her brain and the longer she lay
the wider awake she grew. At last she softly slipped from
bed, lighted her lamp and began opening boxes. Then she
went to work. Two hours later a beautiful birch bark
basket, strongly and artistically made, stood on her table.
She set a tiny alarm clock at three, returned to bed and
fell asleep instantly with a smile on her lips.
She was on the floor with the first tinkle of the alarm,
and hastily dressing, she picked up the basket and a box
to fit it, crept down the stairs, and out to the violet patch.
She was unafraid as it was growing light, and lining the
basket with damp mosses she swiftly began picking, with
practised hands, the best of the flowers. She scarcely
could tell which were freshest at times, but day soon came
creeping over the Limberlost and peeped at her. The robins
awoke all their neighbours, and a babel of bird notes
filled the air. The dew was dripping, while the first strong
rays of light fell on a world in which Elnora worshipped.
When the basket was filled to overflowing, she set it in the
stout pasteboard box, packed it solid with mosses, tied it
firmly and slipped under the cord a note she had written
the previous night.
Then she took a short cut across the woods and walked
swiftly to Onabasha. It was after six o'clock, but all of
the city she wished to avoid were asleep. She had no
trouble in finding a small boy out, and she stood at a
distance waiting while he rang Dr. Ammon's bell and
delivered the package for Philip to a maid, with the note
which was to be given him at once.
On the way home through the woods passing some baited
trees she collected the captive moths. She entered
the kitchen with them so naturally that Mrs. Comstock
made no comment. After breakfast Elnora went to her
room, cleared away all trace of the night's work and was
out in the arbour mounting moths when Philip came down
the road. "I am tired sitting," she said to her mother.
"I think I will walk a few rods and meet him."
"Who's a trump?" he called from afar.
"Not you!" retorted Elnora. "Confess that you forgot!"
"Completely!" said Philip. "But luckily it would not
have been fatal. I wrote Polly last week to send Edith
something appropriate to-day, with my card. But that
touch from the woods will be very effective. Thank you
more than I can say. Aunt Anna and I unpacked it to
see the basket, and it was a beauty. She says you are
always doing such things."
"Well, I hope not!" laughed Elnora. "If you'd seen
me sneaking out before dawn, not to awaken mother and
coming in with moths to make her think I'd been to the
trees, you'd know it was a most especial occasion."
"Then Philip understood two things: Elnora's mother
did not know of the early morning trip to the city, and
the girl had come to meet him to tell him so.
"You were a brick to do it!" he whispered as he closed
the gate behind them. "I'll never forget you for it.
Thank you ever so much."
"I did not do that for you," said Elnora tersely. "I did
it mostly to preserve my own self-respect. I saw you
were forgetting. If I did it for anything besides that,
I did it for her."
"Just look what I've brought!" said Philip, entering
the arbour and greeting Mrs. Comstock. "Borrowed it
of the Bird Woman. And it isn't hers. A rare edition
of Catocalae with coloured plates. I told her the best I
could, and she said to try for Sappho here. I suspect the
Bird Woman will be out presently. She was all excitement."
Then they bent over the book together and with the
mounted moth before them determined her family. The Bird
Woman did come later, and carried the moth away, to put
into a book and Elnora and Philip were freshly filled
with enthusiasm.
So these days were the beginning of the weeks that followed.
Six of them flying on Time's wings, each filled
to the brim with interest. After June, the moth hunts
grew less frequent; the fields and woods were searched
for material for Elnora's grade work. The most absorbing
occupation they found was in carrying out Mrs. Comstock's
suggestion to learn the vital thing for which each
month was distinctive, and make that the key to the
nature work. They wrote out a list of the months,
opposite each the things all of them could suggest which seemed
to pertain to that month alone, and then tried to sift until
they found something typical. Mrs. Comstock was a
great help. Her mother had been Dutch and had brought
from Holland numerous quaint sayings and superstitions
easily traceable to Pliny's Natural History; and in Mrs.
Comstock's early years in Ohio she had heard much Indian
talk among her elders, so she knew the signs of each season,
and sometimes they helped. Always her practical
thought and sterling common sense were useful. When they
were afield until exhausted they came back to the
cabin for food, to prepare specimens and classify them,
and to talk over the day. Sometimes Philip brought
books and read while Elnora and her mother worked,
and every night Mrs. Comstock asked for the violin.
Her perfect hunger for music was sufficient evidence of how
she had suffered without it. So the days crept by, golden,
filled with useful work and pure pleasure.
The grosbeak had led the family in the maple abroad
and a second brood, in a wild grape vine clambering over
the well, was almost ready for flight. The dust lay thick
on the country roads, the days grew warmer; summer
was just poising to slip into fall, and Philip remained,
coming each day as if he had belonged there always.
One warm August afternoon Mrs. Comstock looked
up from the ruffle on which she was engaged to see
a blue-coated messenger enter the gate.
"Is Philip Ammon here?" asked the boy.
"He is," said Mrs. Comstock.
"I have a message for him."
"He is in the woods back of the cabin. I will ring the bell.
Do you know if it is important?"
"Urgent," said the boy; "I rode hard."
Mrs. Comstock stepped to the back door and clanged
the dinner bell sharply, paused a second, and rang again.
In a short time Philip and Elnora ran down the path.
"Are you ill, mother?" cried Elnora.
Mrs. Comstock indicated the boy. "There is an important
message for Philip," she said.
He muttered an excuse and tore open the telegram.
His colour faded slightly. "I have to take the first train,"
he said. "My father is ill and I am needed."
He handed the sheet to Elnora. "I have about two
hours, as I remember the trains north, but my things are
all over Uncle Doc's house, so I must go at once."
"Certainly," said Elnora, giving back the message.
"Is there anything I can do to help? Mother, bring
Philip a glass of buttermilk to start on. I will gather
what you have here."
"Never mind. There is nothing of importance. I don't
want to be hampered. I'll send for it if I miss anything
I need."
Philip drank the milk, said good-bye to Mrs. Comstock;
thanked her for all her kindness, and turned to Elnora.
"Will you walk to the edge of the Limberlost with me?"
he asked. Elnora assented. Mrs. Comstock followed
to the gate, urged him to come again soon, and repeated
her good-bye. Then she went back to the arbour to
await Elnora's return. As she watched down the road
she smiled softly.
"I had an idea he would speak to me first," she thought,
"but this may change things some. He hasn't time.
Elnora will come back a happy girl, and she has
good reason. He is a model young man. Her lot will
be very different from mine."
She picked up her embroidery and began setting dainty
precise little stitches, possible only to certain women.
On the road Elnora spoke first. "I do hope it is
nothing serious," she said. "Is he usually strong?"
"Quite strong," said Philip. "I am not at all alarmed
but I am very much ashamed. I have been well enough
for the past month to have gone home and helped him
with some critical cases that were keeping him at work
in this heat. I was enjoying myself so I wouldn't offer
to go, and he would not ask me to come, so long as he could
help it. I have allowed him to overtax himself until he
is down, and mother and Polly are north at our cottage.
He's never been sick before, and it's probable I am to
blame that he is now."
"He intended you to stay this long when you came,"
urged Elnora.
"Yes, but it's hot in Chicago. I should have
remembered him. He is always thinking of me. Possibly he
has needed me for days. I am ashamed to go to him in
splendid condition and admit that I was having such a
fine time I forgot to come home."
"You have had a fine time, then?" asked Elnora.
They had reached the fence. Philip vaulted over to
take a short cut across the fields. He turned and looked
at her.
"The best, the sweetest, and most wholesome time
any man ever had in this world," he said. "Elnora, if
I talked hours I couldn't make you understand what a
girl I think you are. I never in all my life hated anything
as I hate leaving you. It seems to me that I have not
strength to do it."
"If you have learned anything worth while from me,"
said Elnora, "that should be it. Just to have strength to
go to your duty, and to go quickly."
He caught the hand she held out to him in both his.
"Elnora, these days we have had together, have they
been sweet to you?"
"Beautiful days!" said Elnora. "Each like a perfect
dream to be thought over and over all my life. Oh, they
have been the only really happy days I've ever known;
these days rich with mother's love, and doing useful work
with your help. Good-bye! You must hurry!"
Philip gazed at her. He tried to drop her hand, only
clutched it closer. Suddenly he drew her toward him.
"Elnora," he whispered, "will you kiss me good-bye?"
Elnora drew back and stared at him with wide eyes.
"I'd strike you sooner!" she said. "Have I ever said or
done anything in your presence that made you feel free to
ask that, Philip Ammon?"
"No!" panted Philip. "No! I think so much of you
I wanted to touch your lips once before I left you.
You know, Elnora----"
"Don't distress yourself," said Elnora calmly. "I am
broad enough to judge you sanely. I know what you mean.
It would be no harm to you. It would not matter to me,
but here we will think of some one else. Edith Carr
would not want your lips to-morrow if she knew they
had touched mine to-day. I was wise to say: `Go quickly!'"
Philip still clung to her. "Will you write me?" he begged.
"No," said Elnora. "There is nothing to say, save good-bye.
We can do that now."
He held on. "Promise that you will write me only one
letter," he urged. "I want just one message from you to
lock in my desk, and keep always. Promise you will
write once, Elnora."
She looked into his eyes, and smiled serenely. "If the
talking trees tell me this winter, the secret of how a man
may grow perfect, I will write you what it is, Philip.
In all the time I have known you, I never have liked you
so little. Good-bye."
She drew away her hand and swiftly turned back to the road.
Philip Ammon, wordless, started toward Onabasha on a run.
Elnora crossed the road, climbed the fence and sought
the shelter of their own woods. She chose a diagonal
course and followed it until she came to the path leading
past the violet patch. She went down this hurriedly.
Her hands were clenched at her side, her eyes dry and
bright, her cheeks red-flushed, and her breath coming fast.
When she reached the patch she turned into it and stood
looking around her.
The mosses were dry, the flowers gone, weeds a foot
high covered it. She turned away and went on down the
path until she was almost in sight of the cabin.
Mrs. Comstock smiled and waited in the arbour until
it occurred to her that Elnora was a long time coming, so
she went to the gate. The road stretched away toward
the Limberlost empty and lonely. Then she knew that
Elnora had gone into their own woods and would come in
the back way. She could not understand why the girl did
not hurry to her with what she would have to tell.
She went out and wandered around the garden. Then she
stepped into the path and started along the way leading to
the woods, past the pool now framed in a thick setting of
yellow lilies. Then she saw, and stopped, gasping for breath.
Her hands flew up and her lined face grew ghastly.
She stared at the sky and then at the prostrate girl figure.
Over and over she tried to speak, but only a dry breath came.
She turned and fled back to the garden.
In the familiar enclosure she gazed around her like a
caged animal seeking escape. The sun beat down on her
bare head mercilessly, and mechanically she moved to the
shade of a half-grown hickory tree that voluntarily had
sprouted beside the milk house. At her feet lay an axe
with which she made kindlings for fires. She stooped and
picked it up. The memory of that prone figure sobbing in
the grass caught her with a renewed spasm. She shut her
eyes as if to close it out. That made hearing so acute she
felt certain she heard Elnora moaning beside the path.
The eyes flew open. They looked straight at a few
spindling tomato plants set too near the tree and stunted
by its shade. Mrs. Comstock whirled on the hickory and
swung the axe. Her hair shook down, her clothing became
disarranged, in the heat the perspiration streamed, but
stroke fell on stroke until the tree crashed over, grazing
a corner of the milk house and smashing the garden fence
on the east.
At the sound Elnora sprang to her feet and came running
down the garden walk. "Mother!" she cried. "Mother!
What in the world are you doing?"
Mrs. Comstock wiped her ghastly face on her apron.
"I've laid out to cut that tree for years," she said.
"It shades the beets in the morning, and the tomatoes
in the afternoon!"
Elnora uttered one wild little cry and fled into her
mother's arms. "Oh mother!" she sobbed. "Will you
ever forgive me?"
Mrs. Comstock's arms swept together in a tight grip
around Elnora.
"There isn't a thing on God's footstool from a to izzard
I won't forgive you, my precious girl!" she said. "Tell mother
what it is!"
Elnora lifted her wet face. "He told me," she panted,
"just as soon as he decently could--that second day he
told me. Almost all his life he's been engaged to a girl
at home. He never cared anything about me. He was only
interested in the moths and growing strong."
Mrs. Comstock's arms tightened. With a shaking hand
she stroked the bright hair.
"Tell me, honey," she said. "Is he to blame for a
single one of these tears?"
"Not one!" sobbed Elnora. "Oh mother, I won't forgive you
if you don't believe that. Not one! He never said,
or looked, or did anything all the world might not
have known. He likes me very much as a friend.
He hated to go dreadfully!"
"Elnora!" the mother's head bent until the white hair
mingled with the brown. "Elnora, why didn't you tell me
at first?"
Elnora caught her breath in a sharp snatch. "I know
I should!" she sobbed. "I will bear any punishment for
not, but I didn't feel as if I possibly could. I was afraid."
"Afraid of what?" the shaking hand was on the hair again.
"Afraid you wouldn't let him come!" panted Elnora.
"And oh, mother, I wanted him so!"
For the following week Mrs. Comstock and Elnora
worked so hard there was no time to talk, and they
were compelled to sleep from physical exhaustion.
Neither of them made any pretence of eating, for they
could not swallow without an effort, so they drank milk
and worked. Elnora kept on setting bait for Catacolae
and Sphinginae, which, unlike the big moths of June, live
several months. She took all the dragonflies and
butterflies she could, and when she went over the list
for the man of India, she found, to her amazement,
that with Philip's help she once more had it complete
save a pair of Yellow Emperors.
This circumstance was so surprising she had a fleeting
thought of writing Philip and asking him to see if he could
not secure her a pair. She did tell the Bird Woman, who
from every source at her command tried to complete the
series with these moths, but could not find any for sale.
"I think the mills of the Gods are grinding this grist,"
said Elnora, "and we might as well wait patiently until
they choose to send a Yellow Emperor."
Mrs. Comstock invented work. When she had nothing more
to do, she hoed in the garden although the earth was hard
and dry and there were no plants that really needed attention.
Then came a notification that Elnora would be compelled
to attend a week's session of the Teachers' Institute
held at the county seat twenty miles north of Onabasha
the following week. That gave them something of which
to think and real work to do. Elnora was requested to bring
her violin. As she was on the programme of one of the most
important sessions for a talk on nature work in grade schools,
she was driven to prepare her speech, also to select and
practise some music. Her mother turned her attention to clothing.
They went to Onabasha together and purchased a simple
and appropriate fall suit and hat, goods for a dainty little
coloured frock, and a dress skirt and several fancy waists.
Margaret Sinton came down and the sewing began. When everything
was finished and packed, Elnora kissed her mother good-bye
at the depot, and entered the train. Mrs. Comstock went into
the waiting-room and dropped into a seat to rest. Her heart
was so sore her whole left side felt tender. She was half
starved for the food she had no appetite to take. She had
worked in dogged determination until she was exhausted.
For a time she simply sat and rested. Then she began to think.
She was glad Elnora had gone where she would be compelled to
fix her mind on other matters for a few days. She remembered
the girl had said she wanted to go.
School would begin the following week. She thought
over what Elnora would have to do to accomplish her
work successfully. She would be compelled to arise at
six o'clock, walk three miles through varying weather, lead
the high school orchestra, and then put in the remainder of
the day travelling from building to building over the city,
teaching a specified length of time every week in each room.
She must have her object lessons ready, and she must do a
certain amount of practising with the orchestra. Then a
cold lunch at noon, and a three-mile walk at night.
"Humph!" said Mrs. Comstock, "to get through that
the girl would have to be made of cast-iron. I wonder
how I can help her best?"
She thought deeply.
"The less she sees of what she's been having all summer,
the sooner she'll feel better about it," she muttered.
She arose, went to the bank and inquired for the cashier.
"I want to know just how I am fixed here," she said.
The cashier laughed. "You haven't been in a hurry,"
he replied. "We have been ready for you any time these
twenty years, but you didn't seem to pay much attention.
Your account is rather flourishing. Interest, when it gets
to compounding, is quite a money breeder. Come back
here to a table and I will show you your balances."
Mrs. Comstock sank into a chair and waited while
the cashier read a jumble of figures to her. It meant
that her deposits had exceeded her expenses from one
to three hundred dollars a year, according to the cattle,
sheep, hogs, poultry, butter, and eggs she had sold.
The aggregate of these sums had been compounding interest
throughout the years. Mrs. Comstock stared at the
total with dazed and unbelieving eyes. Through her
sick heart rushed the realization, that if she merely had
stood before that wicket and asked one question, she
would have known that all those bitter years of skimping
for Elnora and herself had been unnecessary. She arose
and went back to the depot.
"I want to send a message," she said. She picked
up the pencil, and with rash extravagance, wrote, "Found
money at bank didn't know about. If you want to go
to college, come on first train and get ready."
She hesitated a second and then she said to herself grimly,
"Yes, I'll pay for that, too," and recklessly added, "With
love, Mother." Then she sat waiting for the answer. It came
in less than an hour. "Will teach this winter. With dearest
love, Elnora."
Mrs. Comstock held the message a long time. When she
arose she was ravenously hungry, but the pain in her
heart was a little easier. She went to a restaurant
and ate some food, then to a dressmaker where she ordered
four dresses: two very plain every-day ones, a serviceable
dark gray cloth suit, and a soft light gray silk with
touches of lavender and lace. She made a heavy list
of purchases at Brownlee's, and the remainder of the day
she did business in her direct and spirited way. At night
she was so tired she scarcely could walk home, but she
built a fire and cooked and ate a hearty meal.
Later she went out beside the west fence and gathered
an armful of tansy which she boiled to a thick green tea.
Then she stirred in oatmeal until it was a stiff paste.
She spread a sheet over her bed and began tearing strips
of old muslin. She bandaged each hand and arm with the
mixture and plastered the soggy, evil-smelling stuff in a
thick poultice over her face and neck. She was so tired
she went to sleep, and when she awoke she was half skinned.
She bathed her face and hands, did the work and went back
to town, coming home at night to go through the same process.
By the third morning she was a raw even red, the fourth
she had faded to a brilliant pink under the soothing
influence of a cream recommended. That day came a
letter from Elnora saying that she would remain where
she was until Saturday morning, and then come to Ellen
Brownlee's at Onabasha and stay for the Saturday's
session of teachers to arrange their year's work.
Sunday was Ellen's last day at home, and she wanted Elnora
very much. She had to call together the orchestra and
practise them Sunday; and could not come home until
after school Monday night. Mrs. Comstock at once
answered the letter saying those arrangements suited her.
The following day she was a pale pink, later a delicate
porcelain white. Then she went to a hairdresser and
had the rope of snowy hair which covered her scalp washed,
dressed, and fastened with such pins and combs as were
decided to be most becoming. She took samples of her
dresses, went to a milliner, and bought a street hat to
match her suit, and a gray satin with lavender orchids to
wear with the silk dress. Her last investment was a loose
coat of soft gray broadcloth with white lining, and touches
of lavender on the embroidered collar, and gray gloves to match.
Then she went home, rested and worked by turns
until Monday. When school closed on that evening,
Elnora, so tired she almost trembled, came down the
long walk after a late session of teachers' meeting,
to be stopped by a messenger boy.
"There's a lady wants to see you most important.
I am to take you to the place," he said.
Elnora groaned. She could not imagine who wanted
her, but there was nothing to do but find out; tired and
anxious to see her mother as she was.
"This is the place," said the boy, and went his way whistling.
Elnora was three blocks from the high school building on the
same street. She was before a quaint old house, fresh with
paint and covered with vines. There was a long wide lot,
grass-covered, closely set with trees, and a barn and chicken
park at the back that seemed to be occupied. Elnora stepped
on the veranda which was furnished with straw rugs, benthickory
chairs, hanging baskets, and a table with a workbox
and magazines, and knocked at the screen door.
Inside she could see polished floors, walls freshly papered
in low-toned harmonious colours, straw rugs and madras curtains.
It seemed to be a restful, homelike place to which she had come.
A second later down an open stairway came a tall, dark-eyed
woman with cheeks faintly pink and a crown of fluffy snowwhite
hair. She wore a lavender gingham dress with white
collar and cuffs, and she called as she advanced: "That screen
isn't latched! Open it and come see your brand-new mother,
my girl."
Elnora stepped inside the door. "Mother!" she cried.
"You my mother! I don't believe it!"
"Well, you better!" said Mrs. Comstock, "because
it's true! You said you wished I were like the other
girls' mothers, and I've shot as close the mark as I could
without any practice. I thought that walk would be
too much for you this winter, so I just rented this house
and moved in, to be near you, and help more in case I'm needed.
I've only lived here a day, but I like it so well I've a
mortal big notion to buy the place."
"But mother!" protested Elnora, clinging to her wonderingly.
"You are perfectly beautiful, and this house is a little
paradise, but how will we ever pay for it? We can't afford it!"
"Humph! Have you forgotten I telegraphed you I'd
found some money I didn't know about? All I've done
is paid for, and plenty more to settle for all I
propose to do."
Mrs. Comstock glanced around with satisfaction.
"I may get homesick as a pup before spring," she said,
"but if I do I can go back. If I don't, I'll sell some
timber and put a few oil wells where they don't show much.
I can have land enough cleared for a few fields and put
a tenant on our farm, and we will buy this and settle here.
It's for sale."
"You don't look it, but you've surely gone mad!"
"Just the reverse, my girl," said Mrs. Comstock,
"I've gone sane. If you are going to undertake this
work, you must be convenient to it. And your mother
should be where she can see that you are properly dressed,
fed, and cared for. This is our--let me think--reception-room.
How do you like it? This door leads to your workroom and study.
I didn't do much there because I wasn't sure of my way.
But I knew you would want a rug, curtains, table, shelves
for books, and a case for your specimens, so I had a
carpenter shelve and enclose that end of it. Looks pretty
neat to me. The dining-room and kitchen are back, one
of the cows in the barn, and some chickens in the coop.
I understand that none of the other girls' mothers milk a
cow, so a neighbour boy will tend to ours for a third of
the milk. There are three bedrooms, and a bath upstairs.
Go take one, put on some fresh clothes, and come to supper.
You can find your room because your things are in it."
Elnora kissed her mother over and over, and hurried upstairs.
She identified her room by the dressing-case. There were
a pretty rug, and curtains, white iron bed, plain and
rocking chairs to match her case, a shirtwaist chest,
and the big closet was filled with her old clothing and
several new dresses. She found the bathroom, bathed,
dressed in fresh linen and went down to a supper that
was an evidence of Mrs. Comstock's highest art in cooking.
Elnora was so hungry she ate her first real meal in two weeks.
But the bites went down slowly because she forgot about them
in watching her mother.
"How on earth did you do it?" she asked at last. "I always
thought you were naturally brown as a nut."
"Oh, that was tan and sunburn!" explained Mrs. Comstock.
"I always knew I was white underneath it. I hated to
shade my face because I hadn't anything but a sunbonnet,
and I couldn't stand for it to touch my ears, so I went
bareheaded and took all the colour I accumulated.
But when I began to think of moving you in to your work,
I saw I must put up an appearance that wouldn't disgrace
you, so I thought I'd best remove the crust. It took
some time, and I hope I may die before I ever endure
the feel and the smell of the stuff I used again, but it
skinned me nicely. What you now see is my own with a
little dust of rice powder, for protection. I'm sort of
tender yet."
"And your lovely, lovely hair?" breathed Elnora.
"Hairdresser did that!" said Mrs. Comstock. "It cost
like smoke. But I watched her, and with a little
help from you I can wash it alone next time, though it
will be hard work. I let her monkey with it until she
said she had found `my style.' Then I tore it down and
had her show me how to build it up again three times.
I thought my arms would drop. When I paid the bill for
her work, the time I'd taken, the pins, and combs she'd
used, I nearly had heart failure, but I didn't turn a hair
before her. I just smiled at her sweetly and said, `How
reasonable you are!' Come to think of it, she was! She might
have charged me ten dollars for what she did quite as well
as nine seventy-five. I couldn't have helped myself.
I had made no bargain to begin on."
Then Elnora leaned back in her chair and shouted, in a
gust of hearty laughter, so a little of the ache ceased
in her breast. There was no time to think, the remainder
of that evening, she was so tired she had to sleep, while
her mother did not awaken her until she barely had time
to dress, breakfast and reach school. There was nothing
in the new life to remind her of the old. It seemed as
if there never came a minute for retrospection, but her
mother appeared on the scene with more work, or some
entertaining thing to do.
Mrs. Comstock invited Elnora's friends to visit her,
and proved herself a bright and interesting hostess.
She digested a subject before she spoke; and when she
advanced a view, her point was sure to be original and
tersely expressed. Before three months people waited
to hear what she had to say. She kept her appearance so
in mind that she made a handsome and a distinguished figure.
Elnora never mentioned Philip Ammon, neither did
Mrs. Comstock. Early in December came a note and a
big box from him. It contained several books on nature
subjects which would be of much help in school work,
a number of conveniences Elnora could not afford, and a
pair of glass-covered plaster casts, for each large moth
she had. In these the upper and underwings of male and
female showed. He explained that she would break her
specimens easily, carrying them around in boxes. He had
seen these and thought they would be of use. Elnora was
delighted with them, and at once began the tedious process
of softening the mounted moths and fitting them to the
casts moulded to receive them. Her time was so taken in
school, she progressed slowly, so her mother undertook
this work. After trying one or two very common ones she
learned to handle the most delicate with ease. She took
keen pride in relaxing the tense moths, fitting them to the
cases, polishing the glass covers to the last degree and
sealing them. The results were beautiful to behold.
Soon after Elnora wrote to Philip:
I am writing to thank you for the books, and the box of conveniences
sent me for my work. I can use everything with fine results.
Hope I am giving good satisfaction in my position. You will be
interested to learn that when the summer's work was classified and
pinned, I again had my complete collection for the man of India,
save a Yellow Emperor. I have tried everywhere I know, so has the
Bird Woman. We cannot find a pair for sale. Fate is against me,
at least this season. I shall have to wait until next year and try again.
Thank you very much for helping me with my collection and for the
books and cases.
Sincerely yours,
Philip was disappointed over that note and instead of
keeping it he tore it into bits and dropped them into the
waste basket.
That was precisely what Elnora had intended he should do.
Christmas brought beautiful cards of greeting to
Mrs. Comstock and Elnora, Easter others, and the year
ran rapidly toward spring. Elnora's position had been
intensely absorbing, while she had worked with all her power.
She had made a wonderful success and won new friends.
Mrs. Comstock had helped in every way she could, so she was
very popular also.
Throughout the winter they had enjoyed the city thoroughly,
and the change of life it afforded, but signs of spring
did wonderful things to the hearts of the country-bred women.
A restlessness began on bright February days, calmed during
March storms and attacked full force in April. When neither
could bear it any longer they were forced to discuss the matter
and admit they were growing ill with pure homesickness.
They decided to keep the city house during the summer,
but to return to the farm to live as soon as school closed.
So Mrs. Comstock would prepare breakfast and lunch
and then slip away to the farm to make up beds in her
ploughed garden, plant seeds, trim and tend her flowers,
and prepare the cabin for occupancy. Then she would go
home and make the evening as cheerful as possible for
Elnora; in these days she lived only for the girl.
Both of them were glad when the last of May came and the
schools closed. They packed the books and clothing they
wished to take into a wagon and walked across the fields
to the old cabin. As they approached it, Mrs. Comstock
said to Elnora: "You are sure you won't be lonely here?"
Elnora knew what she really meant.
"Quite sure," she said. "For a time last fall I was
glad to be away, but that all wore out with the winter.
Spring made me homesick as I could be. I can scarcely wait
until we get back again."
So they began that summer as they had begun all others
--with work. But both of them took a new joy in everything,
and the violin sang by the hour in the twilight.
Edith Carr stood in a vine-enclosed side veranda
of the Lake Shore Club House waiting while Philip
Ammon gave some important orders. In a few days
she would sail for Paris to select a wonderful trousseau
she had planned for her marriage in October. To-night
Philip was giving a club dance in her honour. He had
spent days in devising new and exquisite effects in
decorations, entertainment, and supper. Weeks before the
favoured guests had been notified. Days before they had
received the invitations asking them to participate in this
entertainment by Philip Ammon in honour of Miss Carr.
They spoke of it as "Phil's dance for Edith!"
She could hear the rumble of carriages and the panting
of automobiles as in a steady stream they rolled to the
front entrance. She could catch glimpses of floating
draperies of gauze and lace, the flash of jewels, and the
passing of exquisite colour. Every one was newly arrayed
in her honour in the loveliest clothing, and the most
expensive jewels they could command. As she thought of it
she lifted her head a trifle higher and her eyes flashed proudly.
She was robed in a French creation suggested and designed
by Philip. He had said to her: "I know a competent
judge who says the distinctive feature of June is her
exquisite big night moths. I want you to be the very
essence of June that night, as you will be the embodiment
of love. Be a moth. The most beautiful of them is either
the pale-green Luna or the Yellow Imperialis. Be my
moon lady, or my gold Empress."
He took her to the museum and showed her the moths.
She instantly decided on the yellow. Because she knew
the shades would make her more startlingly beautiful than
any other colour. To him she said: "A moon lady seems
so far away and cold. I would be of earth and very near
on that night. I choose the Empress."
So she matched the colours exactly, wrote out the idea
and forwarded the order to Paquin. To-night when
Philip Ammon came for her, he stood speechless a minute
and then silently kissed her hands.
For she stood tall, lithe, of grace inborn, her dark waving
hair high piled and crossed by gold bands studded with
amethyst and at one side an enamelled lavender orchid
rimmed with diamonds, which flashed and sparkled. The soft
yellow robe of lightest weight velvet fitted her form
perfectly, while from each shoulder fell a great velvet wing
lined with lavender, and flecked with embroidery of that
colour in imitation of the moth. Around her throat was a
wonderful necklace and on her arms were bracelets of gold
set with amethyst and rimmed with diamonds. Philip had said
that her gloves, fan, and slippers must be lavender, because
the feet of the moth were that colour. These accessories
had been made to order and embroidered with gold. It had
been arranged that her mother, Philip's, and a few best
friends should receive his guests. She was to appear when
she led the grand march with Philip Ammon. Miss Carr was
positive that she would be the most beautiful, and most
exquisitely gowned woman present. In her heart she thought
of herself as "Imperialis Regalis," as the Yellow Empress.
In a few moments she would stun her world into feeling it as
Philip Ammon had done, for she had taken pains that the
history of her costume should be whispered to a few who
would give it circulation. She lifted her head proudly and
waited, for was not Philip planning something unusual and
unsurpassed in her honour? Then she smiled.
But of all the fragmentary thoughts crossing her brain the
one that never came was that of Philip Ammon as the Emperor.
Philip the king of her heart; at least her equal in all things.
She was the Empress--yes, Philip was but a mere man, to
devise entertainments, to provide luxuries, to humour whims,
to kiss hands!
"Ah, my luck!" cried a voice behind her.
Edith Carr turned and smiled.
"I thought you were on the ocean," she said.
"I only reached the dock," replied the man, "when I had
a letter that recalled me by the first limited."
"Oh! Important business?"
"The only business of any importance in all the world
to me. I'm triumphant that I came. Edith, you are the
most superb woman in every respect that I have ever seen.
One glimpse is worth the whole journey."
"You like my dress?" She moved toward him and turned,
lifting her arms. "Do you know what it is intended
to represent?"
"Yes, Polly Ammon told me. I knew when I heard
about it how you would look, so I started a sleuth hunt,
to get the first peep. Edith, I can become intoxicated
merely with looking at you to-night."
He half-closed his eyes and smilingly stared straight at her.
He was taller than she, a lean man, with close-cropped light
hair, steel-gray eyes, a square chin and "man of the world"
written all over him.
Edith Carr flushed. "I thought you realized when you
went away that you were to stop that, Hart Henderson,"
she cried.
"I did, but this letter of which I tell you called me back
to start it all over again."
She came a step closer. "Who wrote that letter, and
what did it contain concerning me?" she demanded.
"One of your most intimate chums wrote it. It contained
the hazard that possibly I had given up too soon. It said
that in a fit of petulance you had broken your engagement
with Ammon twice this winter, and he had come back because
he knew you did not really mean it. I thought deeply there
on the dock when I read that, and my boat sailed without me.
I argued that anything so weak as an engagement twice broken
and patched up again was a mighty frail affair indeed, and
likely to smash completely at any time, so I came on the run.
I said once I would not see you marry any other man.
Because I could not bear it, I planned to go into exile of
any sort to escape that. I have changed my mind. I have
come back to haunt you until the ceremony is over. Then I go,
not before. I was insane!"
The girl laughed merrily. "Not half so insane as you
are now, Hart!" she cried gaily. "You know that Philip
Ammon has been devoted to me all my life. Now I'll tell
you something else, because this looks serious for you.
I love him with all my heart. Not while he lives shall he
know it, and I will laugh at him if you tell him, but the
fact remains: I intend to marry him, but no doubt I shall
tease him constantly. It's good for a man to be uncertain.
If you could see Philip's face at the quarterly return of his
ring, you would understand the fun of it. You had better
have taken your boat."
"Possibly," said Henderson calmly. "But you are the
only woman in the world for me, and while you are free, as
I now see my light, I remain near you. You know the old adage."
"But I'm not `free!'" cried Edith Carr. "I'm telling
you I am not. This night is my public acknowledgment
that Phil and I are promised, as our world has surmised
since we were children. That promise is an actual fact,
because of what I just have told you. My little fits of
temper don't count with Phil. He's been reared on them.
In fact, I often invent one in a perfect calm to see him
perform. He is the most amusing spectacle. But, please,
please, do understand that I love him, and always shall,
and that we shall be married."
"Just the same, I'll wait and see it an accomplished
fact," said Henderson. "And Edith, because I love you,
with the sort of love it is worth a woman's while to
inspire, I want your happiness before my own. So I
am going to say this to you, for I never dreamed you
were capable of the feeling you have displayed for Phil.
If you do love him, and have loved him always, a
disappointment would cut you deeper than you know.
Go careful from now on! Don't strain that patched
engagement of yours any further. I've known Philip all
my life. I've known him through boyhood, in college,
and since. All men respect him. Where the rest of us
confess our sins, he stands clean. You can go to his arms
with nothing to forgive. Mark this thing! I have heard
him say, `Edith is my slogan,' and I have seen him march
home strong in the strength of his love for you, in the face
of temptations before which every other man of us fell.
Before the gods! that ought to be worth something to a
girl, if she really is the delicate, sensitive, refined
thing she would have man believe. It would take a woman
with the organism of an ostrich to endure some of the
men here to-night, if she knew them as I do; but Phil
is sound to the core. So this is what I would say
to you: first, your instincts are right in loving him,
why not let him feel it in the ways a woman knows?
Second, don't break your engagement again. As men
know the man, any of us would be afraid to the soul.
He loves you, yes! He is long-suffering for you, yes!
But men know he has a limit. When the limit is
reached, he will stand fast, and all the powers can't
move him. You don't seem to think it, but you can go
too far!"
"Is that all?" laughed Edith Carr sarcastically.
"No, there is one thing more," said Henderson. "Here or
here-after, now and so long as I breathe, I am your slave.
You can do anything you choose and know that I will
kneel before you again. So carry this in the depths of
your heart; now or at any time, in any place or condition,
merely lift your hand, and I will come. Anything you
want of me, that thing will I do. I am going to wait; if
you need me, it is not necessary to speak; only give me
the faintest sign. All your life I will be somewhere near
you waiting for it."
"Idjit! You rave!" laughed Edith Carr. "How you
would frighten me! What a bugbear you would raise!
Be sensible and go find what keeps Phil. I was waiting
patiently, but my patience is going. I won't look nearly
so well as I do now when it is gone."
At that instant Philip Ammon entered. He was in
full evening dress and exceptionally handsome.
"Everything is ready," he said; "they are waiting for
us to lead the march. It is formed."
Edith Carr smiled entrancingly. "Do you think I am ready?"
Philip looked what he thought, and offered his arm.
Edith Carr nodded carelessly to Hart Henderson, and
moved away. Attendants parted the curtains and the
Yellow Empress bowing right and left, swept the length
of the ballroom and took her place at the head of the
formed procession. The large open dancing pavilion was
draped with yellow silk caught up with lilac flowers.
Every corner was filled with bloom of those colours.
The music was played by harpers dressed in yellow and
violet, so the ball opened.
The midnight supper was served with the same colours
and the last half of the programme was being danced.
Never had girl been more complimented and petted in
the same length of time than Edith Carr. Every minute
she seemed to grow more worthy of praise. A partners'
dance was called and the floor was filled with couples
waiting for the music. Philip stood whispering delightful
things to Edith facing him. From out of the night,
in at the wide front entrance to the pavilion, there
swept in slow wavering flight a large yellow moth and
fluttered toward the centre cluster of glaring electric lights.
Philip Ammon and Edith Carr saw it at the same instant.
"Why, isn't that----?" she began excitedly.
"It's a Yellow Emperor! This is fate!" cried Philip.
"The last one Elnora needs for her collection. I must
have it! Excuse me!"
He ran toward the light. "Hats! Handkerchiefs! Fans!
Anything!" he panted. "Every one hold up something and
stop that! It's a moth; I've got to catch it!"
"It's yellow! He wants it for Edith!" ran in a murmur
around the hall. The girl's face flushed, while she bit her
lips in vexation.
Instantly every one began holding up something to
keep the moth from flying back into the night. One fan
held straight before it served, and the moth gently settled
on it.
"Hold steady!" cried Philip. "Don't move for your life!"
He rushed toward the moth, made a quick sweep and held it
up between his fingers. "All right!" he called. "Thanks,
every one! Excuse me a minute."
He ran to the office.
"An ounce of gasolene, quick!" he ordered. "A cigar
box, a cork, and the glue bottle."
He poured some glue into the bottom of the box, set the
cork in it firmly, dashed the gasolene over the moth
repeatedly, pinned it to the cork, poured the remainder
of the liquid over it, closed the box, and fastened it.
Then he laid a bill on the counter.
"Pack that box with cork around it, in one twice its
size, tie securely and express to this address at once."
He scribbled on a sheet of paper and shoved it over.
"On your honour, will you do that faithfully as I say?"
he asked the clerk.
"Certainly," was the reply.
"Then keep the change," called Philip as he ran back
to the pavilion.
Edith Carr stood where he left her, thinking rapidly.
She heard the murmur that arose when Philip started
to capture the exquisite golden creature she
was impersonating. She saw the flash of surprise that
went over unrestrained faces when he ran from the room,
without even showing it to her. "The last one Elnora
needs," rang in her ears. He had told her that he
helped collect moths the previous summer, but she had
understood that the Bird Woman, with whose work Miss
Carr was familiar, wanted them to put in a book.
He had spoken of a country girl he had met who played
the violin wonderfully, and at times, he had shown a
disposition to exalt her as a standard of womanhood.
Miss Carr had ignored what he said, and talked of
something else. But that girl's name had been Elnora.
It was she who was collecting moths! No doubt she was
the competent judge who was responsible for the yellow
costume Philip had devised. Had Edith Carr been in
her room, she would have torn off the dress at the thought.
Being in a circle of her best friends, which to her meant
her keenest rivals and harshest critics, she grew rigid
with anger. Her breath hurt her paining chest. No one
thought to speak to the musicians, and seeing the floor
filled, they began the waltz. Only part of the guests
could see what had happened, and at once the others
formed and commenced to dance. Gay couples came
whirling past her.
Edith Carr grew very white as she stood alone. Her lips
turned pale, while her dark eyes flamed with anger.
She stood perfectly still where Philip had left her, and
the approaching men guided their partners around her,
while the girls, looking back, could be seen making
exclamations of surprise.
The idolized only daughter of the Carr family hoped that
she would drop dead from mortification, but nothing happened.
She was too perverse to step aside and say that she was
waiting for Philip. Then came Tom Levering dancing with
Polly Ammon. Being in the scales with the Ammon family,
Tom scented trouble from afar, so he whispered to Polly:
"Edith is standing in the middle of the floor, and she's
awful mad about something."
"That won't hurt her," laughed Polly. "It's an old
pose of hers. She knows she looks superb when she is
angry, so she keeps herself furious half the time on purpose."
"She looks like the mischief!" answered Tom. "Hadn't we
better steer over and wait with her? She's the ugliest
sight I ever saw!"
"Why, Tom!" cried Polly. "Stop, quickly!"
They hurried to Edith.
"Come dear," said Polly. "We are going to wait
with you until Phil returns. Let's go after a drink.
I am so thirsty!"
"Yes, do!" begged Tom, offering his arm. "Let's get
out of here until Phil comes."
There was the opportunity to laugh and walk away, but
Edith Carr would not accept it.
"My betrothed left me here," she said. "Here I shall
remain until he returns for me, and then--he will be my
betrothed no longer!"
Polly grasped Edith's arm.
"Oh, Edith!" she implored. "Don't make a scene here,
and to-night. Edith, this has been the loveliest
dance ever given at the club house. Every one is saying so.
Edith! Darling, do come! Phil will be back in a second.
He can explain! It's only a breath since I saw him go out.
I thought he had returned."
As Polly panted these disjointed ejaculations, Tom
Levering began to grow angry on her account.
"He has been gone just long enough to show every
one of his guests that he will leave me standing alone,
like a neglected fool, for any passing whim of his.
Explain! His explanation would sound well! Do you know
for whom he caught that moth? It is being sent to a girl
he flirted with all last summer. It has just occurred to me
that the dress I am wearing is her suggestion. Let him
try to explain!"
Speech unloosed the fountain. She stripped off her
gloves to free her hands. At that instant the dancers
parted to admit Philip. Instinctively they stopped as
they approached and with wondering faces walled in
Edith and Philip, Polly and Tom.
"Mighty good of you to wait!" cried Philip, his face
showing his delight over his success in capturing the
Yellow Emperor. "I thought when I heard the music
you were going on."
"How did you think I was going on?" demanded Edith
Carr in frigid tones.
"I thought you would step aside and wait a few seconds
for me, or dance with Henderson. It was most important
to have that moth. It completes a valuable collection for
a person who needs the money. Come!"
He held out his arms.
"I `step aside' for no one!" stormed Edith Carr.
"I await no other girl's pleasure! You may `complete
the collection' with that!"
She drew her engagement ring from her finger and
reached to place it on one of Philip's outstretched hands.
He saw and drew back. Instantly Edith dropped the ring.
As it fell, almost instinctively Philip caught it in air.
With amazed face he looked closely at Edith Carr.
Her distorted features were scarcely recognizable.
He held the ring toward her.
"Edith, for the love of mercy, wait until I can explain,"
he begged. "Put on your ring and let me tell you how it is."
"I know perfectly `how it is,'" she answered. "I never
shall wear that ring again."
"You won't even hear what I have to say? You won't
take back your ring?" he cried.
"Never! Your conduct is infamous!"
"Come to think of it," said Philip deliberately, "it is
`infamous' to cut a girl, who has danced all her life, out of
a few measures of a waltz. As for asking forgiveness for so
black a sin as picking up a moth, and starting it to a friend
who lives by collecting them, I don't see how I could!
I have not been gone three minutes by the clock, Edith.
Put on your ring and finish the dance like a dear girl."
He thrust the glittering ruby into her fingers and again
held out his arms. She dropped the ring, and it rolled some
distance from them. Hart Henderson followed its shining
course, and caught it before it was lost.
"You really mean it?" demanded Philip in a voice as
cold as hers ever had been.
"You know I mean it!" cried Edith Carr.
"I accept your decision in the presence of these
witnesses," said Philip Ammon. "Where is my father?"
The elder Ammon with a distressed face hurried to him.
"Father, take my place," said Philip. "Excuse me to
my guests. Ask all my friends to forgive me. I am
going away for awhile."
He turned and walked from the pavilion. As he went
Hart Henderson rushed to Edith Carr and forced the ring
into her fingers. "Edith, quick. Come, quick!" he implored.
"There's just time to catch him. If you let him go that way,
he never will return in this world. Remember what I told you."
"Great prophet! aren't you, Hart?" she sneered.
"Who wants him to return? If that ring is thrust upon
me again I shall fling it into the lake. Signal the
musicians to begin, and dance with me."
Henderson put the ring into his pocket, and began the dance.
He could feel the muscular spasms of the girl in his arms,
her face was cold and hard, but her breath burned with
the scorch of fever. She finished the dance and all
others, taking Phil's numbers with Henderson, who had
arrived too late to arrange a programme. She left with
the others, merely inclining her head as she passed
Ammon's father taking his place, and entered the big touring
car for which Henderson had telephoned. She sank limply
into a seat and moaned softly.
"Shall I drive awhile in the night air?" asked Henderson.
She nodded. He instructed the chauffeur.
She raised her head in a few seconds. "Hart, I'm going
to pieces," she said. "Won't you put your arm around me
a little while?"
Henderson gathered her into his arms and her head fell
on his shoulder. "Closer!" she cried.
Henderson held her until his arms were numb, but he
did not know it. The tricks of fate are cruel enough, but
there scarcely could have been a worse one than that:
To care for a woman as he loved Edith Carr and have her
given into his arms because she was so numb with misery
over her trouble with another man that she did not know or
care what she did. Dawn was streaking the east when he
spoke to her.
"Edith, it is growing light."
"Take me home," she said.
Henderson helped her up the steps and rang the bell.
"Miss Carr is ill," he said to the footman. "Arouse her
maid instantly, and have her prepare something hot as
quickly as possible."
"Edith," he cried, "just a word. I have been thinking.
It isn't too late yet. Take your ring and put it on.
I will go find Phil at once and tell him you have, that
you are expecting him, and he will come."
"Think what he said!" she cried. "He accepted my decision
as final, `in the presence of witnesses,' as if it were court.
He can return it to me, if I ever wear it again."
"You think that now, but in a few days you will find
that you feel very differently. Living a life of heartache
is no joke, and no job for a woman. Put on your ring and
send me to tell him to come."
"Edith, there was not a soul who saw that, but sympathized
with Phil. It was ridiculous for you to get so angry over
a thing which was never intended for the slightest offence,
and by no logical reasoning could have been so considered."
"Do you think that?" she demanded.
"I do!" said Henderson. "If you had laughed and stepped
aside an instant, or laughed and stayed where you were,
Phil would have been back; or, if he needed punishment
in your eyes, to have found me having one of his dances
would have been enough. I was waiting. You could have
called me with one look. But to publicly do and say
what you did, my lady--I know Phil, and I know you
went too far. Put on that ring, and send him word
you are sorry, before it is too late."
"I will not! He shall come to me."
"Then God help you!" said Henderson, "for you are
plunging into misery whose depth you do not dream.
Edith, I beg of you----"
She swayed where she stood. Her maid opened the door
and caught her. Henderson went down the hall and out
to his car.
Philip Ammon walked from among his friends a
humiliated and a wounded man. Never before had
Edith Carr appeared quite so beautiful. All evening
she had treated him with unusual consideration.
Never had he loved her so deeply. Then in a few seconds
everything was different. Seeing the change in her face,
and hearing her meaningless accusations, killed something
in his heart. Warmth went out and a cold weight took
its place. But even after that, he had offered the ring
to her again, and asked her before others to reconsider.
The answer had been further insult.
He walked, paying no heed to where he went. He had
traversed many miles when he became aware that his feet
had chosen familiar streets. He was passing his home.
Dawn was near, but the first floor was lighted.
He staggered up the steps and was instantly admitted.
The library door stood open, while his father sat with
a book pretending to read. At Philip's entrance the
father scarcely glanced up.
"Come on!" he called. "I have just told Banks to bring
me a cup of coffee before I turn in. Have one with me!"
Philip sat beside the table and leaned his head on his
hands, but he drank a cup of steaming coffee and felt better.
"Father," he said, "father, may I talk with you a little while?"
"Of course," answered Mr. Ammon. "I am not at
all tired. I think I must have been waiting in the
hope that you would come. I want no one's version
of this but yours. Tell me the straight of the
thing, Phil."
Philip told all he knew, while his father sat in deep thought.
"On my life I can't see any occasion for such a display of
temper, Phil. It passed all bounds of reason and breeding.
Can't you think of anything more?"
"I cannot!"
"Polly says every one expected you to carry the moth
you caught to Edith. Why didn't you?"
"She screams if a thing of that kind comes near her.
She never has taken the slightest interest in them. I was
in a big hurry. I didn't want to miss one minute of my
dance with her. The moth was not so uncommon, but by
a combination of bad luck it had become the rarest in
America for a friend of mine, who is making a collection to
pay college expenses. For an instant last June the series
was completed; when a woman's uncontrolled temper ruined
this specimen and the search for it began over. A few
days later a pair was secured, and again the money was
in sight for several hours. Then an accident wrecked
one-fourth of the collection. I helped replace those
last June, all but this Yellow Emperor which we could
not secure, and we haven't been able to find, buy or
trade for one since. So my friend was compelled to teach
this past winter instead of going to college. When that
moth came flying in there to-night, it seemed to me like fate.
All I thought of was, that to secure it would complete the
collection and secure the money. So I caught the Emperor and
started it to Elnora. I declare to you that I was not out of
the pavilion over three minutes at a liberal estimate. If I
only had thought to speak to the orchestra! I was sure I
would be back before enough couples gathered and formed
for the dance."
The eyes of the father were very bright.
"The friend for whom you wanted the moth is a girl?"
he asked indifferently, as he ran the book leaves through
his fingers.
"The girl of whom I wrote you last summer, and told
you about in the fall. I helped her all the time I was away."
"Did Edith know of her?"
"I tried many times to tell her, to interest her, but she
was so indifferent that it was insulting. She would not
hear me."
"We are neither one in any condition to sleep. Why don't
you begin at the first and tell me about this girl?
To think of other matters for a time may clear our vision
for a sane solution of this. Who is she, just what is she
doing, and what is she like? You know I was reared among
those Limberlost people, I can understand readily.
What is her name and where does she live?"
Philip gave a man's version of the previous summer,
while his father played with the book industriously.
"You are very sure as to her refinement and education?"
"In almost two months' daily association, could a man
be mistaken? She can far and away surpass Polly, Edith,
or any girl of our set on any common, high school, or
supplementary branch, and you know high schools have
French, German, and physics now. Besides, she is a
graduate of two other institutions. All her life she has
been in the school of Hard Knocks. She has the biggest,
tenderest, most human heart I ever knew in a girl. She has
known life in its most cruel phases, and instead of
hardening her, it has set her trying to save other
people suffering. Then this nature position of which
I told you; she graduated in the School of the Woods,
before she secured that. The Bird Woman, whose work you
know, helped her there. Elnora knows more interesting
things in a minute than any other girl I ever met knew in
an hour, provided you are a person who cares to understand
plant and animal life."
The book leaves slid rapidly through his fingers as
the father drawled: "What sort of looking girl is she?"
"Tall as Edith, a little heavier, pink, even complexion,
wide open blue-gray eyes with heavy black brows, and
lashes so long they touch her cheeks. She has a rope
of waving, shining hair that makes a real crown on her
head, and it appears almost red in the light. She is as
handsome as any fair woman I ever saw, but she doesn't
know it. Every time any one pays her a compliment,
her mother, who is a caution, discovers that, for some
reason, the girl is a fright, so she has no appreciation of
her looks."
"And you were in daily association two months with
a girl like that! How about it, Phil?"
"If you mean, did I trifle with her, no!" cried Philip hotly.
"I told her the second time I met her all about Edith.
Almost every day I wrote to Edith in her presence.
Elnora gathered violets and made a fancy basket to put
them in for Edith's birthday. I started to err in
too open admiration for Elnora, but her mother brought
me up with a whirl I never forgot. Fifty times a day
in the swamps and forests Elnora made a perfect picture,
but I neither looked nor said anything. I never met
any girl so downright noble in bearing and actions.
I never hated anything as I hated leaving her, for we were
dear friends, like two wholly congenial men. Her mother
was almost always with us. She knew how much I admired
Elnora, but so long as I concealed it from the girl,
the mother did not care."
"Yet you left such a girl and came back whole-hearted
to Edith Carr!"
"Surely! You know how it has been with me about
Edith all my life."
"Yet the girl you picture is far her superior to an
unprejudiced person, when thinking what a man would
require in a wife to be happy."
"I never have thought what I would `require' to be happy!
I only thought whether I could make Edith happy. I have
been an idiot! What I've borne you'll never know!
To-night is only one of many outbursts like that,
in varying and lesser degrees."
"Phil, I love you, when you say you have thought
only of Edith! I happen to know that it is true.
You are my only son, and I have had a right to watch
you closely. I believe you utterly. Any one who cares
for you as I do, and has had my years of experience in
this world over yours, knows that in some ways, to-night
would be a blessed release, if you could take it; but
you cannot! Go to bed now, and rest. To-morrow, go back
to her and fix it up."
"You heard what I said when I left her! I said it because
something in my heart died a minute before that, and
I realized that it was my love for Edith Carr. Never again
will I voluntarily face such a scene. If she can act
like that at a ball, before hundreds, over a thing of which
I thought nothing at all, she would go into actual physical
fits and spasms, over some of the household crises I've
seen the mater meet with a smile. Sir, it is truth that
I have thought only of her up to the present. Now, I
will admit I am thinking about myself. Father, did you
see her? Life is too short, and it can be too sweet, to
throw it away in a battle with an unrestrained woman.
I am no fighter--where a girl is concerned, anyway.
I respect and love her or I do nothing. Never again is
either respect or love possible between me and Edith Carr.
Whenever I think of her in the future, I will see her as
she was to-night. But I can't face the crowd just yet.
Could you spare me a few days?"
"It is only ten days until you were to go north for the
summer, go now."
"I don't want to go north. I don't want to meet people
I know. There, the story would precede me. I do not
need pitying glances or rough condolences. I wonder if
I could not hide at Uncle Ed's in Wisconsin for awhile?"
The book closed suddenly. The father leaned across
the table and looked into the son's eyes.
"Phil, are you sure of what you just have said?"
"Perfectly sure!"
"Do you think you are in any condition to decide to-night?"
"Death cannot return to life, father. My love for
Edith Carr is dead. I hope never to see her again."
"If I thought you could be certain so soon! But, come
to think of it, you are very like me in many ways. I am
with you in this. Public scenes and disgraces I would
not endure. It would be over with me, were I in your
position, that I know."
"It is done for all time," said Philip Ammon. "Let us
not speak of it further."
"Then, Phil," the father leaned closer and looked at the
son tenderly, "Phil, why don't you go to the Limberlost?"
"Why not? No one can comfort a hurt heart like a
tender woman; and, Phil, have you ever stopped to think
that you may have a duty in the Limberlost, if you
are free? I don't know! I only suggest it. But, for a
country schoolgirl, unaccustomed to men, two months
with a man like you might well awaken feelings of which
you do not think. Because you were safe-guarded is no
sign the girl was. She might care to see you. You can
soon tell. With you, she comes next to Edith, and you
have made it clear to me that you appreciate her in many
ways above. So I repeat it, why not go to the Limberlost?"
A long time Philip Ammon sat in deep thought. At last
he raised his head.
"Well, why not!" he said. "Years could make me
no surer than I am now, and life is short. Please ask
Banks to get me some coffee and toast, and I will bathe
and dress so I can take the early train."
"Go to your bath. I will attend to your packing
and everything. And Phil, if I were you, I would
leave no addresses."
"Not an address!" said Philip. "Not even Polly."
When the train pulled out, the elder Ammon went home
to find Hart Henderson waiting.
"Where is Phil?" he demanded.
"He did not feel like facing his friends at present, and
I am just back from driving him to the station. He said
he might go to Siam, or Patagonia. He would leave no address."
Henderson almost staggered. "He's not gone? And left
no address? You don't mean it! He'll never forgive her!"
"Never is a long time, Hart," said Mr. Ammon. "And it
seems even longer to those of us who are well acquainted
with Phil. Last night was not the last straw. It was
the whole straw-stack. It crushed Phil so far as she
is concerned. He will not see her again voluntarily, and
he will not forget if he does. You can take it from him,
and from me, we have accepted the lady's decision. Will you
have a cup of coffee?"
Twice Henderson opened his lips to speak of Edith
Carr's despair. Twice he looked into the stern, inflexible
face of Mr. Ammon and could not betray her. He held
out the ring.
"I have no instructions as to that," said the elder
Ammon, drawing back. "Possibly Miss Carr would have
it as a keepsake."
"I am sure not," said Henderson curtly.
"Then suppose you return it to Peacock. I will phone him.
He will give you the price of it, and you might add
it to the children's Fresh Air Fund. We would be obliged
if you would do that. No one here cares to handle the object."
"As you choose," said Henderson. "Good morning!"
Then he went to his home, but he could not think of sleep.
He ordered breakfast, but he could not eat. He paced the
library for a time, but it was too small. Going on the
streets he walked until exhausted, then he called
a hansom and was driven to his club. He had thought
himself familiar with every depth of suffering; that night
had taught him that what he felt for himself was not to be
compared with the anguish which wrung his heart over
the agony of Edith Carr. He tried to blame Philip Ammon,
but being an honest man, Henderson knew that was unjust.
The fault lay wholly with her, but that only made it
harder for him, as he realized it would in time for her.
As he sauntered into the room an attendant hurried to him.
"You are wanted most urgently at the 'phone, Mr.
Henderson," he said. "You have had three calls from
Main 5770."
Henderson shivered as he picked down the receiver and
gave the call.
"Is that you, Hart?" came Edith's voice.
"Did you find Phil?"
"Did you try?"
"Yes. As soon as I left you I went straight there."
"Wasn't he home yet?"
"He has been home and gone again."
The cry tore Henderson's heart.
"Shall I come and tell you, Edith?"
"No! Tell me now."
"When I reached the house Banks said Mr. Ammon
and Phil were out in the motor, so I waited. Mr. Ammon
came back soon. Edith, are you alone?"
"Yes. Go on!"
"Call your maid. I can't tell you until some one is
with you."
"Tell me instantly!"
"Edith, he said he had been to the station. He said
Phil had started to Siam or Patagonia, he didn't know
which, and left no address. He said----"
Distinctly Henderson heard her fall. He set the buzzer
ringing, and in a few seconds heard voices, so he knew she
had been found. Then he crept into a private den and
shook with a hard, nervous chill.
The next day Edith Carr started on her trip to Europe.
Henderson felt certain she hoped to meet Philip there.
He was sure she would be disappointed, though he had no
idea where Ammon could have gone. But after much
thought he decided he would see Edith soonest by
remaining at home, so he spent the summer in Chicago.
We must be thinking about supper, mother," said Elnora,
while she set the wings of a Cecropia with much care.
"It seems as if I can't get enough to eat, or enough
of being at home. I enjoyed that city house. I don't
believe I could have done my work if I had been
compelled to walk back and forth. I thought at first
I never wanted to come here again. Now, I feel as if
I could not live anywhere else."
"Elnora," said Mrs. Comstock, "there's some one
coming down the road."
"Coming here, do you think?"
"Yes, coming here, I suspect."
Elnora glanced quickly at her mother and then turned
to the road as Philip Ammon reached the gate.
"Careful, mother!" the girl instantly warned. "If you
change your treatment of him a hair's breadth, he
will suspect. Come with me to meet him."
She dropped her work and sprang up.
"Well, of all the delightful surprises!" she cried.
She was a trifle thinner than during the previous summer.
On her face there was a more mature, patient look, but
the sun struck her bare head with the same ray of red gold.
She wore one of the old blue gingham dresses, open
at the throat and rolled to the elbows. Mrs. Comstock
did not appear at all the same woman, but Philip saw only
Elnora; heard only her greeting. He caught both hands
where she offered but one.
"Elnora," he cried, "if you were engaged to me, and we
were at a ball, among hundreds, where I offended you very
much, and didn't even know I had done anything, and if I
asked you before all of them to allow me to explain,
to forgive me, to wait, would your face grow distorted
and unfamiliar with anger? Would you drop my ring on the
floor and insult me repeatedly? Oh Elnora, would you?"
Elnora's big eyes seemed to leap, while her face grew
very white. She drew away her hands.
"Hush, Phil! Hush!" she protested. "That fever has
you again! You are dreadfully ill. You don't know
what you are saying."
"I am sleepless and exhausted; I'm heartsick; but I am
well as I ever was. Answer me, Elnora, would you?"
"Answer nothing!" cried Mrs. Comstock. "Answer nothing!
Hang your coat there on your nail, Phil, and come split
some kindling. Elnora, clean away that stuff, and set
the table. Can't you see the boy is starved and tired?
He's come home to rest and eat a decent meal. Come on, Phil!"
Mrs. Comstock marched away, and Philip hung his coat
in its old place and followed. Out of sight and hearing
she turned on him.
"Do you call yourself a man or a hound?" she flared.
"I beg your pardon----" stammered Philip Ammon.
"I should think you would!" she ejaculated. "I'll admit
you did the square thing and was a man last summer,
though I'd liked it better if you'd faced up and told
me you were promised; but to come back here babying,
and take hold of Elnora like that, and talk that way
because you have had a fuss with your girl, I don't tolerate.
Split that kindling and I'll get your supper, and then you
better go. I won't have you working on Elnora's big
heart, because you have quarrelled with some one else.
You'll have it patched up in a week and be gone again, so
you can go right away."
"Mrs. Comstock, I came to ask Elnora to marry me."
"The more fool you, then!" cried Mrs. Comstock.
"This time yesterday you were engaged to another woman,
no doubt. Now, for some little flare-up you come racing
here to use Elnora as a tool to spite the other girl.
A week of sane living, and you will be sorry and ready to
go back to Chicago, or, if you really are man enough to be
sure of yourself, she will come to claim you. She has
her rights. An engagement of years is a serious matter, and
not broken for a whim. If you don't go, she'll come.
Then, when you patch up your affairs and go sailing away
together, where does my girl come in?"
"I am a lawyer, Mrs. Comstock," said Philip. "It appeals
to me as beneath your ordinary sense of justice to decide
a case without hearing the evidence. It is due me that
you hear me first."
"Hear your side!" flashed Mrs. Comstock. "I'd a
heap sight rather hear the girl!"
"I wish to my soul that you had heard and seen her last
night, Mrs. Comstock," said Ammon. "Then, my way
would be clear. I never even thought of coming
here to-day. I'll admit I would have come in time,
but not for many months. My father sent me."
"Your father sent you! Why?"
"Father, mother, and Polly were present last night.
They, and all my friends, saw me insulted and disgraced
in the worst exhibition of uncontrolled temper any of us
ever witnessed. All of them knew it was the end.
Father liked what I had told him of Elnora, and he
advised me to come here, so I came. If she does not
want me, I can leave instantly, but, oh I hoped she
would understand!"
"You people are not splitting wood," called Elnora.
"Oh yes we are!" answered Mrs. Comstock. "You set
out the things for biscuit, and lay the table." She turned
again to Philip. "I know considerable about your father,"
she said. "I have met your Uncle's family frequently
this winter. I've heard your Aunt Anna say that she
didn't at all like Miss Carr, and that she and all your
family secretly hoped that something would happen to
prevent your marrying her. That chimes right in with
your saying that your father sent you here. I guess you
better speak your piece."
Philip gave his version of the previous night.
"Do you believe me?" he finished.
"Yes," said Mrs. Comstock.
"May I stay?"
"Oh, it looks all right for you, but what about her?"
"Nothing, so far as I am concerned. Her plans were all
made to start to Europe to-day. I suspect she is on the
way by this time. Elnora is very sensible, Mrs. Comstock.
Hadn't you better let her decide this?"
"The final decision rests with her, of course," admitted
Mrs. Comstock. "But look you one thing! She's all I have.
As Solomon says, `she is the one child, the only child
of her mother.' I've suffered enough in this world
that I fight against any suffering which threatens her.
So far as I know you've always been a man, and you
may stay. But if you bring tears and heartache to her,
don't have the assurance to think I'll bear it tamely.
I'll get right up and fight like a catamount, if things
go wrong for Elnora!"
"I have no doubt but you will," replied Philip, "and I
don't blame you in the least if you do. I have the utmost
devotion to offer Elnora, a good home, fair social position,
and my family will love her dearly. Think it over. I know
it is sudden, but my father advised it."
"Yes, I reckon he did!" said Mrs. Comstock dryly. "I guess
instead of me being the catamount, you had the genuine
article up in Chicago, masquerading in peacock feathers,
and posing as a fine lady, until her time came to scratch.
Human nature seems to be the same the world over. But I'd
give a pretty to know that secret thing you say you don't,
that set her raving over your just catching a moth for Elnora.
You might get that crock of strawberries in the spring house."
They prepared and ate supper. Afterward they sat in
the arbour and talked, or Elnora played until time for
Philip to go.
"Will you walk to the gate with me?" he asked Elnora
as he arose.
"Not to-night," she answered lightly. "Come early in
the morning if you like, and we will go over to Sleepy
Snake Creek and hunt moths and gather dandelions for dinner."
Philip leaned toward her. "May I tell you to-morrow
why I came?" he asked.
"I think not," replied Elnora. "The fact is, I don't
care why you came. It is enough for me that we are your
very good friends, and that in trouble, you have found us
a refuge. I fancy we had better live a week or two before
you say anything. There is a possibility that what you
have to say may change in that length of time.
"It will not change one iota!" cried Philip.
"Then it will have the grace of that much age to give it
some small touch of flavour," said the girl. "Come early
in the morning."
She lifted the violin and began to play.
"Well bless my soul!" ejaculated the astounded Mrs. Comstock.
"To think I was worrying for fear you couldn't take care
of yourself!"
Elnora laughed while she played.
"Shall I tell you what he said?"
"Nope! I don't want to hear it!" said Elnora. "He is
only six hours from Chicago. I'll give her a week to
find him and fix it up, if he stays that long. If she doesn't
put in an appearance then, he can tell me what he wants
to say, and I'll take my time to think it over. Time in
plenty, too! There are three of us in this, and one must
be left with a sore heart for life. If the decision rests
with me I propose to be very sure that it is the one who
deserves such hard luck."
The next morning Philip came early, dressed in the outing
clothing he had worn the previous summer, and aside
from a slight paleness seemed very much the same as when
he left. Elnora met him on the old footing, and for a
week life went on exactly as it had the previous summer.
Mrs. Comstock made mental notes and watched in silence.
She could see that Elnora was on a strain, though she
hoped Philip would not. The girl grew restless as the
week drew to a close. Once when the gate clicked she
suddenly lost colour and moved nervously. Billy came down
the walk.
Philip leaned toward Mrs. Comstock and said: "I am
expressly forbidden to speak to Elnora as I would like.
Would you mind telling her for me that I had a letter from
my father this morning saying that Miss Carr is on her way
to Europe for the summer?"
"Elnora," said Mrs. Comstock promptly, "I have just
heard that Carr woman is on her way to Europe, and I
wish to my gracious stars she'd stay there!"
Philip Ammon shouted, but Elnora arose hastily and
went to meet Billy. They came into the arbour together
and after speaking to Mrs. Comstock and Philip, Billy
said: "Uncle Wesley and I found something funny, and
we thought you'd like to see."
"I don't know what I should do without you and Uncle
Wesley to help me," said Elnora. "What have you found now?"
"Something I couldn't bring. You have to come to it.
I tried to get one and I killed it. They are a kind of
insecty things, and they got a long tail that is three
fine hairs. They stick those hairs right into the hard
bark of trees, and if you pull, the hairs stay fast and
it kills the bug."
"We will come at once," laughed Elnora. "I know
what they are, and I can use some in my work."
"Billy, have you been crying?" inquired Mrs. Comstock.
Billy lifted a chastened face. "Yes, ma'am," he replied.
"This has been the worst day."
"What's the matter with the day?"
"The day is all right," admitted Billy. "I mean every
single thing has gone wrong with me."
"Now that is too bad!" sympathized Mrs. Comstock.
"Began early this morning," said Billy. "All Snap's
fault, too."
"What has poor Snap been doing?" demanded Mrs.
Comstock, her eyes beginning to twinkle.
"Digging for woodchucks, like he always does. He gets
up at two o'clock to dig for them. He was coming
in from the woods all tired and covered thick with dirt.
I was going to the barn with the pail of water for Uncle
Wesley to use in milking. I had to set down the pail to
shut the gate so the chickens wouldn't get into the flower
beds, and old Snap stuck his dirty nose into the water
and began to lap it down. I knew Uncle Wesley wouldn't
use that, so I had to go 'way back to the cistern for more,
and it pumps awful hard. Made me mad, so I threw the
water on Snap."
"Well, what of it?"
"Nothing, if he'd stood still. But it scared him awful,
and when he's afraid he goes a-humping for Aunt Margaret.
When he got right up against her he stiffened
out and gave a big shake. You oughter seen the nice
blue dress she had put on to go to Onabasha!"
Mrs. Comstock and Philip laughed, but Elnora put
her arms around the boy. "Oh Billy!" she cried.
"That was too bad!"
"She got up early and ironed that dress to wear because
it was cool. Then, when it was all dirty, she
wouldn't go, and she wanted to real bad." Billy wiped
his eyes. "That ain't all, either," he added.
"We'd like to know about it, Billy," suggested Mrs.
Comstock, struggling with her face.
"Cos she couldn't go to the city, she's most worked
herself to death. She's done all the dirty, hard jobs she
could find. She's fixing her grape juice now."
"Sure!" cried Mrs. Comstock. "When a woman is
disappointed she always works like a dog to gain sympathy!"
"Well, Uncle Wesley and I are sympathizing all we
know how, without her working so. I've squeezed until
I almost busted to get the juice out from the seeds
and skins. That's the hard part. Now, she has to strain
it through white flannel and seal it in bottles, and it's
good for sick folks. Most wish I'd get sick myself, so
I could have a glass. It's so good!"
Elnora glanced swiftly at her mother.
"I worked so hard," continued Billy, "that she said if
I would throw the leavings in the woods, then I could come
after you to see about the bugs. Do you want to go?"
"We will all go," said Mrs. Comstock. "I am mightily
interested in those bugs myself."
From afar commotion could be seen at the Sinton home.
Wesley and Margaret were running around wildly and
peculiar sounds filled the air.
"What's the trouble?" asked Philip, hurrying to Wesley.
"Cholera!" groaned Sinton. "My hogs are dying like flies."
Margaret was softly crying. "Wesley, can't I fix
something hot? Can't we do anything? It means several
hundred dollars and our winter meat."
"I never saw stock taken so suddenly and so hard,"
said Wesley. "I have 'phoned for the veterinary to come
as soon as he can get here."
All of them hurried to the feeding pen into which the
pigs seemed to be gathering from the woods. Among the
common stock were big white beasts of pedigree which
were Wesley's pride at county fairs. Several of these
rolled on their backs, pawing the air feebly and emitting
little squeaks. A huge Berkshire sat on his haunches,
slowly shaking his head, the water dropping from his
eyes, until he, too, rolled over with faint grunts. A pair
crossing the yard on wavering legs collided, and attacked
each other in anger, only to fall, so weak they scarcely
could squeal. A fine snowy Plymouth Rock rooster, after
several attempts, flew to the fence, balanced with great
effort, wildly flapped his wings and started a guttural crow,
but fell sprawling among the pigs, too helpless to stand.
"Did you ever see such a dreadful sight?" sobbed Margaret.
Billy climbed on the fence, took one long look and
turned an astounded face to Wesley.
"Why them pigs is drunk!" he cried. "They act just
like my pa!"
Wesley turned to Margaret.
"Where did you put the leavings from that grape juice?"
he demanded.
"I sent Billy to throw it in the woods."
"Billy----" began Wesley.
"Threw it just where she told me to," cried Billy.
But some of the pigs came by there coming into the
pen, and some were close in the fence corners."
"Did they eat it?" demanded Wesley.
"They just chanked into it," replied Billy graphically.
"They pushed, and squealed, and fought over it.
You couldn't blame 'em! It was the best stuff I ever tasted!"
"Margaret," said Wesley, "run 'phone that doctor he
won't be needed. Billy, take Elnora and Mr. Ammon to
see the bugs. Katharine, suppose you help me a minute."
Wesley took the clothes basket from the back porch and
started in the direction of the cellar. Margaret returned
from the telephone.
"I just caught him," she said. "There's that much saved.
Why Wesley, what are you going to do?"
"You go sit on the front porch a little while," said Wesley.
"You will feel better if you don't see this."
"Wesley," cried Margaret aghast. "Some of that wine
is ten years old. There are days and days of hard work
in it, and I couldn't say how much sugar. Dr. Ammon
keeps people alive with it when nothing else will stay on
their stomachs."
"Let 'em die, then!" said Wesley. "You heard the boy,
didn't you?"
"It's a cold process. There's not a particle of fermentation
about it."
"Not a particle of fermentation! Great day, Margaret! Look at
those pigs!"
Margaret took a long look. "Leave me a few bottles
for mince-meat," she wavered.
"Not a smell for any use on this earth! You heard
the boy! He shan't say, when he grows to manhood, that
he learned to like it here!"
Wesley threw away the wine, Mrs. Comstock cheerfully assisting.
Then they walked to the woods to see and learn about the
wonderful insects. The day ended with a big supper at
Sintons', and then they went to the Comstock cabin for
a concert. Elnora played beautifully that night. When the
Sintons left she kissed Billy with particular tenderness.
She was so moved that she was kinder to Philip than she had
intended to be, and Elnora as an antidote to a disappointed
lover was a decided success in any mood.
However strong the attractions of Edith Carr had
been, once the bond was finally broken, Philip Ammon
could not help realizing that Elnora was the superior
woman, and that he was fortunate to have escaped, when
he regarded his ties strongest. Every day, while working
with Elnora, he saw more to admire. He grew very
thankful that he was free to try to win her, and impatient
to justify himself to her.
Elnora did not evince the slightest haste to hear what
he had to say, but waited the week she had set, in spite
of Philip's hourly manifest impatience. When she did
consent to listen, Philip felt before he had talked five
minutes, that she was putting herself in Edith Carr's
place, and judging him from what the other girl's
standpoint would be. That was so disconcerting, he did
not plead his cause nearly so well as he had hoped, for
when he ceased Elnora sat in silence.
"You are my judge," he said at last. "What is your verdict?"
"If I could hear her speak from her heart as I just have
heard you, then I could decide," answered Elnora.
"She is on the ocean," said Philip. "She went because
she knew she was wholly in the wrong. She had nothing
to say, or she would have remained."
"That sounds plausible," reasoned Elnora, "but it is
pretty difficult to find a woman in an affair that involves
her heart with nothing at all to say. I fancy if I could
meet her, she would say several things. I should love to
hear them. If I could talk with her three minutes, I
could tell what answer to make you."
"Don't you believe me, Elnora?"
"Unquestioningly," answered Elnora. "But I would
believe her also. If only I could meet her I soon
would know."
"I don't see how that is to be accomplished," said
Philip, "but I am perfectly willing. There is no reason
why you should not meet her, except that she probably
would lose her temper and insult you."
"Not to any extent," said Elnora calmly. "I have
a tongue of my own, while I am not without some small
sense of personal values."
Philip glanced at her and began to laugh. Very different
of facial formation and colouring, Elnora at times closely
resembled her mother. She joined in his laugh ruefully.
"The point is this," she said. "Some one is going to
be hurt, most dreadfully. If the decision as to whom it
shall be rests with me, I must know it is the right one.
Of course, no one ever hinted it to you, but you are a
very attractive man, Philip. You are mighty good to
look at, and you have a trained, refined mind, that makes
you most interesting. For years Edith Carr has felt that
you were hers. Now, how is she going to change? I have
been thinking--thinking deep and long, Phil. If I were
in her place, I simply could not give you up, unless
you had made yourself unworthy of love. Undoubtedly, you
never seemed so desirable to her as just now, when she is
told she can't have you. What I think is that she will
come to claim you yet."
"You overlook the fact that it is not in a woman's power
to throw away a man and pick him up at pleasure," said
Philip with some warmth. "She publicly and repeatedly
cast me off. I accepted her decision as publicly as
it was made. You have done all your thinking from
a wrong viewpoint. You seem to have an idea that it
lies with you to decide what I shall do, that if you say the
word, I shall return to Edith. Put that thought out of
your head! Now, and for all time to come, she is a matter
of indifference to me. She killed all feeling in my heart
for her so completely that I do not even dread meeting her.
"If I hated her, or was angry with her, I could not be
sure the feeling would not die. As it is, she has deadened
me into a creature of indifference. So you just revise
your viewpoint a little, Elnora. Cease thinking it is for
you to decide what I shall do, and that I will obey you.
I make my own decisions in reference to any woman, save you.
The question you are to decide is whether I may remain here,
associating with you as I did last summer; but with the
difference that it is understood that I am free; that it
is my intention to care for you all I please, to make you
return my feeling for you if I can. There is just one
question for you to decide, and it is not triangular.
It is between us. May I remain? May I love you?
Will you give me the chance to prove what I think of you?"
"You speak very plainly," said Elnora.
"This is the time to speak plainly," said Philip Ammon.
"There is no use in allowing you to go on threshing out
a problem which does not exist. If you do not want
me here, say so and I will go. Of course, I warn you
before I start, that I will come back. I won't yield
without the stiffest fight it is in me to make. But drop
thinking it lies in your power to send me back to Edith Carr.
If she were the last woman in the world, and I the last man,
I'd jump off the planet before I would give her further
opportunity to exercise her temper on me. Narrow this to
us, Elnora. Will you take the place she vacated?
Will you take the heart she threw away? I'd give my
right hand and not flinch, if I could offer you my
life, free from any contact with hers, but that is
not possible. I can't undo things which are done.
I can only profit by experience and build better in
the future."
"I don't see how you can be sure of yourself," said Elnora.
"I don't see how I could be sure of you. You loved her first,
you never can care for me anything like that. Always I'd
have to be afraid you were thinking of her and regretting."
"Folly!" cried Philip. "Regretting what? That I
was not married to a woman who was liable to rave at
me any time or place, without my being conscious of
having given offence? A man does relish that! I am
likely to pine for more!"
"You'd be thinking she'd learned a lesson. You would
think it wouldn't happen again."
"No, I wouldn't be `thinking,'" said, Philip. "I'd be
everlastingly sure! I wouldn't risk what I went
through that night again, not to save my life! Just you
and me, Elnora. Decide for us."
"I can't!" cried Elnora. "I am afraid!"
"Very well," said Philip. "We will wait until you feel
that you can. Wait until fear vanishes. Just decide
now whether you would rather have me go for a few
months, or remain with you. Which shall it be, Elnora?"
"You can never love me as you did her," wailed Elnora.
"I am happy to say I cannot," replied he. "I've cut
my matrimonial teeth. I'm cured of wanting to swell
in society. I'm over being proud of a woman for her
looks alone. I have no further use for lavishing myself on
a beautiful, elegantly dressed creature, who thinks only
of self. I have learned that I am a common man. I admire
beauty and beautiful clothing quite as much as I ever
did; but, first, I want an understanding, deep as the lowest
recess of my soul, with the woman I marry. I want to work
for you, to plan for you, to build you a home with every
comfort, to give you all good things I can, to shield
you from every evil. I want to interpose my body between
yours and fire, flood, or famine. I want to give
you everything; but I hate the idea of getting nothing at
all on which I can depend in return. Edith Carr had
only good looks to offer, and when anger overtook her,
beauty went out like a snuffed candle.
"I want you to love me. I want some consideration.
I even crave respect. I've kept myself clean. So far
as I know how to be, I am honest and scrupulous.
It wouldn't hurt me to feel that you took some interest
in these things. Rather fierce temptations strike a man,
every few days, in this world. I can keep decent, for a
woman who cares for decency, but when I do, I'd like
to have the fact recognized, by just enough of a show of
appreciation that I could see it. I am tired of this onesided
business. After this, I want to get a little in return
for what I give. Elnora, you have love, tenderness,
and honest appreciation of the finest in life. Take what
I offer, and give what I ask."
"You do not ask much," said Elnora.
"As for not loving you as I did Edith," continued
Philip, "as I said before, I hope not! I have a newer
and a better idea of loving. The feeling I offer you was
inspired by you. It is a Limberlost product. It is as
much bigger, cleaner, and more wholesome than any feeling
I ever had for Edith Carr, as you are bigger than she,
when you stand before your classes and in calm dignity
explain the marvels of the Almighty, while she stands
on a ballroom floor, and gives way to uncontrolled temper.
Ye gods, Elnora, if you could look into my soul, you
would see it leap and rejoice over my escape! Perhaps it
isn't decent, but it's human; and I'm only a common
human being. I'm the gladdest man alive that I'm free!
I would turn somersaults and yell if I dared. What an escape!
Stop straining after Edith Carr's viewpoint and take a look
from mine. Put yourself in my place and try to study out
how I feel.
"I am so happy I grow religious over it. Fifty times
a day I catch myself whispering, `My soul is escaped!'
As for you, take all the time you want. If you prefer to
be alone, I'll take the next train and stay away as long as
I can bear it, but I'll come back. You can be most sure
of that. Straight as your pigeons to their loft, I'll come
back to you, Elnora. Shall I go?"
"Oh, what's the use to be extravagant?" murmured Elnora.
The month which followed was a reproduction of
the previous June. There were long moth hunts,
days of specimen gathering, wonderful hours with
great books, big dinners all of them helped to prepare,
and perfect nights filled with music. Everything was as
it had been, with the difference that Philip was now an
avowed suitor. He missed no opportunity to advance
himself in Elnora's graces. At the end of the month
he was no nearer any sort of understanding with her
than he had been at the beginning. He revelled in the
privilege of loving her, but he got no response.
Elnora believed in his love, yet she hesitated to
accept him, because she could not forget Edith Carr.
One afternoon early in July, Philip came across the
fields, through the Comstock woods, and entered the garden.
He inquired for Elnora at the back door and was told that
she was reading under the willow. He went around the
west end of the cabin to her. She sat on a rustic
bench they had made and placed beneath a drooping branch.
He had not seen her before in the dress she was wearing.
It was clinging mull of pale green, trimmed with narrow
ruffles and touched with knots of black velvet; a simple
dress, but vastly becoming. Every tint of her bright hair,
her luminous eyes, her red lips, and her rose-flushed
face, neck, and arms grew a little more vivid with the
delicate green setting.
He stopped short. She was so near, so temptingly
sweet, he lost control. He went to her with a halfsmothered
cry after that first long look, dropped on one
knee beside her and reached an arm behind her to the bench
back, so that he was very near. He caught her hands.
"Elnora!" he cried tensely, "end it now! Say this
strain is over. I pledge you that you will be happy.
You don't know! If you only would say the word, you
would awake to new life and great joy! Won't you promise
me now, Elnora?"
The girl sat staring into the west woods, while strong
in her eyes was her father's look of seeing something
invisible to others. Philip's arm slipped from the bench
around her. His fingers closed firmly over hers.
Elnora," he pleaded, "you know me well enough.
You have had time in plenty. End it now. Say you will
be mine!" He gathered her closer, pressing his face against
hers, his breath on her cheek. "Can't you quite promise
yet, my girl of the Limberlost?"
Elnora shook her head. Instantly he released her.
"Forgive me," he begged. "I had no intention of thrusting
myself upon you, but, Elnora, you are the veriest Queen
of Love this afternoon. From the tips of your toes to
your shining crown, I worship you. I want no woman save you.
You are so wonderful this afternoon, I couldn't help urging.
Forgive me. Perhaps it was something that came this
morning for you. I wrote Polly to send it. May we try
if it fits? Will you tell me if you like it?"
He drew a little white velvet box from his pocket and
showed her a splendid emerald ring.
"It may not be right," he said. "The inside of a glove
finger is not very accurate for a measure, but it was the
best I could do. I wrote Polly to get it, because she and
mother are home from the East this week, but next they
will go on to our cottage in the north, and no one knows
what is right quite so well as Polly." He laid the ring
in Elnora's hand. "Dearest," he said, "don't slip that
on your finger; put your arms around my neck and promise me,
all at once and abruptly, or I'll keel over and die of sheer joy."
Elnora smiled.
"I won't! Not all those venturesome things at once;
but, Phil, I'm ashamed to confess that ring simply
fascinates me. It is the most beautiful one I ever saw,
and do you know that I never owned a ring of any kind
in my life? Would you think me unwomanly if I slip
it on for a second, before I can say for sure? Phil, you
know I care! I care very much! You know I will tell
you the instant I feel right about it."
"Certainly you will," agreed Philip promptly. "It is
your right to take all the time you choose. I can't
put that ring on you until it means a bond between us.
I'll shut my eyes and you try it on, so we can see if
it fits." Philip turned his face toward the west woods
and tightly closed his eyes. It was a boyish thing to do,
and it caught the hesitating girl in the depths of her
heart as the boy element in a man ever appeals to a
motherly woman. Before she quite realized what she
was doing, the ring slid on her finger. With both arms
she caught Philip and drew him to her breast, holding
him closely. Her head drooped over his, her lips were
on his hair. So an instant, then her arms dropped.
He lifted a convulsed, white face.
"Dear Lord!" he whispered. "You--you didn't mean that,
Elnora! You---- What made you do it?"
"You--you looked so boyish!" panted Elnora. "I didn't
mean it! I--I forgot that you were older than Billy.
Look--look at the ring!"
"`The Queen can do no wrong,'" quoted Philip between his
set teeth. "But don't you do that again, Elnora, unless
you do mean it. Kings are not so good as queens, and
there is a limit with all men. As you say, we will
look at your ring. It seems very lovely to me. Suppose you
leave it on until time for me to go. Please do! I have
heard of mute appeals; perhaps it will plead for me.
I am wild for your lips this afternoon. I am going to
take your hands."
He caught both of them and covered them with kisses.
"Elnora," he said, "Will you be my wife?"
"I must have a little more time," she whispered. "I must
be absolutely certain, for when I say yes, and give
myself to you, only death shall part us. I would not
give you up. So I want a little more time--but, I think
I will."
"Thank you," said Philip. "If at any time you feel that
you have reached a decision, will you tell me? Will you
promise me to tell me instantly, or shall I keep asking
you until the time comes?"
"You make it difficult," said Elnora. "But I will
promise you that. Whenever the last doubt vanishes, I
will let you know instantly--if I can."
"Would it be difficult for you?" whispered Ammon.
"I--I don't know," faltered Elnora.
"It seems as if I can't be man enough to put this
thought aside and give up this afternoon," said Philip.
"I am ashamed of myself, but I can't help it. I am going
to ask God to make that last doubt vanish before I go
this night. I am going to believe that ring will plead
for me. I am going to hope that doubt will disappear suddenly.
I will be watching. Every second I will be watching.
If it happens and you can't speak, give me your hand.
Just the least movement toward me, I will understand.
Would it help you to talk this over with your mother?
Shall I call her? Shall I----?"
Honk! Honk! Honk! Hart Henderson set the horn
of the big automobile going as it shot from behind the
trees lining the Brushwood road. The picture of a vinecovered
cabin, a large drooping tree, a green-clad girl
and a man bending over her very closely flashed into view.
Edith Carr caught her breath with a snap. Polly Ammon
gave Tom Levering a quick touch and wickedly winked
at him.
Several days before, Edith had returned from Europe suddenly.
She and Henderson had called at the Ammon residence saying
that they were going to motor down to the Limberlost to see
Philip a few hours, and urged that Polly and Tom accompany them.
Mrs. Ammon knew that her husband would disapprove of the trip,
but it was easy to see that Edith Carr had determined on going.
So the mother thought it better to have Polly along to support
Philip than to allow him to confront Edith unexpectedly and alone.
Polly was full of spirit. She did not relish the thought of
Edith as a sister. Always they had been in the same set,
always Edith, because of greater beauty and wealth,
had patronized Polly. Although it had rankled, she had borne
it sweetly. But two days before, her father had extracted
a promise of secrecy, given her Philip's address and told her
to send him the finest emerald ring she could select.
Polly knew how that ring would be used. What she did not know
was that the girl who accompanied her went back to the store
afterward, made an excuse to the clerk that she had been sent
to be absolutely sure that the address was right, and so secured
it for Edith Carr.
Two days later Edith had induced Hart Henderson to take
her to Onabasha. By the aid of maps they located the
Comstock land and passed it, merely to see the place.
Henderson hated that trip, and implored Edith not to take
it, but she made no effort to conceal from him what she
suffered, and it was more than he could endure. He pointed
out that Philip had gone away without leaving an address,
because he did not wish to see her, or any of them.
But Edith was so sure of her power, she felt certain Philip
needed only to see her to succumb to her beauty as he always
had done, while now she was ready to plead for forgiveness.
So they came down the Brushwood road, and Henderson had just
said to Edith beside him: "This should be the Comstock land
on our left."
A minute later the wood ended, while the sunlight,
as always pitiless, etched with distinctness the scene at
the west end of the cabin. Instinctively, to save Edith,
Henderson set the horn blowing. He had thought to drive to
the city, but Polly Ammon arose crying: "Phil! Phil!"
Tom Levering was on his feet shouting and waving, while
Edith in her most imperial manner ordered him to turn
into the lane leading through the woods beside the cabin.
"Find some way for me to have a minute alone with her,"
she commanded as he stopped the car.
"That is my sister Polly, her fiance Tom Levering, a
friend of mine named Henderson, and----" began Philip,
"--and Edith Carr," volunteered Elnora.
"And Edith Carr," repeated Philip Ammon. "Elnora, be
brave, for my sake. Their coming can make no difference
in any way. I won't let them stay but a few minutes.
Come with me!"
"Do I seem scared?" inquired Elnora serenely. "This is
why you haven't had your answer. I have been waiting
just six weeks for that motor. You may bring them to me
at the arbour."
Philip glanced at her and broke into a laugh. She had
not lost colour. Her self-possession was perfect.
She deliberately turned and walked toward the grape arbour,
while he sprang over the west fence and ran to the car.
Elnora standing in the arbour entrance made a perfect
picture, framed in green leaves and tendrils. No matter
how her heart ached, it was good to her, for it pumped
steadily, and kept her cheeks and lips suffused with colour.
She saw Philip reach the car and gather his sister into
his arms. Past her he reached a hand to Levering,
then to Edith Carr and Henderson. He lifted his sister
to the ground, and assisted Edith to alight. Instantly, she
stepped beside him, and Elnora's heart played its first trick.
She could see that Miss Carr was splendidly beautiful,
while she moved with the hauteur and grace supposed to
be the prerogatives of royalty. And she had instantly
taken possession of Philip. But he also had a brain which
was working with rapidity. He knew Elnora was watching,
so he turned to the others.
"Give her up, Tom!" he cried. "I didn't know I wanted
to see the little nuisance so badly, but I do. How are
father and mother? Polly, didn't the mater send me something?"
"She did!" said Polly Ammon, stopping on the path and
lifting her chin as a little child, while she drew away
her veil.
Philip caught her in his arms and stooped for his
mother's kiss.
"Be good to Elnora!" he whispered.
"Umhu!" assented Polly. And aloud--"Look at that ripping
green and gold symphony! I never saw such a beauty!
Thomas Asquith Levering, you come straight here and take
my hand!"
Edith's move to compel Philip to approach Elnora beside her
had been easy to see; also its failure. Henderson stepped
into Philip's place as he turned to his sister. Instead of
taking Polly's hand Levering ran to open the gate.
Edith passed through first, but Polly darted in front
of her on the run, with Phil holding her arm, and swept up
to Elnora. Polly looked for the ring and saw it. That settled
matters with her.
"You lovely, lovely, darling girl!" she cried, throwing
her arms around Elnora and kissing her. With her lips close
Elnora's ear, Polly whispered, "Sister! Dear, dear sister!"
Elnora drew back, staring at Polly in confused amazement.
She was a beautiful girl, her eyes were sparkling and
dancing, and as she turned to make way for the others,
she kept one of Elnora's hands in hers. Polly would have
dropped dead in that instant if Edith Carr could have
killed with a look, for not until then did she realize that
Polly would even many a slight, and that it had been a
great mistake to bring her.
Edith bowed low, muttered something and touched
Elnora's fingers. Tom took his cue from Polly.
"I always follow a good example," he said, and before
any one could divine his intention he kissed Elnora as he
gripped her hand and cried: "Mighty glad to meet you!
Like to meet you a dozen times a day, you know!"
Elnora laughed and her heart pumped smoothly. They had
accomplished their purpose. They had let her know they
were there through compulsion, but on her side. In that
instant only pity was in Elnora's breast for the flashing
dark beauty, standing with smiling face while her heart
must have been filled with exceeding bitterness.
Elnora stepped back from the entrance.
"Come into the shade," she urged. "You must have
found it warm on these country roads. Won't you lay
aside your dust-coats and have a cool drink? Philip, would
you ask mother to come, and bring that pitcher from the
spring house?"
They entered the arbour exclaiming at the dim, green coolness.
There was plenty of room and wide seats around the sides,
a table in the centre, on which lay a piece of embroidery,
magazines, books, the moth apparatus, and the cyanide jar
containing several specimens. Polly rejoiced in the
cooling shade, slipped off her duster, removed her hat,
rumpled her pretty hair and seated herself to indulge in
the delightful occupation of paying off old scores.
Tom Levering followed her example. Edith took a seat
but refused to remove her hat and coat, while Henderson
stood in the entrance.
"There goes something with wings! Should you have
that?" cried Levering.
He seized a net from the table and raced across the garden
after a butterfly. He caught it and came back mightily
pleased with himself. As the creature struggled in the net,
Elnora noted a repulsed look on Edith Carr's face.
Levering helped the situation beautifully.
"Now what have I got?" he demanded. "Is it just a
common one that every one knows and you don't keep, or
is it the rarest bird off the perch?"
"You must have had practice, you took that so perfectly,"
said Elnora. "I am sorry, but it is quite common and not
of a kind I keep. Suppose all of you see how beautiful
it is and then it may go nectar hunting again."
She held the butterfly where all of them could see,
showed its upper and under wing colours, answered Polly's
questions as to what it ate, how long it lived, and how
it died. Then she put it into Polly's hand saying: "Stand
there in the light and loosen your hold slowly and easily."
Elnora caught a brush from the table and began softly
stroking the creature's sides and wings. Delighted with
the sensation the butterfly opened and closed its wings,
clinging to Polly's soft little fingers, while every one cried
out in surprise. Elnora laid aside the brush, and the
butterfly sailed away.
"Why, you are a wizard! You charm them!" marvelled Levering.
"I learned that from the Bird Woman," said Elnora.
"She takes soft brushes and coaxes butterflies and moths
into the positions she wants for the illustrations of a book
she is writing. I have helped her often. Most of the rare
ones I find go to her."
"Then you don't keep all you take?" questioned Levering.
"Oh, dear, no!" cried Elnora. "Not a tenth! For myself,
a pair of each kind to use in illustrating the lectures I
give in the city schools in the winter, and one pair for each
collection I make. One might as well keep the big night
moths of June, for they only live four or five days anyway.
For the Bird Woman, I only save rare ones she has not yet secured.
Sometimes I think it is cruel to take such creatures from
freedom, even for an hour, but it is the only way to teach
the masses of people how to distinguish the pests they
should destroy, from the harmless ones of great beauty.
Here comes mother with something cool to drink."
Mrs. Comstock came deliberately, talking to Philip as
she approached. Elnora gave her one searching look, but
could discover only an extreme brightness of eye to denote
any unusual feeling. She wore one of her lavender dresses,
while her snowy hair was high piled. She had taken care
of her complexion, and her face had grown fuller during
the winter. She might have been any one's mother with
pride, and she was perfectly at ease.
Polly instantly went to her and held up her face to be kissed.
Mrs. Comstock's eyes twinkled and she made the greeting hearty.
The drink was compounded of the juices of oranges and
berries from the garden. It was cool enough to frost
glasses and pitcher and delicious to dusty tired travellers.
Soon the pitcher was empty, and Elnora picked it up and
went to refill it. While she was gone Henderson asked
Philip about some trouble he was having with his car.
They went to the woods and began a minute examination
to find a defect which did not exist. Polly and Levering
were having an animated conversation with Mrs. Comstock.
Henderson saw Edith arise, follow the garden path
next the woods and stand waiting under the willow which
Elnora would pass on her return. It was for that meeting
he had made the trip. He got down on the ground, tore
up the car, worked, asked for help, and kept Philip busy
screwing bolts and applying the oil can. All the time
Henderson kept an eye on Edith and Elnora under the willow.
But he took pains to lay the work he asked Philip to do
where that scene would be out of his sight. When Elnora
came around the corner with the pitcher, she found herself
facing Edith Carr.
"I want a minute with you," said Miss Carr.
"Very well," replied Elnora, walking on.
"Set the pitcher on the bench there," commanded Edith
Carr, as if speaking to a servant.
"I prefer not to offer my visitors a warm drink," said Elnora.
"I'll come back if you really wish to speak with me."
"I came solely for that," said Edith Carr.
"It would be a pity to travel so far in this dust and heat
for nothing. I'll only be gone a second."
Elnora placed the pitcher before her mother. "Please serve
this," she said. "Miss Carr wishes to speak with me."
"Don't you pay the least attention to anything she
says," cried Polly. "Tom and I didn't come here because
we wanted to. We only came to checkmate her. I hoped
I'd get the opportunity to say a word to you, and now she
has given it to me. I just want to tell you that she threw
Phil over in perfectly horrid way. She hasn't any right
to lay the ghost of a claim to him, has she, Tom?"
"Nary a claim," said Tom Levering earnestly. "Why, even
you, Polly, couldn't serve me as she did Phil, and
ever get me back again. If I were you, Miss Comstock,
I'd send my mother to talk with her and I'd stay here."
Tom had gauged Mrs. Comstock rightly. Polly put her
arms around Elnora. "Let me go with you, dear," she begged.
"I promised I would speak with her alone," said Elnora,
"and she must be considered. But thank you, very much."
"How I shall love you!" exulted Polly, giving Elnora
a parting hug.
The girl slowly and gravely walked back to the willow.
She could not imagine what was coming, but she was promising
herself that she would be very patient and control her temper.
"Will you be seated?" she asked politely.
Edith Carr glanced at the bench, while a shudder shook her.
"No. I prefer to stand," she said. "Did Mr. Ammon
give you the ring you are wearing, and do you consider
yourself engaged to him?"
"By what right do you ask such personal questions as
those?" inquired Elnora.
"By the right of a betrothed wife. I have been promised
to Philip Ammon ever since I wore short skirts. All our
lives we have expected to marry. An agreement of years
cannot be broken in one insane moment. Always he has
loved me devotedly. Give me ten minutes with him and he
will be mine for all time."
"I seriously doubt that," said Elnora. "But I am
willing that you should make the test. I will call him."
"Stop!" commanded Edith Carr. "I told you that it was
you I came to see."
"I remember," said Elnora.
"Mr. Ammon is my betrothed," continued Edith Carr.
"I expect to take him back to Chicago with me."
"You expect considerable," murmured Elnora. "I will
raise no objection to your taking him, if you can--but, I
tell you frankly, I don't think it possible."
"You are so sure of yourself as that," scoffed Edith Carr.
"One hour in my presence will bring back the old spell,
full force. We belong to each other. I will not give him up."
"Then it is untrue that you twice rejected his ring,
repeatedly insulted him, and publicly renounced him?"
"That was through you!" cried Edith Carr. "Phil and
I never had been so near and so happy as we were on
that night. It was your clinging to him for things that
caused him to desert me among his guests, while he tried
to make me await your pleasure. I realize the spell of
this place, for a summer season. I understand what you
and your mother have done to inveigle him. I know that
your hold on him is quite real. I can see just how you
have worked to ensnare him!"
"Men would call that lying," said Elnora calmly.
"The second time I met Philip Ammon he told me of
his engagement to you, and I respected it. I did by you
as I would want you to do by me. He was here parts
of each day, almost daily last summer. The Almighty
is my witness that never once, by word or look, did I ever
make the slightest attempt to interest him in my person
or personality. He wrote you frequently in my presence.
He forgot the violets for which he asked to send you.
I gathered them and carried them to him. I sent him back
to you in unswerving devotion, and the Almighty is also
my witness that I could have changed his heart last summer,
if I had tried. I wisely left that work for you. All my
life I shall be glad that I lived and worked on the square.
That he ever would come back to me free, by your act,
I never dreamed. When he left me I did not hope or expect
to see him again," Elnora's voice fell soft and low,"
and, behold! You sent him--and free!"
"You exult in that!" cried Edith Carr. "Let me tell
you he is not free! We have belonged for years.
We always shall. If you cling to him, and hold him to rash
things he has said and done, because he thought me still
angry and unforgiving with him, you will ruin all our lives.
If he married you, before a month you would read heart-hunger
for me in his eyes. He could not love me as he has done,
and give me up for a little scene like that!"
"There is a great poem," said Elnora, "one line of which
reads, `For each man kills the thing he loves.' Let me
tell you that a woman can do that also. He did love you
--that I concede. But you killed his love everlastingly,
when you disgraced him in public. Killed it so completely
he does not even feel resentment toward you. To-day,
he would do you a favour, if he could; but love you, no!
That is over!"
Edith Carr stood truly regal and filled with scorn.
"You are mistaken! Nothing on earth could kill that!"
she cried, and Elnora saw that the girl really believed
what she said.
"You are very sure of yourself!" said Elnora.
"I have reason to be sure," answered Edith Carr.
"We have lived and loved too long. I have had years
with him to match against your days. He is mine!
His work, his ambitions, his friends, his place in
society are with me. You may have a summer charm for a
sick man in the country; if he tried placing you in
society, he soon would see you as others will. It takes
birth to position, schooling, and endless practice to meet
social demands gracefully. You would put him to shame in
a week."
"I scarcely think I should follow your example so far,"
said Elnora dryly. "I have a feeling for Philip that
would prevent my hurting him purposely, either in public
or private. As for managing a social career for him he
never mentioned that he desired such a thing. What he
asked of me was that I should be his wife. I understood
that to mean that he desired me to keep him a clean house,
serve him digestible food, mother his children, and give
him loving sympathy and tenderness."
"Shameless!" cried Edith Carr.
"To which of us do you intend that adjective to apply?"
inquired Elnora. "I never was less ashamed in all my life.
Please remember I am in my own home, and your presence here
is not on my invitation."
Miss Carr lifted her head and struggled with her veil.
She was very pale and trembling violently, while Elnora
stood serene, a faint smile on her lips.
"Such vulgarity!" panted Edith Carr. "How can a
man like Philip endure it?"
"Why don't you ask him?" inquired Elnora. "I can
call him with one breath; but, if he judged us as we stand,
I should not be the one to tremble at his decision.
Miss Carr, you have been quite plain. You have told me
in carefully selected words what you think of me.
You insult my birth, education, appearance, and home.
I assure you I am legitimate. I will pass a test examination
with you on any high school or supplementary branch,
or French or German. I will take a physical examination
beside you. I will face any social emergency you can
mention with you. I am acquainted with a whole world
in which Philip Ammon is keenly interested, that you
scarcely know exists. I am not afraid to face any
audience you can get together anywhere with my violin.
I am not repulsive to look at, and I have a wholesome regard
for the proprieties and civilities of life. Philip Ammon
never asked anything more of me, why should you?"
"It is plain to see," cried Edith Carr, "that you took
him when he was hurt and angry and kept his wound wide open.
Oh, what have you not done against me?"
"I did not promise to marry him when an hour ago he
asked me, and offered me this ring, because there was so
much feeling in my heart for you, that I knew I never
could be happy, if I felt that in any way I had failed in
doing justice to your interests. I did slip on this ring,
which he had just brought, because I never owned one,
and it is very beautiful, but I made him no promise, nor
shall I make any, until I am quite, quite sure, that you
fully realize he never would marry you if I sent him away
this hour."
"You know perfectly that if your puny hold on him
were broken, if he were back in his home, among his
friends, and where he was meeting me, in one short week
he would be mine again, as he always has been. In your
heart you don't believe what you say. You don't dare
trust him in my presence. You are afraid to allow him
out of your sight, because you know what the results
would be. Right or wrong, you have made up your mind
to ruin him and me, and you are going to be selfish enough
to do it. But----"
"That will do!" said Elnora. "Spare me the enumeration
of how I will regret it. I shall regret nothing.
I shall not act until I know there will be nothing to regret.
I have decided on my course. You may return to your friends."
"What do you mean?" demanded Edith Carr.
"That is my affair," replied Elnora. "Only this!
When your opportunity comes, seize it! Any time you
are in Philip Ammon's presence, exert the charms of which
you boast, and take him. I grant you are justified in
doing it if you can. I want nothing more than I want to
see you marry Philip if he wants you. He is just across
the fence under that automobile. Go spread your meshes
and exert your wiles. I won't stir to stop you. Take him
to Onabasha, and to Chicago with you. Use every art you possess.
If the old charm can be revived I will be the first to wish
both of you well. Now, I must return to my visitors.
Kindly excuse me."
Elnora turned and went back to the arbour. Edith Carr
followed the fence and passed through the gate into
the west woods where she asked Henderson about the car.
As she stood near him she whispered: "Take Phil back
to Onabasha with us."
"I say, Ammon, can't you go to the city with us and
help me find a shop where I can get this pinion fixed?"
asked Henderson. "We want to lunch and start back by five.
That will get us home about midnight. Why don't you
bring your automobile here?"
"I am a working man," said Philip. "I have no time to
be out motoring. I can't see anything the matter with
your car, myself; but, of course you don't want to break
down in the night, on strange roads, with women on your hands.
I'll see."
Philip went into the arbour, where Polly took possession of
his lap, fingered his hair, and kissed his forehead and lips.
"When are you coming to the cottage, Phil?" she asked.
"Come soon, and bring Miss Comstock for a visit. All of
us will be so glad to have her."
Philip beamed on Polly. "I'll see about that," he said.
"Sounds pretty good. Elnora, Henderson is in trouble
with his automobile. He wants me to go to Onabasha
with him to show him where the doctor lives, and make
repairs so he can start back this evening. It will take
about two hours. May I go?"
"Of course, you must go," she said, laughing lightly.
"You can't leave your sister. Why don't you return to
Chicago with them? There is plenty of room, and you
could have a fine visit."
"I'll be back in just two hours," said Philip. "While I
am gone, you be thinking over what we were talking of
when the folks came."
"Miss Comstock can go with us as well as not," said Polly.
"That back seat was made for three, and I can sit on your lap."
"Come on! Do come!" urged Philip instantly, and
Tom Levering joined him, but Henderson and Edith
silently waited at the gate.
"No, thank you," laughed Elnora. "That would crowd you,
and it's warm and dusty. We will say good-bye here."
She offered her hand to all of them, and when she came
to Philip she gave him one long steady look in the eyes,
then shook hands with him also.
Well, she came, didn't she?" remarked Mrs. Comstock
to Elnora as they watched the automobile speed down
the road. As it turned the Limberlost corner, Philip
arose and waved to them.
"She hasn't got him yet, anyway," said Mrs. Comstock,
taking heart. "What's that on your finger, and what did
she say to you?"
Elnora explained about the ring as she drew it off.
"I have several letters to write, then I am going to
change my dress and walk down toward Aunt Margaret's
for a little exercise. I may meet some of them, and I don't
want them to see this ring. You keep it until Philip
comes," said Elnora. "As for what Miss Carr said to me,
many things, two of importance: one, that I lacked every
social requirement necessary for the happiness of Philip
Ammon, and that if I married him I would see inside a
month that he was ashamed of me----"
"Aw, shockins!" scorned Mrs. Comstock. "Go on!"
"The other was that she has been engaged to him for
years, that he belongs to her, and she refuses to give
him up. She said that if he were in her presence one hour,
she would have him under a mysterious thing she calls `her
spell' again; if he were where she could see him for one
week, everything would be made up. It is her opinion
that he is suffering from wounded pride, and that the
slightest concession on her part will bring him to his knees
before her."
Mrs. Comstock giggled. "I do hope the boy isn't weak-kneed,"
she said. "I just happened to be passing the west window
this afternoon----"
Elnora laughed. "Nothing save actual knowledge ever
would have made me believe there was a girl in all this
world so infatuated with herself. She speaks casually of
her power over men, and boasts of `bringing a man to his
knees' as complacently as I would pick up a net and say:
`I am going to take a butterfly.' She honestly believes
that if Philip were with her a short time she could rekindle
his love for her and awaken in him every particle of
the old devotion. Mother, the girl is honest! She is
absolutely sincere! She so believes in herself and the
strength of Phil's love for her, that all her life she will
believe in and brood over that thought, unless she is
taught differently. So long as she thinks that, she will
nurse wrong ideas and pine over her blighted life. She must
be taught that Phil is absolutely free, and yet he will not go
to her."
"But how on earth are you proposing to teach her that?"
"The way will open."
"Lookey here, Elnora!" cried Mrs. Comstock. "That Carr
girl is the handsomest dark woman I ever saw. She's got
to the place where she won't stop at anything. Her coming
here proves that. I don't believe there was a thing
the matter with that automobile. I think that was a
scheme she fixed up to get Phil where she could see him
alone, as she worked to see you. If you are going
deliberately to put Philip under her influence again, you've
got to brace yourself for the possibility that she may win.
A man is a weak mortal, where a lovely woman is concerned,
and he never denied that he loved her once. You may make
yourself downright miserable."
"But mother, if she won, it wouldn't make me half so
miserable as to marry Phil myself, and then read hunger
for her in his eyes! Some one has got to suffer over this.
If it proves to be me, I'll bear it, and you'll never hear a
whisper of complaint from me. I know the real Philip
Ammon better in our months of work in the fields than she
knows him in all her years of society engagements.
So she shall have the hour she asked, many, many of them,
enough to make her acknowledge that she is wrong.
Now I am going to write my letters and take my walk."
Elnora threw her arms around her mother and kissed
her repeatedly. "Don't you worry about me," she said.
"I will get along all right, and whatever happens, I always
will be your girl and you my darling mother."
She left two sealed notes on her desk. Then she
changed her dress, packed a small bundle which she
dropped with her hat from the window beside the willow,
and softly went down stairs. Mrs. Comstock was in
the garden. Elnora picked up the hat and bundle, hurried
down the road a few rods, then climbed the fence and
entered the woods. She took a diagonal course, and after
a long walk reached a road two miles west and one south.
There she straightened her clothing, put on her hat and a
thin dark veil and waited the passing of the next trolley.
She left it at the first town and took a train for Fort Wayne.
She made that point just in time to climb on the evening
train north, as it pulled from the station. It was after
midnight when she left the car at Grand Rapids, and went
into the depot to await the coming of day.
Tired out, she laid her head on her bundle and fell asleep
on a seat in the women's waiting-room. Long after light
she was awakened by the roar and rattle of trains. She washed,
re-arranged her hair and clothing, and went into the general
waiting-room to find her way to the street. She saw him as
he entered the door. There was no mistaking the tall,
lithe figure, the bright hair, the lean, brown-splotched face,
the steady gray eyes. He was dressed for travelling, and
carried a light overcoat and a bag. Straight to him Elnora
went speeding.
"Oh, I was just starting to find you!" she cried.
"Thank you!" he said.
"You are going away?" she panted.
"Not if I am needed. I have a few minutes. Can you
be telling me briefly?"
"I am the Limberlost girl to whom your wife gave the
dress for Commencement last spring, and both of you sent
lovely gifts. There is a reason, a very good reason, why I
must be hidden for a time, and I came straight to you--as
if I had a right."
"You have!" answered Freckles. "Any boy or girl who
ever suffered one pang in the Limberlost has a claim
to the best drop of blood in my heart. You needn't be
telling me anything more. The Angel is at our cottage
on Mackinac. You shall tell her and play with the babies
while you want shelter. This way!"
They breakfasted in a luxurious car, talked over the
swamp, the work of the Bird Woman; Elnora told of her
nature lectures in the schools, and soon they were
good friends. In the evening they left the train at
Mackinaw City and crossed the Straits by boat. Sheets of
white moonlight flooded the water and paved a molten path
across the breast of it straight to the face of the moon.
The island lay a dark spot on the silver surface, its tall
trees sharply outlined on the summit, and a million lights
blinked around the shore. The night guns boomed from
the white fort and a dark sentinel paced the ramparts
above the little city tucked down close to the water.
A great tenor summering in the north came out on the upper
deck of the big boat, and baring his head, faced the moon
and sang: "Oh, the moon shines bright on my old
Kentucky home!" Elnora thought of the Limberlost, of
Philip, and her mother, and almost choked with the sobs
that would arise in her throat. On the dock a woman of
exquisite beauty swept into the arms of Terence O'More.
"Oh, Freckles!" she cried. "You've been gone a month!"
"Four days, Angel, only four days by the clock,"
remonstrated Freckles. "Where are the children?"
"Asleep! Thank goodness! I'm worn to a thread. I never
saw such inventive, active children. I can't keep track of them!"
"I have brought you help," said Freckles. "Here is the
Limberlost girl in whom the Bird Woman is interested.
Miss Comstock needs a rest before beginning her school
work for next year, so she came to us."
"You dear thing! How good of you!" cried the Angel.
"We shall be so happy to have you!"
In her room that night, in a beautiful cottage furnished
with every luxury, Elnora lifted a tired face to the Angel.
"Of course, you understand there is something back of
this?" she said. "I must tell you."
"Yes," agreed the Angel. "Tell me! If you get it out
of your system, you will stand a better chance of sleeping."
Elnora stood brushing the copper-bright masses of her
hair as she talked. When she finished the Angel was
almost hysterical.
"You insane creature!" she cried. "How crazy of you
to leave him to her! I know both of them. I have met
them often. She may be able to make good her boast.
But it is perfectly splendid of you! And, after all, really
it is the only way. I can see that. I think it is what I
should have done myself, or tried to do. I don't know
that I could have done it! When I think of walking away
and leaving Freckles with a woman he once loved, to let
her see if she can make him love her again, oh, it gives me
a graveyard heart. No, I never could have done it! You are
bigger than I ever was. I should have turned coward, sure."
"I am a coward," admitted Elnora. "I am soul-sick!
I am afraid I shall lose my senses before this is over.
I didn't want to come! I wanted to stay, to go straight
into his arms, to bind myself with his ring, to love him
with all my heart. It wasn't my fault that I came.
There was something inside that just pushed me. She is
"I quite agree with you!"
"You can imagine how fascinating she can be. She used
no arts on me. Her purpose was to cower me. She found
she could not do that, but she did a thing which helped
her more: she proved that she was honest, perfectly
sincere in what she thought. She believes that if she
merely beckons to Philip, he will go to her. So I am giving
her the opportunity to learn from him what he will do.
She never will believe it from any one else. When she is
satisfied, I shall be also."
"But, child! Suppose she wins him back!"
"That is the supposition with which I shall eat and sleep
for the coming few weeks. Would one dare ask for a peep
at the babies before going to bed?"
"Now, you are perfect!" announced the Angel. "I never
should have liked you all I can, if you had been content
to go to sleep in this house without asking to see
the babies. Come this way. We named the first boy
for his father, of course, and the girl for Aunt Alice.
The next boy is named for my father, and the baby for
the Bird Woman. After this we are going to branch out."
Elnora began to laugh.
"Oh, I suspect there will be quite a number of them,"
said the Angel serenely. "I am told the more there are
the less trouble they make. The big ones take care of the
little ones. We want a large family. This is our start."
She entered a dark room and held aloft a candle. She went
to the side of a small white iron bed in which lay a
boy of eight and another of three. They were perfectly
formed, rosy children, the elder a replica of his mother,
the other very like. Then they came to a cradle where a
baby girl of almost two slept soundly, and made a picture.
"But just see here!" said the Angel. She threw the light
on a sleeping girl of six. A mass of red curls swept
the pillow. Line and feature the face was that of Freckles.
Without asking, Elnora knew the colour and expression
of the closed eyes. The Angel handed Elnora the candle,
and stooping, straightened the child's body. She ran
her fingers through the bright curls, and lightly touched
the aristocratic little nose.
"The supply of freckles holds out in my family, you see!"
she said. "Both of the girls will have them, and the
second boy a few."
She stood an instant longer, then bending, ran her hand
caressingly down a rosy bare leg, while she kissed the
babyish red mouth. There had been some reason for
touching all of them, the kiss fell on the lips which were
like Freckles's.
To Elnora she said a tender good-night, whispering
brave words of encouragement and making plans to fill
the days to come. Then she went away. An hour later
there was a light tap on the girl's door.
"Come!" she called as she lay staring into the dark.
The Angel felt her way to the bedside, sat down and
took Elnora's hands.
"I just had to come back to you," she said. "I have
been telling Freckles, and he is almost hurting himself
with laughing. I didn't think it was funny, but he does.
He thinks it's the funniest thing that ever happened.
He says that to run away from Mr. Ammon, when you
had made him no promise at all, when he wasn't sure of
you, won't send him home to her; it will set him hunting you!
He says if you had combined the wisdom of Solomon,
Socrates, and all the remainder of the wise men, you
couldn't have chosen any course that would have sealed
him to you so surely. He feels that now Mr. Ammon will
perfectly hate her for coming down there and driving
you away. And you went to give her the chance she wanted.
Oh, Elnora! It is becoming funny! I see it, too!"
The Angel rocked on the bedside. Elnora faced the
dark in silence.
"Forgive me," gulped the Angel. "I didn't mean to laugh.
I didn't think it was funny, until all at once it
came to me. Oh, dear! Elnora, it funny! I've got
to laugh!"
"Maybe it is," admitted Elnora "to others; but it
isn't very funny to me. And it won't be to Philip, or
to mother."
That was very true. Mrs. Comstock had been slightly
prepared for stringent action of some kind, by what Elnora
had said. The mother instantly had guessed where the
girl would go, but nothing was said to Philip. That would
have been to invalidate Elnora's test in the beginning, and
Mrs. Comstock knew her child well enough to know that
she never would marry Philip unless she felt it right that
she should. The only way was to find out, and Elnora
had gone to seek the information. There was nothing to
do but wait until she came back, and her mother was not
in the least uneasy but that the girl would return brave and
self-reliant, as always.
Philip Ammon hurried back to the Limberlost, strong
in the hope that now he might take Elnora into his arms
and receive her promise to become his wife. His first
shock of disappointment came when he found her gone.
In talking with Mrs. Comstock he learned that Edith Carr
had made an opportunity to speak with Elnora alone.
He hastened down the road to meet her, coming back alone,
an agitated man. Then search revealed the notes. His read:
I find that I am never going to be able to answer your question of
this afternoon fairly to all of us, when you are with me. So I am going
away a few weeks to think over matters alone. I shall not tell you,
or even mother, where I am going, but I shall be safe, well cared for,
and happy. Please go back home and live among your friends, just
as you always have done, and on or before the first of September, I
will write you where I am, and what I have decided. Please do not
blame Edith Carr for this, and do not avoid her. I hope you will call
on her and be friends. I think she is very sorry, and covets your
friendship at least. Until September, then, as ever,
Mrs. Comstock's note was much the same. Philip was
ill with disappointment. In the arbour he laid his head on
the table, among the implements of Elnora's loved work, and
gulped down dry sobs he could not restrain. Mrs. Comstock
never had liked him so well. Her hand involuntarily crept
toward his dark head, then she drew back. Elnora would not
want her to do anything whatever to influence him.
"What am I going to do to convince Edith Carr that I
do not love her, and Elnora that I am hers?" he demanded.
"I guess you have to figure that out yourself," said
Mrs. Comstock. "I'd be glad to help you if I could,
but it seems to be up to you."
Philip sat a long time in silence. "Well, I have decided!"
he said abruptly. "Are you perfectly sure Elnora had
plenty of money and a safe place to go?"
"Absolutely!" answered Mrs. Comstock. "She has
been taking care of herself ever since she was born, and she
always has come out all right, so far; I'll stake all I'm
worth on it, that she always will. I don't know where she
is, but I'm not going to worry about her safety."
"I can't help worrying!" cried Philip. "I can think of
fifty things that may happen to her when she thinks she
is safe. This is distracting! First, I am going to run
up to see my father. Then, I'll let you know what we
have decided. Is there anything I can do for you?"
"Nothing!" said Mrs. Comstock.
But the desire to do something for him was so strong
with her she scarcely could keep her lips closed or her
hands quiet. She longed to tell him what Edith Carr had
said, how it had affected Elnora, and to comfort him as she
felt she could. But loyalty to the girl held her. If Elnora
truly felt that she could not decide until Edith Carr was
convinced, then Edith Carr would have to yield or triumph.
It rested with Philip. So Mrs. Comstock kept silent, while
Philip took the night limited, a bitterly disappointed man.
By noon the next day he was in his father's offices. They had
a long conference, but did not arrive at much until the elder
Ammon suggested sending for Polly. Anything that might have
happened could be explained after Polly had told of the
private conference between Edith and Elnora.
"Talk about lovely woman!" cried Philip Ammon. "One would
think that after such a dose as Edith gave me, she would
be satisfied to let me go my way, but no! Not caring for
me enough herself to save me from public disgrace, she must
now pursue me to keep any other woman from loving me.
I call that too much! I am going to see her, and I want
you to go with me, father."
"Very well," said Mr. Ammon, "I will go."
When Edith Carr came into her reception-room that
afternoon, gowned for conquest, she expected only Philip,
and him penitent. She came hurrying toward him, smiling,
radiant, ready to use every allurement she possessed, and
paused in dismay when she saw his cold face and his father.
"Why, Phil!" she cried. "When did you come home?"
"I am not at home," answered Philip. "I merely ran up
to see my father on business, and to inquire of you what
it was you said to Miss Comstock yesterday that caused
her to disappear before I could return to the Limberlost."
"Miss Comstock disappear! Impossible!" cried Edith Carr.
"Where could she go?"
"I thought perhaps you could answer that, since it was
through you that she went."
"Phil, I haven't the faintest idea where she is," said the
girl gently.
"But you know perfectly why she went! Kindly tell me that."
"Let me see you alone, and I will."
"Here and now, or not at all."
"What did you say to the girl I love?"
Then Edith Carr stretched out her arms.
"Phil, I am the girl you love!" she cried. "All your
life you have loved me. Surely it cannot be all gone in
a few weeks of misunderstanding. I was jealous of her!
I did not want you to leave me an instant that night for any
other girl living. That was the moth I was representing.
Every one knew it! I wanted you to bring it to me.
When you did not, I knew instantly it had been for her
that you worked last summer, she who suggested my
dress, she who had power to take you from me, when I
wanted you most. The thought drove me mad, and I said
and did those insane things. Phil, I beg your pardon!
I ask your forgiveness. Yesterday she said that you had
told her of me at once. She vowed both of you had been
true to me and Phil, I couldn't look into her eyes and not
see that it was the truth. Oh, Phil, if you understood how
I have suffered you would forgive me. Phil, I never knew
how much I cared for you! I will do anything--anything!"
"Then tell me what you said to Elnora yesterday that
drove her, alone and friendless, into the night, heaven
knows where!"
"You have no thought for any one save her?"
"Yes," said Philip. "I have. Because I once loved you,
and believed in you, my heart aches for you. I will gladly
forgive anything you ask. I will do anything you want,
except to resume our former relations. That is impossible.
It is hopeless and useless to ask it."
"You truly mean that!"
"Then find out from her what I said!"
"Come, father," said Philip, rising.
"You were going to show Miss Comstock's letter to
Edith!" suggested Mr. Ammon.
"I have not the slightest interest in Miss Comstock's
letter," said Edith Carr.
"You are not even interested in the fact that she says
you are not responsible for her going, and that I am to call
on you and be friends with you?"
"That is interesting, indeed!" sneered Miss Carr.
She took the letter, read and returned it.
"She has done what she could for my cause, it seems,"
she said coldly. "How very generous of her! Do you
propose calling out Pinkertons and instituting a
general search?"
"No," replied Philip. "I simply propose to go back to
the Limberlost and live with her mother, until Elnora
becomes convinced that I am not courting you, and never
shall be. Then, perhaps, she will come home to us.
Good-bye. Good luck to you always!"
Many people looked, a few followed, when Edith Carr
slowly came down the main street of Mackinac, pausing
here and there to note the glow of colour in one small
booth after another, overflowing with gay curios.
That street of packed white sand, winding with the
curves of the shore, outlined with brilliant shops,
and thronged with laughing, bare-headed people in outing
costumes was a picturesque and fascinating sight.
Thousands annually made long journeys and paid exorbitant
prices to take part in that pageant.
As Edith Carr passed, she was the most distinguished
figure of the old street. Her clinging black gown was
sufficiently elaborate for a dinner dress. On her head was
a large, wide, drooping-brimmed black hat, with immense
floating black plumes, while on the brim, and among the
laces on her breast glowed velvety, deep red roses.
Some way these made up for the lack of colour in her cheeks
and lips, and while her eyes seemed unnaturally bright,
to a close observer they appeared weary. Despite the
effort she made to move lightly she was very tired,
and dragged her heavy feet with an effort.
She turned at the little street leading to the dock, and
went to meet the big lake steamer ploughing up the Straits
from Chicago. Past the landing place, on to the very end
of the pier she went, then sat down, leaned against a dock
support and closed her tired eyes. When the steamer
came very close she languidly watched the people lining
the railing. Instantly she marked one lean anxious face
turned toward hers, and with a throb of pity she lifted a
hand and waved to Hart Henderson. He was the first
man to leave the boat, coming to her instantly. She spread
her trailing skirts and motioned him to sit beside her.
Silently they looked across the softly lapping water.
At last she forced herself to speak to him.
"Did you have a successful trip?"
"I accomplished my purpose."
"You didn't lose any time getting back."
"I never do when I am coming to you."
"Do you want to go to the cottage for anything?"
"Then let us sit here and wait until the Petoskey
steamer comes in. I like to watch the boats.
Sometimes I study the faces, if I am not too tired."
"Have you seen any new types to-day?"
She shook her head. "This has not been an easy day, Hart."
"And it's going to be worse," said Henderson bitterly.
"There's no use putting it off. Edith, I saw some one to-day."
"You should have seen thousands," she said lightly.
"I did. But of them all, only one will be of interest to you."
"Man or woman?"
"Lake Shore private hospital."
"An accident?"
"No. Nervous and physical breakdown."
"Phil said he was going back to the Limberlost."
"He went. He was there three weeks, but the strain
broke him. He has an old letter in his hands that he has
handled until it is ragged. He held it up to me and said:
"You can see for yourself that she says she will be well and
happy, but we can't know until we see her again, and that
may never be. She may have gone too near that place her
father went down, some of that Limberlost gang may have
found her in the forest, she may lie dead in some city
morgue this instant, waiting for me to find her body."
"Hart! For pity sake stop!"
"I can't," cried Henderson desperately. "I am forced
to tell you. They are fighting brain fever. He did go
back to the swamp and he prowled it night and day.
The days down there are hot now, and the nights wet with
dew and cold. He paid no attention and forgot his food.
A fever started and his uncle brought him home.
They've never had a word from her, or found a trace
of her. Mrs. Comstock thought she had gone to O'Mores' at
Great Rapids, so when Phil broke down she telegraphed there.
They had been gone all summer, so her mother is as anxious as Phil."
"The O'Mores are here," said Edith. "I haven't seen
any of them, because I haven't gone out much in the
few days since we came, but this is their summer home."
"Edith, they say at the hospital that it will take careful
nursing to save Phil. He is surrounded by stacks of
maps and railroad guides. He is trying to frame up a plan
to set the entire detective agency of the country to work.
He says he will stay there just two days longer. The doctors
say he will kill himself when he goes. He is a sick
man, Edith. His hands are burning and shaky and his
breath was hot against my face."
"Why are you telling me?" It was a cry of acute anguish.
"He thinks you know where she is."
"I do not! I haven't an idea! I never dreamed she
would go away when she had him in her hand! I should
not have done it!"
"He said it was something you said to her that made her go."
"That may be, but it doesn't prove that I know where
she went."
Henderson looked across the water and suffered keenly. At last
he turned to Edith and laid a firm, strong hand over hers.
"Edith," he said, "do you realize how serious this is?"
"I suppose I do."
"Do you want as fine a fellow as Philip driven any further?
If he leaves that hospital now, and goes out to the
exposure and anxiety of a search for her, there will be a
tragedy that no after regrets can avert. Edith, what did
you say to Miss Comstock that made her run away from Phil?"
The girl turned her face from him and sat still, but the
man gripping her hands and waiting in agony could see that
she was shaken by the jolting of the heart in her breast.
"Edith, what did you say?"
"What difference can it make?"
"It might furnish some clue to her action."
"It could not possibly."
"Phil thinks so. He has thought so until his brain is
worn enough to give way. Tell me, Edith!"
"I told her Phil was mine! That if he were away from
her an hour and back in my presence, he would be to me as
he always has been."
"Edith, did you believe that?"
"I would have staked my life, my soul on it!"
"Do you believe it now?"
There was no answer. Henderson took her other hand and
holding both of them firmly he said softly: "Don't mind
me, dear. I don't count! I'm just old Hart! You can
tell me anything. Do you still believe that?"
The beautiful head barely moved in negation.
Henderson gathered both her hands in one of his and stretched
an arm across her shoulders to the post to support her.
She dragged her hands from him and twisted them together.
"Oh, Hart!" she cried. "It isn't fair! There is
a limit! I have suffered my share. Can't you see?
Can't you understand?"
"Yes," he panted. "Yes, my girl! Tell me just this
one thing yet, and I'll cheerfully kill any one who annoys
you further. Tell me, Edith!"
Then she lifted her big, dull, pain-filled eyes to his and
cried: "No! I do not believe it now! I know it is not true!
I killed his love for me. It is dead and gone forever.
Nothing will revive it! Nothing in all this world.
And that is not all. I did not know how to touch the
depths of his nature. I never developed in him those
things he was made to enjoy. He admired me. He was
proud to be with me. He thought, and I thought, that he
worshipped me; but I know now that he never did care for
me as he cares for her. Never! I can see it! I planned to
lead society, to make his home a place sought for my
beauty and popularity. She plans to advance his political
ambitions, to make him comfortable physically, to stimulate
his intellect, to bear him a brood of red-faced children.
He likes her and her plans as he never did me and mine.
Oh, my soul! Now, are you satisfied?"
She dropped back against his arm exhausted.
Henderson held her and learned what suffering
truly means. He fanned her with his hat, rubbed
her cold hands and murmured broken, incoherent things.
By and by slow tears slipped from under her closed lids,
but when she opened them her eyes were dull and hard.
"What a rag one is when the last secret of the soul is
torn out and laid bare!" she cried.
Henderson thrust his handkerchief into her fingers and
whispered, "Edith, the boat has been creeping up.
It's very close. Maybe some of our crowd are on it.
Hadn't we better slip away from here before it lands?"
"If I can walk," she said. "Oh, I am so dead tired, Hart!
"Yes, dear," said Henderson soothingly. "Just try to
pass the landing before the boat anchors. If I only dared
carry you!"
They struggled through the waiting masses, but directly
opposite the landing there was a backward movement in
the happy, laughing crowd, the gang-plank came down
with a slam, and people began hurrying from the boat.
Crowded against the fish house on the dock, Henderson
could only advance a few steps at a time. He was straining
every nerve to protect and assist Edith. He saw no
one he recognized near them, so he slipped his arm across
her back to help support her. He felt her stiffen against
him and catch her breath. At the same instant, the
clearest, sweetest male voice he ever had heard called:
"Be careful there, little men!"
Henderson sent a swift glance toward the boat. Terence O'More
had stepped from the gang-plank, leading a little daughter,
so like him, it was comical. There followed a picture not
easy to describe. The Angel in the full flower of her
beauty, richly dressed, a laugh on her cameo face, the
setting sun glinting on her gold hair, escorted by her
eldest son, who held her hand tightly and carefully watched
her steps. Next came Elnora, dressed with equal richness,
a trifle taller and slenderer, almost the same type of
colouring, but with different eyes and hair, facial lines
and expression. She was led by the second O'More boy
who convulsed the crowd by saying: "Tareful, Elnora!
Don't 'oo be 'teppin' in de water!"
People surged around them, purposely closing them in.
"What lovely women! Who are they? It's the O'Mores.
The lightest one is his wife. Is that her sister?
No, it is his! They say he has a title in England."
Whispers ran fast and audible. As the crowd pressed
around the party an opening was left beside the fish sheds.
Edith ran down the dock. Henderson sprang after her,
catching her arm and assisting her to the street.
"Up the shore! This way!" she panted. "Every one
will go to dinner the first thing they do."
They left the street and started around the beach, but
Edith was breathless from running, while the yielding sand
made difficult walking.
"Help me!" she cried, clinging to Henderson. He put
his arm around her, almost carrying her from sight into a
little cove walled by high rocks at the back, while there
was a clean floor of white sand, and logs washed from the
lake for seats. He found one of these with a back rest,
and hurrying down to the water he soaked his handkerchief
and carried it to her. She passed it across her lips,
over her eyes, and then pressed the palms of her hands
upon it. Henderson removed the heavy hat, fanned her
with his, and wet the handkerchief again.
"Hart, what makes you?" she said wearily. "My mother
doesn't care. She says this is good for me. Do you
think this is good for me, Hart?"
"Edith, you know I would give my life if I could save
you this," he said, and could not speak further.
She leaned against him, closed her eyes and lay silent so
long the man fell into panic.
"Edith, you are not unconscious?" he whispered, touching her.
"No. just resting. Please don't leave me."
He held her carefully, gently fanning her. She was
suffering almost more than either of them could endure.
"I wish you had your boat," she said at last. "I want
to sail with the wind in my face."
"There is no wind. I can bring my motor around in a
few minutes."
"Then get it."
"Lie on the sand. I can 'phone from the first booth.
It won't take but a little while."
Edith lay on the white sand, and Henderson covered her
face with her hat. Then he ran to the nearest booth and
talked imperatively. Presently he was back bringing a
hot drink that was stimulating. Shortly the motor ran
close to the beach and stopped. Henderson's servant
brought a row-boat ashore and took them to the launch.
It was filled with cushions and wraps. Henderson made a
couch and soon, warmly covered, Edith sped out over the
water in search of peace.
Hour after hour the boat ran up and down the shore.
The moon arose and the night air grew very chilly.
Henderson put on an overcoat and piled more covers on Edith.
"You must take me home," she said at last. "The folks
will be uneasy."
He was compelled to take her to the cottage with the
battle still raging. He went back early the next morning,
but already she had wandered out over the island.
Instinctively Henderson felt that the shore would attract her.
There was something in the tumult of rough little Huron's
waves that called to him. It was there he found her,
crouching so close the water the foam was dampening her skirts.
"May I stay?" he asked.
"I have been hoping you would come," she answered.
"It's bad enough when you are here, but it is a little easier
than bearing it alone."
"Thank God for that!" said Henderson sitting beside
her. "Shall I talk to you?"
She shook her head. So they sat by the hour. At last
she spoke: "Of course, you know there is something I
have got to do, Hart!"
"You have not!" cried Henderson, violently.
"That's all nonsense! Give me just one word
of permission. That is all that is required of you."
"`Required?' You grant, then, that there is something `required?'"
"One word. Nothing more."
"Did you ever know one word could be so big, so black,
so desperately bitter? Oh, Hart!"
"But you know it now, Hart!"
"And still you say that it is `required?'"
Henderson suffered unspeakably. At last he said: "If you
had seen and heard him, Edith, you, too, would feel that
it is `required.' Remember----"
"No! No! No!" she cried. "Don't ask me to remember even
the least of my pride and folly. Let me forget!"
She sat silent for a long time.
"Will you go with me?" she whispered.
"Of course."
At last she arose.
"I might as well give up and have it over," she faltered.
That was the first time in her life that Edith Carr ever
had proposed to give up anything she wanted.
"Help me, Hart!"
Henderson started around the beach assisting her all he could.
Finally he stopped.
"Edith, there is no sense in this! You are too tired to go.
You know you can trust me. You wait in any of these lovely
places and send me. You will be safe, and I'll run.
One word is all that is necessary."
"But I've got to say that word myself, Hart!"
"Then write it, and let me carry it. The message is not
going to prove who went to the office and sent it."
"That is quite true," she said, dropping wearily, but she
made no movement to take the pen and paper he offered.
"Hart, you write it," she said at last.
Henderson turned away his face. He gripped the pen,
while his breath sucked between his dry teeth.
"Certainly!" he said when he could speak. "Mackinac,
August 27, 1908. Philip Ammon, Lake Shore Hospital, Chicago."
He paused with suspended pen and glanced at Edith. Her white
lips were working, but no sound came. "Miss Comstock is with
the Terence O'Mores, on Mackinac Island," prompted Henderson.
Edith nodded.
"Signed, Henderson," continued the big man.
Edith shook her head.
"Say, `She is well and happy,' and sign, Edith Carr!"
she panted.
"Not on your life!" flashed Henderson.
"For the love of mercy, Hart, don't make this any harder!
It is the least I can do, and it takes every ounce of
strength in me to do it."
"Will you wait for me here?" he asked.
She nodded, and, pulling his hat lower over his eyes,
Henderson ran around the shore. In less than an hour he
was back. He helped her a little farther to where the
Devil's Kitchen lay cut into the rocks; it furnished places
to rest, and cool water. Before long his man came with
the boat. From it they spread blankets on the sand for
her, and made chafing-dish tea. She tried to refuse it,
but the fragrance overcame her for she drank ravenously.
Then Henderson cooked several dishes and spread an
appetizing lunch. She was young, strong, and almost
famished for food. She was forced to eat. That made
her feel much better. Then Henderson helped her into the
boat and ran it through shady coves of the shore, where
there were refreshing breezes. When she fell asleep the
girl did not know, but the man did. Sadly in need of rest
himself, he ran that boat for five hours through quiet bays,
away from noisy parties, and where the shade was cool
and deep. When she awoke he took her home, and as they
went she knew that she had been mistaken. She would
not die. Her heart was not even broken. She had suffered
horribly; she would suffer more; but eventually the pain
must wear out. Into her head crept a few lines of an
old opera:
"Hearts do not break, they sting and ache,
For old love's sake, but do not die,
As witnesseth the living I."
That evening they were sailing down the Straits before
a stiff breeze and Henderson was busy with the tiller when
she said to him: "Hart, I want you to do something more
for me."
"You have only to tell me," he said.
"Have I only to tell you, Hart?" she asked softly.
"Haven't you learned that yet, Edith?"
"I want you to go away."
"Very well," he said quietly, but his face whitened visibly.
"You say that as if you had been expecting it."
"I have. I knew from the beginning that when this
was over you would dislike me for having seen you suffer.
I have grown my Gethsemane in a full realization of what
was coming, but I could not leave you, Edith, so long as it
seemed to me that I was serving you. Does it make any
difference to you where I go?"
"I want you where you will be loved, and good care
taken of you."
"Thank you!" said Henderson, smiling grimly. "Have you
any idea where such a spot might be found?"
"It should be with your sister at Los Angeles. She always
has seemed very fond of you."
"That is quite true," said Henderson, his eyes brightening
a little. "I will go to her. When shall I start?"
"At once."
Henderson began to tack for the landing, but his hands
shook until he scarcely could manage the boat. Edith Carr
sat watching him indifferently, but her heart was
throbbing painfully. "Why is there so much suffering in
the world?" she kept whispering to herself. Inside her
door Henderson took her by the shoulders almost roughly.
"For how long is this, Edith, and how are you going to
say good-bye to me?"
She raised tired, pain-filled eyes to his.
"I don't know for how long it is," she said. "It seems
now as if it had been a slow eternity. I wish to my soul
that God would be merciful to me and make something
`snap' in my heart, as there did in Phil's, that would give
me rest. I don't know for how long, but I'm perfectly
shameless with you, Hart. If peace ever comes and I want
you, I won't wait for you to find it out yourself, I'll cable,
Marconigraph, anything. As for how I say good-bye; any
way you please, I don't care in the least what happens to me."
Henderson studied her intently.
"In that case, we will shake hands," he said. "Good-bye, Edith.
Don't forget that every hour I am thinking of you and hoping
all good things will come to you soon."
Oh, I need my own violin," cried Elnora. "This one
may be a thousand times more expensive, and much older
than mine; but it wasn't inspired and taught to sing
by a man who knew how. It doesn't know `beans,' as
mother would say, about the Limberlost."
The guests in the O'More music-room laughed appreciatively.
"Why don't you write your mother to come for a visit
and bring yours?" suggested Freckles.
"I did that three days ago," acknowledged Elnora.
"I am half expecting her on the noon boat. That is
one reason why this violin grows worse every minute.
There is nothing at all the matter with me."
"Splendid!" cried the Angel. "I've begged and begged
her to do it. I know how anxious these mothers become.
When did you send? What made you? Why didn't you
tell me?"
"`When?' Three days ago. `What made me?' You. `Why didn't
I tell you?' Because I can't be sure in the least that she
will come. Mother is the most individual person. She never
does what every one expects she will.
She may not come, and I didn't want you to be disappointed."
"How did I make you?" asked the Angel.
"Loving Alice. It made me realize that if you cared for
your girl like that, with Mr. O'More and three other
children, possibly my mother, with no one, might like to
see me. I know I want to see her, and you had told me to
so often, I just sent for her. Oh, I do hope she comes!
I want her to see this lovely place."
"I have been wondering what you thought of Mackinac,"
said Freckles.
"Oh, it is a perfect picture, all of it! I should like to
hang it on the wall, so I could see it whenever I wanted to;
but it isn't real, of course; it's nothing but a picture."
"These people won't agree with you," smiled Freckles.
"That isn't necessary," retorted Elnora. "They know
this, and they love it; but you and I are acquainted with
something different. The Limberlost is life. Here it is
a carefully kept park. You motor, sail, and golf, all so
secure and fine. But what I like is the excitement of
choosing a path carefully, in the fear that the quagmire
may reach out and suck me down; to go into the swamp
naked-handed and wrest from it treasures that bring me
books and clothing, and I like enough of a fight for things
that I always remember how I got them. I even enjoy
seeing a canny old vulture eyeing me as if it were saying:
`Ware the sting of the rattler, lest I pick your bones as I
did old Limber's.' I like sufficient danger to put an edge
on life. This is so tame. I should have loved it when all
the homes were cabins, and watchers for the stealthy
Indian canoes patrolled the shores. You wait until
mother comes, and if my violin isn't angry with me for
leaving it, to-night we shall sing you the Song of
the Limberlost. You shall hear the big gold bees over the
red, yellow, and purple flowers, bird song, wind talk, and
the whispers of Sleepy Snake Creek, as it goes past you.
You will know!" Elnora turned to Freckles.
He nodded. "Who better?" he asked. "This is secure
while the children are so small, but when they grow larger,
we are going farther north, into real forest, where they can
learn self-reliance and develop backbone."
Elnora laid away the violin. "Come along, children,"
she said. "We must get at that backbone business at once.
Let's race to the playhouse."
With the brood at her heels Elnora ran, and for an hour
lively sounds stole from the remaining spot of forest on the
Island, which lay beside the O'More cottage. Then Terry
went to the playroom to bring Alice her doll. He came
racing back, dragging it by one leg, and crying:
"There's company! Someone has come that mamma and papa
are just tearing down the house over. I saw through
the window."
"It could not be my mother, yet," mused Elnora. "Her boat
is not due until twelve. Terry, give Alice that doll----"
"It's a man-person, and I don't know him, but my
father is shaking his hand right straight along, and my
mother is running for a hot drink and a cushion. It's a
kind of a sick person, but they are going to make him well
right away, any one can see that. This is the best place.
I'll go tell him to come lie on the pine needles in the sun
and watch the sails go by. That will fix him!"
"Watch sails go by," chanted Little Brother. "'A fix him!
Elnora fix him, won't you?"
"I don't know about that," answered Elnora. "What sort
of person is he, Terry?"
"A beautiful white person; but my father is going to
`colour him up,' I heard him say so. He's just out of the
hospital, and he is a bad person, 'cause he ran away from
the doctors and made them awful angry. But father
and mother are going to doctor him better. I didn't know
they could make sick people well."
"'Ey do anyfing!" boasted Little Brother.
Before Elnora missed her, Alice, who had gone to
investigate, came flying across the shadows and through the
sunshine waving a paper. She thurst it into Elnora's hand.
"There is a man-person--a stranger-person!" she shouted.
"But he knows you! He sent you that! You are to be
the doctor! He said so! Oh, do hurry! I like him heaps!"
Elnora read Edith Carr's telegram to Philip Ammon
and understood that he had been ill, that she had been
located by Edith who had notified him. In so doing
she had acknowledged defeat. At last Philip was free.
Elnora looked up with a radiant face.
"I like him `heaps' myself!" she cried. "Come on
children, we will go tell him so."
Terry and Alice ran, but Elnora had to suit her steps
to Little Brother, who was her loyal esquire, and would
have been heartbroken over desertion and insulted at
being carried. He was rather dragged, but he was
arriving, and the emergency was great, he could see that.
"She's coming!" shouted Alice.
"She's going to be the doctor!" cried Terry.
"She looked just like she'd seen angels when she read
the letter," explained Alice.
"She likes you `heaps!' She said so!" danced Terry.
"Be waiting! Here she is!"
Elnora helped Little Brother up the steps, then deserted
him and came at a rush. The stranger-person stood
holding out trembling arms.
"Are you sure, at last, runaway?" asked Philip Ammon.
"Perfectly sure!" cried Elnora.
"Will you marry me now?"
"This instant! That is, any time after the noon boat
comes in."
"Why such unnecessary delay?" demanded Ammon.
"It is almost September," explained Elnora. "I sent
for mother three days ago. We must wait until she comes,
and we either have to send for Uncle Wesley and Aunt
Margaret, or go to them. I couldn't possibly be married
properly without those dear people."
"We will send," decided Ammon. "The trip will be
a treat for them. O'More, would you get off a message
at once?"
Every one met the noon boat. They went in the motor
because Philip was too weak to walk so far. As soon as
people could be distinguished at all Elnora and Philip
sighted an erect figure, with a head like a snowdrift.
When the gang-plank fell the first person across it was
a lean, red-haired boy of eleven, carrying a violin in
one hand and an enormous bouquet of yellow marigolds and
purple asters in the other. He was beaming with broad
smiles until he saw Philip. Then his expression changed.
"Aw, say!" he exclaimed reproachfully. "I bet you
Aunt Margaret is right. He is going to be your beau!"
Elnora stooped to kiss Billy as she caught her mother.
"There, there!" cried Mrs. Comstock. "Don't knock
my headgear into my eye. I'm not sure I've got either
hat or hair. The wind blew like bizzem coming up the river."
She shook out her skirts, straightened her hat, and
came forward to meet Philip, who took her into his arms
and kissed her repeatedly. Then he passed her along to
Freckles and the Angel to whom her greetings were mingled
with scolding and laughter over her wind-blown hair.
"No doubt I'm a precious spectacle!" she said to the Angel.
"I saw your pa a little before I started, and he sent you
a note. It's in my satchel. He said he was coming up
next week. What a lot of people there are in this world!
And what on earth are all of them laughing about?
Did none of them ever hear of sickness, or sorrow,
or death? Billy, don't you go to playing Indian or
chasing woodchucks until you get out of those clothes.
I promised Margaret I'd bring back that suit good as new."
Then the O'More children came crowding to meet Elnora's mother.
"Merry Christmas!" cried Mrs. Comstock, gathering
them in. "Got everything right here but the tree, and
there seems to be plenty of them a little higher up.
If this wind would stiffen just enough more to blow away
the people, so one could see this place, I believe it would
be right decent looking."
"See here," whispered Elnora to Philip. "You must
fix this with Billy. I can't have his trip spoiled."
"Now, here is where I dust the rest of 'em!" complacently
remarked Mrs. Comstock, as she climbed into the motor car
for her first ride, in company with Philip and Little Brother.
"I have been the one to trudge the roads and hop out of the
way of these things for quite a spell."
She sat very erect as the car rolled into the broad main
avenue, where only stray couples were walking. Her eyes
began to twinkle and gleam. Suddenly she leaned forward
and touched the driver on the shoulder.
"Young man," she said, "just you toot that horn suddenly
and shave close enough a few of those people, so that I
can see how I look when I leap for ragweed and snake fences."
The amazed chauffeur glanced questioningly at Philip
who slightly nodded. A second later there was a quick
"honk!" and a swerve at a corner. A man engrossed
in conversation grabbed the woman to whom he was talking
and dashed for the safety of a lawn. The woman
tripped in her skirts, and as she fell the man caught and
dragged her. Both of them turned red faces to the car
and berated the driver. Mrs. Comstock laughed in
unrestrained enjoyment. Then she touched the chauffeur again.
"That's enough," she said. "It seems a mite risky."
A minute later she added to Philip, "If only they had
been carrying six pounds of butter and ten dozen eggs
apiece, wouldn't that have been just perfect?"
Billy had wavered between Elnora and the motor, but
his loyal little soul had been true to her, so the walk to
the cottage began with him at her side. Long before
they arrived the little O'Mores had crowded around and
captured Billy, and he was giving them an expurgated
version of Mrs. Comstock's tales of Big Foot and Adam
Poe, boasting that Uncle Wesley had been in the camps
of Me-shin-go-me-sia and knew Wa-ca-co-nah before
he got religion and dressed like white men; while the
mighty prowess of Snap as a woodchuck hunter was done
full justice. When they reached the cottage Philip took
Billy aside, showed him the emerald ring and gravely
asked his permission to marry Elnora. Billy struggled
to be just, but it was going hard with him, when Alice,
who kept close enough to hear, intervened.
"Why don't you let them get married?" she asked.
"You are much too small for her. You wait for me!"
Billy studied her intently. At last he turned to Ammon.
"Aw, well! Go on, then!" he said gruffly. "I'll marry Alice!"
Alice reached her hand. "If you got that settled
let's put on our Indian clothes, call the boys, and go to
the playhouse."
"I haven't got any Indian clothes," said Billy ruefully.
"Yes, you have," explained Alice. "Father bought
you some coming from the dock. You can put them on in
the playhouse. The boys do."
Billy examined the playhouse with gleaming eyes.
Never had he encountered such possibilities. He could
see a hundred amusing things to try, and he could not
decide which to do first. The most immediate attraction
seemed to be a dead pine, held perpendicularly by its
fellows, while its bark had decayed and fallen, leaving
a bare, smooth trunk.
"If we just had some grease that would make the dandiest
pole to play Fourth of July with!" he shouted.
The children remembered the Fourth. It had been
great fun.
"Butter is grease. There is plenty in the 'frigerator,"
suggested Alice, speeding away.
Billy caught the cold roll and began to rub it against
the tree excitedly.
"How are you going to get it greased to the top?" inquired Terry.
Billy's face lengthened. "That's so!" he said. "The thing
is to begin at the top and grease down. I'll show you!"
Billy put the butter in his handkerchief and took the
corners between his teeth. He climbed the pole, greasing
it as he slid down.
"Now, I got to try first," he said, "because I'm the
biggest and so I have the best chance; only the one that
goes first hasn't hardly any chance at all, because he has
to wipe off the grease on himself, so the others can get up
at last. See?"
"All right!" said Terry. "You go first and then I will
and then Alice. Phew! It's slick. He'll never get up."
Billy wrestled manfully, and when he was exhausted
he boosted Terry, and then both of them helped Alice,
to whom they awarded a prize of her own doll. As they
rested Billy remembered.
"Do your folks keep cows?" he asked.
"No, we buy milk," said Terry.
"Gee! Then what about the butter? Maybe your
ma needs it for dinner!"
"No, she doesn't!" cried Alice. "There's stacks of it!
I can have all the butter I want."
"Well, I'm mighty glad of it!" said Billy. "I didn't
just think. I'm afraid we've greased our clothes, too."
"That's no difference," said Terry. "We can play
what we please in these things."
"Well, we ought to be all dirty, and bloody, and have
feathers on us to be real Indians," said Billy.
Alice tried a handful of dirt on her sleeve and it
streaked beautifully. Instantly all of them began
smearing themselves.
"If we only had feathers," lamented Billy.
Terry disappeared and shortly returned from the garage
with a feather duster. Billy fell on it with a shriek.
Around each one's head he firmly tied a twisted handkerchief,
and stuck inside it a row of stiffly upstanding feathers.
"Now, if we just only had some pokeberries to paint us
red, we'd be real, for sure enough Indians, and we could go
on the warpath and fight all the other tribes and burn a
lot of them at the stake."
Alice sidled up to him. "Would huckleberries do?"
she asked softly.
"Yes!" shouted Terry, wild with excitement. "Anything that's
a colour."
Alice made another trip to the refrigerator. Billy crushed
the berries in his hands and smeared and streaked all their
faces liberally.
"Now are we ready?" asked Alice.
Billy collapsed. "I forgot the ponies! You got to ride
ponies to go on the warpath!"
"You ain't neither!" contradicted Terry. "It's the
very latest style to go on the warpath in a motor.
Everybody does! They go everywhere in them. They are
much faster and better than any old ponies."
Billy gave one genuine whoop. "Can we take your motor?"
Terry hesitated.
"I suppose you are too little to run it?" said Billy.
"I am not!" flashed Terry. "I know how to start and
stop it, and I drive lots for Stephens. It is hard to turn
over the engine when you start."
"I'll turn it," volunteered Billy. "I'm strong as anything."
"Maybe it will start without. If Stephens has just
been running it, sometimes it will. Come on, let's try."
Billy straightened up, lifted his chin and cried: "Houpe!
Houpe! Houpe!"
The little O'Mores stared in amazement.
"Why don't you come on and whoop?" demanded Billy.
"Don't you know how? You are great Indians!
You got to whoop before you go on the warpath.
You ought to kill a bat, too, and see if the wind
is right. But maybe the engine won't run if we wait
to do that. You can whoop, anyway. All together now!"
They did whoop, and after several efforts the cry satisfied
Billy, so he led the way to the big motor, and took
the front seat with Terry. Alice and Little Brother
climbed into the back.
"Will it go?" asked Billy, "or do we have to turn it?"
"It will go," said Terry as the machine gently slid out
into the avenue and started under his guidance.
"This is no warpath!" scoffed Billy. "We got to go a
lot faster than this, and we got to whoop. Alice, why
don't you whoop?
Alice arose, took hold of the seat in front and whooped.
"If I open the throttle, I can't squeeze the bulb to scare
people out of our way," said Terry. "I can't steer and
squeeze, too."
"We'll whoop enough to get them out of the way. Go faster!"
urged Billy.
Billy also stood, lifted his chin and whooped like the
wildest little savage that ever came out of the West.
Alice and Little Brother added their voices, and when he
was not absorbed with the steering gear, Terry joined in.
"Faster!" shouted Billy.
Intoxicated with the speed and excitement, Terry
threw the throttle wider and the big car leaped forward
and sped down the avenue. In it four black, featherbedecked
children whooped in wild glee until suddenly
Terry's war cry changed to a scream of panic.
"The lake is coming!"
"Stop!" cried Billy. "Stop! Why don't you stop?"
Paralyzed with fear Terry clung to the steering gear and
the car sped onward.
"You little fool! Why don't you stop?" screamed
Billy, catching Terry's arm. "Tell me how to stop!"
A bicycle shot beside them and Freckles standing on
the pedals shouted: "Pull out the pin in that little
circle at your feet!"
Billy fell on his knees and tugged and the pin yielded
at last. Just as the wheels struck the white sand the bicycle
sheered close, Freckles caught the lever and with one strong
shove set the brake. The water flew as the car struck Huron,
but luckily it was shallow and the beach smooth. Hub deep
the big motor stood quivering as Freckles climbed in and
backed it to dry sand.
Then he drew a deep breath and stared at his brood.
"Terence, would you kindly be explaining?" he said at last.
Billy looked at the panting little figure of Terry.
"I guess I better," he said. "We were playing Indians
on the warpath, and we hadn't any ponies, and Terry
said it was all the style to go in automobiles now,
so we----"
Freckles's head went back, and be did some whooping himself.
"I wonder if you realize how nearly you came to being
four drowned children?" he said gravely, after a time.
"Oh, I think I could swim enough to get most of us out,"
said Billy. "Anyway, we need washing."
"You do indeed," said Freckles. "I will head this
procession to the garage, and there we will remove the
first coat." For the remainder of Billy's visit the nurse,
chauffeur, and every servant of the O'More household had
something of importance on their minds, and Billy's every
step was shadowed.
"I have Billy's consent," said Philip to Elnora, "and all
the other consent you have stipulated. Before you think
of something more, give me your left hand, please."
Elnora gave it gladly, and the emerald slipped on her finger.
Then they went together into the forest to tell each other
all about it, and talk it over.
"Have you seen Edith?" asked Philip.
"No," answered Elnora. "But she must be here, or she
may have seen me when we went to Petoskey a few days ago.
Her people have a cottage over on the bluff, but the
Angel never told me until to-day. I didn't want to make
that trip, but the folks were so anxious to entertain me,
and it was only a few days until I intended to let you know
myself where I was."
"And I was going to wait just that long, and if I didn't
hear then I was getting ready to turn over the country.
I can scarcely realize yet that Edith sent me that telegram."
"No wonder! It's a difficult thing to believe. I can't
express how I feel for her."
"Let us never speak of it again," said Philip. "I came
nearer feeling sorry for her last night than I have yet.
I couldn't sleep on that boat coming over, and I couldn't
put away the thought of what sending that message cost her.
I never would have believed it possible that she would do it.
But it is done. We will forget it."
"I scarcely think I shall," said Elnora. "It is something
I like to remember. How suffering must have changed her!
I would give anything to bring her peace."
"Henderson came to see me at the hospital a few days ago.
He's gone a rather wild pace, but if he had been held
from youth by the love of a good woman he might have
lived differently. There are things about him one cannot
help admiring."
"I think he loves her," said Elnora softly.
"He does! He always has! He never made any secret
of it. He will cut in now and do his level best,
but he told me that he thought she would send him away.
He understands her thoroughly."
Edith Carr did not understand herself. She went to
her room after her good-bye to Henderson, lay on her
bed and tried to think why she was suffering as she was.
"It is all my selfishness, my unrestrained temper, my
pride in my looks, my ambition to be first," she said.
"That is what has caused this trouble."
Then she went deeper.
"How does it happen that I am so selfish, that I never
controlled my temper, that I thought beauty and social
position the vital things of life?" she muttered. "I think
that goes a little past me. I think a mother who allows a
child to grow up as I did, who educates it only for the
frivolities of life, has a share in that child's ending.
I think my mother has some responsibility in this," Edith
Carr whispered to the night. "But she will recognize none.
She would laugh at me if I tried to tell her what I have
suffered and the bitter, bitter lesson I have learned.
No one really cares, but Hart. I've sent him away, so
there is no one! No one!"
Edith pressed her fingers across her burning eyes and
lay still.
"He is gone!" she whispered at last. "He would go at once.
He would not see me again. I should think he never would
want to see me any more. But I will want to see him!
My soul! I want him now! I want him every minute!
He is all I have. And I've sent him away. Oh, these
dreadful days to come, alone! I can't bear it. Hart!
Hart!" she cried aloud. "I want you! No one cares but you.
No one understands but you. Oh, I want you!"
She sprang from her bed and felt her way to her desk.
"Get me some one at the Henderson cottage," she said
to Central, and waited shivering.
"They don't answer."
"They are there! You must get them. Turn on the buzzer."
After a time the sleepy voice of Mrs. Henderson answered.
"Has Hart gone?" panted Edith Carr.
"No! He came in late and began to talk about starting
to California. He hasn't slept in weeks to amount
to anything. I put him to bed. There is time enough to
start to California when he awakens. Edith, what are you
planning to do next with that boy of mine?"
"Will you tell him I want to see him before he goes?"
"Yes, but I won't wake him."
"I don't want you to. Just tell him in the morning."
"Very well."
"You will be sure?"
Hart was not gone. Edith fell asleep. She arose at
noon the next day, took a cold bath, ate her breakfast,
dressed carefully, and leaving word that she had gone to
the forest, she walked slowly across the leaves. It was
cool and quiet there, so she sat where she could see him
coming, and waited. She was thinking deep and fast.
Henderson came swiftly down the path. A long sleep,
food, and Edith's message had done him good. He had
dressed in new light flannels that were becoming.
Edith arose and went to meet him.
"Let us walk in the forest," she said.
They passed the old Catholic graveyard, and entered
the deepest wood of the Island, where all shadows were
green, all voices of humanity ceased, and there was no
sound save the whispering of the trees, a few bird notes and
squirrel rustle. There Edith seated herself on a mossy old
log, and Henderson studied her. He could detect a change.
She was still pale and her eyes tired, but the dull, strained
look was gone. He wanted to hope, but he did not dare.
Any other man would have forced her to speak. The mighty
tenderness in Henderson's heart shielded her in every way.
"What have you thought of that you wanted yet, Edith?"
he asked lightly as he stretched himself at her feet.
Henderson lay tense and very still.
"Well, I am here!"
"Thank Heaven for that!"
Henderson sat up suddenly, leaning toward her with
questioning eyes. Not knowing what he dared say,
afraid of the hope which found birth in his heart, he tried
to shield her and at the same time to feel his way.
"I am more thankful than I can express that you feel
so," he said. "I would be of use, of comfort, to you if I
knew how, Edith."
"You are my only comfort," she said. "I tried to send
you away. I thought I didn't want you. I thought I
couldn't bear the sight of you, because of what you have
seen me suffer. But I went to the root of this thing last
night, Hart, and with self in mind, as usual, I found that
I could not live without you."
Henderson began breathing lightly. He was afraid to
speak or move.
"I faced the fact that all this is my own fault,"
continued Edith, "and came through my own selfishness.
Then I went farther back and realized that I am as I
was reared. I don't want to blame my parents, but I
was carefully trained into what I am. If Elnora Comstock had
been like me, Phil would have come back to me. I can see
how selfish I seem to him, and how I appear to you, if you
would admit it."
"Edith," said Henderson desperately, "there is no use
to try to deceive you. You have known from the first
that I found you wrong in this. But it's the first time in
your life I ever thought you wrong about anything--and
it's the only time I ever shall. Understand, I think you
the bravest, most beautiful woman on earth, the one most
worth loving."
"I'm not to be considered in the same class with her."
"I don't grant that, but if I did, you, must remember
how I compare with Phil. He's my superior at every point.
There's no use in discussing that. You wanted to see me, Edith.
What did you want?"
"I wanted you to not go away."
"Not at all?"
"Not at all! Not ever! Not unless you take me with
you, Hart."
She slightly extended one hand to him. Henderson took
that hand, kissing it again and again.
"Anything you want, Edith," he said brokenly. "Just as
you wish it. Do you want me to stay here, and go on as
we have been?"
"Yes, only with a difference."
"Can you tell me, Edith?"
"First, I want you to know that you are the dearest
thing on earth to me, right now. I would give up
everything else, before I would you. I can't honestly say
that I love you with the love you deserve. My heart is
too sore. It's too soon to know. But I love you some way.
You are necessary to me. You are my comfort, my shield.
If you want me, as you know me to be, Hart, you may consider
me yours. I give you my word of honour I will try to be
as you would have me, just as soon as I can."
Henderson kissed her hand passionately. "Don't, Edith,"
he begged. "Don't say those things. I can't bear it.
I understand. Everything will come right in time.
Love like mine must bring a reward. You will love me
some day. I can wait. I am the most patient fellow."
"But I must say it," cried Edith. "I--I think, Hart,
that I have been on the wrong road to find happiness.
I planned to finish life as I started it with Phil; and you
see how glad he was to change. He wanted the other sort of
girl far more than he ever wanted me. And you, Hart,
honest, now--I'll know if you don't tell me the truth!
Would you rather have a wife as I planned to live life with
Phil, or would you rather have her as Elnora Comstock intends
to live with him?"
"Edith!" cried the man, "Edith!"
"Of course, you can't say it in plain English," said the girl.
"You are far too chivalrous for that. You needn't
say anything. I am answered. If you could have your
choice you wouldn't have a society wife, either. In your
heart you'd like the smaller home of comfort, the furtherance
of your ambitions, the palatable meals regularly served,
and little children around you. I am sick of all we
have grown up to, Hart. When your hour of trouble
comes, there is no comfort for you. I am tired to death.
You find out what you want to do, and be, that is a man's
work in the world, and I will plan our home, with no
thought save your comfort. I'll be the other kind of a girl,
as fast as I can learn. I can't correct all my faults in one
day, but I'll change as rapidly as I can."
"God knows, I will be different, too, Edith. You shall
not be the only generous one. I will make all the rest of
life worthy of you. I will change, too!"
"Don't you dare!" said Edith Carr, taking his head between
her hands and holding it against her knees, while the
tears slid down her cheeks. "Don't you dare change, you
big-hearted, splendid lover! I am little and selfish.
You are the very finest, just as you are!"
Henderson was not talking then, so they sat through a
long silence. At last he heard Edith draw a quick
breath, and lifting his head he looked where she pointed.
Up a fern stalk climbed a curious looking object.
They watched breathlessly. By lavender feet clung a big,
pursy, lavender-splotched, yellow body. Yellow and lavender
wings began to expand and take on colour. Every instant
great beauty became more apparent. It was one of those
double-brooded freaks, which do occur on rare occasions,
or merely an Eacles Imperialis moth that in the cool damp
northern forest had failed to emerge in June. Edith Carr
drew back with a long, shivering breath. Henderson caught
her hands and gripped them firmly. Steadily she
looked the thought of her heart into his eyes.
"By all the powers, you shall not!" swore the man.
"You have done enough. I will smash that thing!"
"Oh no you won't!" cried the girl, clinging to his hands.
"I am not big enough yet, Hart, but before I leave this
forest I shall have grown to breadth and strength to carry
that to her. She needs two of each kind. Phil only sent
her one!"
"Edith I can't bear it! That's not demanded! Let me
take it!"
"You may go with me. I know where the O'More cottage is.
I have been there often."
"I'll say you sent it!"
"You may watch me deliver it!"
"Phil may be there by now."
"I hope he is! I should like him to see me do one decent
thing by which to remember me."
"I tell you that is not necessary!"
"`Not necessary!'" cried the girl, her big eyes shining.
"Not necessary? Then what on earth is the thing doing
here? I just have boasted that I would change, that I
would be like her, that I would grow bigger and broader.
As the words are spoken God gives me the opportunity to
prove whether I am sincere. This is my test, Hart! Don't
you see it? If I am big enough to carry that to her, you
will believe that there is some good in me. You will not
be loving me in vain. This is an especial Providence, man!
Be my strength! Help me, as you always have done!"
Henderson arose and shook the leaves from his clothing.
He drew Edith Carr to her feet and carefully picked the
mosses from her skirts. He went to the water and
moistened his handkerchief to bathe her face.
"Now a dust of powder," he said when the tears were
washed away.
From a tiny book Edith tore leaves that she passed over
her face.
"All gone!" cried Henderson, critically studying her.
"You look almost half as lovely as you really are!"
Edith Carr drew a wavering breath. She stretched one
hand to him.
"Hold tight, Hart!" she said. "I know they handle
these things, but I would quite as soon touch a snake."
Henderson clenched his teeth and held steadily. The moth
had emerged too recently to be troublesome. It climbed
on her fingers quietly and obligingly clung there
without moving. So hand in hand they went down the
dark forest path. When they came to the avenue, the first
person they met paused with an ejaculation of wonder.
The next stopped also, and every one following. They could
make little progress on account of marvelling,
interested people. A strange excitement took possession
of Edith. She began to feel proud of the moth.
"Do you know," she said to Henderson," this is growing
easier every step. Its clinging is not disagreeable as I
thought it would be. I feel as if I were saving it,
protecting it. I am proud that we are taking it to be put
into a collection or a book. It seems like doing a thing
worth while. Oh, Hart, I wish we could work together at
something for which people would care as they seem to
for this. Hear what they say! See them lift their
little children to look at it!"
"Edith, if you don't stop," said Henderson, "I will take
you in my arms here on the avenue. You are adorable!"
"Don't you dare!" laughed Edith Carr. The colour
rushed to her cheeks and a new light leaped in her eyes
"Oh, Hart!" she cried. "Let's work! Let's do something!
That's the way she makes people love her so. There's the
place, and thank goodness, there is a crowd."
"You darling!" whispered Henderson as they passed up
the walk. Her face was rose-flushed with excitement and
her eyes shone.
"Hello, every, one!" she cried as she came on the wide veranda.
"Only see what we found up in the forest! We thought you
might like to have it for some of your collections."
She held out the moth as she walked straight to Elnora,
who arose to meet her, crying: "How perfectly splendid!
I don't even know how to begin to thank you."
Elnora took the moth. Edith shook hands with all of
them and asked Philip if he were improving. She said a few
polite words to Freckles and the Angel, declined to remain
on account of an engagement, and went away, gracefully.
"Well bully for her!" said Mrs. Comstock. "She's a
little thoroughbred after all!"
"That was a mighty big thing for her to be doing,"
said Freckles in a hushed voice.
"If you knew her as well as I do," said Philip Ammon,
"you would have a better conception of what that cost."
"It was a terror!" cried the Angel. "I never could have done it."
"`Never could have done it!'" echoed Freckles. "Why, Angel,
dear, that is the one thing of all the world you would have done!"
"I have to take care of this," faltered Elnora, hurrying
toward the door to hide the tears which were rolling down
her cheeks.
"I must help," said Philip, disappearing also. "Elnora,"
he called, catching up with her, "take me where I may cry, too.
Wasn't she great?"
"Superb!" exclaimed Elnora. "I have no words. I feel so humbled!"
"So do I," said Philip. "I think a brave deed like that
always makes one feel so. Now are you happy?"
"Unspeakably happy!" answered Elnora.

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