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´╗┐Title: A Girl of the Limberlost
Author: Stratton-Porter, Gene, 1863-1924
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "A Girl of the Limberlost" ***

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A GIRL OF THE LIMBERLOST

By Gene Stratton Porter



     To All Girls Of The Limberlost
     In General
     And One Jeanette Helen Porter
     In Particular



CHARACTERS:

  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.

  TERENCE, ALICE and LITTLE BROTHER, the O'MORE children.



A GIRL OF THE LIMBERLOST



CHAPTER I


WHEREIN ELNORA GOES TO HIGH SCHOOL AND LEARNS MANY LESSONS NOT FOUND IN
HER BOOKS


"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, sweet-smelling
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 self-conscious 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 to-morrow," 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 was physical
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 poor-house 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.



CHAPTER II


WHEREIN WESLEY AND MARGARET GO SHOPPING, AND ELNORA'S WARDROBE IS
REPLENISHED


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-of-town
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 thick-soled, 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.



CHAPTER III


WHEREIN ELNORA VISITS THE BIRD WOMAN, AND OPENS A BANK ACCOUNT


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:


WANTED: CATERPILLARS, COCOONS, CHRYSALIDES, PUPAE CASES, BUTTERFLIES,
MOTHS, INDIAN RELICS OF ALL KINDS. HIGHEST SCALE OF PRICES PAID IN CASH


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 near-sighted, 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?"

"Yes."

"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.



CHAPTER IV


WHEREIN THE SINTONS ARE DISAPPOINTED, AND MRS. COMSTOCK LEARNS THAT SHE
CAN LAUGH


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 to-day, 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 sitting-room 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.



CHAPTER V


WHEREIN ELNORA RECEIVES A WARNING, AND BILLY APPEARS ON THE SCENE


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,

"Yes."

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.


DERE ELNORY,

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

A FREND.


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?"

"No."

"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?"

"No."

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.



CHAPTER VI


WHEREIN MRS. COMSTOCK INDULGES IN "FRILLS," AND BILLY REAPPEARS


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?"

"Yes."

"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.

"Who?"

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
lay conspicuous.

"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.

"Next!"

A bag of macaroons was produced and the cake compartment filled.

"Next!"

"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.

"Next!"

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.



CHAPTER VII


WHEREIN MRS. COMSTOCK MANIPULATES MARGARET AND BILLY ACQUIRES A
RESIDENCE


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.

"Honest?"

"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?"

"Yes."

"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 store-box, 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?"

"Yes."

"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?"

"Yes."

"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.

"Yes."

"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 good-bye 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.



CHAPTER VIII


WHEREIN THE LIMBERLOST TEMPTS ELNORA, AND BILLY BURIES HIS FATHER


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."



CHAPTER IX


WHEREIN ELNORA DISCOVERS A VIOLIN, AND BILLY DISCIPLINES MARGARET


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?"

"Elnora!"

"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!"



CHAPTER X


WHEREIN ELNORA HAS MORE FINANCIAL TROUBLES, AND MRS. COMSTOCK AGAIN
HEARS THE SONG OF THE LIMBERLOST


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?"

"Why?"

"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 home-talent 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 whip-poor-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.



CHAPTER XI


WHEREIN ELNORA GRADUATES, AND FRECKLES AND THE ANGEL SEND GIFTS


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,
fine-looking 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
moderate-priced 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?"

"Yes."

"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, hand-embroidered 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.



CHAPTER XII


WHEREIN MARGARET SINTON REVEALS A SECRET, AND MRS. COMSTOCK POSSESSES
THE LIMBERLOST


"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!"



CHAPTER XIII


WHEREIN MOTHER LOVE IS BESTOWED ON ELNORA, AND SHE FINDS AN ASSISTANT IN
MOTH HUNTING


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 long-hardened, 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 present-day 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 self-restraint 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."



CHAPTER XIV


WHEREIN A NEW POSITION IS TENDERED ELNORA, AND PHILIP AMMON IS SHOWN
LIMBERLOST VIOLETS


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:

MY DEAR MISS COMSTOCK:

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.



CHAPTER XV


WHEREIN MRS. COMSTOCK FACES THE ALMIGHTY, AND PHILIP AMMON WRITES A
LETTER


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 blue-bordered 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 slime-covered 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 boarding-school girl."

"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.



CHAPTER XVI


WHEREIN THE LIMBERLOST SINGS FOR PHILIP, AND THE TALKING TREES TELL
GREAT SECRETS


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 bloomed-out 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.



CHAPTER XVII


WHEREIN MRS. COMSTOCK DANCES IN THE MOONLIGHT, AND ELNORA MAKES A
CONFESSION


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 red-wings, 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!"



CHAPTER XVIII


WHEREIN MRS. COMSTOCK EXPERIMENTS WITH REJUVENATION, AND ELNORA TEACHES
NATURAL HISTORY


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, bent-hickory
chairs, hanging baskets, and a table with a work-box 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 snow-white 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:

DEAR FRIEND:

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,

ELNORA COMSTOCK.


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.



CHAPTER XIX


WHEREIN PHILIP AMMON GIVES A BALL IN HONOUR OF EDITH CARR, AND HART
HENDERSON APPEARS ON THE SCENE


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."

"No."

"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.



CHAPTER XX


WHEREIN THE ELDER AMMON OFFERS ADVICE, AND EDITH CARR EXPERIENCES
REGRETS


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?"

"Father!"

"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.

"Yes."

"Did you find Phil?"

"No."

"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."

"Gone!"

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.



CHAPTER XXI


WHEREIN PHILIP AMMON RETURNS TO THE LIMBERLOST, AND ELNORA STUDIES THE
SITUATION


"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 one-sided
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.



CHAPTER XXII


WHEREIN PHILIP AMMON KNEELS TO ELNORA, AND STRANGERS COME TO THE
LIMBERLOST


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 half-smothered 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 vine-covered 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.



CHAPTER XXIII


WHEREIN ELNORA REACHES A DECISION, AND FRECKLES AND THE ANGEL APPEAR


"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 beautiful----"

"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
_is_ 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:

DEAR PHILIP:

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,

ELNORA.


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."

"Phil!"

"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!"

"Yes."

"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!"



CHAPTER XXIV


WHEREIN EDITH CARR WAGES A BATTLE, AND HART HENDERSON STANDS GUARD


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?"

"No."

"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?"

"Man."

"Where?"

"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!"

"No."

"But you know it now, Hart!"

"Yes."

"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."



CHAPTER XXV


WHEREIN PHILIP FINDS ELNORA, AND EDITH CARR OFFERS A YELLOW EMPEROR


"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, feather-bedecked 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 he 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?"

"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.

"You!"

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, everyone!" 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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