A Girl of the Limberlost, by Gene Stratton Porter

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Re: A Girl of the Limberlost, by Gene Stratton Porter

Postby admin » Mon Jun 24, 2019 5:26 am

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.
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Re: A Girl of the Limberlost, by Gene Stratton Porter

Postby admin » Mon Jun 24, 2019 5:26 am

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.
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Re: A Girl of the Limberlost, by Gene Stratton Porter

Postby admin » Mon Jun 24, 2019 5:27 am

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.
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Re: A Girl of the Limberlost, by Gene Stratton Porter

Postby admin » Mon Jun 24, 2019 5:27 am

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!”
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Re: A Girl of the Limberlost, by Gene Stratton Porter

Postby admin » Mon Jun 24, 2019 5:28 am

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.”
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Re: A Girl of the Limberlost, by Gene Stratton Porter

Postby admin » Mon Jun 24, 2019 5:28 am

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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