A Girl of the Limberlost, by Gene Stratton Porter

A few delicious tidbits in here, to which we will add as the hours, days, weeks, months and years go by.

A Girl of the Limberlost, by Gene Stratton Porter

Postby admin » Mon Jun 24, 2019 5:17 am

A Girl of the Limberlost
by Gene Stratton Porter
1909

NOTICE: THIS WORK MAY BE PROTECTED BY COPYRIGHT

YOU ARE REQUIRED TO READ THE COPYRIGHT NOTICE AT THIS LINK BEFORE YOU READ THE FOLLOWING WORK, THAT IS AVAILABLE SOLELY FOR PRIVATE STUDY, SCHOLARSHIP OR RESEARCH PURSUANT TO 17 U.S.C. SECTION 107 AND 108. IN THE EVENT THAT THE LIBRARY DETERMINES THAT UNLAWFUL COPYING OF THIS WORK HAS OCCURRED, THE LIBRARY HAS THE RIGHT TO BLOCK THE I.P. ADDRESS AT WHICH THE UNLAWFUL COPYING APPEARED TO HAVE OCCURRED. THANK YOU FOR RESPECTING THE RIGHTS OF COPYRIGHT OWNERS.


Image



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

CHARACTERS:

ELNORA, who collects moths to pay for her education, and lives the
Golden Rule.

PHILIP AMMON, who assists in moth hunting, and gains a new conception of
love.

MRS. COMSTOCK, who lost a delusion and found a treasure.

WESLEY SINTON, who always did his best.

MARGARET SINTON, who “mothers” Elnora.

BILLY, a boy from real life.

EDITH CARR, who discovers herself.

HART HENDERSON, to whom love means all things.

POLLY AMMON, who pays an old score.

TOM LEVERING, engaged to Polly.

TERENCE O'MORE, Freckles grown tall.

MRS. O'MORE, who remained the Angel.

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

TABLE OF CONTENTS:

• CHAPTER I
• CHAPTER II
• CHAPTER III
• CHAPTER IV
• CHAPTER V
• CHAPTER VI
• CHAPTER VII
• CHAPTER VIII
• CHAPTER IX
• CHAPTER X
• CHAPTER XI
• CHAPTER XII
• CHAPTER XIII
• CHAPTER XIV
• CHAPTER XV
• CHAPTER XVI
• CHAPTER XVII
• CHAPTER XVIII
• CHAPTER XIX
• CHAPTER XX
• CHAPTER XXI
• CHAPTER XXII
• CHAPTER XXIII
• CHAPTER XXIV
• CHAPTER XXV
admin
Site Admin
 
Posts: 28062
Joined: Thu Aug 01, 2013 5:21 am

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

Postby admin » Mon Jun 24, 2019 5:18 am

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

“Elnora Comstock, have you lost your senses?” demanded the angry voice of Katharine Comstock while she glared at her daughter.

“Why mother!” faltered the girl.

“Don't you 'why mother' me!” cried Mrs. Comstock. “You know very well what I mean. You've given me no peace until you've had your way about this going to school business; I've fixed you good enough, and you're ready to start. But no child of mine walks the streets of Onabasha looking like a play-actress woman. You wet your hair and comb it down modest and decent and then be off, or you'll have no time to find where you belong.”

Elnora gave one despairing glance at the white face, framed in a most becoming riot of reddish-brown hair, which she saw in the little kitchen mirror. Then she untied the narrow black ribbon, wet the comb and plastered the waving curls close to her head, bound them fast, pinned on the skimpy black hat and opened the back door.

“You've gone so plumb daffy you are forgetting your dinner,” jeered her mother.

“I don't want anything to eat,” replied Elnora.

“You'll take your dinner or you'll not go one step. Are you crazy? Walk almost three miles and no food from six in the morning until six at night. A pretty figure you'd cut if you had your way! And after I've gone and bought you this nice new pail and filled it especial to start on!”

Elnora came back with a face still whiter and picked up the lunch. “Thank you, mother! Good-bye!” she said. Mrs. Comstock did not reply. She watched the girl follow the long walk to the gate and go from sight on the road, in the bright sunshine of the first Monday of September.

“I bet a dollar she gets enough of it by night!” commented Mrs. Comstock.

Elnora walked by instinct, for her eyes were blinded with tears. She left the road where it turned south, at the corner of the Limberlost, climbed a snake fence and entered a path worn by her own feet. Dodging under willow and scrub oak branches she came at last to the faint outline of an old trail made in the days when the precious timber of the swamp was guarded by armed men. This path she followed until she reached a thick clump of bushes. From the debris in the end of a hollow log she took a key that unlocked the padlock of a large weatherbeaten old box, inside of which lay several books, a butterfly apparatus, and a small cracked mirror. The walls were lined thickly with gaudy butterflies, dragonflies, and moths. She set up the mirror and once more pulling the ribbon from her hair, she shook the bright mass over her shoulders, tossing it dry in the sunshine. Then she straightened it, bound it loosely, and replaced her hat. She tugged vainly at the low brown calico collar and gazed despairingly at the generous length of the narrow skirt. She lifted it as she would have cut it if possible. That disclosed the heavy high leather shoes, at sight of which she seemed positively ill, and hastily dropped the skirt. She opened the pail, removed the lunch, wrapped it in the napkin, and placed it in a small pasteboard box. Locking the case again she hid the key and hurried down the trail.

She followed it around the north end of the swamp and then entered a footpath crossing a farm leading in the direction of the spires of the city to the northeast. Again she climbed a fence and was on the open road. For an instant she leaned against the fence staring before her, then turned and looked back. Behind her lay the land on which she had been born to drudgery and a mother who made no pretence of loving her; before her lay the city through whose schools she hoped to find means of escape and the way to reach the things for which she cared. When she thought of how she appeared she leaned more heavily against the fence and groaned; when she thought of turning back and wearing such clothing in ignorance all the days of her life she set her teeth firmly and went hastily toward Onabasha.

On the bridge crossing a deep culvert at the suburbs she glanced around, and then kneeling she thrust the lunch box between the foundation and the flooring. This left her empty-handed as she approached the big stone high school building. She entered bravely and inquired her way to the office of the superintendent. There she learned that she should have come the previous week and arranged about her classes. There were many things incident to the opening of school, and one man unable to cope with all of them.

“Where have you been attending school?” he asked, while he advised the teacher of Domestic Science not to telephone for groceries until she knew how many she would have in her classes; wrote an order for chemicals for the students of science; and advised the leader of the orchestra to hire a professional to take the place of the bass violist, reported suddenly ill.

“I finished last spring at Brushwood school, district number nine,” said Elnora. “I have been studying all summer. I am quite sure I can do the first year work, if I have a few days to get started.”

“Of course, of course,” assented the superintendent. “Almost invariably country pupils do good work. You may enter first year, and if it is too difficult, we will find it out speedily. Your teachers will tell you the list of books you must have, and if you will come with me I will show you the way to the auditorium. It is now time for opening exercises. Take any seat you find vacant.”

Elnora stood before the entrance and stared into the largest room she ever had seen. The floor sloped to a yawning stage on which a band of musicians, grouped around a grand piano, were tuning their instruments. She had two fleeting impressions. That it was all a mistake; this was no school, but a grand display of enormous ribbon bows; and the second, that she was sinking, and had forgotten how to walk. Then a burst from the orchestra nerved her while a bevy of daintily clad, sweet-smelling things that might have been birds, or flowers, or possibly gaily dressed, happy young girls, pushed her forward. She found herself plodding across the back of the auditorium, praying for guidance, to an empty seat.

As the girls passed her, vacancies seemed to open to meet them. Their friends were moving over, beckoning and whispering invitations. Every one else was seated, but no one paid any attention to the white-faced girl stumbling half-blindly down the aisle next the farthest wall. So she went on to the very end facing the stage. No one moved, and she could not summon courage to crowd past others to several empty seats she saw. At the end of the aisle she paused in desperation, while she stared back at the whole forest of faces most of which were now turned upon her.

In a flash came the full realization of her scanty dress, her pitiful little hat and ribbon, her big, heavy shoes, her ignorance of where to go or what to do; and from a sickening wave which crept over her, she felt she was going to become very ill. Then out of the mass she saw a pair of big, brown boy eyes, three seats from her, and there was a message in them. Without moving his body he reached forward and with a pencil touched the back of the seat before him. Instantly Elnora took another step which brought her to a row of vacant front seats.

She heard laughter behind her; the knowledge that she wore the only hat in the room burned her; every matter of moment, and some of none at all, cut and stung. She had no books. Where should she go when this was over? What would she give to be on the trail going home! She was shaking with a nervous chill when the music ceased, and the superintendent arose, and coming down to the front of the flower-decked platform, opened a Bible and began to read. Elnora did not know what he was reading, and she felt that she did not care. Wildly she was racking her brain to decide whether she should sit still when the others left the room or follow, and ask some one where the Freshmen went first.

In the midst of the struggle one sentence fell on her ear. “Hide me under the shadow of Thy wings.”

Elnora began to pray frantically. “Hide me, O God, hide me, under the shadow of Thy wings.”

Again and again she implored that prayer, and before she realized what was coming, every one had arisen and the room was emptying rapidly. Elnora hurried after the nearest girl and in the press at the door touched her sleeve timidly.

“Will you please tell me where the Freshmen go?” she asked huskily.

The girl gave her one surprised glance, and drew away.

“Same place as the fresh women,” she answered, and those nearest her laughed.

Elnora stopped praying suddenly and the colour crept into her face. “I'll wager you are the first person I meet when I find it,” she said and stopped short. “Not that! Oh, I must not do that!” she thought in dismay. “Make an enemy the first thing I do. Oh, not that!”

She followed with her eyes as the young people separated in the hall, some climbing stairs, some disappearing down side halls, some entering adjoining doors. She saw the girl overtake the brown-eyed boy and speak to him. He glanced back at Elnora with a scowl on his face. Then she stood alone in the hall.

Presently a door opened and a young woman came out and entered another room. Elnora waited until she returned, and hurried to her. “Would you tell me where the Freshmen are?” she panted.

“Straight down the hall, three doors to your left,” was the answer, as the girl passed.

“One minute please, oh please,” begged Elnora: “Should I knock or just open the door?”

“Go in and take a seat,” replied the teacher.

“What if there aren't any seats?” gasped Elnora.

“Classrooms are never half-filled, there will be plenty,” was the answer.

Elnora removed her hat. There was no place to put it, so she carried it in her hand. She looked infinitely better without it. After several efforts she at last opened the door and stepping inside faced a smaller and more concentrated battery of eyes.

“The superintendent sent me. He thinks I belong here,” she said to the professor in charge of the class, but she never before heard the voice with which she spoke. As she stood waiting, the girl of the hall passed on her way to the blackboard, and suppressed laughter told Elnora that her thrust had been repeated.

“Be seated,” said the professor, and then because he saw Elnora was desperately embarrassed he proceeded to lend her a book and to ask her if she had studied algebra. She said she had a little, but not the same book they were using. He asked her if she felt that she could do the work they were beginning, and she said she did.

That was how it happened, that three minutes after entering the room she was told to take her place beside the girl who had gone last to the board, and whose flushed face and angry eyes avoided meeting Elnora's. Being compelled to concentrate on her proposition she forgot herself. When the professor asked that all pupils sign their work she firmly wrote “Elnora Comstock” under her demonstration. Then she took her seat and waited with white lips and trembling limbs, as one after another professor called the names on the board, while their owners arose and explained their propositions, or “flunked” if they had not found a correct solution. She was so eager to catch their forms of expression and prepare herself for her recitation, that she never looked from the work on the board, until clearly and distinctly, “Elnora Cornstock,” called the professor.

The dazed girl stared at the board. One tiny curl added to the top of the first curve of the m in her name, had transformed it from a good old English patronymic that any girl might bear proudly, to Cornstock. Elnora sat speechless. When and how did it happen? She could feel the wave of smothered laughter in the air around her. A rush of anger turned her face scarlet and her soul sick. The voice of the professor addressed her directly.

“This proposition seems to be beautifully demonstrated, Miss Cornstalk,” he said. “Surely, you can tell us how you did it.”

That word of praise saved her. She could do good work. They might wear their pretty clothes, have their friends and make life a greater misery than it ever before had been for her, but not one of them should do better work or be more womanly. That lay with her. She was tall, straight, and handsome as she arose.

“Of course I can explain my work,” she said in natural tones. “What I can't explain is how I happened to be so stupid as to make a mistake in writing my own name. I must have been a little nervous. Please excuse me.”

She went to the board, swept off the signature with one stroke, then rewrote it plainly. “My name is Comstock,” she said distinctly. She returned to her seat and following the formula used by the others made her first high school recitation.

As Elnora resumed her seat Professor Henley looked at her steadily. “It puzzles me,” he said deliberately, “how you can write as beautiful a demonstration, and explain it as clearly as ever has been done in any of my classes and still be so disturbed as to make a mistake in your own name. Are you very sure you did that yourself, Miss Comstock?”

“It is impossible that any one else should have done it,” answered Elnora.

“I am very glad you think so,” said the professor. “Being Freshmen, all of you are strangers to me. I should dislike to begin the year with you feeling there was one among you small enough to do a trick like that. The next proposition, please.”

When the hour had gone the class filed back to the study room and Elnora followed in desperation, because she did not know where else to go. She could not study as she had no books, and when the class again left the room to go to another professor for the next recitation, she went also. At least they could put her out if she did not belong there. Noon came at last, and she kept with the others until they dispersed on the sidewalk. She was so abnormally self-conscious she fancied all the hundreds of that laughing, throng saw and jested at her. When she passed the brown-eyed boy walking with the girl of her encounter, she knew, for she heard him say: “Did you really let that gawky piece of calico get ahead of you?” The answer was indistinct.

Elnora hurried from the city. She intended to get her lunch, eat it in the shade of the first tree, and then decide whether she would go back or go home. She knelt on the bridge and reached for her box, but it was so very light that she was prepared for the fact that it was empty, before opening it. There was one thing for which to be thankful. The boy or tramp who had seen her hide it, had left the napkin. She would not have to face her mother and account for its loss. She put it in her pocket, and threw the box into the ditch. Then she sat on the bridge and tried to think, but her brain was confused.

“Perhaps the worst is over,” she said at last. “I will go back. What would mother say to me if I came home now?”

So she returned to the high school, followed some other pupils to the coat room, hung her hat, and found her way to the study where she had been in the morning. Twice that afternoon, with aching head and empty stomach, she faced strange professors, in different branches. Once she escaped notice; the second time the worst happened. She was asked a question she could not answer.

“Have you not decided on your course, and secured your books?” inquired the professor.

“I have decided on my course,” replied Elnora, “I do not know where to ask for my books.”

“Ask?” the professor was bewildered.

“I understood the books were furnished,” faltered Elnora.

“Only to those bringing an order from the township trustee,” replied the Professor.

“No! Oh no!” cried Elnora. “I will have them to-morrow,” and gripped her desk for support for she knew that was not true. Four books, ranging perhaps at a dollar and a half apiece; would her mother buy them? Of course she would not—could not.

Did not Elnora know the story of old. There was enough land, but no one to do clearing and farm. Tax on all those acres, recently the new gravel road tax added, the expense of living and only the work of two women to meet all of it. She was insane to think she could come to the city to school. Her mother had been right. The girl decided that if only she lived to reach home, she would stay there and lead any sort of life to avoid more of this torture. Bad as what she wished to escape had been, it was nothing like this. She never could live down the movement that went through the class when she inadvertently revealed the fact that she had expected books to be furnished. Her mother would not secure them; that settled the question.

But the end of misery is never in a hurry to come; before the day was over the superintendent entered the room and explained that pupils from the country were charged a tuition of twenty dollars a year. That really was the end. Previously Elnora had canvassed a dozen methods for securing the money for books, ranging all the way from offering to wash the superintendent's dishes to breaking into the bank. This additional expense made her plans so wildly impossible, there was nothing to do but hold up her head until she was from sight.

Down the long corridor alone among hundreds, down the long street alone among thousands, out into the country she came at last. Across the fence and field, along the old trail once trodden by a boy's bitter agony, now stumbled a white-faced girl, sick at heart. She sat on a log and began to sob in spite of her efforts at self-control. At first it was physical breakdown, later, thought came crowding.

Oh the shame, the mortification! Why had she not known of the tuition? How did she happen to think that in the city books were furnished? Perhaps it was because she had read they were in several states. But why did she not know? Why did not her mother go with her? Other mothers—but when had her mother ever been or done anything at all like other mothers? Because she never had been it was useless to blame her now. Elnora realized she should have gone to town the week before, called on some one and learned all these things herself. She should have remembered how her clothing would look, before she wore it in public places. Now she knew, and her dreams were over. She must go home to feed chickens, calves, and pigs, wear calico and coarse shoes, and with averted head, pass a library all her life. She sobbed again.

“For pity's sake, honey, what's the matter?” asked the voice of the nearest neighbour, Wesley Sinton, as he seated himself beside Elnora. “There, there,” he continued, smearing tears all over her face in an effort to dry them. “Was it as bad as that, now? Maggie has been just wild over you all day. She's got nervouser every minute. She said we were foolish to let you go. She said your clothes were not right, you ought not to carry that tin pail, and that they would laugh at you. By gum, I see they did!”

“Oh, Uncle Wesley,” sobbed the girl, “why didn't she tell me?”

“Well, you see, Elnora, she didn't like to. You got such a way of holding up your head, and going through with things. She thought some way that you'd make it, till you got started, and then she begun to see a hundred things we should have done. I reckon you hadn't reached that building before she remembered that your skirt should have been pleated instead of gathered, your shoes been low, and lighter for hot September weather, and a new hat. Were your clothes right, Elnora?”

The girl broke into hysterical laughter. “Right!” she cried. “Right! Uncle Wesley, you should have seen me among them! I was a picture! They'll never forget me. No, they won't get the chance, for they'll see me again to-morrow!

“Now that is what I call spunk, Elnora! Downright grit,” said Wesley Sinton. “Don't you let them laugh you out. You've helped Margaret and me for years at harvest and busy times, what you've earned must amount to quite a sum. You can get yourself a good many clothes with it.”

“Don't mention clothes, Uncle Wesley,” sobbed Elnora, “I don't care now how I look. If I don't go back all of them will know it's because I am so poor I can't buy my books.”

“Oh, I don't know as you are so dratted poor,” said Sinton meditatively. “There are three hundred acres of good land, with fine timber as ever grew on it.”

“It takes all we can earn to pay the tax, and mother wouldn't cut a tree for her life.”

“Well then, maybe, I'll be compelled to cut one for her,” suggested Sinton. “Anyway, stop tearing yourself to pieces and tell me. If it isn't clothes, what is it?”

“It's books and tuition. Over twenty dollars in all.”

“Humph! First time I ever knew you to be stumped by twenty dollars, Elnora,” said Sinton, patting her hand.

“It's the first time you ever knew me to want money,” answered Elnora. “This is different from anything that ever happened to me. Oh, how can I get it, Uncle Wesley?”

“Drive to town with me in the morning and I'll draw it from the bank for you. I owe you every cent of it.”

“You know you don't owe me a penny, and I wouldn't touch one from you, unless I really could earn it. For anything that's past I owe you and Aunt Margaret for all the home life and love I've ever known. I know how you work, and I'll not take your money.”

“Just a loan, Elnora, just a loan for a little while until you can earn it. You can be proud with all the rest of the world, but there are no secrets between us, are there, Elnora?”

“No,” said Elnora, “there are none. You and Aunt Margaret have given me all the love there has been in my life. That is the one reason above all others why you shall not give me charity. Hand me money because you find me crying for it! This isn't the first time this old trail has known tears and heartache. All of us know that story. Freckles stuck to what he undertook and won out. I stick, too. When Duncan moved away he gave me all Freckles left in the swamp, and as I have inherited his property maybe his luck will come with it. I won't touch your money, but I'll win some way. First, I'm going home and try mother. It's just possible I could find second-hand books, and perhaps all the tuition need not be paid at once. Maybe they would accept it quarterly. But oh, Uncle Wesley, you and Aunt Margaret keep on loving me! I'm so lonely, and no one else cares!”

Wesley Sinton's jaws met with a click. He swallowed hard on bitter words and changed what he would have liked to say three times before it became articulate.

“Elnora,” he said at last, “if it hadn't been for one thing I'd have tried to take legal steps to make you ours when you were three years old. Maggie said then it wasn't any use, but I've always held on. You see, I was the first man there, honey, and there are things you see, that you can't ever make anybody else understand. She loved him Elnora, she just made an idol of him. There was that oozy green hole, with the thick scum broke, and two or three big bubbles slowly rising that were the breath of his body. There she was in spasms of agony, and beside her the great heavy log she'd tried to throw him. I can't ever forgive her for turning against you, and spoiling your childhood as she has, but I couldn't forgive anybody else for abusing her. Maggie has got no mercy on her, but Maggie didn't see what I did, and I've never tried to make it very clear to her. It's been a little too plain for me ever since. Whenever I look at your mother's face, I see what she saw, so I hold my tongue and say, in my heart, 'Give her a mite more time.' Some day it will come. She does love you, Elnora. Everybody does, honey. It's just that she's feeling so much, she can't express herself. You be a patient girl and wait a little longer. After all, she's your mother, and you're all she's got, but a memory, and it might do her good to let her know that she was fooled in that.”

“It would kill her!” cried the girl swiftly. “Uncle Wesley, it would kill her! What do you mean?”

“Nothing,” said Wesley Sinton soothingly. “Nothing, honey. That was just one of them fool things a man says, when he is trying his best to be wise. You see, she loved him mightily, and they'd been married only a year, and what she was loving was what she thought he was. She hadn't really got acquainted with the man yet. If it had been even one more year, she could have borne it, and you'd have got justice. Having been a teacher she was better educated and smarter than the rest of us, and so she was more sensitive like. She can't understand she was loving a dream. So I say it might do her good if somebody that knew, could tell her, but I swear to gracious, I never could. I've heard her out at the edge of that quagmire calling in them wild spells of hers off and on for the last sixteen years, and imploring the swamp to give him back to her, and I've got out of bed when I was pretty tired, and come down to see she didn't go in herself, or harm you. What she feels is too deep for me. I've got to respectin' her grief, and I can't get over it. Go home and tell your ma, honey, and ask her nice and kind to help you. If she won't, then you got to swallow that little lump of pride in your neck, and come to Aunt Maggie, like you been a-coming all your life.”

“I'll ask mother, but I can't take your money, Uncle Wesley, indeed I can't. I'll wait a year, and earn some, and enter next year.”

“There's one thing you don't consider, Elnora,” said the man earnestly. “And that's what you are to Maggie. She's a little like your ma. She hasn't given up to it, and she's struggling on brave, but when we buried our second little girl the light went out of Maggie's eyes, and it's not come back. The only time I ever see a hint of it is when she thinks she's done something that makes you happy, Elnora. Now, you go easy about refusing her anything she wants to do for you. There's times in this world when it's our bounden duty to forget ourselves, and think what will help other people. Young woman, you owe me and Maggie all the comfort we can get out of you. There's the two of our own we can't ever do anything for. Don't you get the idea into your head that a fool thing you call pride is going to cut us out of all the pleasure we have in life beside ourselves.”

“Uncle Wesley, you are a dear,” said Elnora. “Just a dear! If I can't possibly get that money any way else on earth, I'll come and borrow it of you, and then I'll pay it back if I must dig ferns from the swamp and sell them from door to door in the city. I'll even plant them, so that they will be sure to come up in the spring. I have been sort of panic stricken all day and couldn't think. I can gather nuts and sell them. Freckles sold moths and butterflies, and I've a lot collected. Of course, I am going back to-morrow! I can find a way to get the books. Don't you worry about me. I am all right!

“Now, what do you think of that?” inquired Wesley Sinton of the swamp in general. “Here's our Elnora come back to stay. Head high and right as a trivet! You've named three ways in three minutes that you could earn ten dollars, which I figure would be enough, to start you. Let's go to supper and stop worrying!”

Elnora unlocked the case, took out the pail, put the napkin in it, pulled the ribbon from her hair, binding it down tightly again and followed to the road. From afar she could see her mother in the doorway. She blinked her eyes, and tried to smile as she answered Wesley Sinton, and indeed she did feel better. She knew now what she had to expect, where to go, and what to do. Get the books she must; when she had them, she would show those city girls and boys how to prepare and recite lessons, how to walk with a brave heart; and they could show her how to wear pretty clothes and have good times.

As she neared the door her mother reached for the pail. “I forgot to tell you to bring home your scraps for the chickens,” she said.

Elnora entered. “There weren't any scraps, and I'm hungry again as I ever was in my life.”

“I thought likely you would be,” said Mrs. Comstock, “and so I got supper ready. We can eat first, and do the work afterward. What kept you so? I expected you an hour ago.”

Elnora looked into her mother's face and smiled. It was a queer sort of a little smile, and would have reached the depths with any normal mother.

“I see you've been bawling,” said Mrs. Comstock. “I thought you'd get your fill in a hurry. That's why I wouldn't go to any expense. If we keep out of the poor-house we have to cut the corners close. It's likely this Brushwood road tax will eat up all we've saved in years. Where the land tax is to come from I don't know. It gets bigger every year. If they are going to dredge the swamp ditch again they'll just have to take the land to pay for it. I can't, that's all! We'll get up early in the morning and gather and hull the beans for winter, and put in the rest of the day hoeing the turnips.”

Elnora again smiled that pitiful smile.

“Do you think I didn't know that I was funny and would be laughed at?” she asked.

“Funny?” cried Mrs. Comstock hotly.

“Yes, funny! A regular caricature,” answered Elnora. “No one else wore calico, not even one other. No one else wore high heavy shoes, not even one. No one else had such a funny little old hat; my hair was not right, my ribbon invisible compared with the others, I did not know where to go, or what to do, and I had no books. What a spectacle I made for them!” Elnora laughed nervously at her own picture. “But there are always two sides! The professor said in the algebra class that he never had a better solution and explanation than mine of the proposition he gave me, which scored one for me in spite of my clothes.”

“Well, I wouldn't brag on myself!”

“That was poor taste,” admitted Elnora. “But, you see, it is a case of whistling to keep up my courage. I honestly could see that I would have looked just as well as the rest of them if I had been dressed as they were. We can't afford that, so I have to find something else to brace me. It was rather bad, mother!”

“Well, I'm glad you got enough of it!”

“Oh, but I haven't,” hurried in Elnora. “I just got a start. The hardest is over. To-morrow they won't be surprised. They will know what to expect. I am sorry to hear about the dredge. Is it really going through?”

“Yes. I got my notification today. The tax will be something enormous. I don't know as I can spare you, even if you are willing to be a laughing-stock for the town.”

With every bite Elnora's courage returned, for she was a healthy young thing.

“You've heard about doing evil that good might come from it,” she said. “Well, mother mine, it's something like that with me. I'm willing to bear the hard part to pay for what I'll learn. Already I have selected the ward building in which I shall teach in about four years. I am going to ask for a room with a south exposure so that the flowers and moths I take in from the swamp to show the children will do well.”

“You little idiot!” said Mrs. Comstock. “How are you going to pay your expenses?”

“Now that is just what I was going to ask you!” said Elnora. “You see, I have had two startling pieces of news to-day. I did not know I would need any money. I thought the city furnished the books, and there is an out-of-town tuition, also. I need ten dollars in the morning. Will you please let me have it?”

“Ten dollars!” cried Mrs. Comstock. “Ten dollars! Why don't you say a hundred and be done with it! I could get one as easy as the other. I told you! I told you I couldn't raise a cent. Every year expenses grow bigger and bigger. I told you not to ask for money!”

“I never meant to,” replied Elnora. “I thought clothes were all I needed and I could bear them. I never knew about buying books and tuition.”

“Well, I did!” said Mrs. Comstock. “I knew what you would run into! But you are so bull-dog stubborn, and so set in your way, I thought I would just let you try the world a little and see how you liked it!”

Elnora pushed back her chair and looked at her mother.

“Do you mean to say,” she demanded, “that you knew, when you let me go into a city classroom and reveal the fact before all of them that I expected to have my books handed out to me; do you mean to say that you knew I had to pay for them?”

Mrs. Comstock evaded the direct question.

“Anybody but an idiot mooning over a book or wasting time prowling the woods would have known you had to pay. Everybody has to pay for everything. Life is made up of pay, pay, pay! It's always and forever pay! If you don't pay one way you do another! Of course, I knew you had to pay. Of course, I knew you would come home blubbering! But you don't get a penny! I haven't one cent, and can't get one! Have your way if you are determined, but I think you will find the road somewhat rocky.”

“Swampy, you mean, mother,” corrected Elnora. She arose white and trembling. “Perhaps some day God will teach me how to understand you. He knows I do not now. You can't possibly realize just what you let me go through to-day, or how you let me go, but I'll tell you this: You understand enough that if you had the money, and would offer it to me, I wouldn't touch it now. And I'll tell you this much more. I'll get it myself. I'll raise it, and do it some honest way. I am going back to-morrow, the next day, and the next. You need not come out, I'll do the night work, and hoe the turnips.”

It was ten o'clock when the chickens, pigs, and cattle were fed, the turnips hoed, and a heap of bean vines was stacked beside the back door.
admin
Site Admin
 
Posts: 28062
Joined: Thu Aug 01, 2013 5:21 am

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

Postby admin » Mon Jun 24, 2019 5:18 am

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

Wesley Sinton walked down the road half a mile and turned at the lane leading to his home. His heart was hot and filled with indignation. He had told Elnora he did not blame her mother, but he did. His wife met him at the door.

“Did you see anything of Elnora?” she questioned.

“Most too much, Maggie,” he answered. “What do you say to going to town? There's a few things has to be got right away.”

“Where did you see her, Wesley?”

“Along the old Limberlost trail, my girl, torn to pieces sobbing. Her courage always has been fine, but the thing she met to-day was too much for her. We ought to have known better than to let her go that way. It wasn't only clothes; there were books, and entrance fees for out-of-town people, that she didn't know about; while there must have been jeers, whispers, and laughing. Maggie, I feel as if I'd been a traitor to those girls of ours. I ought to have gone in and seen about this school business. Don't cry, Maggie. Get me some supper, and I'll hitch up and see what we can do now.”

“What can we do, Wesley?

“I don't just know. But we've got to do something. Kate Comstock will be a handful, while Elnora will be two, but between us we must see that the girl is not too hard pressed about money, and that she is dressed so she is not ridiculous. She's saved us the wages of a woman many a day, can't you make her some decent dresses?”

“Well, I'm not just what you call expert, but I could beat Kate Comstock all to pieces. I know that skirts should be pleated to the band instead of gathered, and full enough to sit in, and short enough to walk in. I could try. There are patterns for sale. Let's go right away, Wesley.”

“Set me a bit of supper, while I hitch up.”

Margaret built a fire, made coffee, and fried ham and eggs. She set out pie and cake and had enough for a hungry man by the time the carriage was at the door, but she had no appetite. She dressed while Wesley ate, put away the food while he dressed, and then they drove toward the city through the beautiful September evening, and as they went they planned for Elnora. The trouble was, not whether they were generous enough to buy what she needed, but whether she would accept their purchases, and what her mother would say.

They went to a drygoods store and when a clerk asked what they wanted to see neither of them knew, so they stepped aside and held a whispered consultation.

“What had we better get, Wesley?”

“Dresses,” said Wesley promptly,

“But how many dresses, and what kind?”

“Blest if I know!” exclaimed Wesley. “I thought you would manage that. I know about some things I'm going to get.”

At that instant several high school girls came into the store and approached them.

“There!” exclaimed Wesley breathlessly. “There, Maggie! Like them! That's what she needs! Buy like they have!”

Margaret stared. What did they wear? They were rapidly passing; they seemed to have so much, and she could not decide so quickly. Before she knew it she was among them.

“I beg your pardon, but won't you wait one minute?” she asked.

The girls stopped with wondering faces.

“It's your clothes,” explained Mrs. Sinton. “You look just beautiful to me. You look exactly as I should have wanted to see my girls. They both died of diphtheria when they were little, but they had yellow hair, dark eyes and pink cheeks, and everybody thought they were lovely. If they had lived, they'd been near your age now, and I'd want them to look like you.”

There was sympathy on every girl face.

“Why thank you!” said one of them. “We are very sorry for you.”

“Of course you are,” said Margaret. “Everybody always has been. And because I can't ever have the joy of a mother in thinking for my girls and buying pretty things for them, there is nothing left for me, but to do what I can for some one who has no mother to care for her. I know a girl, who would be just as pretty as any of you, if she had the clothes, but her mother does not think about her, so I mother her some myself.”

“She must be a lucky girl,” said another.

“Oh, she loves me,” said Margaret, “and I love her. I want her to look just like you do. Please tell me about your clothes. Are these the dresses and hats you wear to school? What kind of goods are they, and where do you buy them?”

The girls began to laugh and cluster around Margaret. Wesley strode down the store with his head high through pride in her, but his heart was sore over the memory of two little faces under Brushwood sod. He inquired his way to the shoe department.

“Why, every one of us have on gingham or linen dresses,” they said, “and they are our school clothes.”

For a few moments there was a babel of laughing voices explaining to the delighted Margaret that school dresses should be bright and pretty, but simple and plain, and until cold weather they should wash.

“I'll tell you,” said Ellen Brownlee, “my father owns this store, I know all the clerks. I'll take you to Miss Hartley. You tell her just how much you want to spend, and what you want to buy, and she will know how to get the most for your money. I've heard papa say she was the best clerk in the store for people who didn't know precisely what they wanted.”

“That's the very thing,” agreed Margaret. “But before you go, tell me about your hair. Elnora's hair is bright and wavy, but yours is silky as hackled flax. How do you do it?”

“Elnora?” asked four girls in concert.

“Yes, Elnora is the name of the girl I want these things for.”

“Did she come to the high school to-day?” questioned one of them.

“Was she in your classes?” demanded Margaret without reply.

Four girls stood silent and thought fast. Had there been a strange girl among them, and had she been overlooked and passed by with indifference, because she was so very shabby? If she had appeared as much better than they, as she had looked worse, would her reception have been the same?

“There was a strange girl from the country in the Freshman class to-day,” said Ellen Brownlee, “and her name was Elnora.”

“That was the girl,” said Margaret.

“Are her people so very poor?” questioned Ellen.

“No, not poor at all, come to think of it,” answered Margaret. “It's a peculiar case. Mrs. Comstock had a great trouble and she let it change her whole life and make a different woman of her. She used to be lovely; now she is forever saving and scared to death for fear they will go to the poorhouse; but there is a big farm, covered with lots of good timber. The taxes are high for women who can't manage to clear and work the land. There ought to be enough to keep two of them in good shape all their lives, if they only knew how to do it. But no one ever told Kate Comstock anything, and never will, for she won't listen. All she does is droop all day, and walk the edge of the swamp half the night, and neglect Elnora. If you girls would make life just a little easier for her it would be the finest thing you ever did.”

All of them promised they would.

“Now tell me about your hair,” persisted Margaret Sinton.

So they took her to a toilet counter, and she bought the proper hair soap, also a nail file, and cold cream, for use after windy days. Then they left her with the experienced clerk, and when at last Wesley found her she was loaded with bundles and the light of other days was in her beautiful eyes. Wesley also carried some packages.

“Did you get any stockings?” he whispered.

“No, I didn't,” she said. “I was so interested in dresses and hair ribbons and a—a hat——” she hesitated and glanced at Wesley. “Of course, a hat!” prompted Wesley. “That I forgot all about those horrible shoes. She's got to have decent shoes, Wesley.”

“Sure!” said Wesley. “She's got decent shoes. But the man said some brown stockings ought to go with them. Take a peep, will you!”

Wesley opened a box and displayed a pair of thick-soled, beautifully shaped brown walking shoes of low cut. Margaret cried out with pleasure.

“But do you suppose they are the right size, Wesley? What did you get?”

“I just said for a girl of sixteen with a slender foot.”

“Well, that's about as near as I could come. If they don't fit when she tries them, we will drive straight in and change them. Come on now, let's get home.”

All the way they discussed how they should give Elnora their purchases and what Mrs. Comstock would say.

“I am afraid she will be awful mad,” said Margaret.

“She'll just rip!” replied Wesley graphically. “But if she wants to leave the raising of her girl to the neighbours, she needn't get fractious if they take some pride in doing a good job. From now on I calculate Elnora shall go to school; and she shall have all the clothes and books she needs, if I go around on the back of Kate Comstock's land and cut a tree, or drive off a calf to pay for them. Why I know one tree she owns that would put Elnora in heaven for a year. Just think of it, Margaret! It's not fair. One-third of what is there belongs to Elnora by law, and if Kate Comstock raises a row I'll tell her so, and see that the girl gets it. You go to see Kate in the morning, and I'll go with you. Tell her you want Elnora's pattern, that you are going to make her a dress, for helping us. And sort of hint at a few more things. If Kate balks, I'll take a hand and settle her. I'll go to law for Elnora's share of that land and sell enough to educate her.”

“Why, Wesley Sinton, you're perfectly wild.”

“I'm not! Did you ever stop to think that such cases are so frequent there have been laws made to provide for them? I can bring it up in court and force Kate to educate Elnora, and board and clothe her till she's of age, and then she can take her share.”

“Wesley, Kate would go crazy!”

“She's crazy now. The idea of any mother living with as sweet a girl as Elnora and letting her suffer till I find her crying like a funeral. It makes me fighting mad. All uncalled for. Not a grain of sense in it. I've offered and offered to oversee clearing her land and working her fields. Let her sell a good tree, or a few acres. Something is going to be done, right now. Elnora's been fairly happy up to this, but to spoil the school life she's planned, is to ruin all her life. I won't have it! If Elnora won't take these things, so help me, I'll tell her what she is worth, and loan her the money and she can pay me back when she comes of age. I am going to have it out with Kate Comstock in the morning. Here we are! You open up what you got while I put away the horses, and then I'll show you.”

When Wesley came from the barn Margaret had four pieces of crisp gingham, a pale blue, a pink, a gray with green stripes and a rich brown and blue plaid. On each of them lay a yard and a half of wide ribbon to match. There were handkerchiefs and a brown leather belt. In her hands she held a wide-brimmed tan straw hat, having a high crown banded with velvet strips each of which fastened with a tiny gold buckle.

“It looks kind of bare now,” she explained. “It had three quills on it here.”

“Did you have them taken off?” asked Wesley.

“Yes, I did. The price was two and a half for the hat, and those things were a dollar and a half apiece. I couldn't pay that.”

“It does seem considerable,” admitted Wesley, “but will it look right without them?”

“No, it won't!” said Margaret. “It's going to have quills on it. Do you remember those beautiful peacock wing feathers that Phoebe Simms gave me? Three of them go on just where those came off, and nobody will ever know the difference. They match the hat to a moral, and they are just a little longer and richer than the ones that I had taken off. I was wondering whether I better sew them on to-night while I remember how they set, or wait till morning.”

“Don't risk it!” exclaimed Wesley anxiously. “Don't you risk it! Sew them on right now!”

“Open your bundles, while I get the thread,” said Margaret.

Wesley unwrapped the shoes. Margaret took them up and pinched the leather and stroked them.

“My, but they are fine!” she cried.

Wesley picked up one and slowly turned it in his big hands. He glanced at his foot and back to the shoe.

“It's a little bit of a thing, Margaret,” he said softly. “Like as not I'll have to take it back. It seems as if it couldn't fit.”

“It seems as if it didn't dare do anything else,” said Margaret. “That's a happy little shoe to get the chance to carry as fine a girl as Elnora to high school. Now what's in the other box?”

Wesley looked at Margaret doubtfully.

“Why,” he said, “you know there's going to be rainy days, and those things she has now ain't fit for anything but to drive up the cows——”

“Wesley, did you get high shoes, too?”

“Well, she ought to have them! The man said he would make them cheaper if I took both pairs at once.”

Margaret laughed aloud. “Those will do her past Christmas,” she exulted. “What else did you buy?”

“Well sir,” said Wesley, “I saw something to-day. You told me about Kate getting that tin pail for Elnora to carry to high school and you said you told her it was a shame. I guess Elnora was ashamed all right, for to-night she stopped at the old case Duncan gave her, and took out that pail, where it had been all day, and put a napkin inside it. Coming home she confessed she was half starved because she hid her dinner under a culvert, and a tramp took it. She hadn't had a bite to eat the whole day. But she never complained at all, she was pleased that she hadn't lost the napkin. So I just inquired around till I found this, and I think it's about the ticket.”

Wesley opened the package and laid a brown leather lunch box on the table. “Might be a couple of books, or drawing tools or most anything that's neat and genteel. You see, it opens this way.”

It did open, and inside was a space for sandwiches, a little porcelain box for cold meat or fried chicken, another for salad, a glass with a lid which screwed on, held by a ring in a corner, for custard or jelly, a flask for tea or milk, a beautiful little knife, fork, and spoon fastened in holders, and a place for a napkin.

Margaret was almost crying over it.

“How I'd love to fill it!” she exclaimed.

“Do it the first time, just to show Kate Comstock what love is!” said Wesley. “Get up early in the morning and make one of those dresses to-morrow. Can't you make a plain gingham dress in a day? I'll pick a chicken, and you fry it and fix a little custard for the cup, and do it up brown. Go on, Maggie, you do it!”

“I never can,” said Margaret. “I am slow as the itch about sewing, and these are not going to be plain dresses when it comes to making them. There are going to be edgings of plain green, pink, and brown to the bias strips, and tucks and pleats around the hips, fancy belts and collars, and all of it takes time.”

“Then Kate Comstock's got to help,” said Wesley. “Can the two of you make one, and get that lunch to-morrow?”

“Easy, but she'll never do it!”

“You see if she doesn't!” said Wesley. “You get up and cut it out, and soon as Elnora is gone I'll go after Kate myself. She'll take what I'll say better alone. But she'll come, and she'll help make the dress. These other things are our Christmas gifts to Elnora. She'll no doubt need them more now than she will then, and we can give them just as well. That's yours, and this is mine, or whichever way you choose.”

Wesley untied a good brown umbrella and shook out the folds of a long, brown raincoat. Margaret dropped the hat, arose and took the coat. She tried it on, felt it, cooed over it and matched it with the umbrella.

“Did it look anything like rain to-night?” she inquired so anxiously that Wesley laughed.

“And this last bundle?” she said, dropping back in her chair, the coat still over her shoulders.

“I couldn't buy this much stuff for any other woman and nothing for my own,” said Wesley. “It's Christmas for you, too, Margaret!” He shook out fold after fold of soft gray satiny goods that would look lovely against Margaret's pink cheeks and whitening hair.

“Oh, you old darling!” she exclaimed, and fled sobbing into his arms.

But she soon dried her eyes, raked together the coals in the cooking stove and boiled one of the dress patterns in salt water for half an hour. Wesley held the lamp while she hung the goods on the line to dry. Then she set the irons on the stove so they would be hot the first thing in the morning.
admin
Site Admin
 
Posts: 28062
Joined: Thu Aug 01, 2013 5:21 am

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

Postby admin » Mon Jun 24, 2019 5:18 am

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

Four o'clock the following morning Elnora was shelling beans. At six she fed the chickens and pigs, swept two of the rooms of the cabin, built a fire, and put on the kettle for breakfast. Then she climbed the narrow stairs to the attic she had occupied since a very small child, and dressed in the hated shoes and brown calico, plastered down her crisp curls, ate what breakfast she could, and pinning on her hat started for town.

“There is no sense in your going for an hour yet,” said her mother.

“I must try to discover some way to earn those books,” replied Elnora. “I am perfectly positive I shall not find them lying beside the road wrapped in tissue paper, and tagged with my name.”

She went toward the city as on yesterday. Her perplexity as to where tuition and books were to come from was worse but she did not feel quite so badly. She never again would have to face all of it for the first time. There had been times yesterday when she had prayed to be hidden, or to drop dead, and neither had happened. “I believe the best way to get an answer to prayer is to work for it,” muttered Elnora grimly.

Again she followed the trail to the swamp, rearranged her hair and left the tin pail. This time she folded a couple of sandwiches in the napkin, and tied them in a neat light paper parcel which she carried in her hand. Then she hurried along the road to Onabasha and found a book-store. There she asked the prices of the list of books that she needed, and learned that six dollars would not quite supply them. She anxiously inquired for second-hand books, but was told that the only way to secure them was from the last year's Freshmen. Just then Elnora felt that she positively could not approach any of those she supposed to be Sophomores and ask to buy their old books. The only balm the girl could see for the humiliation of yesterday was to appear that day with a set of new books.

“Do you wish these?” asked the clerk hurriedly, for the store was rapidly filling with school children wanting anything from a dictionary to a pen.

“Yes,” gasped Elnora, “Oh, yes! But I cannot pay for them just now. Please let me take them, and I will pay for them on Friday, or return them as perfect as they are. Please trust me for them a few days.”

“I'll ask the proprietor,” he said. When he came back Elnora knew the answer before he spoke.

“I'm sorry,” he said, “but Mr. Hann doesn't recognize your name. You are not a customer of ours, and he feels that he can't take the risk.”

Elnora clumped out of the store, the thump of her heavy, shoes beating as a hammer on her brain. She tried two other dealers with the same result, and then in sick despair came into the street. What could she do? She was too frightened to think. Should she stay from school that day and canvass the homes appearing to belong to the wealthy, and try to sell beds of wild ferns, as she had suggested to Wesley Sinton? What would she dare ask for bringing in and planting a clump of ferns? How could she carry them? Would people buy them? She slowly moved past the hotel and then glanced around to see if there were a clock anywhere, for she felt sure the young people passing her constantly were on their way to school.

There it stood in a bank window in big black letters staring straight at her:

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

Elnora caught the wicket at the cashier's desk with both hands to brace herself against disappointment.

“Who is it wants to buy cocoons, butterflies, and moths?” she panted.

“The Bird Woman,” answered the cashier. “Have you some for sale?”

“I have some, I do not know if they are what she would want.”

“Well, you had better see her,” said the cashier. “Do you know where she lives?”

“Yes,” said Elnora. “Would you tell me the time?”

“Twenty-one after eight,” was the answer.

She had nine minutes to reach the auditorium or be late. Should she go to school, or to the Bird Woman? Several girls passed her walking swiftly and she remembered their faces. They were hurrying to school. Elnora caught the infection. She would see the Bird Woman at noon. Algebra came first, and that professor was kind. Perhaps she could slip to the superintendent and ask him for a book for the next lesson, and at noon—“Oh, dear Lord make it come true,” prayed Elnora, at noon possibly she could sell some of those wonderful shining-winged things she had been collecting all her life around the outskirts of the Limberlost.

As she went down the long hall she noticed the professor of mathematics standing in the door of his recitation room. When she passed him he smiled and spoke to her.

“I have been watching for you,” he said, and Elnora stopped bewildered.

“For me?” she questioned.

“Yes,” said Professor Henley. “Step inside.”

Elnora followed him into the room and closed the door behind them.

“At teachers' meeting last evening, one of the professors mentioned that a pupil had betrayed in class that she had expected her books to be furnished by the city. I thought possibly it was you. Was it?”

“Yes,” breathed Elnora.

“That being the case,” said Professor Henley, “it just occurred to me as you had expected that, you might require a little time to secure them, and you are too fine a mathematician to fall behind for want of supplies. So I telephoned one of our Sophomores to bring her last year's books this morning. I am sorry to say they are somewhat abused, but the text is all here. You can have them for two dollars, and pay when you are ready. Would you care to take them?”

Elnora sat suddenly, because she could not stand another instant. She reached both hands for the books, and said never a word. The professor was silent also. At last Eleanor arose, hugging those books to her heart as a mother clasps a baby.

“One thing more,” said the professor. “You may pay your tuition quarterly. You need not bother about the first instalment this month. Any time in October will do.”

It seemed as if Elnora's gasp of relief must have reached the soles of her brogans.

“Did any one ever tell you how beautiful you are!” she cried.

As the professor was lank, tow-haired and so near-sighted, that he peered at his pupils through spectacles, no one ever had.

“No,” said Professor Henley, “I've waited some time for that; for which reason I shall appreciate it all the more. Come now, or we shall be late for opening exercises.”

So Elnora entered the auditorium a second time. Her face was like the brightest dawn that ever broke over the Limberlost. No matter about the lumbering shoes and skimpy dress. No matter about anything, she had the books. She could take them home. In her garret she could commit them to memory, if need be. She could prove that clothes were not all. If the Bird Woman did not want any of the many different kinds of specimens she had collected, she was quite sure now she could sell ferns, nuts, and a great many things. Then, too, a girl made a place for her that morning, and several smiled and bowed. Elnora forgot everything save her books, and that she was where she could use them intelligently—everything except one little thing away back in her head. Her mother had known about the books and the tuition, and had not told her when she agreed to her coming.

At noon Elnora took her little parcel of lunch and started to the home of the Bird Woman. She must know about the specimens first and then she would walk to the suburbs somewhere and eat a few bites. She dropped the heavy iron knocker on the door of a big red log cabin, and her heart thumped at the resounding stroke.

“Is the Bird Woman at home?” she asked of the maid.

“She is at lunch,” was the answer.

“Please ask her if she will see a girl from the Limberlost about some moths?” inquired Elnora.

“I never need ask, if it's moths,” laughed the girl. “Orders are to bring any one with specimens right in. Come this way.”

Elnora followed down the hall and entered a long room with high panelled wainscoting, old English fireplace with an overmantel and closets of peculiar china filling the corners. At a bare table of oak, yellow as gold, sat a woman Elnora often had watched and followed covertly around the Limberlost. The Bird Woman was holding out a hand of welcome.

“I heard!” she laughed. “A little pasteboard box, or just the mere word 'specimen,' passes you at my door. If it is moths I hope you have hundreds. I've been very busy all summer and unable to collect, and I need so many. Sit down and lunch with me, while we talk it over. From the Limberlost, did you say?”

“I live near the swamp,” replied Elnora. “Since it's so cleared I dare go around the edge in daytime, though we are all afraid at night.”

“What have you collected?” asked the Bird Woman, as she helped Elnora to sandwiches unlike any she ever before had tasted, salad that seemed to be made of many familiar things, and a cup of hot chocolate that would have delighted any hungry schoolgirl.

“I am afraid I am bothering you for nothing, and imposing on you,” she said. “That 'collected' frightens me. I've only gathered. I always loved everything outdoors, so I made friends and playmates of them. When I learned that the moths die so soon, I saved them especially, because there seemed no wickedness in it.”

“I have thought the same thing,” said the Bird Woman encouragingly. Then because the girl could not eat until she learned about the moths, the Bird Woman asked Elnora if she knew what kinds she had.

“Not all of them,” answered Elnora. “Before Mr. Duncan moved away he often saw me near the edge of the swamp and he showed me the box he had fixed for Freckles, and gave me the key. There were some books and things, so from that time on I studied and tried to take moths right, but I am afraid they are not what you want.”

“Are they the big ones that fly mostly in June nights?” asked the Bird Woman.

“Yes,” said Elnora. “Big gray ones with reddish markings, pale blue-green, yellow with lavender, and red and yellow.”

“What do you mean by 'red and yellow?'” asked the Bird Woman so quickly that the girl almost jumped.

“Not exactly red,” explained Elnora, with tremulous voice. “A reddish, yellowish brown, with canary-coloured spots and gray lines on their wings.”

“How many of them?” It was the same quick question.

“I had over two hundred eggs,” said Elnora, “but some of them didn't hatch, and some of the caterpillars died, but there must be at least a hundred perfect ones.”

“Perfect! How perfect?” cried the Bird Woman.

“I mean whole wings, no down gone, and all their legs and antennae,” faltered Elnora.

“Young woman, that's the rarest moth in America,” said the Bird Woman solemnly. “If you have a hundred of them, they are worth a hundred dollars according to my list. I can use all that are not damaged.”

“What if they are not pinned right,” quavered Elnora.

“If they are perfect, that does not make the slightest difference. I know how to soften them so that I can put them into any shape I choose. Where are they? When may I see them?”

“They are in Freckles's old case in the Limberlost,” said Elnora. “I couldn't carry many for fear of breaking them, but I could bring a few after school.”

“You come here at four,” said the Bird Woman, “and we will drive out with some specimen boxes, and a price list, and see what you have to sell. Are they your very own? Are you free to part with them?”

“They are mine,” said Elnora. “No one but God knows I have them. Mr. Duncan gave me the books and the box. He told Freckles about me, and Freckles told him to give me all he left. He said for me to stick to the swamp and be brave, and my hour would come, and it has! I know most of them are all right, and oh, I do need the money!”

“Could you tell me?” asked the Bird Woman softly.

“You see the swamp and all the fields around it are so full,” explained Elnora. “Every day I felt smaller and smaller, and I wanted to know more and more, and pretty soon I grew desperate, just as Freckles did. But I am better off than he was, for I have his books, and I have a mother; even if she doesn't care for me as other girls' mothers do for them, it's better than no one.”

The Bird Woman's glance fell, for the girl was not conscious of how much she was revealing. Her eyes were fixed on a black pitcher filled with goldenrod in the centre of the table and she was saying what she thought.

“As long as I could go to the Brushwood school I was happy, but I couldn't go further just when things were the most interesting, so I was determined I'd come to high school and mother wouldn't consent. You see there's plenty of land, but father was drowned when I was a baby, and mother and I can't make money as men do. The taxes are higher every year, and she said it was too expensive. I wouldn't give her any rest, until at last she bought me this dress, and these shoes and I came. It was awful!”

“Do you live in that beautiful cabin at the northwest end of the swamp?” asked the Bird Woman.

“Yes,” said Elnora.

“I remember the place and a story about it, now. You entered the high school yesterday?”

“Yes.”

“It was rather bad?”

“Rather bad!” echoed Elnora.

The Bird Woman laughed.

“You can't tell me anything about that,” she said. “I once entered a city school straight from the country. My dress was brown calico, and my shoes were heavy.”

The tears began to roll down Elnora's cheeks.

“Did they——?” she faltered.

“They did!” said the Bird Woman. “All of it. I am sure they did not miss one least little thing.”

Then she wiped away some tears that began coursing her cheeks, and laughed at the same time.

“Where are they now?” asked Elnora suddenly.

“They are widely scattered, but none of them have attained heights out of range. Some of the rich are poor, and some of the poor are rich. Some of the brightest died insane, and some of the dullest worked out high positions; some of the very worst to bear have gone out, and I frequently hear from others. Now I am here, able to remember it, and mingle laughter with what used to be all tears; for every day I have my beautiful work, and almost every day God sends some one like you to help me. What is your name, my girl?”

“Elnora Comstock,” answered Elnora. “Yesterday on the board it changed to Cornstock, and for a minute I thought I'd die, but I can laugh over that already.”

The Bird Woman arose and kissed her. “Finish your lunch,” she said, “and I will bring my price lists, and make a memorandum of what you think you have, so I will know how many boxes to prepare. And remember this: What you are lies with you. If you are lazy, and accept your lot, you may live in it. If you are willing to work, you can write your name anywhere you choose, among the only ones who live beyond the grave in this world, the people who write books that help, make exquisite music, carve statues, paint pictures, and work for others. Never mind the calico dress, and the coarse shoes. Work at your books, and before long you will hear yesterday's tormentors boasting that they were once classmates of yours. 'I could a tale unfold'——!”

She laughingly left the room and Elnora sat thinking, until she remembered how hungry she was, so she ate the food, drank the hot chocolate and began to feel better.

Then the Bird Woman came back and showed Elnora a long printed slip giving a list of graduated prices for moths, butterflies, and dragonflies.

“Oh, do you want them!” exulted Elnora. “I have a few and I can get more by the thousand, with every colour in the world on their wings.”

“Yes,” said the Bird Woman, “I will buy them, also the big moth caterpillars that are creeping everywhere now, and the cocoons that they will spin just about this time. I have a sneaking impression that the mystery, wonder, and the urge of their pure beauty, are going to force me to picture and paint our moths and put them into a book for all the world to see and know. We Limberlost people must not be selfish with the wonders God has given to us. We must share with those poor cooped-up city people the best we can. To send them a beautiful book, that is the way, is it not, little new friend of mine?”

“Yes, oh yes!” cried Elnora. “And please God they find a way to earn the money to buy the books, as I have those I need so badly.”

“I will pay good prices for all the moths you can find,” said the Bird Woman, “because you see I exchange them with foreign collectors. I want a complete series of the moths of America to trade with a German scientist, another with a man in India, and another in Brazil. Others I can exchange with home collectors for those of California and Canada, so you see I can use all you can raise, or find. The banker will buy stone axes, arrow points, and Indian pipes. There was a teacher from the city grade schools here to-day for specimens. There is a fund to supply the ward buildings. I'll help you get in touch with that. They want leaves of different trees, flowers, grasses, moths, insects, birds' nests and anything about birds.”

Elnora's eyes were blazing. “Had I better go back to school or open a bank account and begin being a millionaire? Uncle Wesley and I have a bushel of arrow points gathered, a stack of axes, pipes, skin-dressing tools, tubes and mortars. I don't know how I ever shall wait three hours.”

“You must go, or you will be late,” said the Bird Woman. “I will be ready at four.”

After school closed Elnora, seated beside the Bird Woman, drove to Freckles's room in the Limberlost. One at a time the beautiful big moths were taken from the interior of the old black case. Not a fourth of them could be moved that night and it was almost dark when the last box was closed, the list figured, and into Elnora's trembling fingers were paid fifty-nine dollars and sixteen cents. Elnora clasped the money closely.

“Oh you beautiful stuff!” she cried. “You are going to buy the books, pay the tuition, and take me to high school.”

Then because she was a woman, she sat on a log and looked at her shoes. Long after the Bird Woman drove away Elnora remained. She had her problem, and it was a big one. If she told her mother, would she take the money to pay the taxes? If she did not tell her, how could she account for the books, and things for which she would spend it. At last she counted out what she needed for the next day, placed the remainder in the farthest corner of the case, and locked the door. She then filled the front of her skirt from a heap of arrow points beneath the case and started home.
admin
Site Admin
 
Posts: 28062
Joined: Thu Aug 01, 2013 5:21 am

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

Postby admin » Mon Jun 24, 2019 5:19 am

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

With the first streak of red above the Limberlost Margaret Sinton was busy with the gingham and the intricate paper pattern she had purchased. Wesley cooked the breakfast and worked until he thought Elnora would be gone, then he started to bring her mother.

“Now you be mighty careful,” cautioned Margaret. “I don't know how she will take it.”

“I don't either,” said Wesley philosophically, “but she's got to take it some way. That dress has to be finished by school time in the morning.”

Wesley had not slept well that night. He had been so busy framing diplomatic speeches to make to Mrs. Comstock that sleep had little chance with him. Every step nearer to her he approached his position seemed less enviable. By the time he reached the front gate and started down the walk between the rows of asters and lady slippers he was perspiring, and every plausible and convincing speech had fled his brain. Mrs. Comstock helped him. She met him at the door.

“Good morning,” she said. “Did Margaret send you for something?”

“Yes,” said Wesley. “She's got a job that's too big for her, and she wants you to help.”

“Of course I will,” said Mrs. Comstock. It was no one's affair how lonely the previous day had been, or how the endless hours of the present would drag. “What is she doing in such a rush?”

Now was his chance.

“She's making a dress for Elnora,” answered, Wesley. He saw Mrs. Comstock's form straighten, and her face harden, so he continued hastily. “You see Elnora has been helping us at harvest time, butchering, and with unexpected visitors for years. We've made out that she's saved us a considerable sum, and as she wouldn't ever touch any pay for anything, we just went to town and got a few clothes we thought would fix her up a little for the high school. We want to get a dress done to-day mighty bad, but Margaret is slow about sewing, and she never can finish alone, so I came after you.”

“And it's such a simple little matter, so dead easy; and all so between old friends like, that you can't look above your boots while you explain it,” sneered Mrs. Comstock. “Wesley Sinton, what put the idea into your head that Elnora would take things bought with money, when she wouldn't take the money?”

Then Sinton's eyes came up straightly.

“Finding her on the trail last night sobbing as hard as I ever saw any one at a funeral. She wasn't complaining at all, but she's come to me all her life with her little hurts, and she couldn't hide how she'd been laughed at, twitted, and run face to face against the fact that there were books and tuition, unexpected, and nothing will ever make me believe you didn't know that, Kate Comstock.”

“If any doubts are troubling you on that subject, sure I knew it! She was so anxious to try the world, I thought I'd just let her take a few knocks and see how she liked them.”

“As if she'd ever taken anything but knocks all her life!” cried Wesley Sinton. “Kate Comstock, you are a heartless, selfish woman. You've never shown Elnora any real love in her life. If ever she finds out that thing you'll lose her, and it will serve you right.”

“She knows it now,” said Mrs. Comstock icily, “and she'll be home to-night just as usual.”

“Well, you are a brave woman if you dared put a girl of Elnora's make through what she suffered yesterday, and will suffer again to-day, and let her know you did it on purpose. I admire your nerve. But I've watched this since Elnora was born, and I got enough. Things have come to a pass where they go better for her, or I interfere.”

“As if you'd ever done anything but interfere all her life! Think I haven't watched you? Think I, with my heart raw in my breast, and too numb to resent it openly, haven't seen you and Mag Sinton trying to turn Elnora against me day after day? When did you ever tell her what her father meant to me? When did you ever try to make her see the wreck of my life, and what I've suffered? No indeed! Always it's been poor little abused Elnora, and cakes, kissing, extra clothes, and encouraging her to run to you with a pitiful mouth every time I tried to make a woman of her.”

“Kate Comstock, that's unjust,” cried Sinton. “Only last night I tried to show her the picture I saw the day she was born. I begged her to come to you and tell you pleasant what she needed, and ask you for what I happen to know you can well afford to give her.”

“I can't!” cried Mrs. Comstock. “You know I can't!”

“Then get so you can!” said Wesley Sinton. “Any day you say the word you can sell six thousand worth of rare timber off this place easy. I'll see to clearing and working the fields cheap as dirt, for Elnora's sake. I'll buy you more cattle to fatten. All you've got to do is sign a lease, to pull thousands from the ground in oil, as the rest of us are doing all around you!”

“Cut down Robert's trees!” shrieked Mrs. Comstock. “Tear up his land! Cover everything with horrid, greasy oil! I'll die first.”

“You mean you'll let Elnora go like a beggar, and hurt and mortify her past bearing. I've got to the place where I tell you plain what I am going to do. Maggie and I went to town last night, and we bought what things Elnora needs most urgent to make her look a little like the rest of the high school girls. Now here it is in plain English. You can help get these things ready, and let us give them to her as we want——”

“She won't touch them!” cried Mrs. Comstock.

“Then you can pay us, and she can take them as her right——”

“I won't!”

“Then I will tell Elnora just what you are worth, what you can afford, and how much of this she owns. I'll loan her the money to buy books and decent clothes, and when she is of age she can sell her share and pay me.”

Mrs. Comstock gripped a chair-back and opened her lips, but no words came.

“And,” Sinton continued, “if she is so much like you that she won't do that, I'll go to the county seat and lay complaint against you as her guardian before the judge. I'll swear to what you are worth, and how you are raising her, and have you discharged, or have the judge appoint some man who will see that she is comfortable, educated, and decent looking!”

“You—you wouldn't!” gasped Kate Comstock.

“I won't need to, Kate!” said Sinton, his heart softening the instant the hard words were said. “You won't show it, but you do love Elnora! You can't help it! You must see how she needs things; come help us fix them, and be friends. Maggie and I couldn't live without her, and you couldn't either. You've got to love such a fine girl as she is; let it show a little!”

“You can hardly expect me to love her,” said Mrs. Comstock coldly. “But for her a man would stand back of me now, who would beat the breath out of your sneaking body for the cowardly thing with which you threaten me. After all I've suffered you'd drag me to court and compel me to tear up Robert's property. If I ever go they carry me. If they touch one tree, or put down one greasy old oil well, it will be over all I can shoot, before they begin. Now, see how quick you can clear out of here!”

“You won't come and help Maggie with the dress?”

For answer Mrs. Comstock looked around swiftly for some object on which to lay her hands. Knowing her temper, Wesley Sinton left with all the haste consistent with dignity. But he did not go home. He crossed a field, and in an hour brought another neighbour who was skilful with her needle. With sinking heart Margaret saw them coming.

“Kate is too busy to help to-day, she can't sew before to-morrow,” said Wesley cheerfully as they entered.

That quieted Margaret's apprehension a little, though she had some doubts. Wesley prepared the lunch, and by four o'clock the dress was finished as far as it possibly could be until it was fitted on Elnora. If that did not entail too much work, it could be completed in two hours.

Then Margaret packed their purchases into the big market basket. Wesley took the hat, umbrella, and raincoat, and they went to Mrs. Comstock's. As they reached the step, Margaret spoke pleasantly to Mrs. Comstock, who sat reading just inside the door, but she did not answer and deliberately turned a leaf without looking up.

Wesley Sinton opened the door and went in followed by Margaret.

“Kate,” he said, “you needn't take out your mad over our little racket on Maggie. I ain't told her a word I said to you, or you said to me. She's not so very strong, and she's sewed since four o'clock this morning to get this dress ready for to-morrow. It's done and we came down to try it on Elnora.”

“Is that the truth, Mag Sinton?” demanded Mrs. Comstock.

“You heard Wesley say so,” proudly affirmed Mrs. Sinton.

“I want to make you a proposition,” said Wesley. “Wait till Elnora comes. Then we'll show her the things and see what she says.”

“How would it do to see what she says without bribing her,” sneered Mrs. Comstock.

“If she can stand what she did yesterday, and will to-day, she can bear 'most anything,” said Wesley. “Put away the clothes if you want to, till we tell her.”

“Well, you don't take this waist I'm working on,” said Margaret, “for I have to baste in the sleeves and set the collar. Put the rest out of sight if you like.”

Mrs. Comstock picked up the basket and bundles, placed them inside her room and closed the door.

Margaret threaded her needle and began to sew. Mrs. Comstock returned to her book, while Wesley fidgeted and raged inwardly. He could see that Margaret was nervous and almost in tears, but the lines in Mrs. Comstock's impassive face were set and cold. So they sat while the clock ticked off the time—one hour, two, dusk, and no Elnora. Just when Margaret and Wesley were discussing whether he had not better go to town to meet Elnora, they heard her coming up the walk. Wesley dropped his tilted chair and squared himself. Margaret gripped her sewing, and turned pleading eyes toward the door. Mrs. Comstock closed her book and grimly smiled.

“Mother, please open the door,” called Elnora.

Mrs. Comstock arose, and swung back the screen. Elnora stepped in beside her, bent half double, the whole front of her dress gathered into a sort of bag filled with a heavy load, and one arm stacked high with books. In the dim light she did not see the Sintons.

“Please hand me the empty bucket in the kitchen, mother,” she said. “I just had to bring these arrow points home, but I'm scared for fear I've spoiled my dress and will have to wash it. I'm to clean them, and take them to the banker in the morning, and oh, mother, I've sold enough stuff to pay for my books, my tuition, and maybe a dress and some lighter shoes besides. Oh, mother I'm so happy! Take the books and bring the bucket!”

Then she saw Margaret and Wesley. “Oh, glory!” she exulted. “I was just wondering how I'd ever wait to tell you, and here you are! It's too perfectly splendid to be true!”

“Tell us, Elnora,” said Sinton.

“Well sir,” said Elnora, doubling down on the floor and spreading out her skirt, “set the bucket here, mother. These points are brittle, and should be put in one at a time. If they are chipped I can't sell them. Well sir! I've had a time! You know I just had to have books. I tried three stores, and they wouldn't trust me, not even three days, I didn't know what in this world I could do quickly enough. Just when I was almost frantic I saw a sign in a bank window asking for caterpillars, cocoons, butterflies, arrow points, and everything. I went in, and it was this Bird Woman who wants the insects, and the banker wants the stones. I had to go to school then, but, if you'll believe it”—Elnora beamed on all of them in turn as she talked and slipped the arrow points from her dress to the pail—“if you'll believe it—but you won't, hardly, until you look at the books—there was the mathematics teacher, waiting at his door, and he had a set of books for me that he had telephoned a Sophomore to bring.”

“How did he happen to do that, Elnora?” interrupted Sinton.

Elnora blushed.

“It was a fool mistake I made yesterday in thinking books were just handed out to one. There was a teachers' meeting last night and the history teacher told about that. Professor Henley thought of me. You know I told you what he said about my algebra, mother. Ain't I glad I studied out some of it myself this summer! So he telephoned and a girl brought the books. Because they are marked and abused some I get the whole outfit for two dollars. I can erase most of the marks, paste down the covers, and fix them so they look better. But I must hurry to the joy part. I didn't stop to eat, at noon, I just ran to the Bird Woman's, and I had lunch with her. It was salad, hot chocolate, and lovely things, and she wants to buy most every old scrap I ever gathered. She wants dragonflies, moths, butterflies, and he—the banker, I mean—wants everything Indian. This very night she came to the swamp with me and took away enough stuff to pay for the books and tuition, and to-morrow she is going to buy some more.”

Elnora laid the last arrow point in the pail and arose, shaking leaves and bits of baked earth from her dress. She reached into her pocket, produced her money and waved it before their wondering eyes.

“And that's the joy part!” she exulted. “Put it up in the clock till morning, mother. That pays for the books and tuition and—” Elnora hesitated, for she saw the nervous grasp with which her mother's fingers closed on the bills. Then she continued, but more slowly and thinking before she spoke.

“What I get to-morrow pays for more books and tuition, and maybe a few, just a few, things to wear. These shoes are so dreadfully heavy and hot, and they make such a noise on the floor. There isn't another calico dress in the whole building, not among hundreds of us. Why, what is that? Aunt Margaret, what are you hiding in your lap?”

She snatched the waist and shook it out, and her face was beaming. “Have you taken to waists all fancy and buttoned in the back? I bet you this is mine!”

“I bet you so too,” said Margaret Sinton. “You undress right away and try it on, and if it fits, it will be done for morning. There are some low shoes, too!”

Elnora began to dance. “Oh, you dear people!” she cried. “I can pay for them to-morrow night! Isn't it too splendid! I was just thinking on the way home that I certainly would be compelled to have cooler shoes until later, and I was wondering what I'd do when the fall rains begin.”

“I meant to get you some heavy dress skirts and a coat then,” said Mrs. Comstock.

“I know you said so!” cried Elnora. “But you needn't, now! I can buy every single stitch I need myself. Next summer I can gather up a lot more stuff, and all winter on the way to school. I am sure I can sell ferns, I know I can nuts, and the Bird Woman says the grade rooms want leaves, grasses, birds' nests, and cocoons. Oh, isn't this world lovely! I'll be helping with the tax, next, mother!”

Elnora waved the waist and started for the bedroom. When she opened the door she gave a little cry.

“What have you people been doing?” she demanded. “I never saw so many interesting bundles in all my life. I'm 'skeered' to death for fear I can't pay for them, and will have to give up something.”

“Wouldn't you take them, if you could not pay for them, Elnora?” asked her mother instantly.

“Why, not unless you did,” answered Elnora. “People have no right to wear things they can't afford, have they?”

“But from such old friends as Maggie and Wesley!” Mrs. Comstock's voice was oily with triumph.

“From them least of all,” cried Elnora stoutly. “From a stranger sooner than from them, to whom I owe so much more than I ever can pay now.”

“Well, you don't have to,” said Mrs. Comstock. “Maggie just selected these things, because she is more in touch with the world, and has got such good taste. You can pay as long as your money holds out, and if there's more necessary, maybe I can sell the butcher a calf, or if things are too costly for us, of course, they can take them back. Put on the waist now, and then you can look over the rest and see if they are suitable, and what you want.”

Elnora stepped into the adjoining room and closed the door. Mrs. Comstock picked up the bucket and started for the well with it. At the bedroom she paused.

“Elnora, were you going to wash these arrow points?”

“Yes. The Bird Woman says they sell better if they are clean, so it can be seen that there are no defects in them.”

“Of course,” said Mrs. Comstock. “Some of them seem quite baked. Shall I put them to soak? Do you want to take them in the morning?”

“Yes, I do,” answered Elnora. “If you would just fill the pail with water.”

Mrs. Comstock left the room. Wesley Sinton sat with his back to the window in the west end of the cabin which overlooked the well. A suppressed sound behind him caused him to turn quickly. Then he arose and leaned over Margaret.

“She's out there laughing like a blamed monkey!” he whispered indignantly.

“Well, she can't help it!” exclaimed Margaret.

“I'm going home!” said Wesley.

“Oh no, you are not!” retorted Margaret. “You are missing the point. The point is not how you look, or feel. It is to get these things in Elnora's possession past dispute. You go now, and to-morrow Elnora will wear calico, and Kate Comstock will return these goods. Right here I stay until everything we bought is Elnora's.”

“What are you going to do?” asked Wesley.

“I don't know yet, myself,” said Margaret.

Then she arose and peered from the window. At the well curb stood Katharine Comstock. The strain of the day was finding reaction. Her chin was in the air, she was heaving, shaking and strangling to suppress any sound. The word that slipped between Margaret Sinton's lips shocked Wesley until he dropped on his chair, and recalled her to her senses. She was fairly composed as she turned to Elnora, and began the fitting. When she had pinched, pulled, and patted she called, “Come see if you think this fits, Kate.”

Mrs. Comstock had gone around to the back door and answered from the kitchen. “You know more about it than I do. Go ahead! I'm getting supper. Don't forget to allow for what it will shrink in washing!”

“I set the colours and washed the goods last night; it can be made to fit right now,” answered Margaret.

When she could find nothing more to alter she told Elnora to heat some water. After she had done that the girl began opening packages.

The hat came first.

“Mother!” cried Elnora. “Mother, of course, you have seen this, but you haven't seen it on me. I must try it on.”

“Don't you dare put that on your head until your hair is washed and properly combed,” said Margaret.

“Oh!” cried Elnora. “Is that water to wash my hair? I thought it was to set the colour in another dress.”

“Well, you thought wrong,” said Margaret simply. “Your hair is going to be washed and brushed until it shines like copper. While it dries you can eat your supper, and this dress will be finished. Then you can put on your new ribbon, and your hat. You can try your shoes now, and if they don't fit, you and Wesley can drive to town and change them. That little round bundle on the top of the basket is your stockings.”

Margaret sat down and began sewing swiftly, and a little later opened the machine, and ran several long seams.

Elnora returned in a few minutes holding up her skirts and stepping daintily in the new shoes.

“Don't soil them, honey, else you're sure they fit,” cautioned Wesley.

“They seem just a trifle large, maybe,” said Elnora dubiously, and Wesley knelt to feel. He and Margaret thought them a fit, and then Elnora appealed to her mother. Mrs. Comstock appeared wiping her hands on her apron. She examined the shoes critically.

“They seem to fit,” she said, “but they are away too fine to walk country roads.”

“I think so, too,” said Elnora instantly. “We had better take these back and get a cheaper pair.”

“Oh, let them go for this time,” said Mrs. Comstock. “They are so pretty, I hate to part with them. You can get cheaper ones after this.”

Wesley and Margaret scarcely breathed for a long time.

When Wesley went to do the feeding. Elnora set the table. When the water was hot, Margaret pinned a big towel around Elnora's shoulders and washed and dried the lovely hair according to the instructions she had been given the previous night. As the hair began to dry it billowed out in a sparkling sheen that caught the light and gleamed and flashed.

“Now, the idea is to let it stand naturally, just as the curl will make it. Don't you do any of that nasty, untidy snarling, Elnora,” cautioned Margaret. “Wash it this way every two weeks while you are in school, shake it out, and dry it. Then part it in the middle and turn a front quarter on each side from your face. You tie the back at your neck with a string—so, and the ribbon goes in a big, loose bow. I'll show you.” One after another Margaret Sinton tied the ribbons, creasing each of them so they could not be returned, as she explained that she was trying to find the colour most becoming. Then she produced the raincoat which carried Elnora into transports.

Mrs. Comstock objected. “That won't be warm enough for cold weather, and you can't afford it and a coat, too.”

“I'll tell you what I thought,” said Elnora. “I was planning on the way home. These coats are fine because they keep you dry. I thought I would get one, and a warm sweater to wear under it cold days. Then I always would be dry, and warm. The sweater only costs three dollars, so I could get it and the raincoat both for half the price of a heavy cloth coat.”

“You are right about that,” said Mrs. Comstock. “You can change more with the weather, too. Keep the raincoat, Elnora.”

“Wear it until you try the hat,” said Margaret. “It will have to do until the dress is finished.”

Elnora picked up the hat dubiously. “Mother, may I wear my hair as it is now?” she asked.

“Let me take a good look,” said Katharine Comstock.

Heaven only knows what she saw. To Wesley and to Margaret the bright young face of Elnora, with its pink tints, its heavy dark brows, its bright blue-gray eyes, and its frame of curling reddish-brown hair was the sweetest sight on earth, and at that instant Elnora was radiant.

“So long as it's your own hair, and combed back as plain as it will go, I don't suppose it cuts much ice whether it's tied a little tighter or looser,” conceded Mrs. Comstock. “If you stop right there, you may let it go at that.”

Elnora set the hat on her head. It was only a wide tan straw with three exquisite peacock quills at one side. Margaret Sinton cried out, Wesley slapped his knee and sighed deeply while Mrs. Comstock stood speechless for a second.

“I wish you had asked the price before you put that on,” she said impatiently. “We never can afford it.”

“It's not so much as you think,” said Margaret. “Don't you see what I did? I had them take off the quills, and put on some of those Phoebe Simms gave me from her peacocks. The hat will only cost you a dollar and a half.”

She avoided Wesley's eyes, and looked straight at Mrs. Comstock. Elnora removed the hat to examine it.

“Why, they are those reddish-tan quills of yours!” she cried. “Mother, look how beautifully they are set on! I'd much rather have them than those from the store.”

“So would I,” said Mrs. Comstock. “If Margaret wants to spare them, that will make you a beautiful hat; dirt cheap, too! You must go past Mrs. Simms and show her. She would be pleased to see them.”

Elnora sank into a chair and contemplated her toe. “Landy, ain't I a queen?” she murmured. “What else have I got?”

“Just a belt, some handkerchiefs, and a pair of top shoes for rainy days and colder weather,” said Margaret.

“About those high shoes, that was my idea,” said Wesley. “Soon as it rains, low shoes won't do, and by taking two pairs at once I could get them some cheaper. The low ones are two and the high ones two fifty, together three seventy-five. Ain't that cheap?”

“That's a real bargain,” said Mrs. Comstock, “if they are good shoes, and they look it.”

“This,” said Wesley, producing the last package, “is your Christmas present from your Aunt Maggie. I got mine, too, but it's at the house. I'll bring it up in the morning.”

He handed Margaret the umbrella, and she passed it over to Elnora who opened it and sat laughing under its shelter. Then she kissed both of them. She brought a pencil and a slip of paper to set down the prices they gave her of everything they had brought except the umbrella, added the sum, and said laughingly: “Will you please wait till to-morrow for the money? I will have it then, sure.”

“Elnora,” said Wesley Sinton. “Wouldn't you——”

“Elnora, hustle here a minute!” called Mrs. Comstock from the kitchen. “I need you!”

“One second, mother,” answered Elnora, throwing off the coat and hat, and closing the umbrella as she ran. There were several errands to do in a hurry, and then supper. Elnora chattered incessantly, Wesley and Margaret talked all they could, while Mrs. Comstock said a word now and then, which was all she ever did. But Wesley Sinton was watching her, and time and again he saw a peculiar little twist around her mouth. He knew that for the first time in sixteen years she really was laughing over something. She had all she could do to preserve her usually sober face. Wesley knew what she was thinking.

After supper the dress was finished, the pattern for the next one discussed, and then the Sintons went home. Elnora gathered her treasures. When she started upstairs she stopped. “May I kiss you good-night, mother?” she asked lightly.

“Never mind any slobbering,” said Mrs. Comstock. “I should think you'd lived with me long enough to know that I don't care for it.”

“Well, I'd love to show you in some way how happy I am, and how I thank you.”

“I wonder what for?” said Mrs. Comstock. “Mag Sinton chose that stuff and brought it here and you pay for it.”

“Yes, but you seemed willing for me to have it, and you said you would help me if I couldn't pay all.”

“Maybe I did,” said Mrs. Comstock. “Maybe I did. I meant to get you some heavy dress skirts about Thanksgiving, and I still can get them. Go to bed, and for any sake don't begin mooning before a mirror, and make a dunce of yourself.”

Mrs. Comstock picked up several papers and blew out the kitchen light. She stood in the middle of the sitting-room floor for a time and then went into her room and closed the door. Sitting on the edge of the bed she thought for a few minutes and then suddenly buried her face in the pillow and again heaved with laughter.

Down the road plodded Margaret and Wesley Sinton. Neither of them had words to utter their united thought.

“Done!” hissed Wesley at last. “Done brown! Did you ever feel like a bloomin', confounded donkey? How did the woman do it?”

“She didn't do it!” gulped Margaret through her tears. “She didn't do anything. She trusted to Elnora's great big soul to bring her out right, and really she was right, and so it had to bring her. She's a darling, Wesley! But she's got a time before her. Did you see Kate Comstock grab that money? Before six months she'll be out combing the Limberlost for bugs and arrow points to help pay the tax. I know her.”

“Well, I don't!” exclaimed Sinton, “she's too many for me. But there is a laugh left in her yet! I didn't s'pose there was. Bet you a dollar, if we could see her this minute, she'd be chuckling over the way we got left.”

Both of them stopped in the road and looked back.

“There's Elnora's light in her room,” said Margaret. “The poor child will feel those clothes, and pore over her books till morning, but she'll look decent to go to school, anyway. Nothing is too big a price to pay for that.”

“Yes, if Kate lets her wear them. Ten to one, she makes her finish the week with that old stuff!”

“No, she won't,” said Margaret. “She'll hardly dare. Kate made some concessions, all right; big ones for her—if she did get her way in the main. She bent some, and if Elnora proves that she can walk out barehanded in the morning and come back with that much money in her pocket, an armful of books, and buy a turnout like that, she proves that she is of some consideration, and Kate's smart enough. She'll think twice before she'll do that. Elnora won't wear a calico dress to high school again. You watch and see if she does. She may have the best clothes she'll get for a time, for the least money, but she won't know it until she tries to buy goods herself at the same rates. Wesley, what about those prices? Didn't they shrink considerable?”

“You began it,” said Wesley. “Those prices were all right. We didn't say what the goods cost us, we said what they would cost her. Surely, she's mistaken about being able to pay all that. Can she pick up stuff of that value around the Limberlost? Didn't the Bird Woman see her trouble, and just give her the money?”

“I don't think so,” said Margaret. “Seems to me I've heard of her paying, or offering to pay those who would take the money, for bugs and butterflies, and I've known people who sold that banker Indian stuff. Once I heard that his pipe collection beat that of the Government at the Philadelphia Centennial. Those things have come to have a value.”

“Well, there's about a bushel of that kind of valuables piled up in the woodshed, that belongs to Elnora. At least, I picked them up because she said she wanted them. Ain't it queer that she'd take to stones, bugs, and butterflies, and save them. Now they are going to bring her the very thing she wants the worst. Lord, but this is a funny world when you get to studying! Looks like things didn't all come by accident. Looks as if there was a plan back of it, and somebody driving that knows the road, and how to handle the lines. Anyhow, Elnora's in the wagon, and when I get out in the night and the dark closes around me, and I see the stars, I don't feel so cheap. Maggie, how the nation did Kate Comstock do that?”

“You will keep on harping, Wesley. I told you she didn't do it. Elnora did it! She walked in and took things right out of our hands. All Kate had to do was to enjoy having it go her way, and she was cute enough to put in a few questions that sort of guided Elnora. But I don't know, Wesley. This thing makes me think, too. S'pose we'd taken Elnora when she was a baby, and we'd heaped on her all the love we can't on our own, and we'd coddled, petted, and shielded her, would she have made the woman that living alone, learning to think for herself, and taking all the knocks Kate Comstock could give, have made of her?”

“You bet your life!” cried Wesley, warmly. “Loving anybody don't hurt them. We wouldn't have done anything but love her. You can't hurt a child loving it. She'd have learned to work, to study, and grown into a woman with us, without suffering like a poor homeless dog.”

“But you don't see the point, Wesley. She would have grown into a fine woman with us; but as we would have raised her, would her heart ever have known the world as it does now? Where's the anguish, Wesley, that child can't comprehend? Seeing what she's seen of her mother hasn't hardened her. She can understand any mother's sorrow. Living life from the rough side has only broadened her. Where's the girl or boy burning with shame, or struggling to find a way, that will cross Elnora's path and not get a lift from her? She's had the knocks, but there'll never be any of the thing you call 'false pride' in her. I guess we better keep out. Maybe Kate Comstock knows what she's doing. Sure as you live, Elnora has grown bigger on knocks than she would on love.”

“I don't s'pose there ever was a very fine point to anything but I missed it,” said Wesley, “because I am blunt, rough, and have no book learning to speak of. Since you put it into words I see what you mean, but it's dinged hard on Elnora, just the same. And I don't keep out. I keep watching closer than ever. I got my slap in the face, but if I don't miss my guess, Kate Comstock learned her lesson, same as I did. She learned that I was in earnest, that I would haul her to court if she didn't loosen up a bit, and she'll loosen. You see if she doesn't. It may come hard, and the hinges creak, but she'll fix Elnora decent after this, if Elnora doesn't prove that she can fix herself. As for me, I found out that what I was doing was as much for myself as for Elnora. I wanted her to take those things from us, and love us for giving them. It didn't work, and but for you, I'd messed the whole thing and stuck like a pig in crossing a bridge. But you helped me out; Elnora's got the clothes, and by morning, maybe I won't grudge Kate the only laugh she's had in sixteen years. You been showing me the way quite a spell now, ain't you, Maggie?”

In her attic Elnora lighted two candles, set them on her little table, stacked the books, and put away the precious clothes. How lovingly she hung the hat and umbrella, folded the raincoat, and spread the new dress over a chair. She fingered the ribbons, and tried to smooth the creases from them. She put away the hose neatly folded, touched the handkerchiefs, and tried the belt. Then she slipped into her white nightdress, shook down her hair that it might become thoroughly dry, set a chair before the table, and reverently opened one of the books. A stiff draught swept the attic, for it stretched the length of the cabin, and had a window in each end. Elnora arose and going to the east window closed it. She stood for a minute looking at the stars, the sky, and the dark outline of the straggling trees of the rapidly dismantling Limberlost. In the region of her case a tiny point of light flashed and disappeared. Elnora straightened and wondered. Was it wise to leave her precious money there? The light flashed once more, wavered a few seconds, and died out. The girl waited. She did not see it again, so she turned to her books.

In the Limberlost the hulking figure of a man sneaked down the trail.

“The Bird Woman was at Freckles's room this evening,” he muttered. “Wonder what for?”

He left the trail, entered the enclosure still distinctly outlined, and approached the case. The first point of light flashed from the tiny electric lamp on his vest. He took a duplicate key from his pocket, felt for the padlock and opened it. The door swung wide. The light flashed the second time. Swiftly his glance swept the interior.

“'Bout a fourth of her moths gone. Elnora must have been with the Bird Woman and given them to her.” Then he stood tense. His keen eyes discovered the roll of bills hastily thrust back in the bottom of the case. He snatched them up, shut off the light, relocked the case by touch, and swiftly went down the trail. Every few seconds he paused and listened intently. Just as he reached the road, a second figure approached him.

“Is it you, Pete?” came the whispered question.

“Yes,” said the first man.

“I was coming down to take a peep, when I saw your flash,” he said. “I heard the Bird Woman had been at the case to-day. Anything doing?”

“Not a thing,” said Pete. “She just took away about a fourth of the moths. Probably had the Comstock girl getting them for her. Heard they were together. Likely she'll get the rest to-morrow. Ain't picking gettin' bare these days?”

“Well, I should say so,” said the second man, turning back in disgust. “Coming home, now?”

“No, I am going down this way,” answered Pete, for his eyes caught the gleam from the window of the Comstock cabin, and he had a desire to learn why Elnora's attic was lighted at that hour.

He slouched down the road, occasionally feeling the size of the roll he had not taken time to count.

The attic was too long, the light too near the other end, and the cabin stood much too far back from the road. He could see nothing although he climbed the fence and walked back opposite the window. He knew Mrs. Comstock was probably awake, and that she sometimes went to the swamp behind her home at night. At times a cry went up from that locality that paralyzed any one near, or sent them fleeing as if for life. He did not care to cross behind the cabin. He returned to the road, passed, and again climbed the fence. Opposite the west window he could see Elnora. She sat before a small table reading from a book between two candles. Her hair fell in a bright sheen around her, and with one hand she lightly shook, and tossed it as she studied. The man stood out in the night and watched.

For a long time a leaf turned at intervals and the hair-drying went on. The man drew nearer. The picture grew more beautiful as he approached. He could not see so well as he desired, for the screen was of white mosquito netting, and it angered him. He cautiously crept closer. The elevation shut off his view. Then he remembered the large willow tree shading the well and branching across the window fit the west end of the cabin. From childhood Elnora had stepped from the sill to a limb and slid down the slanting trunk of the tree. He reached it and noiselessly swung himself up. Three steps out on the big limb the man shuddered. He was within a few feet of the girl.

He could see the throb of her breast under its thin covering and smell the fragrance of the tossing hair. He could see the narrow bed with its pieced calico cover, the whitewashed walls with gay lithographs, and every crevice stuck full of twigs with dangling cocoons. There were pegs for the few clothes, the old chest, the little table, the two chairs, the uneven floor covered with rag rugs and braided corn husk. But nothing was worth a glance except the perfect face and form within reach by one spring through the rotten mosquito bar. He gripped the limb above that on which he stood, licked his lips, and breathed through his throat to be sure he was making no sound. Elnora closed the book and laid it aside. She picked up a towel, and turning the gathered ends of her hair rubbed them across it, and dropping the towel on her lap, tossed the hair again. Then she sat in deep thought. By and by words began to come softly. Near as he was the man could not hear at first. He bent closer and listened intently.

“—ever could be so happy,” murmured the soft voice. “The dress is so pretty, such shoes, the coat, and everything. I won't have to be ashamed again, not ever again, for the Limberlost is full of precious moths, and I always can collect them. The Bird Woman will buy more to-morrow, and the next day, and the next. When they are all gone, I can spend every minute gathering cocoons, and hunting other things I can sell. Oh, thank God, for my precious, precious money. Why, I didn't pray in vain after all! I thought when I asked the Lord to hide me, there in that big hall, that He wasn't doing it, because I wasn't covered from sight that instant. But I'm hidden now, I feel that.” Elnora lifted her eyes to the beams above her. “I don't know much about praying properly,” she muttered, “but I do thank you, Lord, for hiding me in your own time and way.”

Her face was so bright that it shone with a white radiance. Two big tears welled from her eyes, and rolled down her smiling cheeks. “Oh, I do feel that you have hidden me,” she breathed. Then she blew out the lights, and the little wooden bed creaked under her weight.

Pete Corson dropped from the limb and found his way to the road. He stood still a long time, then started back to the Limberlost. A tiny point of light flashed in the region of the case. He stopped with an oath.

“Another hound trying to steal from a girl,” he exclaimed. “But it's likely he thinks if he gets anything it will be from a woman who can afford it, as I did.”

He went on, but beside the fences, and very cautiously.

“Swamp seems to be alive to-night,” he muttered. “That's three of us out.”

He entered a deep place at the northwest corner, sat on the ground and taking a pencil from his pocket, he tore a leaf from a little notebook, and laboriously wrote a few lines by the light he carried. Then he went back to the region of the case and waited. Before his eyes swept the vision of the slender white creature with tossing hair. He smiled, and worshipped it, until a distant rooster faintly announced dawn.

Then he unlocked the case again, and replaced the money, laid the note upon it, and went back to concealment, where he remained until Elnora came down the trail in the morning, appearing very lovely in her new dress and hat.
admin
Site Admin
 
Posts: 28062
Joined: Thu Aug 01, 2013 5:21 am

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

Postby admin » Mon Jun 24, 2019 5:19 am

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

It would be difficult to describe how happy Elnora was that morning as she hurried through her work, bathed and put on the neat, dainty gingham dress, and the tan shoes. She had a struggle with her hair. It crinkled, billowed, and shone, and she could not avoid seeing the becoming frame it made around her face. But in deference to her mother's feelings the girl set her teeth, and bound her hair closely to her head with a shoe-string. “Not to be changed at the case,” she told herself.

That her mother was watching she was unaware. Just as she picked up the beautiful brown ribbon Mrs. Comstock spoke.

“You had better let me tie that. You can't reach behind yourself and do it right.”

Elnora gave a little gasp. Her mother never before had proposed to do anything for the girl that by any possibility she could do herself. Her heart quaked at the thought of how her mother would arrange that bow, but Elnora dared not refuse. The offer was too precious. It might never be made again.

“Oh thank you!” said the girl, and sitting down she held out the ribbon.

Her mother stood back and looked at her critically.

“You haven't got that like Mag Sinton had it last night,” she announced. “You little idiot! You've tried to plaster it down to suit me, and you missed it. I liked it away better as Mag fixed it, after I saw it. You didn't look so peeled.”

“Oh mother, mother!” laughed Elnora, with a half sob in her voice.

“Hold still, will you?” cried Mrs. Comstock. “You'll be late, and I haven't packed your dinner yet.”

She untied the string and shook out the hair. It rose with electricity and clung to her fingers and hands. Mrs. Comstock jumped back as if bitten. She knew that touch. Her face grew white, and her eyes angry.

“Tie it yourself,” she said shortly, “and then I'll put on the ribbon. But roll it back loose like Mag did. It looked so pretty that way.”

Almost fainting Elnora stood before the glass, divided off the front parts of her hair, and rolled them as Mrs. Sinton had done; tied it at the nape of her neck, then sat while her mother arranged the ribbon.

“If I pull it down till it comes tight in these creases where she had it, it will be just right, won't it?” queried Mrs. Comstock, and the amazed Elnora stammered,

“Yes.”

When she looked in the glass the bow was perfectly tied, and how the gold tone of the brown did match the lustre of the shining hair! “That's pretty,” commented Mrs. Comstock's soul, but her stiff lips had said all that could be forced from them for once. Just then Wesley Sinton came to the door.

“Good morning,” he cried heartily. “Elnora, you look a picture! My, but you're sweet! If any of the city boys get sassy you tell your Uncle Wesley, and he'll horsewhip them. Here's your Christmas present from me.” He handed Elnora the leather lunch box, with her name carved across the strap in artistic lettering.

“Oh Uncle Wesley!” was all Elnora could say.

“Your Aunt Maggie filled it for me for a starter,” he said. “Now, if you are ready, I'm going to drive past your way and you can ride almost to Onabasha with me, and save the new shoes that much.”

Elnora was staring at the box. “Oh I hope it isn't impolite to open it before you,” she said. “I just feel as if I must see inside.”

“Don't you stand on formality with the neighbours,” laughed Sinton. “Look in your box if you want to!”

Elnora slipped the strap and turned back the lid.

This disclosed the knife, fork, napkin, and spoon, the milk flask, and the interior packed with dainty sandwiches wrapped in tissue paper, and the little compartments for meat, salad, and the custard cup.

“Oh mother!” cried Elnora. “Oh mother, isn't it fine? What made you think of it, Uncle Wesley? How will I ever thank you? No one will have a finer lunch box than I. Oh I do thank you! That's the nicest gift I ever had. How I love Christmas in September!”

“It's a mighty handy thing,” assented Mrs. Comstock, taking in every detail with sharp eyes. “I guess you are glad now you went and helped Mag and Wesley when you could, Elnora?”

“Deedy, yes,” laughed Elnora, “and I'm going again first time they have a big day if I stay from school to do it.”

“You'll do no such thing!” said the delighted Sinton. “Come now, if you're going!”

“If I ride, can you spare me time to run into the swamp to my box a minute?” asked Elnora.

The light she had seen the previous night troubled her.

“Sure,” said Wesley largely. So they drove away and left a white-faced woman watching them from the door, her heart a little sorer than usual.

“I'd give a pretty to hear what he'll say to her!” she commented bitterly. “Always sticking in, always doing things I can't ever afford. Where on earth did he get that thing and what did it cost?”

Then she entered the cabin and began the day's work, but mingled with the brooding bitterness of her soul was the vision of a sweet young face, glad with a gladness never before seen on it, and over and over she repeated: “I wonder what he'll say to her!”

What he said was that she looked as fresh and sweet as a posy, and to be careful not to step in the mud or scratch her shoes when she went to the case.

Elnora found her key and opened the door. Not where she had placed it, but conspicuously in front lay her little heap of bills, and a crude scrawl of writing beside it. Elnora picked up the note in astonishment.

DERE ELNORY,

the lord amighty is hiding you all right done you ever dout it this money of yourn was took for some time las nite but it is returned with intres for god sake done ever come to the swamp at nite or late evnin or mornin or far in any time sompin worse an you know could git you

A FREND.

Elnora began to tremble. She hastily glanced around. The damp earth before the case had been trodden by large, roughly shod feet. She caught up the money and the note, thrust them into her guimpe, locked the case, and ran to the road.

She was so breathless and her face so white Sinton noticed it.

“What in the world's the matter, Elnora?” he asked.

“I am half afraid!” she panted.

“Tut, tut, child!” said Wesley Sinton. “Nothing in the world to be afraid of. What happened?”

“Uncle Wesley,” said Elnora, “I had more money than I brought home last night, and I put it in my case. Some one has been there. The ground is all trampled, and they left this note.”

“And took your money, I'll wager,” said Sinton angrily.

“No,” answered Elnora. “Read the note, and oh Uncle Wesley, tell me what it means!”

Sinton's face was a study. “I don't know what it means,” he said. “Only one thing is clear. It means some beast who doesn't really want to harm you has got his eye on you, and he is telling you plain as he can, not to give him a chance. You got to keep along the roads, in the open, and not let the biggest moth that ever flew toll you out of hearing of us, or your mother. It means that, plain and distinct.”

“Just when I can sell them! Just when everything is so lovely on account of them! I can't! I can't stay away from the swamp. The Limberlost is going to buy the books, the clothes, pay the tuition, and even start a college fund. I just can't!”

“You've got to,” said Sinton. “This is plain enough. You go far in the swamp at your own risk, even in daytime.”

“Uncle Wesley,” said the girl, “last night before I went to bed, I was so happy I tried to pray, and I thanked God for hiding me 'under the shadow of His wing.' But how in the world could any one know it?”

Wesley Sinton's heart leaped in his breast. His face was whiter than the girl's now.

“Were you praying out loud, honey?” he almost whispered.

“I might have said words,” answered Elnora. “I know I do sometimes. I've never had any one to talk with, and I've played with and talked to myself all my life. You've caught me at it often, but it always makes mother angry when she does. She says it's silly. I forget and do it, when I'm alone. But Uncle Wesley, if I said anything last night, you know it was the merest whisper, because I'd have been so afraid of waking mother. Don't you see? I sat up late, and studied two lessons.”

Sinton was steadying himself “I'll stop and examine the case as I come back,” he said. “Maybe I can find some clue. That other—that was just accidental. It's a common expression. All the preachers use it. If I tried to pray, that would be the very first thing I'd say.”

The colour returned to Elnora's face.

“Did you tell your mother about this money, Elnora?” he asked.

“No, I didn't,” said Elnora. “It's dreadful not to, but I was afraid. You see they are clearing the swamp so fast. Every year it grows more difficult to find things, and Indian stuff becomes scarcer. I want to graduate, and that's four years unless I can double on the course. That means twenty dollars tuition each year, and new books, and clothes. There won't ever be so much at one time again, that I know. I just got to hang to my money. I was afraid to tell her, for fear she would want it for taxes, and she really must sell a tree or some cattle for that, mustn't she, Uncle Wesley?”

“On your life, she must!” said Wesley. “You put your little wad in the bank all safe, and never mention it to a living soul. It doesn't seem right, but your case is peculiar. Every word you say is a true word. Each year you will find less in the swamp, and things everywhere will be scarcer. If you ever get a few dollars ahead, that can start your college fund. You know you are going to college, Elnora!”

“Of course I am,” said Elnora. “I settled that as soon as I knew what a college was. I will put all my money in the bank, except what I owe you. I'll pay that now.”

“If your arrows are heavy,” said Wesley, “I'll drive on to Onabasha with you.”

“But they are not. Half of them were nicked, and this little box held all the good ones. It's so surprising how many are spoiled when you wash them.”

“What does he pay?”

“Ten cents for any common perfect one, fifty for revolvers, a dollar for obsidian, and whatever is right for enormous big ones.”

“Well, that sounds fair,” said Sinton. “You can come down Saturday and wash the stuff at our house, and I'll take it in when we go marketing in the afternoon.”

Elnora jumped from the carriage. She soon found that with her books, her lunch box, and the points she had a heavy load. She had almost reached the bridge crossing the culvert when she heard distressed screams of a child. Across an orchard of the suburbs came a small boy, after him a big dog, urged by a man in the background. Elnora's heart was with the small fleeing figure in any event whatever. She dropped her load on the bridge, and with practised hand flung a stone at the dog. The beast curled double with a howl. The boy reached the fence, and Elnora was there to help him over. As he touched the top she swung him to the ground, but he clung to her, clasping her tightly, sobbing with fear. Elnora helped him to the bridge, and sat with him in her arms. For a time his replies to her questions were indistinct, but at last he became quieter and she could understand.

He was a mite of a boy, nothing but skin-covered bones, his burned, freckled face in a mortar of tears and dust, his clothing unspeakably dirty, one great toe in a festering mass from a broken nail, and sores all over the visible portions of the small body.

“You won't let the mean old thing make his dog get me!” he wailed.

“Indeed no,” said Elnora, holding him closely.

“You wouldn't set a dog on a boy for just taking a few old apples when you fed 'em to pigs with a shovel every day, would you?”

“No, I would not,” said Elnora hotly.

“You'd give a boy all the apples he wanted, if he hadn't any breakfast, and was so hungry he was all twisty inside, wouldn't you?”

“Yes, I would,” said Elnora.

“If you had anything to eat you would give me something right now, wouldn't you?”

“Yes,” said Elnora. “There's nothing but just stones in the package. But my dinner is in that case. I'll gladly divide.”

She opened the box. The famished child gave a little cry and reached both hands. Elnora caught them back.

“Did you have any supper?”

“No.”

“Any dinner yesterday?”

“An apple and some grapes I stole.”

“Whose boy are you?”

“Old Tom Billings's.”

“Why doesn't your father get you something to eat?”

“He does most days, but he's drunk now.”

“Hush, you must not!” said Elnora. “He's your father!”

“He's spent all the money to get drunk, too,” said the boy, “and Jimmy and Belle are both crying for breakfast. I'd a got out all right with an apple for myself, but I tried to get some for them and the dog got too close. Say, you can throw, can't you?”

“Yes,” admitted Elnora. She poured half the milk into the cup. “Drink this,” she said, holding it to him.

The boy gulped the milk and swore joyously, gripping the cup with shaking fingers.

“Hush!” cried Elnora. “That's dreadful!”

“What's dreadful?”

“To say such awful words.”

“Huh! pa says worser 'an that every breath he draws.”

Elnora saw that the child was older than she had thought. He might have been forty judging by his hard, unchildish expression.

“Do you want to be like your father?”

“No, I want to be like you. Couldn't a angel be prettier 'an you. Can I have more milk?”

Elnora emptied the flask. The boy drained the cup. He drew a breath of satisfaction as he gazed into her face.

“You wouldn't go off and leave your little boy, would you?” he asked.

“Did some one go away and leave you?”

“Yes, my mother went off and left me, and left Jimmy and Belle, too,” said the boy. “You wouldn't leave your little boy, would you?”

“No.”

The boy looked eagerly at the box. Elnora lifted a sandwich and uncovered the fried chicken. The boy gasped with delight.

“Say, I could eat the stuff in the glass and the other box and carry the bread and the chicken to Jimmy and Belle,” he offered.

Elnora silently uncovered the custard with preserved cherries on top and handed it and the spoon to the child. Never did food disappear faster. The salad went next, and a sandwich and half a chicken breast followed.

“I better leave the rest for Jimmy and Belle,” he said, “they're 'ist fightin' hungry.”

Elnora gave him the remainder of the carefully prepared lunch. The boy clutched it and ran with a sidewise hop like a wild thing. She covered the dishes and cup, polished the spoon, replaced it, and closed the case. She caught her breath in a tremulous laugh.

“If Aunt Margaret knew that, she'd never forgive me,” she said. “It seems as if secrecy is literally forced upon me, and I hate it. What shall I do for lunch? I'll have to sell my arrows and keep enough money for a restaurant sandwich.”

So she walked hurriedly into town, sold her points at a good price, deposited her funds, and went away with a neat little bank book and the note from the Limberlost carefully folded inside. Elnora passed down the hall that morning, and no one paid the slightest attention to her. The truth was she looked so like every one else that she was perfectly inconspicuous. But in the coat room there were members of her class. Surely no one intended it, but the whisper was too loud.

“Look at the girl from the Limberlost in the clothes that woman gave her!”

Elnora turned on them. “I beg your pardon,” she said unsteadily, “I couldn't help hearing that! No one gave me these clothes. I paid for them myself.”

Some one muttered, “Pardon me,” but incredulous faces greeted her.

Elnora felt driven. “Aunt Margaret selected them, and she meant to give them to me,” she explained, “but I wouldn't take them. I paid for them myself.” There was silence.

“Don't you believe me?” panted Elnora.

“Really, it is none of our affair,” said another girl. “Come on, let's go.”

Elnora stepped before the girl who had spoken. “You have made this your affair,” she said, “because you told a thing which was not true. No one gave me what I am wearing. I paid for my clothes myself with money I earned selling moths to the Bird Woman. I just came from the bank where I deposited what I did not use. Here is my credit.” Elnora drew out and offered the little red book. “Surely you will believe that,” she said.

“Why of course,” said the girl who first had spoken. “We met such a lovely woman in Brownlee's store, and she said she wanted our help to buy some things for a girl, and that's how we came to know.”

“Dear Aunt Margaret,” said Elnora, “it was like her to ask you. Isn't she splendid?”

“She is indeed,” chorused the girls. Elnora set down her lunch box and books, unpinned her hat, hanging it beside the others, and taking up the books she reached to set the box in its place and dropped it. With a little cry she snatched at it and caught the strap on top. That pulled from the fastening, the cover unrolled, the box fell away as far as it could, two porcelain lids rattled on the floor, and the one sandwich rolled like a cartwheel across the room. Elnora lifted a ghastly face. For once no one laughed. She stood an instant staring.

“It seems to be my luck to be crucified at every point of the compass,” she said at last. “First two days you thought I was a pauper, now you will think I'm a fraud. All of you will believe I bought an expensive box, and then was too poor to put anything but a restaurant sandwich in it. You must stop till I prove to you that I'm not.”

Elnora gathered up the lids, and kicked the sandwich into a corner.

“I had milk in that bottle, see! And custard in the cup. There was salad in the little box, fried chicken in the large one, and nut sandwiches in the tray. You can see the crumbs of all of them. A man set a dog on a child who was so starved he was stealing apples. I talked with him, and I thought I could bear hunger better, he was such a little boy, so I gave him my lunch, and got the sandwich at the restaurant.”

Elnora held out the box. The girls were laughing by that time. “You goose,” said one, “why didn't you give him the money, and save your lunch?”

“He was such a little fellow, and he really was hungry,” said Elnora. “I often go without anything to eat at noon in the fields and woods, and never think of it.”

She closed the box and set it beside the lunches of other country pupils. While her back was turned, into the room came the girl of her encounter on the first day, walked to the rack, and with an exclamation of approval took down Elnora's hat.

“Just the thing I have been wanting!” she said. “I never saw such beautiful quills in all my life. They match my new broadcloth to perfection. I've got to have that kind of quills for my hat. I never saw the like! Whose is it, and where did it come from?”

No one said a word, for Elnora's question, the reply, and her answer, had been repeated. Every one knew that the Limberlost girl had come out ahead and Sadie Reed had not been amiable, when the little flourish had been added to Elnora's name in the algebra class. Elnora's swift glance was pathetic, but no one helped her. Sadie Reed glanced from the hat to the faces around her and wondered.

“Why, this is the Freshman section, whose hat is it?” she asked again, this time impatiently.

“That's the tassel of the cornstock,” said Elnora with a forced laugh.

The response was genuine. Every one shouted. Sadie Reed blushed, but she laughed also.

“Well, it's beautiful,” she said, “especially the quills. They are exactly what I want. I know I don't deserve any kindness from you, but I do wish you would tell me at whose store you found those quills.”

“Gladly!” said Elnora. “You can't buy quills like those at a store. They are from a living bird. Phoebe Simms gathers them in her orchard as her peacocks shed them. They are wing quills from the males.”

Then there was perfect silence. How was Elnora to know that not a girl there would have told that?

“I haven't a doubt but I can get you some,” she offered. “She gave Aunt Margaret a large bunch, and those are part of them. I am quite sure she has more, and would spare some.”

Sadie Reed laughed shortly. “You needn't trouble,” she said, “I was fooled. I thought they were expensive quills. I wanted them for a twenty-dollar velvet toque to match my new suit. If they are gathered from the ground, really, I couldn't use them.”

“Only in spots!” said Elnora. “They don't just cover the earth. Phoebe Simms's peacocks are the only ones within miles of Onabasha, and they moult but once a year. If your hat cost only twenty dollars, it's scarcely good enough for those quills. You see, the Almighty made and coloured those Himself; and He puts the same kind on Phoebe Simms's peacocks that He put on the head of the family in the forests of Ceylon, away back in the beginning. Any old manufactured quill from New York or Chicago will do for your little twenty-dollar hat. You should have something infinitely better than that to be worthy of quills that are made by the Creator.”

How those girls did laugh! One of them walked with Elnora to the auditorium, sat beside her during exercises, and tried to talk whenever she dared, to keep Elnora from seeing the curious and admiring looks bent upon her.

For the brown-eyed boy whistled, and there was pantomime of all sorts going on behind Elnora's back that day. Happy with her books, no one knew how much she saw, and from her absorption in her studies it was evident she cared too little to notice.

After school she went again to the home of the Bird Woman, and together they visited the swamp and carried away more specimens. This time Elnora asked the Bird Woman to keep the money until noon of the next day, when she would call for it and have it added to her bank account. She slowly walked home, for the visit to the swamp had brought back full force the experience of the morning. Again and again she examined the crude little note, for she did not know what it meant, yet it bred vague fear. The only thing of which Elnora knew herself afraid was her mother; when with wild eyes and ears deaf to childish pleading, she sometimes lost control of herself in the night and visited the pool where her husband had sunk before her, calling his name in unearthly tones and begging of the swamp to give back its dead.
admin
Site Admin
 
Posts: 28062
Joined: Thu Aug 01, 2013 5:21 am

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

Postby admin » Mon Jun 24, 2019 5:20 am

CHAPTER VI: WHEREIN MRS. COMSTOCK INDULGES IN “FRILLS,” AND BILLY REAPPEARS

It was Wesley Sinton who really wrestled with Elnora's problem while he drove about his business. He was not forced to ask himself what it meant; he knew. The old Corson gang was still holding together. Elder members who had escaped the law had been joined by a younger brother of Jack's, and they met in the thickest of the few remaining fast places of the swamp to drink, gamble, and loaf. Then suddenly, there would be a robbery in some country house where a farmer that day had sold his wheat or corn and not paid a visit to the bank; or in some neighbouring village.

The home of Mrs. Comstock and Elnora adjoined the swamp. Sinton's land lay next, and not another residence or man easy to reach in case of trouble. Whoever wrote that note had some human kindness in his breast, but the fact stood revealed that he feared his strength if Elnora were delivered into his hands. Where had he been the previous night when he heard that prayer? Was that the first time he had been in such proximity? Sinton drove fast, for he wished to reach the swamp before Elnora and the Bird Woman would go there.

At almost four he came to the case, and dropping on his knees studied the ground, every sense alert. He found two or three little heel prints. Those were made by Elnora or the Bird Woman. What Sinton wanted to learn was whether all the remainder were the footprints of one man. It was easily seen, they were not. There were deep, even tracks made by fairly new shoes, and others where a well-worn heel cut deeper on the inside of the print than at the outer edge. Undoubtedly some of Corson's old gang were watching the case, and the visits of the women to it. There was no danger that any one would attack the Bird Woman. She never went to the swamp at night, and on her trips in the daytime, every one knew that she carried a revolver, understood how to use it, and pursued her work in a fearless manner.

Elnora, prowling around the swamp and lured into the interior by the flight of moths and butterflies; Elnora, without father, money, or friends save himself, to defend her—Elnora was a different proposition. For this to happen just when the Limberlost was bringing the very desire of her heart to the girl, it was too bad.

Sinton was afraid for her, yet he did not want to add the burden of fear to Katharine Comstock's trouble, or to disturb the joy of Elnora in her work. He stopped at the cabin and slowly went up the walk. Mrs. Comstock was sitting on the front steps with some sewing. The work seemed to Sinton as if she might be engaged in putting a tuck in a petticoat. He thought of how Margaret had shortened Elnora's dress to the accepted length for girls of her age, and made a mental note of Mrs. Comstock's occupation.

She dropped her work on her lap, laid her hands on it and looked into his face with a sneer.

“You didn't let any grass grow under your feet,” she said.

Sinton saw her white, drawn face and comprehended.

“I went to pay a debt and see about this opening of the ditch, Kate.”

“You said you were going to prosecute me.”

“Good gracious, Kate!” cried Sinton. “Is that what you have been thinking all day? I told you before I left yesterday that I would not need do that. And I won't! We can't afford to quarrel over Elnora. She's all we've got. Now that she has proved that if you don't do just what I think you ought by way of clothes and schooling, she can take care of herself, I put that out of my head. What I came to see you about is a kind of scare I've had to-day. I want to ask you if you ever see anything about the swamp that makes you think the old Corson gang is still at work?”

“Can't say that I do,” said Mrs. Comstock. “There's kind of dancing lights there sometimes, but I supposed it was just people passing along the road with lanterns. Folks hereabout are none too fond of the swamp. I hate it like death. I've never stayed here a night in my life without Robert's revolver, clean and loaded, under my pillow, and the shotgun, same condition, by the bed. I can't say that I'm afraid here at home. I'm not. I can take care of myself. But none of the swamp for me!”

“Well, I'm glad you are not afraid, Kate, because I must tell you something. Elnora stopped at the case this morning, and somebody had been into it in the night.”

“Broke the lock?”

“No. Used a duplicate key. To-day I heard there was a man here last night. I want to nose around a little.”

Sinton went to the east end of the cabin and looked up at the window. There was no way any one could have reached it without a ladder, for the logs were hewed and mortar filled the cracks even. Then he went to the west end, the willow faced him as he turned the corner. He examined the trunk carefully. There was no mistake about small particles of black swamp muck adhering to the sides of the tree. He reached the low branches and climbed the willow. There was earth on the large limb crossing Elnora's window. He stood on it, holding the branch as had been done the night before, and looked into the room. He could see very little, but he knew that if it had been dark outside and sufficiently light for Elnora to study inside he could have seen vividly. He brought his face close to the netting, and he could see the bed with its head to the east, at its foot the table with the candles and the chair before it, and then he knew where the man had been who had heard Elnora's prayer.

Mrs. Comstock had followed around the corner and stood watching him. “Do you think some slinking hulk was up there peekin' in at Elnora?” she demanded indignantly.

“There is muck on the trunk, and plenty on the limb,” said Sinton. “Hadn't you better get a saw and let me take this branch off?”

“No, I hadn't,” said Mrs. Comstock. “First place, Elnora's climbed from that window on that limb all her life, and it's hers. Second place, no one gets ahead of me after I've had warning. Any crow that perches on that roost again will get its feathers somewhat scattered. Look along the fence, there, and see if you can find where he came in.”

The place was easy to find as was a trail leading for some distance west of the cabin.

“You just go home, and don't fret yourself,” said Mrs. Comstock. “I'll take care of this. If you should hear the dinner bell at any time in the night you come down. But I wouldn't say anything to Elnora. She better keep her mind on her studies, if she's going to school.”

When the work was finished that night Elnora took her books and went to her room to prepare some lessons, but every few minutes she looked toward the swamp to see if there were lights near the case. Mrs. Comstock raked together the coals in the cooking stove, got out the lunch box, and sitting down she studied it grimly. At last she arose.

“Wonder how it would do to show Mag Sinton a frill or two,” she murmured.

She went to her room, knelt before a big black-walnut chest and hunted through its contents until she found an old-fashioned cook book. She tended the fire as she read and presently was in action. She first sawed an end from a fragrant, juicy, sugar-cured ham and put it to cook. Then she set a couple of eggs boiling, and after long hesitation began creaming butter and sugar in a crock. An hour later the odour of the ham, mingled with some of the richest spices of “happy Araby,” in a combination that could mean nothing save spice cake, crept up to Elnora so strongly that she lifted her head and sniffed amazedly. She would have given all her precious money to have gone down and thrown her arms around her mother's neck, but she did not dare move.

Mrs. Comstock was up early, and without a word handed Elnora the case as she left the next morning.

“Thank you, mother,” said Elnora, and went on her way.

She walked down the road looking straight ahead until she came to the corner, where she usually entered the swamp. She paused, glanced that way and smiled. Then she turned and looked back. There was no one coming in any direction. She followed the road until well around the corner, then she stopped and sat on a grassy spot, laid her books beside her and opened the lunch box. Last night's odours had in a measure prepared her for what she would see, but not quite. She scarcely could believe her senses. Half the bread compartment was filled with dainty sandwiches of bread and butter sprinkled with the yolk of egg and the remainder with three large slices of the most fragrant spice cake imaginable. The meat dish contained shaved cold ham, of which she knew the quality, the salad was tomatoes and celery, and the cup held preserved pear, clear as amber. There was milk in the bottle, two tissue-wrapped cucumber pickles in the folding drinking-cup, and a fresh napkin in the ring. No lunch was ever daintier or more palatable; of that Elnora was perfectly sure. And her mother had prepared it for her! “She does love me!” cried the happy girl. “Sure as you're born she loves me; only she hasn't found it out yet!”

She touched the papers daintily, and smiled at the box as if it were a living thing. As she began closing it a breath of air swept by, lifting the covering of the cake. It was like an invitation, and breakfast was several hours away. Elnora picked up a piece and ate it. That cake tasted even better than it looked. Then she tried a sandwich. How did her mother come to think of making them that way. They never had any at home. She slipped out the fork, sampled the salad, and one-quarter of pear. Then she closed the box and started down the road nibbling one of the pickles and trying to decide exactly how happy she was, but she could find no standard high enough for a measure.

She was to go to the Bird Woman's after school for the last load from the case. Saturday she would take the arrow points and specimens to the bank. That would exhaust her present supplies and give her enough money ahead to pay for books, tuition, and clothes for at least two years. She would work early and late gathering nuts. In October she would sell all the ferns she could find. She must collect specimens of all tree leaves before they fell, gather nests and cocoons later, and keep her eyes wide open for anything the grades could use. She would see the superintendent that night about selling specimens to the ward buildings. She must be ahead of any one else if she wanted to furnish these things. So she approached the bridge.

That it was occupied could be seen from a distance. As she came up she found the small boy of yesterday awaiting her with a confident smile.

“We brought you something!” he announced without greeting. “This is Jimmy and Belle—and we brought you a present.”

He offered a parcel wrapped in brown paper.

“Why, how lovely of you!” said Elnora. “I supposed you had forgotten me when you ran away so fast yesterday.”

“Naw, I didn't forget you,” said the boy. “I wouldn't forget you, not ever! Why, I was ist a-hurrying to take them things to Jimmy and Belle. My they was glad!”

Elnora glanced at the children. They sat on the edge of the bridge, obviously clad in a garment each, very dirty and unkept, a little boy and a girl of about seven and nine. Elnora's heart began to ache.

“Say,” said the boy. “Ain't you going to look what we have gave you?”

“I thought it wasn't polite to look before people,” answered Elnora. “Of course, I will, if you would like to have me.”

Elnora opened the package. She had been presented with a quarter of a stale loaf of baker's bread, and a big piece of ancient bologna.

“But don't you want this yourselves?” she asked in surprise.

“Gosh, no! I mean ist no,” said the boy. “We always have it. We got stacks this morning. Pa's come out of it now, and he's so sorry he got more 'an ever we can eat. Have you had any before?”

“No,” said Elnora, “I never did!”

The boy's eyes brightened and the girl moved restlessly.

“We thought maybe you hadn't,” said the boy. “First you ever have, you like it real well; but when you don't have anything else for a long time, years an' years, you git so tired.” He hitched at the string which held his trousers and watched Elnora speculatively.

“I don't s'pose you'd trade what you got in that box for ist old bread and bologna now, would you? Mebby you'd like it! And I know, I ist know, what you got would taste like heaven to Jimmy and Belle. They never had nothing like that! Not even Belle, and she's most ten! No, sir-ee, they never tasted things like you got!”

It was in Elnora's heart to be thankful for even a taste in time, as she knelt on the bridge, opened the box and divided her lunch into three equal parts, the smaller boy getting most of the milk. Then she told them it was school time and she must go.

“Why don't you put your bread and bologna in the nice box?” asked the boy.

“Of course,” said Elnora. “I didn't think.”

When the box was arranged to the children's satisfaction all of them accompanied Elnora to the corner where she turned toward the high school.

“Billy,” said Elnora, “I would like you much better if you were cleaner. Surely, you have water! Can't you children get some soap and wash yourselves? Gentlemen are never dirty. You want to be a gentleman, don't you?”

“Is being clean all you have to do to be a gentleman?”

“No,” said Elnora. “You must not say bad words, and you must be kind and polite to your sister.”

“Must Belle be kind and polite to me, else she ain't a lady?”

“Yes.”

“Then Belle's no lady!” said Billy succinctly.

Elnora could say nothing more just then, and she bade them good-bye and started them home.

“The poor little souls!” she mused. “I think the Almighty put them in my way to show me real trouble. I won't be likely to spend much time pitying myself while I can see them.” She glanced at the lunchbox. “What on earth do I carry this for? I never had anything that was so strictly ornamental! One sure thing! I can't take this stuff to the high school. You never seem to know exactly what is going to happen to you while you are there.”

As if to provide a way out of her difficulty a big dog arose from a lawn, and came toward the gate wagging his tail. “If those children ate the stuff, it can't possibly kill him!” thought Elnora, so she offered the bologna. The dog accepted it graciously, and being a beast of pedigree he trotted around to a side porch and laid the bologna before his mistress. The woman snatched it, screaming: “Come, quick! Some one is trying to poison Pedro!” Her daughter came running from the house. “Go see who is on the street. Hurry!” cried the excited mother.

Ellen Brownlee ran and looked. Elnora was half a block away, and no one nearer. Ellen called loudly, and Elnora stopped. Ellen came running toward her.

“Did you see any one give our dog something?” she cried as she approached.

Elnora saw no escape.

“I gave it a piece of bologna myself,” she said. “It was fit to eat. It wouldn't hurt the dog.”

Ellen stood and looked at her. “Of course, I didn't know it was your dog,” explained Elnora. “I had something I wanted to throw to some dog, and that one looked big enough to manage it.”

Ellen had arrived at her conclusions. “Pass over that lunch box,” she demanded.

“I will not!” said Elnora.

“Then I will have you arrested for trying to poison our dog,” laughed the girl as she took the box.

“One chunk of stale bread, one half mile of antique bologna contributed for dog feed; the remains of cake, salad and preserves in an otherwise empty lunch box. One ham sandwich yesterday. I think it's lovely you have the box. Who ate your lunch to-day?”

“Same,” confessed Elnora, “but there were three of them this time.”

“Wait, until I run back and tell mother about the dog, and get my books.”

Elnora waited. That morning she walked down the hall and into the auditorium beside one of the very nicest girls in Onabasha, and it was the fourth day. But the surprise came at noon when Ellen insisted upon Elnora lunching at the Brownlee home, and convulsed her parents and family, and overwhelmed Elnora with a greatly magnified, but moderately accurate history of her lunch box.

“Gee! but it's a box, daddy!” cried the laughing girl. “It's carved leather and fastens with a strap that has her name on it. Inside are trays for things all complete, and it bears evidence of having enclosed delicious food, but Elnora never gets any. She's carried it two days now, and both times it has been empty before she reached school. Isn't that killing?”

“It is, Ellen, in more ways than one. No girl is going to eat breakfast at six o'clock, walk three miles, and do good work without her lunch. You can't tell me anything about that box. I sold it last Monday night to Wesley Sinton, one of my good country customers. He told me it was a present for a girl who was worthy of it, and I see he was right.”

“He's so good to me,” said Elnora. “Sometimes I look at him and wonder if a neighbour can be so kind to one, what a real father would be like. I envy a girl with a father unspeakably.”

“You have cause,” said Ellen Brownlee. “A father is the very dearest person in the whole round world, except a mother, who is just a dear.” The girl, starting to pay tribute to her father, saw that she must include her mother, and said the thing before she remembered what Mrs. Sinton had told the girls in the store. She stopped in dismay. Elnora's face paled a trifle, but she smiled bravely.

“Then I'm fortunate in having a mother,” she said.

Mr. Brownlee lingered at the table after the girls had excused themselves and returned to school.

“There's a girl Ellen can't see too much of, in my opinion,” he said. “She is every inch a lady, and not a foolish notion or action about her. I can't understand just what combination of circumstances produced her in this day.”

“It has been an unusual case of repression, for one thing. She waits on her elders and thinks before she speaks,” said Mrs. Brownlee.

“She's mighty pretty. She looks so sound and wholesome, and she's neatly dressed.”

“Ellen says she was a fright the first two days. Long brown calico dress almost touching the floor, and big, lumbering shoes. Those Sinton people bought her clothes. Ellen was in the store, and the woman stopped her crowd and asked them about their dresses. She said the girl was not poor, but her mother was selfish and didn't care for her. But Elnora showed a bank book the next day, and declared that she paid for the things herself, so the Sinton people must just have selected them. There's something peculiar about it, but nothing wrong I am sure. I'll encourage Ellen to ask her again.”

“I should say so, especially if she is going to keep on giving away her lunch.”

“She lunched with the Bird Woman one day this week.”

“She did!”

“Yes, she lives out by the Limberlost. You know the Bird Woman works there a great deal, and probably knows her that way. I think the girl gathers specimens for her. Ellen says she knows more than the teachers about any nature question that comes up, and she is going to lead all of them in mathematics, and make them work in any branch.”

When Elnora entered the coat room after having had luncheon with Ellen Brownlee there was such a difference in the atmosphere that she could feel it.

“I am almost sorry I have these clothes,” she said to Ellen.

“In the name of sense, why?” cried the astonished girl.

“Every one is so nice to me in them, it sets me to wondering if in time I could have made them be equally friendly in the others.”

Ellen looked at her introspectively. “I believe you could,” she announced at last. “But it would have taken time and heartache, and your mind would have been less free to work on your studies. No one is happy without friends, and I just simply can't study when I am unhappy.”

That night the Bird Woman made the last trip to the swamp. Every specimen she possibly could use had been purchased at a fair price, and three additions had been made to the bank book, carrying the total a little past two hundred dollars. There remained the Indian relics to sell on Saturday, and Elnora had secured the order to furnish material for nature work for the grades. Life suddenly grew very full. There was the most excitingly interesting work for every hour, and that work was to pay high school expenses and start the college fund. There was one little rift in her joy. All of it would have been so much better if she could have told her mother, and given the money into her keeping; but the struggle to get a start had been so terrible, Elnora was afraid to take the risk. When she reached home, she only told her mother that the last of the things had been sold that evening.

“I think,” said Mrs. Comstock, “that we will ask Wesley to move that box over here back of the garden for you. There you are apt to get tolled farther into the swamp than you intend to go, and you might mire or something. There ought to be just the same things in our woods, and along our swampy places, as there are in the Limberlost. Can't you hunt your stuff here?”

“I can try,” said Elnora. “I don't know what I can find until I do. Our woods are undisturbed, and there is a possibility they might be even better hunting than the swamp. But I wouldn't have Freckles's case moved for the world. He might come back some day, and not like it. I've tried to keep his room the best I could, and taking out the box would make a big hole in one side of it. Store boxes don't cost much. I will have Uncle Wesley buy me one, and set it up wherever hunting looks the best, early in the spring. I would feel safer at home.”

“Shall we do the work or have supper first?”

“Let's do the work,” said Elnora. “I can't say that I'm hungry now. Doesn't seem as if I ever could be hungry again with such a lunch. I am quite sure no one carried more delicious things to eat than I.”

Mrs. Comstock was pleased. “I put in a pretty good hunk of cake. Did you divide it with any one?”

“Why, yes, I did,” admitted Elnora.

“Who?”

This was becoming uncomfortable. “I ate the biggest piece myself,” said Elnora, “and gave the rest to a couple of boys named Jimmy and Billy and a girl named Belle. They said it was the very best cake they ever tasted in all their lives.”

Mrs. Comstock sat straight. “I used to be a master hand at spice cake,” she boasted. “But I'm a little out of practice. I must get to work again. With the very weeds growing higher than our heads, we should raise plenty of good stuff to eat on this land, if we can't afford anything else but taxes.”

Elnora laughed and hurried up stairs to change her dress. Margaret Sinton came that night bringing a beautiful blue one in its place, and carried away the other to launder.

“Do you mean to say those dresses are to be washed every two days?” questioned Mrs. Comstock.

“They have to be, to look fresh,” replied Margaret. “We want our girl sweet as a rose.”

“Well, of all things!” cried Mrs. Comstock. “Every two days! Any girl who can't keep a dress clean longer than that is a dirty girl. You'll wear the goods out and fade the colours with so much washing.”

“We'll have a clean girl, anyway.”

“Well, if you like the job you can have it,” said Mrs. Comstock. “I don't mind the washing, but I'm so inconvenient with an iron.”

Elnora sat late that night working over her lessons. The next morning she put on her blue dress and ribbon and in those she was a picture. Mrs. Comstock caught her breath with a queer stirring around her heart, and looked twice to be sure of what she saw. As Elnora gathered her books her mother silently gave her the lunch box.

“Feels heavy,” said Elnora gaily. “And smelly! Like as not I'll be called upon to divide again.”

“Then you divide!” said Mrs. Comstock. “Eating is the one thing we don't have to economize on, Elnora. Spite of all I can do food goes to waste in this soil every day. If you can give some of those city children a taste of the real thing, why, don't be selfish.”

Elnora went down the road thinking of the city children with whom she probably would divide. Of course, the bridge would be occupied again. So she stopped and opened the box.

“I don't want to be selfish,” murmured Elnora, “but it really seems as if I can't give away this lunch. If mother did not put love into it, she's substituted something that's likely to fool me.”

She almost felt her steps lagging as she approached the bridge. A very hungry dog had been added to the trio of children. Elnora loved all dogs, and as usual, this one came to her in friendliness. The children said “Good morning!” with alacrity, and another paper parcel lay conspicuous.

“How are you this morning?” inquired Elnora.

“All right!” cried the three, while the dog sniffed ravenously at the lunch box, and beat a perfect tattoo with his tail.

“How did you like the bologna?” questioned Billy eagerly.

“One of the girls took me to lunch at her home yesterday,” answered Elnora.

Dawn broke beautifully over Billy's streaked face. He caught the package and thrust it toward Elnora.

“Then maybe you'd like to try the bologna to-day!”

The dog leaped in glad apprehension of something, and Belle scrambled to her feet and took a step forward. The look of famished greed in her eyes was more than Elnora could endure. It was not that she cared for the food so much. Good things to eat had been in abundance all her life. She wanted with this lunch to try to absorb what she felt must be an expression of some sort from her mother, and if it were not a manifestation of love, she did not know what to think it. But it was her mother who had said “be generous.” She knelt on the bridge. “Keep back the dog!” she warned the elder boy.

She opened the box and divided the milk between Billy and the girl. She gave each a piece of cake leaving one and a sandwich. Billy pressed forward eagerly, bitter disappointment on his face, and the elder boy forgot his charge.

“Aw, I thought they'd be meat!” lamented Billy.

Elnora could not endure that.

“There is!” she said gladly. “There is a little pigeon bird. I want a teeny piece of the breast, for a sort of keepsake, just one bite, and you can have the rest among you.”

Elnora drew the knife from its holder and cut off the wishbone. Then she held the bird toward the girl.

“You can divide it,” she said. The dog made a bound and seizing the squab sprang from the bridge and ran for life. The girl and boy hurried after him. With awful eyes Billy stared and swore tempestuously. Elnora caught him and clapped her hand over the little mouth. A delivery wagon came tearing down the street, the horse running full speed, passed the fleeing dog with the girl and boy in pursuit, and stopped at the bridge. High school girls began to roll from all sides of it.

“A rescue! A rescue!” they shouted.

It was Ellen Brownlee and her crowd, and every girl of them carried a big parcel. They took in the scene as they approached. The fleeing dog with something in its mouth, the half-naked girl and boy chasing it told the story. Those girls screamed with laughter as they watched the pursuit.

“Thank goodness, I saved the wishbone!” said Elnora. “As usual, I can prove that there was a bird.” She turned toward the box. Billy had improved the time. He had the last piece of cake in one hand, and the last bite of salad disappeared in one great gulp. Then the girls shouted again.

“Let's have a sample ourselves,” suggested one. She caught up the box and handed out the remaining sandwich. Another girl divided it into bites each little over an inch square, and then she lifted the cup lid and deposited a preserved strawberry on each bite. “One, two, three, altogether now!” she cried.

“You old mean things!” screamed Billy.

In an instant he was down in the road and handfuls of dust began to fly among them. The girls scattered before him.

“Billy!” cried Elnora. “Billy! I'll never give you another bite, if you throw dust on any one!”

Then Billy dropped the dust, bored both fists into his eyes, and fled sobbing into Elnora's new blue skirt. She stooped to meet him and consolation began. Those girls laughed on. They screamed and shouted until the little bridge shook.

“To-morrow might as well be a clear day,” said Ellen, passing around and feeding the remaining berries to the girls as they could compose themselves enough to take them. “Billy, I admire your taste more than your temper.”

Elnora looked up. “The little soul is nothing but skin and bones,” she said. “I never was really hungry myself; were any of you?”

“Well, I should say so,” cried a plump, rosy girl. “I'm famished right now. Let's have breakfast immediate!”

“We got to refill this box first!” said Ellen Brownlee. “Who's got the butter?” A girl advanced with a wooden tray.

“Put it in the preserve cup, a little strawberry flavour won't hurt it. Next!” called Ellen.

A loaf of bread was produced and Ellen cut off a piece which filled the sandwich box.

“Next!” A bottle of olives was unwrapped. The grocer's boy who was waiting opened that, and Ellen filled the salad dish.

“Next!”

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

“Next!”

“I don't suppose this will make quite as good dog feed as a bird,” laughed a girl holding open a bag of sliced ham while Ellen filled the meat dish.

“Next!”

A box of candy was handed her and she stuffed every corner of the lunch box with chocolates and nougat. Then it was closed and formally presented to Elnora. The girls each helped themselves to candy and olives, and gave Billy the remainder of the food. Billy took one bite of ham, and approved. Belle and Jimmy had given up chasing the dog, and angry and ashamed, stood waiting half a block away.

“Come back!” cried Billy. “You great big dunces, come back! They's a new kind of meat, and cake and candy.”

The boy delayed, but the girl joined Billy. Ellen wiped her fingers, stepped to the cement abutment and began reciting “Horatio at the Bridge!” substituting Elnora wherever the hero appeared in the lines.

Elnora gathered up the sacks, and gave them to Belle, telling her to take the food home, cut and spread the bread, set things on the table, and eat nicely.

Then Elnora was taken into the wagon with the girls, and driven on the run to the high school. They sang a song beginning—

“Elnora, please give me a sandwich.
I'm ashamed to ask for cake!”


as they went. Elnora did not know it, but that was her initiation. She belonged to “the crowd.” She only knew that she was happy, and vaguely wondered what her mother and Aunt Margaret would have said about the proceedings.
admin
Site Admin
 
Posts: 28062
Joined: Thu Aug 01, 2013 5:21 am

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

Postby admin » Mon Jun 24, 2019 5:21 am

CHAPTER VII: WHEREIN MRS. COMSTOCK MANIPULATES MARGARET AND BILLY ACQUIRES A RESIDENCE

Saturday morning Elnora helped her mother with the work. When she had finished Mrs. Comstock told her to go to Sintons' and wash her Indian relics, so that she would be ready to accompany Wesley to town in the afternoon. Elnora hurried down the road and was soon at the cistern with a tub busily washing arrow points, stone axes, tubes, pipes, and skin-cleaning implements.

Then she went home, dressed and was waiting when the carriage reached the gate. She stopped at the bank with the box, and Sinton went to do his marketing and some shopping for his wife.

At the dry goods store Mr. Brownlee called to him, “Hello, Sinton! How do you like the fate of your lunch box?” Then he began to laugh—

“I always hate to see a man laughing alone,” said Sinton. “It looks so selfish! Tell me the fun, and let me help you.”

Mr. Brownlee wiped his eyes.

“I supposed you knew, but I see she hasn't told.”

Then the three days' history of the lunch box was repeated with particulars which included the dog.

“Now laugh!” concluded Mr. Brownlee.

“Blest if I see anything funny!” replied Wesley Sinton. “And if you had bought that box and furnished one of those lunches yourself, you wouldn't either. I call such a work a shame! I'll have it stopped.”

“Some one must see to that, all right. They are little leeches. Their father earns enough to support them, but they have no mother, and they run wild. I suppose they are crazy for cooked food. But it is funny, and when you think it over you will see it, if you don't now.”

“About where would a body find that father?” inquired Wesley Sinton grimly. Mr. Brownlee told him and he started, locating the house with little difficulty. House was the proper word, for of home there was no sign. Just a small empty house with three unkept little children racing through and around it. The girl and the elder boy hung back, but dirty little Billy greeted Sinton with: “What you want here?”

“I want to see your father,” said Sinton.

“Well, he's asleep,” said Billy.

“Where?” asked Sinton.

“In the house,” answered Billy, “and you can't wake him.”

“Well, I'll try,” said Wesley.

Billy led the way. “There he is!” he said. “He is drunk again.”

On a dirty mattress in a corner lay a man who appeared to be strong and well. Billy was right. You could not awake him. He had gone the limit, and a little beyond.

He was now facing eternity. Sinton went out and closed the door.

“Your father is sick and needs help,” he said. “You stay here, and I will send a man to see him.”

“If you just let him 'lone, he'll sleep it off,” volunteered Billy. “He's that way all the time, but he wakes up and gets us something to eat after awhile. Only waitin' twists you up inside pretty bad.”

The boy wore no air of complaint. He was merely stating facts.

Wesley Sinton looked intently at Billy. “Are you twisted up inside now?” he asked.

Billy laid a grimy hand on the region of his stomach and the filthy little waist sank close to the backbone. “Bet yer life, boss,” he said cheerfully.

“How long have you been twisted?” asked Sinton.

Billy appealed to the others. “When was it we had the stuff on the bridge?”

“Yesterday morning,” said the girl.

“Is that all gone?” asked Sinton.

“She went and told us to take it home,” said Billy ruefully, “and 'cos she said to, we took it. Pa had come back, he was drinking some more, and he ate a lot of it—almost the whole thing, and it made him sick as a dog, and he went and wasted all of it. Then he got drunk some more, and now he's asleep again. We didn't get hardly none.”

“You children sit on the steps until the man comes,” said Sinton. “I'll send you some things to eat with him. What's your name, sonny?”

“Billy,” said the boy.

“Well, Billy, I guess you better come with me. I'll take care of him,” Sinton promised the others. He reached a hand to Billy.

“I ain't no baby, I'm a boy!” said Billy, as he shuffled along beside Sinton, taking a kick at every movable object without regard to his battered toes.

Once they passed a Great Dane dog lolling after its master, and Billy ascended Sinton as if he were a tree, and clung to him with trembling hot hands.

“I ain't afraid of that dog,” scoffed Billy, as he was again placed on the walk, “but onc't he took me for a rat or somepin' and his teeth cut into my back. If I'd a done right, I'd a took the law on him.”

Sinton looked down into the indignant little face. The child was bright enough, he had a good head, but oh, such a body!

“I 'bout got enough of dogs,” said Billy. “I used to like 'em, but I'm getting pretty tired. You ought to seen the lickin' Jimmy and Belle and me give our dog when we caught him, for taking a little bird she gave us. We waited 'till he was asleep 'nen laid a board on him and all of us jumped on it to onc't. You could a heard him yell a mile. Belle said mebbe we could squeeze the bird out of him. But, squeeze nothing! He was holler as us, and that bird was lost long 'fore it got to his stummick. It was ist a little one, anyway. Belle said it wouldn't 'a' made a bite apiece for three of us nohow, and the dog got one good swaller. We didn't get much of the meat, either. Pa took most of that. Seems like pas and dogs gets everything.”

Billy laughed dolefully. Involuntarily Wesley Sinton reached his hand. They were coming into the business part of Onabasha and the streets were crowded. Billy understood it to mean that he might lose his companion and took a grip. That little hot hand clinging tight to his, the sore feet recklessly scouring the walk, the hungry child panting for breath as he tried to keep even, the brave soul jesting in the face of hard luck, caught Sinton in a tender, empty spot.

“Say, son,” he said. “How would you like to be washed clean, and have all the supper your skin could hold, and sleep in a good bed?”

“Aw, gee!” said Billy. “I ain't dead yet! Them things is in heaven! Poor folks can't have them. Pa said so.”

“Well, you can have them if you want to go with me and get them,” promised Sinton.

“Honest?”

“Yes, honest.”

“Crost yer heart?”

“Yes,” said Sinton.

“Kin I take some to Jimmy and Belle?”

“If you'll come with me and be my boy, I'll see that they have plenty.”

“What will pa say?”

“Your pa is in that kind of sleep now where he won't wake up, Billy,” said Sinton. “I am pretty sure the law will give you to me, if you want to come.”

“When people don't ever wake up they're dead,” announced Billy. “Is my pa dead?”

“Yes, he is,” answered Sinton.

“And you'll take care of Jimmy and Belle, too?”

“I can't adopt all three of you,” said Sinton. “I'll take you, and see that they are well provided for. Will you come?”

“Yep, I'll come,” said Billy. “Let's eat, first thing we do.”

“All right,” agreed Sinton. “Come into this restaurant.” He lifted Billy to the lunch counter and ordered the clerk to give him as many glasses of milk as he wanted, and a biscuit. “I think there's going to be fried chicken when we get home, Billy,” he said, “so you just take the edge off now, and fill up later.”

While Billy lunched Sinton called up the different departments and notified the proper authorities ending with the Women's Relief Association. He sent a basket of food to Belle and Jimmy, bought Billy a pair of trousers, and a shirt, and went to bring Elnora.

“Why, Uncle Wesley!” cried the girl. “Where did you find Billy?”

“I've adopted him for the time being, if not longer,” replied Wesley Sinton.

“Where did you get him?”

“Well, young woman,” said Wesley Sinton, “Mr. Brownlee told me the history of your lunch box. It didn't seem so funny to me as it does to the rest of them; so I went to look up the father of Billy's family, and make him take care of them, or allow the law to do it for him. It will have to be the law.”

“He's deader than anything!” broke in Billy. “He can't ever take all the meat any more.”

“Billy!” gasped Elnora.

“Never you mind!” said Sinton. “A child doesn't say such things about a father who loved and raised him right. When it happens, the father alone is to blame. You won't hear Billy talk like that about me when I cross over.”

“You don't mean you are going to take him to keep!”

“I'll soon need help,” said Wesley. “Billy will come in just about right ten years from now, and if I raise him I'll have him the way I want him.”

“But Aunt Margaret doesn't like boys,” objected Elnora.

“Well, she likes me, and I used to be a boy. Anyway, as I remember she has had her way about everything at our house ever since we were married. I am going to please myself about Billy. Hasn't she always done just as she chose so far as you know? Honest, Elnora!”

“Honest!” replied Elnora. “You are beautiful to all of us, Uncle Wesley; but Aunt Margaret won't like Billy. She won't want him in her home.”

“In our home,” corrected Wesley.

“What makes you want him?” marvelled Elnora.

“God only knows,” said Sinton. “Billy ain't so beautiful, and he ain't so smart, I guess it's because he's so human. My heart goes out to him.”

“So did mine,” said Elnora. “I love him. I'd rather see him eat my lunch than have it myself any time.”

“What makes you like him?” asked Wesley.

“Why, I don't know,” pondered Elnora. “He's so little, he needs so much, he's got such splendid grit, and he's perfectly unselfish with his brother and sister. But we must wash him before Aunt Margaret sees him. I wonder if mother——”

“You needn't bother. I'm going to take him home the way he is,” said Sinton. “I want Maggie to see the worst of it.”

“I'm afraid——” began Elnora.

“So am I,” said Wesley, “but I won't give him up. He's taken a sort of grip on my heart. I've always been crazy for a boy. Don't let him hear us.”

“Don't let him be killed!” cried Elnora. During their talk Billy had wandered to the edge of the walk and barely escaped the wheels of a passing automobile in an effort to catch a stray kitten that seemed in danger.

Wesley drew Billy back to the walk, and held his hand closely. “Are you ready, Elnora?”

“Yes; you were gone a long time,” she said.

Wesley glanced at a package she carried. “Have to have another book?” he asked.

“No, I bought this for mother. I've had such splendid luck selling my specimens, I didn't feel right about keeping all the money for myself, so I saved enough from the Indian relics to get a few things I wanted. I would have liked to have gotten her a dress, but I didn't dare, so I compromised on a book.”

“What did you select, Elnora?” asked Wesley wonderingly.

“Well,” said she, “I have noticed mother always seemed interested in anything Mark Twain wrote in the newspapers, and I thought it would cheer her up a little, so I just got his 'Innocents Abroad.' I haven't read it myself, but I've seen mention made of it all my life, and the critics say it's genuine fun.”

“Good!” cried Sinton. “Good! You've made a splendid choice. It will take her mind off herself a lot. But she will scold you.”

“Of course,” assented Elnora. “But, possibly she will read it, and feel better. I'm going to serve her a trick. I am going to hide it until Monday, and set it on her little shelf of books the last thing before I go away. She must have all of them by heart. When, she sees a new one she can't help being glad, for she loves to read, and if she has all day to become interested, maybe she'll like it so she won't scold so much.”

“We are both in for it, but I guess we are prepared. I don't know what Margaret will say, but I'm going to take Billy home and see. Maybe he can win with her, as he did with us.”

Elnora had doubts, but she did not say anything more. When they started home Billy sat on the front seat. He drove with the hitching strap tied to the railing of the dash-board, flourished the whip, and yelled with delight. At first Sinton laughed with him, but by the time he left Elnora with several packages at her gate, he was looking serious enough.

Margaret was at the door as they drove up the lane. Wesley left Billy in the carriage, hitched the horses and went to explain to her. He had not reached her before she cried, “Look, Wesley, that child! You'll have a runaway!”

Wesley looked and ran. Billy was standing in the carriage slashing the mettlesome horses with the whip.

“See me make 'em go!” he shouted as the whip fell a second time.

He did make them go. They took the hitching post and a few fence palings, which scraped the paint from a wheel. Sinton missed the lines at the first effort, but the dragging post impeded the horses, and he soon caught them. He led them to the barn, and ordered Billy to remain in the carriage while he unhitched. Then leading Billy and carrying his packages he entered the yard.

“You run play a few minutes, Billy,” he said. “I want to talk to the nice lady.”

The nice lady was looking rather stupefied as Wesley approached her.

“Where in the name of sense did you get that awful child?” she demanded.

“He is a young gentleman who has been stopping Elnora and eating her lunch every day, part of the time with the assistance of his brother and sister, while our girl went hungry. Brownlee told me about it at the store. It's happened three days running. The first time she went without anything, the second time Brownlee's girl took her to lunch, and the third a crowd of high school girls bought a lot of stuff and met them at the bridge. The youngsters seemed to think they could rob her every day, so I went to see their father about having it stopped.”

“Well, I should think so!” cried Margaret.

“There were three of them, Margaret,” said Wesley, “that little fellow——”

“Hyena, you mean,” interpolated Margaret.

“Hyena,” corrected Wesley gravely, “and another boy and a girl, all equally dirty and hungry. The man was dead. They thought he was in a drunken sleep, but he was stone dead. I brought the little boy with me, and sent the officers and other help to the house. He's half starved. I want to wash him, and put clean clothes on him, and give him some supper.”

“Have you got anything to put on him?”

“Yes.”

“Where did you get it?”

“Bought it. It ain't much. All I got didn't cost a dollar.”

“A dollar is a good deal when you work and save for it the way we do.”

“Well, I don't know a better place to put it. Have you got any hot water? I'll use this tub at the cistern. Please give me some soap and towels.”

Instead Margaret pushed by him with a shriek. Billy had played by producing a cord from his pocket, and having tied the tails of Margaret's white kittens together, he had climbed on a box and hung them across the clothes line. Wild with fright the kittens were clawing each other to death, and the air was white with fur. The string had twisted and the frightened creatures could not recognize friends. Margaret stepped back with bleeding hands. Sinton cut the cord with his knife and the poor little cats raced under the house bleeding and disfigured. Margaret white with wrath faced Wesley.

“If you don't hitch up and take that animal back to town,” she said, “I will.”

Billy threw himself on the grass and began to scream.

“You said I could have fried chicken for supper,” he wailed. “You said she was a nice lady!”

Wesley lifted him and something in his manner of handling the child infuriated Margaret. His touch was so gentle. She reached for Billy and gripped his shirt collar in the back. Wesley's hand closed over hers.

“Gently, girl!” he said. “This little body is covered with sores.”

“Sores!” she ejaculated. “Sores? What kind of sores?”

“Oh, they might be from bruises made by fists or boot toes, or they might be bad blood, from wrong eating, or they might be pure filth. Will you hand me some towels?”

“No, I won't!” said Margaret.

“Well, give me some rags, then.”

Margaret compromised on pieces of old tablecloth. Wesley led Billy to the cistern, pumped cold water into the tub, poured in a kettle of hot, and beginning at the head scoured him. The boy shut his little teeth, and said never a word though he twisted occasionally when the soap struck a raw spot. Margaret watched the process from the window in amazed and ever-increasing anger. Where did Wesley learn it? How could his big hands be so gentle? He came to the door.

“Have you got any peroxide?” he asked.

“A little,” she answered stiffly.

“Well, I need about a pint, but I'll begin on what you have.”

Margaret handed him the bottle. Wesley took a cup, weakened the drug and said to Billy: “Man, these sores on you must be healed. Then you must eat the kind of food that's fit for little men. I am going to put some medicine on you, and it is going to sting like fire. If it just runs off, I won't use any more. If it boils, there is poison in these places, and they must be tied up, dosed every day, and you must be washed, and kept mighty clean. Now, hold still, because I am going to put it on.”

“I think the one on my leg is the worst,” said the undaunted Billy, holding out a raw place. Sinton poured on the drug. Billy's body twisted and writhed, but he did not run.

“Gee, look at it boil!” he cried. “I guess they's poison. You'll have to do it to all of them.”

Wesley's teeth were set, as he watched the boy's face. He poured the drug, strong enough to do effective work, on a dozen places over that little body and bandaged all he could. Billy's lips quivered at times, and his chin jumped, but he did not shed a tear or utter a sound other than to take a deep interest in the boiling. As Wesley put the small shirt on the boy, and fastened the trousers, he was ready to reset the hitching post and mend the fence without a word.

“Now am I clean?” asked Billy.

“Yes, you are clean outside,” said Wesley. “There is some dirty blood in your body, and some bad words in your mouth, that we have to get out, but that takes time. If we put right things to eat into your stomach that will do away with the sores, and if you know that I don't like bad words you won't say them any oftener than you can help, will you Billy?”

Billy leaned against Wesley in apparent indifference.

“I want to see me!” he demanded.

Wesley led the boy into the house, and lifted him to a mirror.

“My, I'm purty good-looking, ain't I?” bragged Billy. Then as Wesley stooped to set him on the floor Billy's lips passed close to the big man's ear and hastily whispered a vehement “No!” as he ran for the door.

“How long until supper, Margaret?” asked Wesley as he followed.

“You are going to keep him for supper?” she asked

“Sure!” said Wesley. “That's what I brought him for. It's likely he never had a good square meal of decent food in his life. He's starved to the bone.”

Margaret arose deliberately, removed the white cloth from the supper table and substituted an old red one she used to wrap the bread. She put away the pretty dishes they commonly used and set the table with old plates for pies and kitchen utensils. But she fried the chicken, and was generous with milk and honey, snowy bread, gravy, potatoes, and fruit.

Wesley repainted the scratched wheel. He mended the fence, with Billy holding the nails and handing the pickets. Then he filled the old hole, digged a new one and set the hitching post.

Billy hopped on one foot at his task of holding the post steady as the earth was packed around it. There was not the shadow of a trouble on his little freckled face.

Sinton threw in stones and pounded the earth solid around the post. The sound of a gulping sob attracted him to Billy. The tears were rolling down his cheeks. “If I'd a knowed you'd have to get down in a hole, and work so hard I wouldn't 'a' hit the horses,” he said.

“Never you mind, Billy,” said Wesley. “You will know next time, so you can think over it, and make up your mind whether you really want to before you strike.”

Wesley went to the barn to put away the tools. He thought Billy was at his heels, but the boy lagged on the way. A big snowy turkey gobbler resented the small intruder in his especial preserves, and with spread tail and dragging wings came toward him threateningly. If that turkey gobbler had known the sort of things with which Billy was accustomed to holding his own, he never would have issued the challenge. Billy accepted instantly. He danced around with stiff arms at his sides and imitated the gobbler. Then came his opportunity, and he jumped on the big turkey's back. Wesley heard Margaret's scream in time to see the flying leap and admire its dexterity. The turkey tucked its tail and scampered. Billy slid from its back and as he fell he clutched wildly, caught the folded tail, and instinctively clung to it. The turkey gave one scream and relaxed its muscles. Then it fled in disfigured defeat to the haystack. Billy scrambled to his feet holding the tail, while his eyes were bulging.

“Why, the blasted old thing came off!” he said to Wesley, holding out the tail in amazed wonder.

The man, caught suddenly, forgot everything and roared. Seeing which, Billy thought a turkey tail of no account and flung that one high above him shouting in wild childish laughter, when the feathers scattered and fell.

Margaret, watching, began to cry. Wesley had gone mad. For the first time in her married life she wanted to tell her mother. When Wesley had waited until he was so hungry he could wait no longer he invaded the kitchen to find a cooked supper baking on the back of the stove, while Margaret with red eyes nursed a pair of demoralized white kittens.

“Is supper ready?” he asked.

“It has been for an hour,” answered Margaret.

“Why didn't you call us?”

That “us” had too much comradeship in it. It irritated Margaret.

“I supposed it would take you even longer than this to fix things decent again. As for my turkey, and my poor little kittens, they don't matter.”

“I am mighty sorry about them, Margaret, you know that. Billy is very bright, and he will soon learn——”

“Soon learn!” cried Margaret. “Wesley Sinton, you don't mean to say that you think of keeping that creature here for some time?”

“No, I think of keeping a well-behaved little boy.”

Margaret set the supper on the table. Seeing the old red cloth Wesley stared in amazement. Then he understood. Billy capered around in delight.

“Ain't that pretty?” he exulted. “I wish Jimmy and Belle could see. We, why we ist eat out of our hands or off a old dry goods box, and when we fix up a lot, we have newspaper. We ain't ever had a nice red cloth like this.”

Wesley looked straight at Margaret, so intently that she turned away, her face flushing. He stacked the dictionary and the geography of the world on a chair, and lifted Billy beside him. He heaped a plate generously, cut the food, put a fork into Billy's little fist, and made him eat slowly and properly. Billy did his best. Occasionally greed overcame him, and he used his left hand to pop a bite into his mouth with his fingers. These lapses Wesley patiently overlooked, and went on with his general instructions. Luckily Billy did not spill anything on his clothing or the cloth. After supper Wesley took him to the barn while he finished the night work. Then he went and sat beside Margaret on the front porch. Billy appropriated the hammock, and swung by pulling a rope tied around a tree. The very energy with which he went at the work of swinging himself appealed to Wesley.

“Mercy, but he's an active little body,” he said. “There isn't a lazy bone in him. See how he works to pay for his fun.”

“There goes his foot through it!” cried Margaret. “Wesley, he shall not ruin my hammock.”

“Of course he shan't!” said Wesley. “Wait, Billy, let me show you.”

Thereupon he explained to Billy that ladies wearing beautiful white dresses sat in hammocks, so little boys must not put their dusty feet in them. Billy immediately sat, and allowed his feet to swing.

“Margaret,” said Wesley after a long silence on the porch, “isn't it true that if Billy had been a half-starved sore cat, dog, or animal of any sort, that you would have pitied, and helped care for it, and been glad to see me get any pleasure out of it I could?”

“Yes,” said Margaret coldly.

“But because I brought a child with an immortal soul, there is no welcome.”

“That isn't a child, it's an animal.”

“You just said you would have welcomed an animal.”

“Not a wild one. I meant a tame beast.”

“Billy is not a beast!” said Wesley hotly. “He is a very dear little boy. Margaret, you've always done the church-going and Bible reading for this family. How do you reconcile that 'Suffer little children to come unto Me' with the way you are treating Billy?”

Margaret arose. “I haven't treated that child. I have only let him alone. I can barely hold myself. He needs the hide tanned about off him!”

“If you'd cared to look at his body, you'd know that you couldn't find a place to strike without cutting into a raw spot,” said Wesley. “Besides, Billy has not done a thing for which a child should be punished. He is only full of life, no training, and with a boy's love of mischief. He did abuse your kittens, but an hour before I saw him risk his life to save one from being run over. He minds what you tell him, and doesn't do anything he is told not to. He thinks of his brother and sister right away when anything pleases him. He took that stinging medicine with the grit of a bulldog. He is just a bully little chap, and I love him.”

“Oh good heavens!” cried Margaret, going into the house as she spoke.

Sinton sat still. At last Billy tired of the swing, came to him and leaned his slight body against the big knee.

“Am I going to sleep here?” he asked.

“Sure you are!” said Sinton.

Billy swung his feet as he laid across Wesley's knee. “Come on,” said Wesley, “I must clean you up for bed.”

“You have to be just awful clean here,” announced Billy. “I like to be clean, you feel so good, after the hurt is over.”

Sinton registered that remark, and worked with especial tenderness as he redressed the ailing places and washed the dust from Billy's feet and hands.

“Where can he sleep?” he asked Margaret.

“I'm sure I don't know,” she answered.

“Oh, I can sleep ist any place,” said Billy. “On the floor or anywhere. Home, I sleep on pa's coat on a store-box, and Jimmy and Belle they sleep on the storebox, too. I sleep between them, so's I don't roll off and crack my head. Ain't you got a storebox and a old coat?”

Wesley arose and opened a folding lounge. Then he brought an armload of clean horse blankets from a closet.

“These don't look like the nice white bed a little boy should have, Billy,” he said, “but we'll make them do. This will beat a storebox all hollow.”

Billy took a long leap for the lounge. When he found it bounced, he proceeded to bounce, until he was tired. By that time the blankets had to be refolded. Wesley had Billy take one end and help, while both of them seemed to enjoy the job. Then Billy lay down and curled up in his clothes like a small dog. But sleep would not come.

Finally he sat up. He stared around restlessly. Then he arose, went to Wesley, and leaned against his knee. He picked up the boy and folded his arms around him. Billy sighed in rapturous content.

“That bed feels so lost like,” he said. “Jimmy always jabbed me on one side, and Belle on the other, and so I knew I was there. Do you know where they are?”

“They are with kind people who gave them a fine supper, a clean bed, and will always take good care of them.”

“I wisht I was—” Billy hesitated and looked earnestly at Wesley. “I mean I wish they was here.”

“You are about all I can manage, Billy,” said Wesley.

Billy sat up. “Can't she manage anything?” he asked, waving toward Margaret.

“Indeed, yes,” said Wesley. “She has managed me for twenty years.”

“My, but she made you nice!” said Billy. “I just love you. I wisht she'd take Jimmy and Belle and make them nice as you.”

“She isn't strong enough to do that, Billy. They will grow into a good boy and girl where they are.”

Billy slid from Wesley's arms and walked toward Margaret until he reached the middle of the room. Then he stopped, and at last sat on the floor. Finally he lay down and closed his eyes. “This feels more like my bed; if only Jimmy and Belle was here to crowd up a little, so it wasn't so alone like.”

“Won't I do, Billy?” asked Wesley in a husky voice.

Billy moved restlessly. “Seems like—seems like toward night as if a body got kind o' lonesome for a woman person—like her.”

Billy indicated Margaret and then closed his eyes so tight his small face wrinkled.

Soon he was up again. “Wisht I had Snap,” he said. “Oh, I ist wisht I had Snap!”

“I thought you laid a board on Snap and jumped on it,” said Wesley.

“We did!” cried Billy—“oh, you ought to heard him squeal!” Billy laughed loudly, then his face clouded.

“But I want Snap to lay beside me so bad now—that if he was here I'd give him a piece of my chicken, 'for, I ate any. Do you like dogs?”

“Yes, I do,” said Wesley.

Billy was up instantly. “Would you like Snap?”

“I am sure I would,” said Wesley.

“Would she?” Billy indicated Margaret. And then he answered his own question. “But of course, she wouldn't, cos she likes cats, and dogs chases cats. Oh, dear, I thought for a minute maybe Snap could come here.” Billy lay down and closed his eyes resolutely.

Suddenly they flew open. “Does it hurt to be dead?” he demanded.

“Nothing hurts you after you are dead, Billy,” said Wesley.

“Yes, but I mean does it hurt getting to be dead?”

“Sometimes it does. It did not hurt your father, Billy. It came softly while he was asleep.”

“It ist came softly?”

“Yes.”

“I kind o' wisht he wasn't dead!” said Billy. “'Course I like to stay with you, and the fried chicken, and the nice soft bed, and—and everything, and I like to be clean, but he took us to the show, and he got us gum, and he never hurt us when he wasn't drunk.”

Billy drew a deep breath, and tightly closed his eyes. But very soon they opened. Then he sat up. He looked at Wesley pitifully, and then he glanced at Margaret. “You don't like boys, do you?” he questioned.

“I like good boys,” said Margaret.

Billy was at her knee instantly. “Well say, I'm a good boy!” he announced joyously.

“I do not think boys who hurt helpless kittens and pull out turkeys' tails are good boys.”

“Yes, but I didn't hurt the kittens,” explained Billy. “They got mad 'bout ist a little fun and scratched each other. I didn't s'pose they'd act like that. And I didn't pull the turkey's tail. I ist held on to the first thing I grabbed, and the turkey pulled. Honest, it was the turkey pulled.” He turned to Wesley. “You tell her! Didn't the turkey pull? I didn't know its tail was loose, did I?”

“I don't think you did, Billy,” said Wesley.

Billy stared into Margaret's cold face. “Sometimes at night, Belle sits on the floor, and I lay my head in her lap. I could pull up a chair and lay my head in your lap. Like this, I mean.” Billy pulled up a chair, climbed on it and laid his head on Margaret's lap. Then he shut his eyes again. Margaret could have looked little more repulsed if he had been a snake. Billy was soon up.

“My, but your lap is hard,” he said. “And you are a good deal fatter 'an Belle, too!” He slid from the chair and came back to the middle of the room.

“Oh but I wisht he wasn't dead!” he cried. The flood broke and Billy screamed in desperation.

Out of the night a soft, warm young figure flashed through the door and with a swoop caught him in her arms. She dropped into a chair, nestled him closely, drooped her fragrant brown head over his little bullet-eyed red one, and rocked softly while she crooned over him—

“Billy, boy, where have you been?
Oh, I have been to seek a wife,
She's the joy of my life,
But then she's a young thing and she can't leave her mammy!”


Billy clung to her frantically. Elnora wiped his eyes, kissed his face, swayed and sang.

“Why aren't you asleep?” she asked at last.

“I don't know,” said Billy. “I tried. I tried awful hard cos I thought he wanted me to, but it ist wouldn't come. Please tell her I tried.” He appealed to Margaret.

“He did try to go to sleep,” admitted Margaret.

“Maybe he can't sleep in his clothes,” suggested Elnora. “Haven't you an old dressing sacque? I could roll the sleeves.”

Margaret got an old sacque, and Elnora put it on Billy. Then she brought a basin of water and bathed his face and head. She gathered him up and began to rock again.

“Have you got a pa?” asked Billy.

“No,” said Elnora.

“Is he dead like mine?”

“Yes.”

“Did it hurt him to die?”

“I don't know.”

Billy was wide awake again. “It didn't hurt my pa,” he boasted; “he ist died while he was asleep. He didn't even know it was coming.”

“I am glad of that,” said Elnora, pressing the small head against her breast again.

Billy escaped her hand and sat up. “I guess I won't go to sleep,” he said. “It might 'come softly' and get me.”

“It won't get you, Billy,” said Elnora, rocking and singing between sentences. “It doesn't get little boys. It just takes big people who are sick.”

“Was my pa sick?”

“Yes,” said Elnora. “He had a dreadful sickness inside him that burned, and made him drink things. That was why he would forget his little boys and girl. If he had been well, he would have gotten you good things to eat, clean clothes, and had the most fun with you.”

Billy leaned against her and closed his eyes, and Elnora rocked hopefully.

“If I was dead would you cry?” he was up again.

“Yes, I would,” said Elnora, gripping him closer until Billy almost squealed with the embrace.

“Do you love me tight as that?” he questioned blissfully.

“Yes, bushels and bushels,” said Elnora. “Better than any little boy in the whole world.”

Billy looked at Margaret. “She don't!” he said. “She'd be glad if it would get me 'softly,' right now. She don't want me here 't all.”

Elnora smothered his face against her breast and rocked.

“You love me, don't you?”

“I will, if you will go to sleep.”

“Every single day you will give me your dinner for the bologna, won't you,” said Billy.

“Yes, I will,” replied Elnora. “But you will have as good lunch as I do after this. You will have milk, eggs, chicken, all kinds of good things, little pies, and cakes, maybe.”

Billy shook his head. “I am going back home soon as it is light,” he said, “she don't want me. She thinks I'm a bad boy. She's going to whip me—if he lets her. She said so. I heard her. Oh, I wish he hadn't died! I want to go home.” Billy shrieked again.

Mrs. Comstock had started to walk slowly to meet Elnora. The girl had been so late that her mother reached the Sinton gate and followed the path until the picture inside became visible. Elnora had told her about Wesley taking Billy home. Mrs. Comstock had some curiosity to see how Margaret bore the unexpected addition to her family. Billy's voice, raised with excitement, was plainly audible. She could see Elnora holding him, and hear his excited wail. Wesley's face was drawn and haggard, and Margaret's set and defiant. A very imp of perversity entered the breast of Mrs. Comstock.

“Hoity, toity!” she said as she suddenly appeared in the door. “Blest if I ever heard a man making sounds like that before!”

Billy ceased suddenly. Mrs. Comstock was tall, angular, and her hair was prematurely white. She was only thirty-six, although she appeared fifty. But there was an expression on her usually cold face that was attractive just then, and Billy was in search of attractions.

“Have I stayed too late, mother?” asked Elnora anxiously. “I truly intended to come straight back, but I thought I could rock Billy to sleep first. Everything is strange, and he's so nervous.”

“Is that your ma?” demanded Billy.

“Yes.”

“Does she love you?”

“Of course!”

“My mother didn't love me,” said Billy. “She went away and left me, and never came back. She don't care what happens to me. You wouldn't go away and leave your little girl, would you?” questioned Billy.

“No,” said Katharine Comstock, “and I wouldn't leave a little boy, either.”

Billy began sliding from Elnora's knees.

“Do you like boys?” he questioned.

“If there is anything I love it is a boy,” said Mrs. Comstock assuringly. Billy was on the floor.

“Do you like dogs?”

“Yes. Almost as well as boys. I am going to buy a dog as soon as I can find a good one.”

Billy swept toward her with a whoop.

“Do you want a boy?” he shouted.

Katharine Comstock stretched out her arms, and gathered him in.

“Of course, I want a boy!” she rejoiced.

“Maybe you'd like to have me?” offered Billy.

“Sure I would,” triumphed Mrs. Comstock. “Any one would like to have you. You are just a real boy, Billy.”

“Will you take Snap?”

“I'd like to have Snap almost as well as you.”

“Mother!” breathed Elnora imploringly. “Don't! Oh, don't! He thinks you mean it!”

“And so I do mean it,” said Mrs. Comstock. “I'll take him in a jiffy. I throw away enough to feed a little tyke like him every day. His chatter would be great company while you are gone. Blood soon can be purified with right food and baths, and as for Snap, I meant to buy a bulldog, but possibly Snap will serve just as well. All I ask of a dog is to bark at the right time. I'll do the rest. Would you like to come and be my boy, Billy?”

Billy leaned against Mrs. Comstock, reached his arms around her neck and gripped her with all his puny might. “You can whip me all you want to,” he said. “I won't make a sound.”

Mrs. Comstock held him closely and her hard face was softening; of that there could be no doubt.

“Now, why would any one whip a nice little boy like you?” she asked wonderingly.

“She”—Billy from his refuge waved toward Margaret—“she was going to whip me 'cause her cats fought, when I tied their tails together and hung them over the line to dry. How did I know her old cats would fight?”

Mrs. Comstock began to laugh suddenly, and try as she would she could not stop so soon as she desired. Billy studied her.

“Have you got turkeys?” he demanded.

“Yes, flocks of them,” said Mrs. Comstock, vainly struggling to suppress her mirth, and settle her face in its accustomed lines.

“Are their tails fast?” demanded Billy.

“Why, I think so,” marvelled Mrs. Comstock.

“Hers ain't!” said Billy with the wave toward Margaret that was becoming familiar. “Her turkey pulled, and its tail comed right off. She's going to whip me if he lets her. I didn't know the turkey would pull. I didn't know its tail would come off. I won't ever touch one again, will I?”

“Of course, you won't,” said Mrs. Comstock. “And what's more, I don't care if you do! I'd rather have a fine little man like you than all the turkeys in the country. Let them lose their old tails if they want to, and let the cats fight. Cats and turkeys don't compare with boys, who are going to be fine big men some of these days.”

Then Billy and Mrs. Comstock hugged each other rapturously, while their audience stared in silent amazement.

“You like boys!” exulted Billy, and his head dropped against Mrs. Comstock in unspeakable content.

“Yes, and if I don't have to carry you the whole way home, we must start right now,” said Mrs. Comstock. “You are going to be asleep before you know it.”

Billy opened his eyes and braced himself. “I can walk,” he said proudly.

“All right, we must start. Come, Elnora! Good-night, folks!” Mrs. Comstock set Billy on the floor, and arose gripping his hand. “You take the other side, Elnora, and we will help him as much as we can,” she said.

Elnora stared piteously at Margaret, then at Wesley, and arose in white-faced bewilderment.

“Billy, are you going to leave without even saying good-bye to me?” asked Wesley, with a gulp.

Billy held tight to Mrs. Comstock and Elnora.

“Good-bye!” he said casually. “I'll come and see you some time.”

Wesley Sinton gave a smothered sob, and strode from the room.

Mrs. Comstock started toward the door, dragging at Billy while Elnora pulled back, but Mrs. Sinton was before them, her eyes flashing.

“Kate Comstock, you think you are mighty smart, don't you?” she cried.

“I ain't in the lunatic asylum, where you belong, anyway,” said Mrs. Comstock. “I am smart enough to tell a dandy boy when I see him, and I'm good and glad to get him. I'll love to have him!”

“Well, you won't have him!” exclaimed Margaret Sinton. “That boy is Wesley's! He found him, and brought him here. You can't come in and take him like that! Let go of him!”

“Not much, I won't!” cried Mrs. Comstock. “Leave the poor sick little soul here for you to beat, because he didn't know just how to handle things! Of course, he'll make mistakes. He must have a lot of teaching, but not the kind he'll get from you! Clear out of my way!”

“You let go of our boy,” ordered Margaret.

“Why? Do you want to whip him, before he can go to sleep?” jeered Mrs. Comstock.

“No, I don't!” said Margaret. “He's Wesley's, and nobody shall touch him. Wesley!”

Wesley Sinton appeared behind Margaret in the doorway, and she turned to him. “Make Kate Comstock let go of our boy!” she demanded.

“Billy, she wants you now,” said Wesley Sinton. “She won't whip you, and she won't let any one else. You can have stacks of good things to eat, ride in the carriage, and have a great time. Won't you stay with us?”

Billy drew away from Mrs. Comstock and Elnora.

He faced Margaret, his eyes shrewd with unchildish wisdom. Necessity had taught him to strike the hot iron, to drive the hard bargain.

“Can I have Snap to live here always?” he demanded.

“Yes, you can have all the dogs you want,” said Margaret Sinton.

“Can I sleep close enough so's I can touch you?”

“Yes, you can move your lounge up so that you can hold my hand,” said Margaret.

“Do you love me now?” questioned Billy.

“I'll try to love you, if you are a good boy,” said Margaret.

“Then I guess I'll stay,” said Billy, walking over to her.

Out in the night Elnora and her mother went down the road in the moonlight; every few rods Mrs. Comstock laughed aloud.

“Mother, I don't understand you,” sobbed Elnora.

“Well, maybe when you have gone to high school longer you will,” said Mrs. Comstock. “Anyway, you saw me bring Mag Sinton to her senses, didn't you?”

“Yes, I did,” answered Elnora, “but I thought you were in earnest. So did Billy, and Uncle Wesley, and Aunt Margaret.”

“Well, wasn't I?” inquired Mrs. Comstock.

“But you just said you brought Aunt Margaret to!”

“Well, didn't I?”

“I don't understand you.”

“That's the reason I am recommending more schooling!”

Elnora took her candle and went to bed. Mrs. Comstock was feeling too good to sleep. Twice of late she really had enjoyed herself for the first in sixteen years, and greediness for more of the same feeling crept into her blood like intoxication. As she sat brooding alone she knew the truth. She would have loved to have taken Billy. She would not have minded his mischief, his chatter, or his dog. He would have meant a distraction from herself that she greatly needed; she was even sincere about the dog. She had intended to tell Wesley to buy her one at the very first opportunity. Her last thought was of Billy. She chuckled softly, for she was not saintly, and now she knew how she could even a long score with Margaret and Wesley in a manner that would fill her soul with grim satisfaction.
admin
Site Admin
 
Posts: 28062
Joined: Thu Aug 01, 2013 5:21 am

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

Postby admin » Mon Jun 24, 2019 5:21 am

CHAPTER VIII: WHEREIN THE LIMBERLOST TEMPTS ELNORA, AND BILLY BURIES HIS FATHER

Immediately after dinner on Sunday Wesley Sinton stopped at the Comstock gate to ask if Elnora wanted to go to town with them. Billy sat beside him and he did not appear as if he were on his way to a funeral. Elnora said she had to study and could not go, but she suggested that her mother take her place. Mrs. Comstock put on her hat and went at once, which surprised Elnora. She did not know that her mother was anxious for an opportunity to speak with Sinton alone. Elnora knew why she was repeatedly cautioned not to leave their land, if she went specimen hunting.

She studied two hours and was several lessons ahead of her classes. There was no use to go further. She would take a walk and see if she could gather any caterpillars or find any freshly spun cocoons. She searched the bushes and low trees behind the garden and all around the edge of the woods on their land, and having little success, at last came to the road. Almost the first thorn bush she examined yielded a Polyphemus cocoon. Elnora lifted her head with the instinct of a hunter on the chase, and began work. She reached the swamp before she knew it, carrying five fine cocoons of different species as her reward. She pushed back her hair and gazed around longingly. A few rods inside she thought she saw cocoons on a bush, to which she went, and found several. Sense of caution was rapidly vanishing; she was in a fair way to forget everything and plunge into the swamp when she thought she heard footsteps coming down the trail. She went back, and came out almost facing Pete Corson.

That ended her difficulty. She had known him since childhood. When she sat on the front bench of the Brushwood schoolhouse, Pete had been one of the big boys at the back of the room. He had been rough and wild, but she never had been afraid of him, and often he had given her pretty things from the swamp.

“What luck!” she cried. “I promised mother I would not go inside the swamp alone, and will you look at the cocoons I've found! There are more just screaming for me to come get them, because the leaves will fall with the first frost, and then the jays and crows will begin to tear them open. I haven't much time, since I'm going to school. You will go with me, Pete! Please say yes! Just a little way!”

“What are those things?” asked the man, his keen black eyes staring at her.

“They are the cases these big caterpillars spin for winter, and in the spring they come out great night moths, and I can sell them. Oh, Pete, I can sell them for enough to take me through high school and dress me so like the others that I don't look different, and if I have very good luck I can save some for college. Pete, please go with me?”

“Why don't you go like you always have?”

“Well, the truth is, I had a little scare,” said Elnora. “I never did mean to go alone; sometimes I sort of wandered inside farther than I intended, chasing things. You know Duncan gave me Freckles's books, and I have been gathering moths like he did. Lately I found I could sell them. If I can make a complete collection, I can get three hundred dollars for it. Three such collections would take me almost through college, and I've four years in the high school yet. That's a long time. I might collect them.”

“Can every kind there is be found here?”

“No, not all of them, but when I get more than I need of one kind, I can trade them with collectors farther north and west, so I can complete sets. It's the only way I see to earn the money. Look what I have already. Big gray Cecropias come from this kind; brown Polyphemus from that, and green Lunas from these. You aren't working on Sunday. Go with me only an hour, Pete!”

The man looked at her narrowly. She was young, wholesome, and beautiful. She was innocent, intensely in earnest, and she needed the money, he knew that.

“You didn't tell me what scared you,” he said.

“Oh, I thought I did! Why you know I had Freckles's box packed full of moths and specimens, and one evening I sold some to the Bird Woman. Next morning I found a note telling me it wasn't safe to go inside the swamp. That sort of scared me. I think I'll go alone, rather than miss the chance, but I'd be so happy if you would take care of me. Then I could go anywhere I chose, because if I mired you could pull me out. You will take care of me, Pete?”

“Yes, I'll take care of you,” promised Pete Corson.

“Goody!” said Elnora. “Let's start quick! And Pete, you look at these closely, and when you are hunting or going along the road, if one dangles under your nose, you cut off the little twig and save it for me, will you?”

“Yes, I'll save you all I see,” promised Pete. He pushed back his hat and followed Elnora. She plunged fearlessly among bushes, over underbrush, and across dead logs. One minute she was crying wildly, that here was a big one, the next she was reaching for a limb above her head or on her knees overturning dead leaves under a hickory or oak tree, or working aside black muck with her bare hands as she searched for buried pupae cases. For the first hour Pete bent back bushes and followed, carrying what Elnora discovered. Then he found one.

“Is this the kind of thing you are looking for?” he asked bashfully, as he presented a wild cherry twig.

“Oh Pete, that's a Promethea! I didn't even hope to find one.”

“What's the bird like?” asked Pete.

“Almost black wings,” said Elnora, “with clay-coloured edges, and the most wonderful wine-coloured flush over the under side if it's a male, and stronger wine above and below if it's a female. Oh, aren't I happy!”

“How would it do to make what you have into a bunch that we could leave here, and come back for them?”

“That would be all right.”

Relieved of his load Pete began work. First, he narrowly examined the cocoons Elnora had found. He questioned her as to what other kinds would be like. He began to use the eyes of a trained woodman and hunter in her behalf. He saw several so easily, and moved through the forest so softly, that Elnora forgot the moths in watching him. Presently she was carrying the specimens, and he was making the trips of investigation to see which was a cocoon and which a curled leaf, or he was on his knees digging around stumps. As he worked he kept asking questions. What kind of logs were best to look beside, what trees were pupae cases most likely to be under; on what bushes did caterpillars spin most frequently? Time passed, as it always does when one's occupation is absorbing.

When the Sintons took Mrs. Comstock home, they stopped to see Elnora. She was not there. Mrs. Comstock called at the edge of her woods and received no reply. Then Wesley turned and drove back to the Limberlost. He left Margaret and Mrs. Comstock holding the team and entertaining Billy, while he entered the swamp.

Elnora and Pete had made a wide trail behind them. Before Sinton had thought of calling, he heard voices and approached with some caution. Soon he saw Elnora, her flushed face beaming as she bent with an armload of twigs and branches and talked to a kneeling man.

“Now go cautiously!” she was saying. “I am just sure we will find an Imperialis here. It's their very kind of a place. There! What did I tell you! Isn't that splendid? Oh, I am so glad you came with me!”

Wesley stood staring in speechless astonishment, for the man had arisen, brushed the dirt from his hands, and held out to Elnora a small shining dark pupa case. As his face came into view Sinton almost cried out, for he was the one man of all others Wesley knew with whom he most feared for Elnora's safety. She had him on his knees digging pupae cases for her from the swamp.

“Elnora!” called Sinton. “Elnora!”

“Oh, Uncle Wesley!” cried the girl. “See what luck we've had! I know we have a dozen and a half cocoons and we have three pupae cases. It's much harder to get the cases because you have to dig for them, and you can't see where to look. But Pete is fine at it! He's found three, and he says he will keep watch beside the roads, and through the woods while he hunts. Isn't that splendid of him? Uncle Wesley, there is a college over there on the western edge of the swamp. Look closely, and you can see the great dome up among the clouds.”

“I should say you have had luck,” said Wesley, striving to make his voice natural. “But I thought you were not coming to the swamp?”

“Well, I wasn't,” said Elnora, “but I couldn't find many anywhere else, honest, I couldn't, and just as soon as I came to the edge I began to see them here. I kept my promise. I didn't come in alone. Pete came with me. He's so strong, he isn't afraid of anything, and he's perfectly splendid to locate cocoons! He's found half of these. Come on, Pete, it's getting dark now, and we must go.”

They started toward the trail, Pete carrying the cocoons. He left them at the case, while Elnora and Wesley went on to the carriage together.

“Elnora Comstock, what does this mean?” demanded her mother.

“It's all right, one of the neighbours was with her, and she got several dollars' worth of stuff,” interposed Wesley.

“You oughter seen my pa,” shouted Billy. “He was ist all whited out, and he laid as still as anything. They put him away deep in the ground.”

“Billy!” breathed Margaret in a prolonged groan.

“Jimmy and Belle are going to be together in a nice place. They are coming to see me, and Snap is right down here by the wheel. Here, Snap! My, but he'll be tickled to get something to eat! He's 'most twisted as me. They get new clothes, and all they want to eat, too, but they'll miss me. They couldn't have got along without me. I took care of them. I had a lot of things give to me 'cause I was the littlest, and I always divided with them. But they won't need me now.”

When she left the carriage Mrs. Comstock gravely shook hands with Billy. “Remember,” she said to him, “I love boys, and I love dogs. Whenever you don't have a good time up there, take your dog and come right down and be my little boy. We will just have loads of fun. You should hear the whistles I can make. If you aren't treated right you come straight to me.”

Billy wagged his head sagely. “You ist bet I will!” he said.

“Mother, how could you?” asked Elnora as they walked up the path.

“How could I, missy? You better ask how couldn't I? I just couldn't! Not for enough to pay, my road tax! Not for enough to pay the road tax, and the dredge tax, too!”

“Aunt Margaret always has been lovely to me, and I don't think it's fair to worry her.”

“I choose to be lovely to Billy, and let her sweat out her own worries just as she has me, these sixteen years. There is nothing in all this world so good for people as taking a dose of their own medicine. The difference is that I am honest. I just say in plain English, 'if they don't treat you right, come to me.' They have only said it in actions and inferences. I want to teach Mag Sinton how her own doses taste, but she begins to sputter before I fairly get the spoon to her lips. Just you wait!”

“When I think what I owe her——” began Elnora.

“Well, thank goodness, I don't owe her anything, and so I'm perfectly free to do what I choose. Come on, and help me get supper. I'm hungry as Billy!”

Margaret Sinton rocked slowly back and forth in her chair. On her breast lay Billy's red head, one hand clutched her dress front with spasmodic grip, even after he was unconscious.

“You mustn't begin that, Margaret,” said Sinton. “He's too heavy. And it's bad for him. He's better off to lie down and go to sleep alone.”

“He's very light, Wesley. He jumps and quivers so. He has to be stronger than he is now, before he will sleep soundly.”
admin
Site Admin
 
Posts: 28062
Joined: Thu Aug 01, 2013 5:21 am

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

Postby admin » Mon Jun 24, 2019 5:21 am

CHAPTER IX: WHEREIN ELNORA DISCOVERS A VIOLIN, AND BILLY DISCIPLINES MARGARET

Elnora missed the little figure at the bridge the following morning. She slowly walked up the street and turned in at the wide entrance to the school grounds. She scarcely could comprehend that only a week ago she had gone there friendless, alone, and so sick at heart that she was physically ill. To-day she had decent clothing, books, friends, and her mind was at ease to work on her studies.

As she approached home that night the girl paused in amazement. Her mother had company, and she was laughing. Elnora entered the kitchen softly and peeped into the sitting-room. Mrs. Comstock sat in her chair holding a book and every few seconds a soft chuckle broke into a real laugh. Mark Twain was doing his work; while Mrs. Comstock was not lacking in a sense of humour. Elnora entered the room before her mother saw her. Mrs. Comstock looked up with flushed face.

“Where did you get this?” she demanded.

“I bought it,” said Elnora.

“Bought it! With all the taxes due!”

“I paid for it out of my Indian money, mother,” said Elnora. “I couldn't bear to spend so much on myself and nothing at all on you. I was afraid to buy the dress I should have liked to, and I thought the book would be company, while I was gone. I haven't read it, but I do hope it's good.”

“Good! It's the biggest piece of foolishness I have read in all my life. I've laughed all day, ever since I found it. I had a notion to go out and read some of it to the cows and see if they wouldn't laugh.”

“If it made you laugh, it's a wise book,” said Elnora.

“Wise!” cried Mrs. Comstock. “You can stake your life it's a wise book. It takes the smartest man there is to do this kind of fooling,” and she began laughing again.

Elnora, highly satisfied with her purchase, went to her room and put on her working clothes. Thereafter she made a point of bringing a book that she thought would interest her mother, from the library every week, and leaving it on the sitting-room table. Each night she carried home at least two school books and studied until she had mastered the points of her lessons. She did her share of the work faithfully, and every available minute she was in the fields searching for cocoons, for the moths promised to become her largest source of income.

She gathered baskets of nests, flowers, mosses, insects, and all sorts of natural history specimens and sold them to the grade teachers. At first she tried to tell these instructors what to teach their pupils about the specimens; but recognizing how much more she knew than they, one after another begged her to study at home, and use her spare hours in school to exhibit and explain nature subjects to their pupils. Elnora loved the work, and she needed the money, for every few days some matter of expense arose that she had not expected.

From the first week she had been received and invited with the crowd of girls in her class, and it was their custom in passing through the business part of the city to stop at the confectioners' and take turns in treating to expensive candies, ice cream sodas, hot chocolate, or whatever they fancied. When first Elnora was asked she accepted without understanding. The second time she went because she seldom had tasted these things, and they were so delicious she could not resist. After that she went because she knew all about it, and had decided to go.

She had spent half an hour on the log beside the trail in deep thought and had arrived at her conclusions. She worked harder than usual for the next week, but she seemed to thrive on work. It was October and the red leaves were falling when her first time came to treat. As the crowd flocked down the broad walk that night Elnora called, “Girls, it's my treat to-night! Come on!”

She led the way through the city to the grocery they patronized when they had a small spread, and entering came out with a basket, which she carried to the bridge on her home road. There she arranged the girls in two rows on the cement abutments and opening her basket she gravely offered each girl an exquisite little basket of bark, lined with red leaves, in one end of which nestled a juicy big red apple and in the other a spicy doughnut not an hour from Margaret Sinton's frying basket.

Another time she offered big balls of popped corn stuck together with maple sugar, and liberally sprinkled with beechnut kernels. Again it was hickory-nut kernels glazed with sugar, another time maple candy, and once a basket of warm pumpkin pies. She never made any apology, or offered any excuse. She simply gave what she could afford, and the change was as welcome to those city girls accustomed to sodas and French candy, as were these same things to Elnora surfeited on popcorn and pie. In her room was a little slip containing a record of the number of weeks in the school year, the times it would be her turn to treat and the dates on which such occasions would fall, with a number of suggestions beside each. Once the girls almost fought over a basket lined with yellow leaves, and filled with fat, very ripe red haws. In late October there was a riot over one which was lined with red leaves and contained big fragrant pawpaws frost-bitten to a perfect degree. Then hazel nuts were ripe, and once they served. One day Elnora at her wits' end, explained to her mother that the girls had given her things and she wanted to treat them. Mrs. Comstock, with characteristic stubbornness, had said she would leave a basket at the grocery for her, but firmly declined to say what would be in it. All day Elnora struggled to keep her mind on her books. For hours she wavered in tense uncertainty. What would her mother do? Should she take the girls to the confectioner's that night or risk the basket? Mrs. Comstock could make delicious things to eat, but would she?

As they left the building Elnora made a final rapid mental calculation. She could not see her way clear to a decent treat for ten people for less than two dollars and if the basket proved to be nice, then the money would be wasted. She decided to risk it. As they went to the bridge the girls were betting on what the treat would be, and crowding near Elnora like spoiled small children. Elnora set down the basket.

“Girls,” she said, “I don't know what this is myself, so all of us are going to be surprised. Here goes!”

She lifted the cover and perfumes from the land of spices rolled up. In one end of the basket lay ten enormous sugar cakes the tops of which had been liberally dotted with circles cut from stick candy. The candy had melted in baking and made small transparent wells of waxy sweetness and in the centre of each cake was a fat turtle made from a raisin with cloves for head and feet. The remainder of the basket was filled with big spiced pears that could be held by their stems while they were eaten. The girls shrieked and attacked the cookies, and of all the treats Elnora offered perhaps none was quite so long remembered as that.

When Elnora took her basket, placed her books in it, and started home, all the girls went with her as far as the fence where she crossed the field to the swamp. At parting they kissed her good-bye. Elnora was a happy girl as she hurried home to thank her mother. She was happy over her books that night, and happy all the way to school the following morning.

When the music swelled from the orchestra her heart almost broke with throbbing joy. For music always had affected her strangely, and since she had been comfortable enough in her surroundings to notice things, she had listened to every note to find what it was that literally hurt her heart, and at last she knew. It was the talking of the violins. They were human voices, and they spoke a language Elnora understood. It seemed to her that she must climb up on the stage, take the instruments from the fingers of the players and make them speak what was in her heart.

That night she said to her mother, “I am perfectly crazy for a violin. I am sure I could play one, sure as I live. Did any one——” Elnora never completed that sentence.

“Hush!” thundered Mrs. Comstock. “Be quiet! Never mention those things before me again—never as long as you live! I loathe them! They are a snare of the very devil himself! They were made to lure men and women from their homes and their honour. If ever I see you with one in your fingers I will smash it in pieces.”

Naturally Elnora hushed, but she thought of nothing else after she had finished her lessons. At last there came a day when for some reason the leader of the orchestra left his violin on the grand piano. That morning Elnora made her first mistake in algebra. At noon, as soon as the building was empty, she slipped into the auditorium, found the side door which led to the stage, and going through the musicians' entrance she took the violin. She carried it back into the little side room where the orchestra assembled, closed all the doors, opened the case and lifted out the instrument.

She laid it on her breast, dropped her chin on it and drew the bow softly across the strings. One after another she tested the open notes. Gradually her stroke ceased to tremble and she drew the bow firmly. Then her fingers began to fall and softly, slowly she searched up and down those strings for sounds she knew. Standing in the middle of the floor, she tried over and over. It seemed scarcely a minute before the hall was filled with the sound of hurrying feet, and she was forced to put away the violin and go to her classes. The next day she prayed that the violin would be left again, but her petition was not answered. That night when she returned from the school she made an excuse to go down to see Billy. He was engaged in hulling walnuts by driving them through holes in a board. His hands were protected by a pair of Margaret's old gloves, but he had speckled his face generously. He appeared well, and greeted Elnora hilariously.

“Me an' the squirrels are laying up our winter stores,” he shouted. “Cos the cold is coming, an' the snow an' if we have any nuts we have to fix 'em now. But I'm ahead, cos Uncle Wesley made me this board, and I can hull a big pile while the old squirrel does only ist one with his teeth.”

Elnora picked him up and kissed him. “Billy, are you happy?” she asked.

“Yes, and so's Snap,” answered Billy. “You ought to see him make the dirt fly when he gets after a chipmunk. I bet you he could dig up pa, if anybody wanted him to.”

“Billy!” gasped Margaret as she came out to them.

“Well, me and Snap don't want him up, and I bet you Jimmy and Belle don't, either. I ain't been twisty inside once since I been here, and I don't want to go away, and Snap don't, either. He told me so.”

“Billy! That is not true. Dogs can't talk,” cautioned Margaret.

“Then what makes you open the door when he asks you to?” demanded Billy.

“Scratching and whining isn't talking.”

“Anyway, it's the best Snap can talk, and you get up and do things he wants done. Chipmunks can talk too. You ought to hear them damn things holler when Snap gets them!”

“Billy! When you want a cooky for supper and I don't give it to you it is because you said a wrong word.”

“Well, for——” Billy clapped his hand over his mouth and stained his face in swipes. “Well, for—anything! Did I go an' forget again! The cookies will get all hard, won't they? I bet you ten dollars I don't say that any more.”

He espied Wesley and ran to show him a walnut too big to go through the holes, and Elnora and Margaret entered the house.

They talked of many things for a time and then Elnora said suddenly: “Aunt Margaret, I like music.”

“I've noticed that in you all your life,” answered Margaret.

“If dogs can't talk, I can make a violin talk,” announced Elnora, and then in amazement watched the face of Margaret Sinton grow pale.

“A violin!” she wavered. “Where did you get a violin?”

“They fairly seemed to speak to me in the orchestra. One day the conductor left his in the auditorium, and I took it, and Aunt Margaret, I can make it do the wind in the swamp, the birds, and the animals. I can make any sound I ever heard on it. If I had a chance to practise a little, I could make it do the orchestra music, too. I don't know how I know, but I do.”

“Did—did you ever mention it to your mother?” faltered Margaret.

“Yes, and she seems prejudiced against them. But oh, Aunt Margaret, I never felt so about anything, not even going to school. I just feel as if I'd die if I didn't have one. I could keep it at school, and practise at noon a whole hour. Soon they'd ask me to play in the orchestra. I could keep it in the case and practise in the woods in summer. You'd let me play over here Sunday. Oh, Aunt Margaret, what does one cost? Would it be wicked for me to take of my money, and buy a very cheap one? I could play on the least expensive one made.”

“Oh, no you couldn't! A cheap machine makes cheap music. You got to have a fine fiddle to make it sing. But there's no sense in your buying one. There isn't a decent reason on earth why you shouldn't have your fa——”

“My father's!” cried Elnora. She caught Margaret Sinton by the arm. “My father had a violin! He played it. That's why I can! Where is it! Is it in our house? Is it in mother's room?”

“Elnora!” panted Margaret. “Your mother will kill me! She always hated it.”

“Mother dearly loves music,” said Elnora.

“Not when it took the man she loved away from her to make it!”

“Where is my father's violin?”

“Elnora!”

“I've never seen a picture of my father. I've never heard his name mentioned. I've never had a scrap that belonged to him. Was he my father, or am I a charity child like Billy, and so she hates me?”

“She has good pictures of him. Seems she just can't bear to hear him talked about. Of course, he was your father. They lived right there when you were born. She doesn't dislike you; she merely tries to make herself think she does. There's no sense in the world in you not having his violin. I've a great notion——”

“Has mother got it?”

“No. I've never heard her mention it. It was not at home when he—when he died.”

“Do you know where it is?”

“Yes. I'm the only person on earth who does, except the one who has it.”

“Who is that?”

“I can't tell you, but I will see if they have it yet, and get it if I can. But if your mother finds it out she will never forgive me.”

“I can't help it,” said Elnora. “I want that violin.”

“I'll go to-morrow, and see if it has been destroyed.”

“Destroyed! Oh, Aunt Margaret! Would any one dare?”

“I hardly think so. It was a good instrument. He played it like a master.”

“Tell me!” breathed Elnora.

“His hair was red and curled more than yours, and his eyes were blue. He was tall, slim, and the very imp of mischief. He joked and teased all day until he picked up that violin. Then his head bent over it, and his eyes got big and earnest. He seemed to listen as if he first heard the notes, and then copied them. Sometimes he drew the bow trembly, like he wasn't sure it was right, and he might have to try again. He could almost drive you crazy when he wanted to, and no man that ever lived could make you dance as he could. He made it all up as he went. He seemed to listen for his dancing music, too. It appeared to come to him; he'd begin to play and you had to keep time. You couldn't be still; he loved to sweep a crowd around with that bow of his. I think it was the thing you call inspiration. I can see him now, his handsome head bent, his cheeks red, his eyes snapping, and that bow going across the strings, and driving us like sheep. He always kept his body swinging, and he loved to play. He often slighted his work shamefully, and sometimes her a little; that is why she hated it—Elnora, what are you making me do?”

The tears were rolling down Elnora's cheeks. “Oh, Aunt Margaret,” she sobbed. “Why haven't you told me about him sooner? I feel as if you had given my father to me living, so that I could touch him. I can see him, too! Why didn't you ever tell me before? Go on! Go on!”

“I can't, Elnora! I'm scared silly. I never meant to say anything. If I hadn't promised her not to talk of him to you she wouldn't have let you come here. She made me swear it.”

“But why? Why? Was he a shame? Was he disgraced?”

“Maybe it was that unjust feeling that took possession of her when she couldn't help him from the swamp. She had to blame some one, or go crazy, so she took it out on you. At times, those first ten years, if I had talked to you, and you had repeated anything to her, she might have struck you too hard. She was not master of herself. You must be patient with her, Elnora. God only knows what she has gone through, but I think she is a little better, lately.”

“So do I,” said Elnora. “She seems more interested in my clothes, and she fixes me such delicious lunches that the girls bring fine candies and cake and beg to trade. I gave half my lunch for a box of candy one day, brought it home to her, and told her. Since, she has wanted me to carry a market basket and treat the crowd every day, she was so pleased. Life has been too monotonous for her. I think she enjoys even the little change made by my going and coming. She sits up half the night to read the library books I bring, but she is so stubborn she won't even admit that she touches them. Tell me more about my father.”

“Wait until I see if I can find the violin.”

So Elnora went home in suspense, and that night she added to her prayers: “Dear Lord, be merciful to my father, and oh, do help Aunt Margaret to get his violin.”

Wesley and Billy came in to supper tired and hungry. Billy ate heartily, but his eyes often rested on a plate of tempting cookies, and when Wesley offered them to the boy he reached for one. Margaret was compelled to explain that cookies were forbidden that night.

“What!” said Wesley. “Wrong words been coming again. Oh Billy, I do wish you could remember! I can't sit and eat cookies before a little boy who has none. I'll have to put mine back, too.” Billy's face twisted in despair.

“Aw go on!” he said gruffly, but his chin was jumping, for Wesley was his idol.

“Can't do it,” said Wesley. “It would choke me.”

Billy turned to Margaret. “You make him,” he appealed.

“He can't, Billy,” said Margaret. “I know how he feels. You see, I can't myself.”

Then Billy slid from his chair, ran to the couch, buried his face in the pillow and cried heart-brokenly. Wesley hurried to the barn, and Margaret to the kitchen. When the dishes were washed Billy slipped from the back door.

Wesley piling hay into the mangers heard a sound behind him and inquired, “That you, Billy?”

“Yes,” answered Billy, “and it's all so dark you can't see me now, isn't it?”

“Well, mighty near,” answered Wesley.

“Then you stoop down and open your mouth.”

Sinton had shared bites of apple and nuts for weeks, for Billy had not learned how to eat anything without dividing with Jimmy and Belle. Since he had been separated from them, he shared with Wesley and Margaret. So he bent over the boy and received an instalment of cooky that almost choked him.

“Now you can eat it!” shouted Billy in delight. “It's all dark! I can't see what you're doing at all!”

Wesley picked up the small figure and set the boy on the back of a horse to bring his face level so that they could talk as men. He never towered from his height above Billy, but always lifted the little soul when important matters were to be discussed.

“Now what a dandy scheme,” he commented. “Did you and Aunt Margaret fix it up?”

“No. She ain't had hers yet. But I got one for her. Ist as soon as you eat yours, I am going to take hers, and feed her first time I find her in the dark.”

“But Billy, where did you get the cookies? You know Aunt Margaret said you were not to have any.”

“I ist took them,” said Billy, “I didn't take them for me. I ist took them for you and her.”

Wesley thought fast. In the warm darkness of the barn the horses crunched their corn, a rat gnawed at a corner of the granary, and among the rafters the white pigeon cooed a soft sleepy note to his dusky mate.

“Did—did—I steal?” wavered Billy.

Wesley's big hands closed until he almost hurt the boy.

“No!” he said vehemently. “That is too big a word. You made a mistake. You were trying to be a fine little man, but you went at it the wrong way. You only made a mistake. All of us do that, Billy. The world grows that way. When we make mistakes we can see them; that teaches us to be more careful the next time, and so we learn.”

“How wouldn't it be a mistake?”

“If you had told Aunt Margaret what you wanted to do, and asked her for the cookies she would have given them to you.”

“But I was 'fraid she wouldn't, and you ist had to have it.”

“Not if it was wrong for me to have it, Billy. I don't want it that much.”

“Must I take it back?”

“You think hard, and decide yourself.”

“Lift me down,” said Billy, after a silence, “I got to put this in the jar, and tell her.”

Wesley set the boy on the floor, but as he did so he paused one second and strained him close to his breast.

Margaret sat in her chair sewing; Billy slipped in and crept beside her. The little face was lined with tragedy.

“Why Billy, whatever is the matter?” she cried as she dropped her sewing and held out her arms. Billy stood back. He gripped his little fists tight and squared his shoulders. “I got to be shut up in the closet,” he said.

“Oh Billy! What an unlucky day! What have you done now?”

“I stold!” gulped Billy. “He said it was ist a mistake, but it was worser 'an that. I took something you told me I wasn't to have.”

“Stole!” Margaret was in despair. “What, Billy?”

“Cookies!” answered Billy in equal trouble.

“Billy!” wailed Margaret. “How could you?”

“It was for him and you,” sobbed Billy. “He said he couldn't eat it 'fore me, but out in the barn it's all dark and I couldn't see. I thought maybe he could there. Then we might put out the light and you could have yours. He said I only made it worse, cos I mustn't take things, so I got to go in the closet. Will you hold me tight a little bit first? He did.”

Margaret opened her arms and Billy rushed in and clung to her a few seconds, with all the force of his being, then he slipped to the floor and marched to the closet. Margaret opened the door. Billy gave one glance at the light, clinched his fists and, walking inside, climbed on a box. Margaret closed the door.

Then she sat and listened. Was the air pure enough? Possibly he might smother. She had read something once. Was it very dark? What if there should be a mouse in the closet and it should run across his foot and frighten him into spasms. Somewhere she had heard—Margaret leaned forward with tense face and listened. Something dreadful might happen. She could bear it no longer. She arose hurriedly and opened the door. Billy was drawn up on the box in a little heap, and he lifted a disapproving face to her.

“Shut that door!” he said. “I ain't been in here near long enough yet!”
admin
Site Admin
 
Posts: 28062
Joined: Thu Aug 01, 2013 5:21 am

Next

Return to Fiction

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 1 guest

cron