Part 1 out of 8
A Girl of The Limberlost
By Gene Stratton Porter
TO ALL GIRLS OF THE LIMBERLOST IN GENERAL
AND ONE JEANETTE HELEN PORTER IN PARTICULAR
ELNORA, who collects moths to pay for her education,
and lives the Golden Rule.
PHILIP AMMON, who assists in moth hunting,
and gains a new conception of love.
MRS. COMSTOCK, who lost a delusion and found a treasure.
WESLEY SINTON, who always did his best.
MARGARET SINTON, who "mothers" Elnora.
BILLY, a boy from real life.
EDITH CARR, who discovers herself.
HART HENDERSON, to whom love means all things.
POLLY AMMON, who pays an old score.
TOM LEVERING, engaged to Polly.
TERENCE O'MORE, Freckles grown tall.
MRS. O'MORE, who remained the Angel.
TERENCE, ALICE and LITTLE BROTHER, the O'MORE children.
A GIRL OF THE LIMBERLOST
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
"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
"Will you please tell me where the Freshmen go?" she
The girl gave her one surprised glance, and drew away.
"Same place as the fresh women," she answered, and
those nearest her laughed.
Elnora stopped praying suddenly and the colour crept
into her face. "I'll wager you are the first person I meet
when I find it," she said and stopped short. "Not that!
Oh, I must not do that!" she thought in dismay. "Make an
enemy the first thing I do. Oh, not that!"
She followed with her eyes as the young people separated
in the hall, some climbing stairs, some disappearing
down side halls, some entering adjoining doors. She saw
the girl overtake the brown-eyed boy and speak to him.
He glanced back at Elnora with a scowl on his face.
Then she stood alone in the hall.
Presently a door opened and a young woman came out
and entered another room. Elnora waited until she
returned, and hurried to her. "Would you tell me where
the Freshmen are?" she panted.
"Straight down the hall, three doors to your left,"
was the answer, as the girl passed.
"One minute please, oh please," begged Elnora:
"Should I knock or just open the door?"
"Go in and take a seat," replied the teacher.
"What if there aren't any seats?" gasped Elnora.
"Classrooms are never half-filled, there will be plenty,"
was the answer.
Elnora removed her hat. There was no place to put
it, so she carried it in her hand. She looked infinitely
better without it. After several efforts she at last opened
the door and stepping inside faced a smaller and more
concentrated battery of eyes.
"The superintendent sent me. He thinks I belong
here," she said to the professor in charge of the class,
but she never before heard the voice with which she spoke.
As she stood waiting, the girl of the hall passed
on her way to the blackboard, and suppressed laughter
told Elnora that her thrust had been repeated.
"Be seated," said the professor, and then because he
saw Elnora was desperately embarrassed he proceeded
to lend her a book and to ask her if she had studied algebra.
She said she had a little, but not the same book they were using.
He asked her if she felt that she could do the work they were
beginning, and she said she did.
That was how it happened, that three minutes after
entering the room she was told to take her place beside the
girl who had gone last to the board, and whose flushed face
and angry eyes avoided meeting Elnora's. Being compelled
to concentrate on her proposition she forgot herself.
When the professor asked that all pupils sign their work
she firmly wrote "Elnora Comstock" under her demonstration.
Then she took her seat and waited with white lips and
trembling limbs, as one after another professor called
the names on the board, while their owners arose and
explained their propositions, or "flunked" if they had
not found a correct solution. She was so eager to catch
their forms of expression and prepare herself for her
recitation, that she never looked from the work on the
board, until clearly and distinctly, "Elnora Comstock,"
called the professor.
The dazed girl stared at the board. One tiny curl
added to the top of the first curve of the m in her name,
had transformed it from a good old English patronymic
that any girl might bear proudly, to Cornstock.
Elnora sat speechless. When and how did it happen?
She could feel the wave of smothered laughter in the air
around her. A rush of anger turned her face scarlet and
her soul sick. The voice of the professor addressed her directly.
"This proposition seems to be beautifully demonstrated,
Miss Cornstalk," he said. "Surely, you can tell us how
you did it."
That word of praise saved her. She could do good work.
They might wear their pretty clothes, have their friends
and make life a greater misery than it ever before
had been for her, but not one of them should do better
work or be more womanly. That lay with her. She was
tall, straight, and handsome as she arose.
"Of course I can explain my work," she said in natural tones.
"What I can't explain is how I happened to be so stupid
as to make a mistake in writing my own name. I must
have been a little nervous. Please excuse me."
She went to the board, swept off the signature with one
stroke,then rewrote it plainly. "My name is Comstock,"
she said distinctly. She returned to her seat and following the
formula used by the others made her first high school recitation.
As Elnora resumed her seat Professor Henley looked at
her steadily. "It puzzles me," he said deliberately,
how you can write as beautiful a demonstration, and explain
it as clearly as ever has been done in any of my classes and
still be so disturbed as to make a mistake in your own name.
Are you very sure you did that yourself, Miss Comstock?"
"It is impossible that any one else should have done it,"
"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
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
wasphysical breakdown, later, thought came crowding.
Oh the shame, the mortification! Why had she not
known of the tuition? How did she happen to think that
in the city books were furnished? Perhaps it was because
she had read they were in several states. But why did she
not know? Why did not her mother go with her? Other mothers--
but when had her mother ever been or done anything at all
like other mothers? Because she never had been it was
useless to blame her now. Elnora realized she should have
gone to town the week before, called on some one and
learned all these things herself. She should have remembered
how her clothing would look, before she wore it in
public places. Now she knew, and her dreams were over.
She must go home to feed chickens, calves, and pigs,
wear calico and coarse shoes, and with averted head,
pass a library all her life. She sobbed again.
"For pity's sake, honey, what's the matter?" asked the
voice of the nearest neighbour, Wesley Sinton, as he
seated himself beside Elnora. "There, there," he continued,
smearing tears all over her face in an effort to dry them.
"Was it as bad as that, now? Maggie has been just wild
over you all day. She's got nervouser every minute.
She said we were foolish to let you go. She said your
clothes were not right, you ought not to carry that tin
pail, and that they would laugh at you. By gum, I see
"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
"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
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
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.
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
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
"I beg your pardon, but won't you wait one minute?"
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
"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
"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
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.
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
"For me?" she questioned.
"Yes," said Professor Henley. "Step inside."
Elnora followed him into the room and closed the door
"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
"What do you mean by `red and yellow?'" asked the
Bird Woman so quickly that the girl almost jumped
"Not exactly red," explained Elnora, with tremulous voice.
"A reddish, yellowish brown, with canary-coloured spots
and gray lines on their wings."
"How many of them?" It was the same quick question.
"I had over two hundred eggs," said Elnora, "but
some of them didn't hatch, and some of the caterpillars
died, but there must be at least a hundred perfect ones."
"Perfect! How perfect?" cried the Bird Woman.
"I mean whole wings, no down gone, and all their legs
and antennae," faltered Elnora.
"Young woman, that's the rarest moth in America,"
said the Bird Woman solemnly. "If you have a hundred
of them, they are worth a hundred dollars according to
my list. I can use all that are not damaged."
"What if they are not pinned right," quavered Elnora.
"If they are perfect, that does not make the
slightest difference. I know how to soften them so
that I can put them into any shape I choose.
Where are they? When may I see them?"
"They are in Freckles's old case in the Limberlost,"
said Elnora. "I couldn't carry many for fear of breaking
them, but I could bring a few after school."
"You come here at four," said the Bird Woman, "and
we will drive out with some specimen boxes, and a price
list, and see what you have to sell. Are they your very own?
Are you free to part with them?"
"They are mine," said Elnora. "No one but God
knows I have them. Mr. Duncan gave me the books
and the box. He told Freckles about me, and Freckles
told him to give me all he left. He said for me to stick
to the swamp and be brave, and my hour would come, and
it has! I know most of them are all right, and oh, I
do need the money!"
"Could you tell me?" asked the Bird Woman softly.
"You see the swamp and all the fields around it are so
full," explained Elnora. "Every day I felt smaller and
smaller, and I wanted to know more and more, and pretty
soon I grew desperate, just as Freckles did. But I am
better off than he was, for I have his books, and I have a
mother; even if she doesn't care for me as other girls'
mothers do for them, it's better than no one."
The Bird Woman's glance fell, for the girl was not
conscious of how much she was revealing. Her eyes
were fixed on a black pitcher filled with goldenrod in
the centre of the table and she was saying what she thought.
"As long as I could go to the Brushwood school I was
happy, but I couldn't go further just when things were
the most interesting, so I was determined I'd come to
high school and mother wouldn't consent. You see
there's plenty of land, but father was drowned when I
was a baby, and mother and I can't make money as men do.
The taxes are higher every year, and she said it was
too expensive. I wouldn't give her any rest, until at
last she bought me this dress, and these shoes and I came.
It was awful!"
"Do you live in that beautiful cabin at the northwest
end of the swamp?" asked the Bird Woman.
"Yes," said Elnora.
"I remember the place and a story about it, now.
You entered the high school yesterday?"
"It was rather bad?"
"Rather bad!" echoed Elnora.
The Bird Woman laughed.
"You can't tell me anything about that," she said.
"I once entered a city school straight from the country.
My dress was brown calico, and my shoes were heavy."
The tears began to roll down Elnora's cheeks.
"Did they----?" she faltered.
"They did!" said the Bird Woman. "All of it. I am
sure they did not miss one least little thing."
Then she wiped away some tears that began coursing
her cheeks, and laughed at the same time.
"Where are they now?" asked Elnora suddenly.
"They are widely scattered, but none of them have
attained heights out of range. Some of the rich are
poor, and some of the poor are rich. Some of the brightest
died insane, and some of the dullest worked out high
positions; some of the very worst to bear have gone out,
and I frequently hear from others. Now I am here,
able to remember it, and mingle laughter with what
used to be all tears; for every day I have my beautiful
work, and almost every day God sends some one like you
to help me. What is your name, my girl?"
"Elnora Comstock," answered Elnora. "Yesterday on the
board it changed to Cornstock, and for a minute I
thought I'd die, but I can laugh over that already."
The Bird Woman arose and kissed her. "Finish your
lunch," she said, "and I will bring my price lists, and
make a memorandum of what you think you have, so I
will know how many boxes to prepare. And remember this:
What you are lies with you. If you are lazy, and
accept your lot, you may live in it. If you are willing
to work, you can write your name anywhere you choose,
among the only ones who live beyond the grave in this
world, the people who write books that help, make exquisite
music, carve statues, paint pictures, and work for others.
Never mind the calico dress, and the coarse shoes.
Work at your books, and before long you will hear
yesterday's tormentors boasting that they were once
classmates of yours. `I could a tale unfold'----!"
She laughingly left the room and Elnora sat thinking,
until she remembered how hungry she was, so she ate the
food, drank the hot chocolate and began to feel better.
Then the Bird Woman came back and showed Elnora a
long printed slip giving a list of graduated prices for
moths, butterflies, and dragonflies.
"Oh, do you want them!" exulted Elnora. "I have
a few and I can get more by the thousand, with every
colour in the world on their wings."
"Yes," said the Bird Woman, "I will buy them, also the
big moth caterpillars that are creeping everywhere now,
and the cocoons that they will spin just about this time.
I have a sneaking impression that the mystery, wonder,
and the urge of their pure beauty, are going to force me
to picture and paint our moths and put them into a book
for all the world to see and know. We Limberlost people
must not be selfish with the wonders God has given to us.
We must share with those poor cooped-up city people the
best we can. To send them a beautiful book, that is the
way, is it not, little new friend of mine?"
"Yes, oh yes!" cried Elnora. "And please God they
find a way to earn the money to buy the books, as I have
those I need so badly."
"I will pay good prices for all the moths you can find,"
said the Bird Woman, "because you see I exchange them
with foreign collectors. I want a complete series of the
moths of America to trade with a German scientist,
another with a man in India, and another in Brazil.
Others I can exchange with home collectors for those of
California and Canada, so you see I can use all you can
raise, or find. The banker will buy stone axes, arrow
points, and Indian pipes. There was a teacher from the
city grade schools here to-day for specimens. There is
a fund to supply the ward buildings. I'll help you get
in touch with that. They want leaves of different trees,
flowers, grasses, moths, insects, birds' nests and anything
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.
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
"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----"
"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
"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
"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.