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A Girl Of The Limberlost, by Gene Stratton Porter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Elnora, were you going to wash these arrow points?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

"I'm going home!" said Wesley.

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

"What are you going to do?" asked Wesley.

"I don't know yet, myself," said Margaret.

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

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

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

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

The hat came first.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wesley and Margaret scarcely breathed for a long time.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Let me take a good look," said Katharine Comstock.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Elnora," said Wesley Sinton. "Wouldn't you----"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Both of them stopped in the road and looked back.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Is it you, Pete?" came the whispered question.

"Yes," said the first man.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Then he unlocked the case again, and replaced the
money, laid the note upon it, and went back to
concealment, where he remained until Elnora came down the
trail in the morning, appearing very lovely in her new
dress and hat.

CHAPTER V

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

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

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

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

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

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

Her mother stood back and looked at her critically.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Yes."

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

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

"Oh Uncle Wesley!" was all Elnora could say.

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

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

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

Elnora slipped the strap and turned back the lid.

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

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

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

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

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

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

The light she had seen the previous night troubled her.

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

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

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

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

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

DERE ELNORY,

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

A FREND.

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

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

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

"I am half afraid!" she panted.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The colour returned to Elnora's face.

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

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

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

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

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

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

"What does he pay?"

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

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

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

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

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

"Indeed no," said Elnora, holding him closely.

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

"No, I would not," said Elnora hotly.

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

"Yes, I would," said Elnora.

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

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

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

"Did you have any supper?"

"No."

"Any dinner yesterday?"

"An apple and some grapes I stole."

"Whose boy are you?"

"Old Tom Billings's."

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Hush!" cried Elnora. "That's dreadful!"

"What's dreadful?"

"To say such awful words."

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

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

"Do you want to be like your father?"

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

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

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

"Did some one go away and leave you?"

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

"No."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Don't you believe me?" panted Elnora.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CHAPTER VI

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sinton saw her white, drawn face and comprehended.

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

"You said you were going to prosecute me."

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

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

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

"Broke the lock?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"We brought you something!" he announced without greeting.
"This is Jimmy and Belle--and we brought you a present."

He offered a parcel wrapped in brown paper.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"No," said Elnora, "I never did!"

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

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

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

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

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

"Of course," said Elnora. "I didn't think."

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

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

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

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

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

"Yes."

"Then Belle's no lady!" said Billy succinctly.

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

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

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

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

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

Elnora saw no escape.

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

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

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

"I will not!" said Elnora.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"She lunched with the Bird Woman one day this week."

"She did!"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Shall we do the work or have supper first?"

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

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

"Why, yes, I did," admitted Elnora.

"Who?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

"We'll have a clean girl, anyway."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"How are you this morning?" inquired Elnora.

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

"How did you like the bologna?" questioned Billy eagerly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Elnora could not endure that.

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

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

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

"A rescue! A rescue!" they shouted.

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

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

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

"You old mean things!" screamed Billy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"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

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