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A Girl Of The Limberlost, by Gene Stratton Porter

Part 3 out of 8

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wherever the hero appeared in the lines.

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

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

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

as they went. Elnora did not know it, but that was
her initiation. She belonged to "the crowd." She only
knew that she was happy, and vaguely wondered what
her mother and Aunt Margaret would have said about
the proceedings.

CHAPTER VII

WHEREIN MRS. COMSTOCK MANIPULATES MARGARET
AND BILLY ACQUIRES A RESIDENCE

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

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

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

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

Mr. Brownlee wiped his eyes.

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

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

"Now laugh!" concluded Mr. Brownlee.

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

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

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

"I want to see your father," said Sinton.)

"Well, he's asleep," said Billy.

"Where?" asked Sinton.

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

"Well, I'll try," said Wesley.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"How long have you been twisted?" asked Sinton.

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

"Yesterday morning," said the girl.

"Is that all gone?" asked Sinton.

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

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

"Billy," said the boy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Honest?"

"Yes, honest."

"Crost yer heart?"

"Yes," said Sinton.

"Kin I take some to Jimmy and Belle?"

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

"What will pa say?"

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

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

"Yes, he is," answered Sinton.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Where did you get him?"

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

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

"Billy!" gasped Elnora.

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

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

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

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

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

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

"In our home," corrected Wesley.

"What makes you want him?" marvelled Elnora.

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

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

"What makes you like him?" asked Wesley.

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

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

"I'm afraid----" began Elnora.

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

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

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

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

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

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

"What did you select, Elnora?" asked Wesley wonderingly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Well, I should think so!" cried Margaret.

"There were three of them, Margaret," said Wesley,
"that little fellow----"

"Hyena, you mean," interpolated Margaret.

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

"Have you got anything to put on him?"

"Yes."

"Where did you get it?"

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

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

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

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

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

Billy threw himself on the grass and began to scream.

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

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

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

"Sores!" she ejaculated. "Sores? What kind of sores?"

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

"No, I won't!" said Margaret.

"Well, give me some rags, then."

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

"Have you got any peroxide?" he asked.

"A little," she answered stiffly.

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

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

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

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

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

"Now am I clean?" asked Billy.

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

Billy leaned against Wesley in apparent indifference.

"I want to see me!" he demanded.

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

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

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

"You are going to keep him for supper?" she asked

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Margaret, watching, began to cry. Wesley had gone mad.
For the first time in her married life she wanted
to tell her mother. When Wesley had waited until he
was so hungry he could wait no longer he invaded the
kitchen to find a cooked supper baking on the back of the
stove, while Margaret with red eyes nursed a pair of
demoralized white kittens.

"Is supper ready?" he asked.

"It has been for an hour," answered Margaret.

"Why didn't you call us?"

That "us" had too much comradeship in it. It irritated Margaret.

"I supposed it would take you even longer than this to
fix things decent again. As for my turkey, and my poor
little kittens, they don't matter."

"I am mighty sorry about them, Margaret, you know that.
Billy is very bright, and he will soon learn----"

"Soon learn!" cried Margaret. "Wesley Sinton, you
don't mean to say that you think of keeping that creature
here for some time?"

"No, I think of keeping a well-behaved little boy."

Margaret set the supper on the table. Seeing the old
red cloth Wesley stared in amazement. Then he understood.
Billy capered around in delight.

"Ain't that pretty?" he exulted. "I wish Jimmy and
Belle could see. We, why we ist eat out of our hands or
off a old dry goods box, and when we fix up a lot, we
have newspaper. We ain't ever had a nice red cloth like this."

Wesley looked straight at Margaret, so intently that she
turned away, her face flushing. He stacked the dictionary
and the geography of the world on a chair, and lifted Billy
beside him. He heaped a plate generously, cut the food,
put a fork into Billy's little fist, and made him eat slowly
and properly. Billy did his best. Occasionally greed
overcame him, and he used his left hand to pop a bite into
his mouth with his fingers. These lapses Wesley patiently
overlooked, and went on with his general instructions.
Luckily Billy did not spill anything on his clothing or
the cloth. After supper Wesley took him to the barn while
he finished the night work. Then he went and sat beside
Margaret on the front porch. Billy appropriated the
hammock, and swung by pulling a rope tied around a tree.
The very energy with which he went at the work of
swinging himself appealed to Wesley.

"Mercy, but he's an active little body," he said.
"There isn't a lazy bone in him. See how he works
to pay for his fun."

"There goes his foot through it!" cried Margaret.
"Wesley, he shall not ruin my hammock."

"Of course he shan't!" said Wesley. "Wait, Billy, let
me show you."

Thereupon he explained to Billy that ladies wearing
beautiful white dresses sat in hammocks, so little boys
must not put their dusty feet in them. Billy immediately
sat, and allowed his feet to swing.

"Margaret," said Wesley after a long silence on the
porch, "isn't it true that if Billy had been a half-starved
sore cat, dog, or animal of any sort, that you would have
pitied, and helped care for it, and been glad to see me get
any pleasure out of it I could?"

"Yes," said Margaret coldly.

"But because I brought a child with an immortal soul,
there is no welcome."

"That isn't a child, it's an animal."

"You just said you would have welcomed an animal."

"Not a wild one. I meant a tame beast."

"Billy is not a beast!" said Wesley hotly. "He is a
very dear little boy. Margaret, you've always done the
church-going and Bible reading for this family. How do
you reconcile that `Suffer little children to come unto Me'
with the way you are treating Billy?"

Margaret arose. "I haven't treated that child. I have
only let him alone. I can barely hold myself. He needs
the hide tanned about off him!"

"If you'd cared to look at his body, you'd know that you
couldn't find a place to strike without cutting into a raw
spot," said Wesley. "Besides, Billy has not done a
thing for which a child should be punished. He is only
full of life, no training, and with a boy's love of mischief.
He did abuse your kittens, but an hour before I saw him
risk his life to save one from being run over. He minds
what you tell him, and doesn't do anything he is told not to.
He thinks of his brother and sister right away when
anything pleases him. He took that stinging medicine
with the grit of a bulldog. He is just a bully little chap,
and I love him."

"Oh good heavens!" cried Margaret, going into the
house as she spoke.

Sinton sat still. At last Billy tired of the swing, came
to him and leaned his slight body against the big knee.

"Am I going to sleep here?" he asked.

"Sure you are!" said Sinton.

Billy swung his feet as he laid across Wesley's knee.
"Come on," said Wesley, "I must clean you up for bed."

"You have to be just awful clean here," announced Billy.
"I like to be clean, you feel so good, after the hurt is over."

Sinton registered that remark, and worked with especial
tenderness as he redressed the ailing places and
washed the dust from Billy's feet and hands.

"Where can he sleep?" he asked Margaret.

"I'm sure I don't know," she answered.

"Oh, I can sleep ist any place," said Billy. "On the
floor or anywhere. Home, I sleep on pa's coat on a store-
box, and Jimmy and Belle they sleep on the storebox, too.
"I sleep between them, so's I don't roll off and crack
my head. Ain't you got a storebox and a old coat?"

Wesley arose and opened a folding lounge. Then he
brought an armload of clean horse blankets from a closet.

"These don't look like the nice white bed a little boy
should have, Billy," he said, "but we'll make them do.
This will beat a storebox all hollow."

Billy took a long leap for the lounge. When he found
it bounced, he proceeded to bounce, until he was tired.
By that time the blankets had to be refolded. Wesley had
Billy take one end and help, while both of them seemed to
enjoy the job. Then Billy lay down and curled up in his
clothes like a small dog. But sleep would not come.

Finally he sat up. He stared around restlessly. Then he
arose, went to Wesley, and leaned against his knee. He picked
up the boy and folded his arms around him. Billy sighed
in rapturous content.

"That bed feels so lost like," he said. "Jimmy always
jabbed me on one side, and Belle on the other, and so I
knew I was there. Do you know where they are?"

"They are with kind people who gave them a fine supper,
a clean bed, and will always take good care of them."

"I wisht I was--" Billy hesitated and looked earnestly
at Wesley. "I mean I wish they was here."

"You are about all I can manage, Billy," said Wesley.

Billy sat up. "Can't she manage anything?" he asked,
waving toward Margaret.

"Indeed, yes," said Wesley. "She has managed me
for twenty years."

"My, but she made you nice!" said Billy. "I just love you.
I wisht she'd take Jimmy and Belle and make them nice as you."

"She isn't strong enough to do that, Billy. They will
grow into a good boy and girl where they are."

Billy slid from Wesley's arms and walked toward
Margaret until he reached the middle of the room. Then he
stopped, and at last sat on the floor. Finally he lay
down and closed his eyes. "This feels more like my bed;
if only Jimmy and Belle was here to crowd up a little, so it
wasn't so alone like."

"Won't I do, Billy?" asked Wesley in a husky voice.

Billy moved restlessly. "Seems like--seems like
toward night as if a body got kind o' lonesome for a
woman person--like her."

Billy indicated Margaret and then closed his eyes so
tight his small face wrinkled.

Soon he was up again. "Wisht I had Snap," he said.
"Oh, I ist wisht I had Snap!"

"I thought you laid a board on Snap and jumped on
it," said Wesley.

"We did!" cried Billy--"oh, you ought to heard him
squeal!" Billy laughed loudly, then his face clouded.

"But I want Snap to lay beside me so bad now--that if he
was here I'd give him a piece of my chicken, 'for, I ate any.
Do you like dogs?"

"Yes, I do," said Wesley.

Billy was up instantly. "Would you like Snap?"

"I am sure I would," said Wesley.

"Would she?" Billy indicated Margaret. And then
he answered his own question. "But of course, she
wouldn't, cos she likes cats, and dogs chases cats.
Oh, dear, I thought for a minute maybe Snap could
come here." Billy lay down and closed his eyes resolutely.

Suddenly they flew open. "Does it hurt to be dead?"
he demanded.

"Nothing hurts you after you are dead, Billy," said Wesley.

"Yes, but I mean does it hurt getting to be dead?"

"Sometimes it does. It did not hurt your father, Billy.
It came softly while he was asleep."

"It ist came softly?"

"Yes."

"I kind o' wisht he wasn't dead!" said Billy. "'Course I
like to stay with you, and the fried chicken, and the nice
soft bed, and--and everything, and I like to be clean, but
he took us to the show, and he got us gum, and he never
hurt us when he wasn't drunk."

Billy drew a deep breath, and tightly closed his eyes.
But very soon they opened. Then he sat up. He looked
at Wesley pitifully, and then he glanced at Margaret.
"You don't like boys, do you?" he questioned.

"I like good boys," said Margaret.

Billy was at her knee instantly. "Well say, I'm a good
boy!" he announced joyously.

"I do not think boys who hurt helpless kittens and pull
out turkeys' tails are good boys."

"Yes, but I didn't hurt the kittens," explained Billy.
"They got mad 'bout ist a little fun and scratched each other.
I didn't s'pose they'd act like that. And I didn't pull
the turkey's tail. I ist held on to the first thing I
grabbed, and the turkey pulled. Honest, it was the
turkey pulled." He turned to Wesley. "You tell her!
Didn't the turkey pull? I didn't know its tail was loose,
did I?"

"I don't think you did, Billy," said Wesley.

Billy stared into Margaret's cold face. "Sometimes at night,
Belle sits on the floor, and I lay my head in her lap.
I could pull up a chair and lay my head in your lap.
Like this, I mean." Billy pulled up a chair, climbed
on it and laid his head on Margaret's lap. Then he shut
his eyes again. Margaret could have looked little more
repulsed if he had been a snake. Billy was soon up.

"My, but your lap is hard," he said. "And you are
a good deal fatter 'an Belle, too!" He slid from the
chair and came back to the middle of the room.

"Oh but I wisht he wasn't dead!" he cried. The flood
broke and Billy screamed in desperation.

Out of the night a soft, warm young figure flashed
through the door and with a swoop caught him in her arms.
She dropped into a chair, nestled him closely, drooped
her fragrant brown head over his little bullet-eyed
red one, and rocked softly while she crooned over him--

"Billy, boy, where have you been?
Oh, I have been to seek a wife,
She's the joy of my life,
But then she's a young thing and she can't leave her mammy!"

Billy clung to her frantically. Elnora wiped his eyes,
kissed his face, swayed and sang.

"Why aren't you asleep?" she asked at last.

"I don't know," said Billy. "I tried. I tried awful
hard cos I thought he wanted me to, but it ist wouldn't come.
Please tell her I tried." He appealed to Margaret.

"He did try to go to sleep," admitted Margaret.

"Maybe he can't sleep in his clothes," suggested Elnora.
"Haven't you an old dressing sacque? I could roll
the sleeves."

Margaret got an old sacque, and Elnora put it on Billy.
Then she brought a basin of water and bathed his face
and head. She gathered him up and began to rock again.

"Have you got a pa?" asked Billy.

"No," said Elnora.

"Is he dead like mine?"

"Yes."

"Did it hurt him to die?"

"I don't know."

Billy was wide awake again. "It didn't hurt my pa,"
he boasted; "he ist died while he was asleep. He didn't
even know it was coming."

"I am glad of that," said Elnora, pressing the small
head against her breast again.

Billy escaped her hand and sat up. "I guess I won't go
to sleep," he said. "It might `come softly' and get me."

"It won't get you, Billy," said Elnora, rocking and
singing between sentences. "It doesn't get little boys.
It just takes big people who are sick."

"Was my pa sick?"

"Yes," said Elnora. "He had a dreadful sickness
inside him that burned, and made him drink things.
That was why he would forget his little boys and girl.
If he had been well, he would have gotten you good things
to eat, clean clothes, and had the most fun with you."

Billy leaned against her and closed his eyes, and Elnora
rocked hopefully.

"If I was dead would you cry?" he was up again.

"Yes, I would," said Elnora, gripping him closer until
Billy almost squealed with the embrace.

"Do you love me tight as that?" he questioned blissfully.

"Yes, bushels and bushels," said Elnora. "Better than
any little boy in the whole world."

Billy looked at Margaret. "She don't!" he said.
"She'd be glad if it would get me `softly,' right now.
She don't want me here 't all."

Elnora smothered his face against her breast and rocked.

"You love me, don't you?"

"I will, if you will go to sleep."

"Every single day you will give me your dinner for
the bologna, won't you," said Billy.

"Yes, I will," replied Elnora. "But you will have as
good lunch as I do after this. You will have milk, eggs,
chicken, all kinds of good things, little pies, and cakes, maybe."

Billy shook his head. "I am going back home soon as
it is light," he said, "she don't want me. She thinks
I'm a bad boy. She's going to whip me--if he lets her.
She said so. I heard her. Oh, I wish he hadn't died!
I want to go home." Billy shrieked again.

Mrs. Comstock had started to walk slowly to meet Elnora.
The girl had been so late that her mother reached the
Sinton gate and followed the path until the picture inside
became visible. Elnora had told her about Wesley
taking Billy home. Mrs. Comstock had some curiosity
to see how Margaret bore the unexpected addition to
her family. Billy's voice, raised with excitement, was
plainly audible. She could see Elnora holding him, and
hear his excited wail. Wesley's face was drawn and haggard,
and Margaret's set and defiant. A very imp of perversity
entered the breast of Mrs. Comstock.

"Hoity, toity!" she said as she suddenly appeared
in the door. "Blest if I ever heard a man making sounds
like that before!"

Billy ceased suddenly. Mrs. Comstock was tall, angular,
and her hair was prematurely white. She was only
thirty-six, although she appeared fifty. But there
was an expression on her usually cold face that was
attractive just then, and Billy was in search of attractions.

"Have I stayed too late, mother?" asked Elnora anxiously.
"I truly intended to come straight back, but I thought
I could rock Billy to sleep first. Everything is strange,
and he's so nervous."

"Is that your ma?" demanded Billy.

"Yes."

"Does she love you?"

"Of course!"

"My mother didn't love me," said Billy. "She went
away and left me, and never came back. She don't care
what happens to me. You wouldn't go away and leave
your little girl, would you?" questioned Billy.

"No," said Katharine Comstock, "and I wouldn't
leave a little boy, either."

Billy began sliding from Elnora's knees.

"Do you like boys?" he questioned.

"If there is anything I love it is a boy," said Mrs.
Comstock assuringly. Billy was on the floor.

"Do you like dogs?"

"Yes. Almost as well as boys. I am going to buy a
dog as soon as I can find a good one."

Billy swept toward her with a whoop.

"Do you want a boy?" he shouted.

Katharine Comstock stretched out her arms, and
gathered him in.

"Of course, I want a boy!" she rejoiced.

"Maybe you'd like to have me?" offered Billy.

"Sure I would," triumphed Mrs. Comstock. "Any one
would like to have you. You are just a real boy, Billy."

"Will you take Snap?"

"I'd like to have Snap almost as well as you."

"Mother!" breathed Elnora imploringly. "Don't! Oh, don't!
He thinks you mean it!"

"And so I do mean it," said Mrs. Comstock. "I'll take
him in a jiffy. I throw away enough to feed a little
tyke like him every day. His chatter would be great
company while you are gone. Blood soon can be purified
with right food and baths, and as for Snap, I meant to
buy a bulldog, but possibly Snap will serve just as well.
All I ask of a dog is to bark at the right time. I'll do
the rest. Would you like to come and be my boy, Billy?"

Billy leaned against Mrs. Comstock, reached his arms
around her neck and gripped her with all his puny might.
"You can whip me all you want to," he said. "I won't
make a sound."

Mrs. Comstock held him closely and her hard face was
softening; of that there could be no doubt.

"Now, why would any one whip a nice little boy like
you?" she asked wonderingly.

"She"--Billy from his refuge waved toward Margaret
--"she was going to whip me 'cause her cats fought,
when I tied their tails together and hung them over the
line to dry. How did I know her old cats would fight?"

Mrs. Comstock began to laugh suddenly, and try as
she would she could not stop so soon as she desired.
Billy studied her.

"Have you got turkeys?" he demanded.

"Yes, flocks of them," said Mrs. Comstock, vainly
struggling to suppress her mirth, and settle her face in
its accustomed lines.

"Are their tails fast?" demanded Billy.

"Why, I think so," marvelled Mrs. Comstock.

"Hers ain't!" said Billy with the wave toward Margaret
that was becoming familiar. "Her turkey pulled,
and its tail comed right off. She's going to whip me if he
lets her. I didn't know the turkey would pull. I didn't
know its tail would come off. I won't ever touch one
again, will I?"

"Of course, you won't," said Mrs. Comstock. "And what's
more, I don't care if you do! I'd rather have a fine
little man like you than all the turkeys in the country.
Let them lose their old tails if they want to, and let
the cats fight. Cats and turkeys don't compare with boys,
who are going to be fine big men some of these days."

Then Billy and Mrs. Comstock hugged each other
rapturously, while their audience stared in silent amazement.

"You like boys!" exulted Billy, and his head dropped
against Mrs. Comstock in unspeakable content.

"Yes, and if I don't have to carry you the whole way
home, we must start right now," said Mrs. Comstock.
"You are going to be asleep before you know it."

Billy opened his eyes and braced himself. "I can
walk," he said proudly.

"All right, we must start. Come, Elnora! Good-night, folks!"
Mrs. Comstock set Billy on the floor, and arose gripping
his hand. "You take the other side, Elnora, and we will
help him as much as we can," she said.

Elnora stared piteously at Margaret, then at Wesley,
and arose in white-faced bewilderment.

"Billy, are you going to leave without even saying good-
bye to me?" asked Wesley, with a gulp.

Billy held tight to Mrs. Comstock and Elnora.

"Good-bye!" he said casually. "I'll come and see you
some time."

Wesley Sinton gave a smothered sob, and strode from
the room.

Mrs. Comstock started toward the door, dragging at
Billy while Elnora pulled back, but Mrs. Sinton was before
them, her eyes flashing.

"Kate Comstock, you think you are mighty smart,
don't you?" she cried.

"I ain't in the lunatic asylum, where you belong,
anyway,"said Mrs. Comstock. "I am smart enough to tell
a dandy boy when I see him, and I'm good and glad to
get him. I'll love to have him!"

"Well, you won't have him!" exclaimed Margaret Sinton.
"That boy is Wesley's! He found him, and brought him here.
You can't come in and take him like that! Let go of him!"

"Not much, I won't!" cried Mrs. Comstock. "Leave the
poor sick little soul here for you to beat, because he
didn't know just how to handle things! Of course, he'll
make mistakes. He must have a lot of teaching, but not
the kind he'll get from you! Clear out of my way!"

"You let go of our boy," ordered Margaret.

"Why? Do you want to whip him, before he can go
to sleep?" jeered Mrs. Comstock.

"No, I don't!" said Margaret. "He's Wesley's, and
nobody shall touch him. Wesley!"

Wesley Sinton appeared behind Margaret in the doorway,
and she turned to him. "Make Kate Comstock let go of
our boy!" she demanded.

"Billy, she wants you now," said Wesley Sinton. "She won't
whip you, and she won't let any one else. You can have
stacks of good things to eat, ride in the carriage, and have
a great time. Won't you stay with us?"

Billy drew away from Mrs. Comstock and Elnora.

He faced Margaret, his eyes shrewd with unchildish wisdom.
Necessity had taught him to strike the hot iron, to
drive the hard bargain.

"Can I have Snap to live here always?" he demanded.

"Yes, you can have all the dogs you want," said Margaret Sinton.

"Can I sleep close enough so's I can touch you?"

"Yes, you can move your lounge up so that you can
hold my hand," said Margaret.

"Do you love me now?" questioned Billy.

"I'll try to love you, if you are a good boy," said Margaret.

"Then I guess I'll stay," said Billy, walking over to her.

Out in the night Elnora and her mother went down the
road in the moonlight; every few rods Mrs. Comstock
laughed aloud.

"Mother, I don't understand you," sobbed Elnora.

"Well, maybe when you have gone to high school longer
you will," said Mrs. Comstock. "Anyway, you saw me
bring Mag Sinton to her senses, didn't you?"

"Yes, I did," answered Elnora, "but I thought you
were in earnest. So did Billy, and Uncle Wesley, and
Aunt Margaret."

"Well, wasn't I?" inquired Mrs. Comstock.

"But you just said you brought Aunt Margaret to!"

"Well, didn't I?"

"I don't understand you."

"That's the reason I am recommending more schooling!"

Elnora took her candle and went to bed. Mrs. Comstock
was feeling too good to sleep. Twice of late she
really had enjoyed herself for the first in sixteen years,
and greediness for more of the same feeling crept into her
blood like intoxication. As she sat brooding alone she
knew the truth. She would have loved to have taken Billy.
She would not have minded his mischief, his chatter, or his dog.
He would have meant a distraction from herself that she
greatly needed; she was even sincere about the dog.
She had intended to tell Wesley to buy her one at the very
first opportunity. Her last thought was of Billy.
She chuckled softly, for she was not saintly, and now she
knew how she could even a long score with Margaret and Wesley
in a manner that would fill her soul with grim satisfaction.

CHAPTER VIII

WHEREIN THE LIMBERLOST TEMPTS ELNORA, AND BILLY
BURIES HIS FATHER

Immediately after dinner on Sunday Wesley Sinton
stopped at the Comstock gate to ask if Elnora wanted
to go to town with them. Billy sat beside him and he
did not appear as if he were on his way to a funeral.
Elnora said she had to study and could not go, but she
suggested that her mother take her place. Mrs. Comstock
put on her hat and went at once, which surprised Elnora.
She did not know that her mother was anxious for an
opportunity to speak with Sinton alone. Elnora knew
why she was repeatedly cautioned not to leave their land,
if she went specimen hunting.

She studied two hours and was several lessons ahead of
her classes. There was no use to go further. She would
take a walk and see if she could gather any caterpillars or
find any freshly spun cocoons. She searched the bushes
and low trees behind the garden and all around the edge of
the woods on their land, and having little success, at
last came to the road. Almost the first thorn bush she
examined yielded a Polyphemus cocoon. Elnora lifted
her head with the instinct of a hunter on the chase, and
began work. She reached the swamp before she knew it,
carrying five fine cocoons of different species as her reward.
She pushed back her hair and gazed around longingly. A few
rods inside she thought she saw cocoons on a bush, to
which she went, and found several. Sense of caution was
rapidly vanishing; she was in a fair way to forget everything
and plunge into the swamp when she thought she heard
footsteps coming down the trail. She went back, and came
out almost facing Pete Corson.

That ended her difficulty. She had known him since childhood.
When she sat on the front bench of the Brushwood schoolhouse,
Pete had been one of the big boys at the back of the room.
He had been rough and wild, but she never had been afraid of
him, and often he had given her pretty things from the swamp.

"What luck!" she cried. "I promised mother I would
not go inside the swamp alone, and will you look at the
cocoons I've found! There are more just screaming for
me to come get them, because the leaves will fall with the
first frost, and then the jays and crows will begin to tear
them open. I haven't much time, since I'm going to school.
You will go with me, Pete! Please say yes! Just a little way!"

"What are those things?" asked the man, his keen
black eyes staring at her.

"They are the cases these big caterpillars spin for
winter, and in the spring they come out great night moths,
and I can sell them. Oh, Pete, I can sell them for enough
to take me through high school and dress me so like the
others that I don't look different, and if I have very good
luck I can save some for college. Pete, please go with me?"

"Why don't you go like you always have?"

"Well, the truth is, I had a little scare," said Elnora.
"I never did mean to go alone; sometimes I sort of wandered
inside farther than I intended, chasing things. You know
Duncan gave me Freckles's books, and I have been gathering
moths like he did. Lately I found I could sell them.
If I can make a complete collection, I can get three
hundred dollars for it. Three such collections would
take me almost through college, and I've four years in the
high school yet. That's a long time. I might collect them."

"Can every kind there is be found here?"

"No, not all of them, but when I get more than I need
of one kind, I can trade them with collectors farther north
and west, so I can complete sets. It's the only way I see
to earn the money. Look what I have already. Big gray
Cecropias come from this kind; brown Polyphemus from that,
and green Lunas from these. You aren't working on Sunday.
Go with me only an hour, Pete!"

The man looked at her narrowly. She was young,
wholesome, and beautiful. She was innocent, intensely in
earnest, and she needed the money, he knew that.

"You didn't tell me what scared you," he said.

"Oh, I thought I did! Why you know I had Freckles's
box packed full of moths and specimens, and one evening
I sold some to the Bird Woman. Next morning I found
a note telling me it wasn't safe to go inside the swamp.
That sort of scared me. I think I'll go alone, rather than
miss the chance, but I'd be so happy if you would take
care of me. Then I could go anywhere I chose, because if
I mired you could pull me out. You will take care of me, Pete?"

"Yes, I'll take care of you," promised Pete Corson.

"Goody!" said Elnora. "Let's start quick! And Pete,
you look at these closely, and when you are hunting or
going along the road, if one dangles under your nose, you
cut off the little twig and save it for me, will you?"

"Yes, I'll save you all I see," promised Pete. He pushed
back his hat and followed Elnora. She plunged fearlessly
among bushes, over underbrush, and across dead logs.
One minute she was crying wildly, that here was a
big one, the next she was reaching for a limb above her
head or on her knees overturning dead leaves under a
hickory or oak tree, or working aside black muck with her
bare hands as she searched for buried pupae cases. For the
first hour Pete bent back bushes and followed, carrying
what Elnora discovered. Then he found one.

"Is this the kind of thing you are looking for?" he asked
bashfully, as he presented a wild cherry twig.

"Oh Pete, that's a Promethea! I didn't even hope to
find one."

"What's the bird like?" asked Pete.

"Almost black wings," said Elnora, "with clay-coloured
edges, and the most wonderful wine-coloured flush over the
under side if it's a male, and stronger wine above and below
if it's a female. Oh, aren't I happy!"

"How would it do to make what you have into a bunch
that we could leave here, and come back for them?"

"That would be all right."

Relieved of his load Pete began work. First, he narrowly
examined the cocoons Elnora had found. He questioned
her as to what other kinds would be like. He began to
use the eyes of a trained woodman and hunter in her behalf.
He saw several so easily, and moved through the forest
so softly, that Elnora forgot the moths in watching him.
Presently she was carrying the specimens, and he was
making the trips of investigation to see which was a
cocoon and which a curled leaf, or he was on his knees
digging around stumps. As he worked he kept asking questions.
What kind of logs were best to look beside, what trees were
pupae cases most likely to be under; on what bushes did
caterpillars spin most frequently? Time passed, as it
always does when one's occupation is absorbing.

When the Sintons took Mrs. Comstock home, they stopped
to see Elnora. She was not there. Mrs. Comstock called
at the edge of her woods and received no reply.
Then Wesley turned and drove back to the Limberlost.
He left Margaret and Mrs. Comstock holding the team and
entertaining Billy, while he entered the swamp.

Elnora and Pete had made a wide trail behind them.
Before Sinton had thought of calling, he heard voices
and approached with some caution. Soon he saw Elnora,
her flushed face beaming as she bent with an armload of
twigs and branches and talked to a kneeling man.

"Now go cautiously!" she was saying. "I am just sure
we will find an Imperialis here. It's their very kind of
a place. There! What did I tell you! Isn't that splendid?
Oh, I am so glad you came with me!"

Wesley stood staring in speechless astonishment, for
the man had arisen, brushed the dirt from his hands, and
held out to Elnora a small shining dark pupa case.
As his face came into view Sinton almost cried out, for he
was the one man of all others Wesley knew with whom he
most feared for Elnora's safety. She had him on his
knees digging pupae cases for her from the swamp.

"Elnora!" called Sinton. "Elnora!"

"Oh, Uncle Wesley!" cried the girl. "See what luck
we've had! I know we have a dozen and a half cocoons
and we have three pupae cases. It's much harder to get
the cases because you have to dig for them, and you can't
see where to look. But Pete is fine at it! He's found
three, and he says he will keep watch beside the roads,
and through the woods while he hunts. Isn't that splendid
of him? Uncle Wesley, there is a college over there
on the western edge of the swamp. Look closely, and
you can see the great dome up among the clouds."

"I should say you have had luck," said Wesley, striving
to make his voice natural. "But I thought you were not
coming to the swamp?"

"Well, I wasn't," said Elnora, "but I couldn't find
many anywhere else, honest, I couldn't, and just as soon
as I came to the edge I began to see them here. I kept
my promise. I didn't come in alone. Pete came with me.
He's so strong, he isn't afraid of anything, and
he's perfectly splendid to locate cocoons! He's found
half of these. Come on, Pete, it's getting dark now, and
we must go."

They started toward the trail, Pete carrying the cocoons.
He left them at the case, while Elnora and Wesley went
on to the carriage together.

"Elnora Comstock, what does this mean?" demanded
her mother.

"It's all right, one of the neighbours was with her, and
she got several dollars' worth of stuff," interposed Wesley.

"You oughter seen my pa," shouted Billy. "He was ist
all whited out, and he laid as still as anything.
They put him away deep in the ground."

"Billy!" breathed Margaret in a prolonged groan.

"Jimmy and Belle are going to be together in a nice place.
They are coming to see me, and Snap is right down here
by the wheel. Here, Snap! My, but he'll be tickled
to get something to eat! He's 'most twisted as me.
They get new clothes, and all they want to eat, too,
but they'll miss me. They couldn't have got along
without me. I took care of them. I had a lot of things
give to me 'cause I was the littlest, and I always divided
with them. But they won't need me now."

When she left the carriage Mrs. Comstock gravely
shook hands with Billy. "Remember," she said to him,
"I love boys, and I love dogs. Whenever you don't
have a good time up there, take your dog and come right
down and be my little boy. We will just have loads of fun.
You should hear the whistles I can make. If you
aren't treated right you come straight to me."

Billy wagged his head sagely. "You ist bet I will!"
he said.

"Mother, how could you?" asked Elnora as they walked
up the path.

"How could I, missy? You better ask how couldn't I?
I just couldn't! Not for enough to pay, my road tax!
Not for enough to pay the road tax, and the dredge tax, too!"

"Aunt Margaret always has been lovely to me, and I
don't think it's fair to worry her."

"I choose to be lovely to Billy, and let her sweat out
her own worries just as she has me, these sixteen years.
There is nothing in all this world so good for people as
taking a dose of their own medicine. The difference is
that I am honest. I just say in plain English, `if they
don't treat you right, come to me.' They have only
said it in actions and inferences. I want to teach Mag
Sinton how her own doses taste, but she begins to sputter
before I fairly get the spoon to her lips. Just you wait!"

"When I think what I owe her----" began Elnora.

"Well, thank goodness, I don't owe her anything, and
so I'm perfectly free to do what I choose. Come on,
and help me get supper. I'm hungry as Billy!"

Margaret Sinton rocked slowly back and forth in her chair.
On her breast lay Billy's red head, one hand clutched her
dress front with spasmodic grip, even after he was unconscious.

"You mustn't begin that, Margaret," said Sinton.
"He's too heavy. And it's bad for him. He's better
off to lie down and go to sleep alone."

"He's very light, Wesley. He jumps and quivers so.
He has to be stronger than he is now, before he will
sleep soundly."

CHAPTER IX

WHEREIN ELNORA DISCOVERS A VIOLIN,
AND BILLY DISCIPLINES MARGARET

Elnora missed the little figure at the bridge the
following morning. She slowly walked up the
street and turned in at the wide entrance to the
school grounds. She scarcely could comprehend that
only a week ago she had gone there friendless, alone, and
so sick at heart that she was physically ill. To-day she
had decent clothing, books, friends, and her mind was at
ease to work on her studies.

As she approached home that night the girl paused
in amazement. Her mother had company, and she was laughing.
Elnora entered the kitchen softly and peeped into the
sitting-room. Mrs. Comstock sat in her chair holding
a book and every few seconds a soft chuckle broke into
a real laugh. Mark Twain was doing his work; while
Mrs. Comstock was not lacking in a sense of humour.
Elnora entered the room before her mother saw her.
Mrs. Comstock looked up with flushed face.

"Where did you get this?" she demanded.

"I bought it," said Elnora.

"Bought it! With all the taxes due!"

"I paid for it out of my Indian money, mother," said Elnora.
"I couldn't bear to spend so much on myself and nothing
at all on you. I was afraid to buy the dress I should
have liked to, and I thought the book would be company,
while I was gone. I haven't read it, but I do hope it's good."

"Good! It's the biggest piece of foolishness I have
read in all my life. I've laughed all day, ever since I
found it. I had a notion to go out and read some of it
to the cows and see if they wouldn't laugh."

"If it made you laugh, it's a wise book," said Elnora.

"Wise!" cried Mrs. Comstock. "You can stake your life
it's a wise book. It takes the smartest man there is
to do this kind of fooling," and she began laughing again.

Elnora, highly satisfied with her purchase, went to her
room and put on her working clothes. Thereafter she
made a point of bringing a book that she thought would
interest her mother, from the library every week, and
leaving it on the sitting-room table. Each night she
carried home at least two school books and studied until
she had mastered the points of her lessons. She did
her share of the work faithfully, and every available
minute she was in the fields searching for cocoons, for
the moths promised to become her largest source of income.

She gathered baskets of nests, flowers, mosses, insects,
and all sorts of natural history specimens and sold them
to the grade teachers. At first she tried to tell these
instructors what to teach their pupils about the specimens;
but recognizing how much more she knew than they, one after
another begged her to study at home, and use her spare hours
in school to exhibit and explain nature subjects to
their pupils. Elnora loved the work, and she needed the
money, for every few days some matter of expense arose
that she had not expected.

From the first week she had been received and invited
with the crowd of girls in her class, and it was their
custom in passing through the business part of the city
to stop at the confectioners' and take turns in treating
to expensive candies, ice cream sodas, hot chocolate, or
whatever they fancied. When first Elnora was asked she
accepted without understanding. The second time she
went because she seldom had tasted these things, and
they were so delicious she could not resist. After that
she went because she knew all about it, and had decided
to go.

She had spent half an hour on the log beside the trail
in deep thought and had arrived at her conclusions.
She worked harder than usual for the next week, but she
seemed to thrive on work. It was October and the red
leaves were falling when her first time came to treat.
As the crowd flocked down the broad walk that night
Elnora called, "Girls, it's my treat to-night! Come on!"

She led the way through the city to the grocery they
patronized when they had a small spread, and entering
came out with a basket, which she carried to the bridge
on her home road. There she arranged the girls in two
rows on the cement abutments and opening her basket
she gravely offered each girl an exquisite little basket of
bark, lined with red leaves, in one end of which nestled a
juicy big red apple and in the other a spicy doughnut not
an hour from Margaret Sinton's frying basket.

Another time she offered big balls of popped corn stuck
together with maple sugar, and liberally sprinkled with
beechnut kernels. Again it was hickory-nut kernels
glazed with sugar, another time maple candy, and once
a basket of warm pumpkin pies. She never made any
apology, or offered any excuse. She simply gave what
she could afford, and the change was as welcome to those
city girls accustomed to sodas and French candy, as were
these same things to Elnora surfeited on popcorn and pie.
In her room was a little slip containing a record of the
number of weeks in the school year, the times it would be
her turn to treat and the dates on which such occasions
would fall, with a number of suggestions beside each.
Once the girls almost fought over a basket lined with
yellow leaves, and filled with fat, very ripe red haws.
In late October there was a riot over one which was lined
with red leaves and contained big fragrant pawpaws
frost-bitten to a perfect degree. Then hazel nuts were
ripe, and once they served. One day Elnora at her wits'
end, explained to her mother that the girls had given her
things and she wanted to treat them. Mrs. Comstock,
with characteristic stubbornness, had said she would leave
a basket at the grocery for her, but firmly declined to say
what would be in it. All day Elnora struggled to keep
her mind on her books. For hours she wavered in tense
uncertainty. What would her mother do? Should she
take the girls to the confectioner's that night or risk
the basket? Mrs. Comstock could make delicious things to
eat, but would she?

As they left the building Elnora made a final rapid
mental calculation. She could not see her way clear to
a decent treat for ten people for less than two dollars and
if the basket proved to be nice, then the money would
be wasted. She decided to risk it. As they went to the
bridge the girls were betting on what the treat would be,
and crowding near Elnora like spoiled small children.
Elnora set down the basket.

"Girls," she said, "I don't know what this is myself, so
all of us are going to be surprised. Here goes!"

She lifted the cover and perfumes from the land of spices
rolled up. In one end of the basket lay ten enormous
sugar cakes the tops of which had been liberally dotted
with circles cut from stick candy. The candy had melted
in baking and made small transparent wells of waxy sweetness
and in the centre of each cake was a fat turtle made from
a raisin with cloves for head and feet. The remainder
of the basket was filled with big spiced pears that could
be held by their stems while they were eaten. The girls
shrieked and attacked the cookies, and of all the treats
Elnora offered perhaps none was quite so long remembered
as that.

When Elnora took her basket, placed her books in it,
and started home, all the girls went with her as far as the
fence where she crossed the field to the swamp. At parting
they kissed her good-bye. Elnora was a happy girl as she
hurried home to thank her mother. She was happy over her
books that night, and happy all the way to school the
following morning.

When the music swelled from the orchestra her heart
almost broke with throbbing joy. For music always had
affected her strangely, and since she had been comfortable
enough in her surroundings to notice things, she had
listened to every note to find what it was that literally hurt
her heart, and at last she knew. It was the talking of
the violins. They were human voices, and they spoke a
language Elnora understood. It seemed to her that she
must climb up on the stage, take the instruments from the
fingers of the players and make them speak what was in
her heart.

That night she said to her mother, "I am perfectly crazy
for a violin. I am sure I could play one, sure as I live.
Did any one----" Elnora never completed that sentence.

"Hush!" thundered Mrs. Comstock. "Be quiet!
Never mention those things before me again--never as
long as you live! I loathe them! They are a snare of the
very devil himself! They were made to lure men and
women from their homes and their honour. If ever I see
you with one in your fingers I will smash it in pieces."

Naturally Elnora hushed, but she thought of nothing else
after she had finished her lessons. At last there came
a day when for some reason the leader of the orchestra
left his violin on the grand piano. That morning Elnora
made her first mistake in algebra. At noon, as soon as the
building was empty, she slipped into the auditorium, found
the side door which led to the stage, and going through the
musicians' entrance she took the violin. She carried it back
into the little side room where the orchestra assembled, closed
all the doors, opened the case and lifted out the instrument.

She laid it on her breast, dropped her chin on it and
drew the bow softly across the strings. One after another
she tested the open notes. Gradually her stroke ceased to
tremble and she drew the bow firmly. Then her fingers
began to fall and softly, slowly she searched up and down
those strings for sounds she knew. Standing in the middle
of the floor, she tried over and over. It seemed scarcely a
minute before the hall was filled with the sound of hurrying
feet, and she was forced to put away the violin and go
to her classes. The next day she prayed that the violin
would be left again, but her petition was not answered.
That night when she returned from the school she made an
excuse to go down to see Billy. He was engaged in hulling
walnuts by driving them through holes in a board. His
hands were protected by a pair of Margaret's old gloves,
but he had speckled his face generously. He appeared
well, and greeted Elnora hilariously.

"Me an' the squirrels are laying up our winter stores,"
he shouted. "Cos the cold is coming, an' the snow an'
if we have any nuts we have to fix 'em now. But I'm
ahead, cos Uncle Wesley made me this board, and I can
hull a big pile while the old squirrel does only ist one
with his teeth."

Elnora picked him up and kissed him. "Billy, are you
happy?" she asked.

"Yes, and so's Snap," answered Billy. "You ought to
see him make the dirt fly when he gets after a chipmunk.
I bet you he could dig up pa, if anybody wanted him to."

"Billy!" gasped Margaret as she came out to them.

"Well, me and Snap don't want him up, and I bet you
Jimmy and Belle don't, either. I ain't been twisty
inside once since I been here, and I don't want to go away,
and Snap don't, either. He told me so."

"Billy! That is not true. Dogs can't talk,"
cautioned Margaret.

"Then what makes you open the door when he asks you to?"
demanded Billy.

"Scratching and whining isn't talking."

"Anyway, it's the best Snap can talk, and you get up
and do things he wants done. Chipmunks can talk too.
You ought to hear them damn things holler when Snap
gets them!"

"Billy! When you want a cooky for supper and I don't
give it to you it is because you said a wrong word."

"Well, for----" Billy clapped his hand over his mouth
and stained his face in swipes. "Well, for--anything!
Did I go an' forget again! The cookies will get all
hard, won't they? I bet you ten dollars I don't say that
any more."

He espied Wesley and ran to show him a walnut too big
to go through the holes, and Elnora and Margaret entered
the house.

They talked of many things for a time and then Elnora
said suddenly: "Aunt Margaret, I like music."

"I've noticed that in you all your life," answered Margaret.

"If dogs can't talk, I can make a violin talk," announced
Elnora, and then in amazement watched the face of
Margaret Sinton grow pale.

"A violin!" she wavered. "Where did you get a violin?"

"They fairly seemed to speak to me in the orchestra.
One day the conductor left his in the auditorium, and I
took it, and Aunt Margaret, I can make it do the wind in
the swamp, the birds, and the animals. I can make any
sound I ever heard on it. If I had a chance to practise
a little, I could make it do the orchestra music, too.
I don't know how I know, but I do."

"Did--did you ever mention it to your mother?"
faltered Margaret.

"Yes, and she seems prejudiced against them. But oh,
Aunt Margaret, I never felt so about anything, not even
going to school. I just feel as if I'd die if I didn't
have one. I could keep it at school, and practise at noon
a whole hour. Soon they'd ask me to play in the orchestra.
I could keep it in the case and practise in the woods
in summer. You'd let me play over here Sunday.
Oh, Aunt Margaret, what does one cost? Would it be wicked
for me to take of my money, and buy a very cheap one?
I could play on the least expensive one made."

"Oh, no you couldn't! A cheap machine makes cheap music.
You got to have a fine fiddle to make it sing. But there's
no sense in your buying one. There isn't a decent reason
on earth why you shouldn't have your fa----"

"My father's!" cried Elnora. She caught Margaret
Sinton by the arm. "My father had a violin! He played it.
That's why I can! Where is it! Is it in our house?
Is it in mother's room?"

"Elnora!" panted Margaret. "Your mother will kill me!
She always hated it."

"Mother dearly loves music," said Elnora.

"Not when it took the man she loved away from her to
make it!"

"Where is my father's violin?"

"Elnora!"

"I've never seen a picture of my father. I've never
heard his name mentioned. I've never had a scrap that
belonged to him. Was he my father, or am I a charity
child like Billy, and so she hates me?"

"She has good pictures of him. Seems she just can't bear
to hear him talked about. Of course, he was your father.
They lived right there when you were born. She doesn't
dislike you; she merely tries to make herself think
she does. There's no sense in the world in you not
having his violin. I've a great notion----"

"Has mother got it?"

"No. I've never heard her mention it. It was not at
home when he--when he died."

"Do you know where it is?"

"Yes. I'm the only person on earth who does, except
the one who has it."

"Who is that?"

"I can't tell you, but I will see if they have it yet, and get
it if I can. But if your mother finds it out she will never
forgive me."

"I can't help it," said Elnora. I want that violin."

"I'll go to-morrow, and see if it has been destroyed."

"Destroyed! Oh, Aunt Margaret! Would any one dare?"

"I hardly think so. It was a good instrument. He played
it like a master."

"Tell me!" breathed Elnora.

"His hair was red and curled more than yours, and his
eyes were blue. He was tall, slim, and the very imp
of mischief. He joked and teased all day until he picked
up that violin. Then his head bent over it, and his eyes
got big and earnest. He seemed to listen as if he first
heard the notes, and then copied them. Sometimes he
drew the bow trembly, like he wasn't sure it was right, and
he might have to try again. He could almost drive you
crazy when he wanted to, and no man that ever lived could
make you dance as he could. He made it all up as he went.
He seemed to listen for his dancing music, too. It appeared
to come to him; he'd begin to play and you had to keep time.
You couldn't be still; he loved to sweep a crowd around with
that bow of his. I think it was the thing you call inspiration.
I can see him now, his handsome head bent, his cheeks red,
his eyes snapping, and that bow going across the strings,
and driving us like sheep. He always kept his body swinging,
and he loved to play. He often slighted his work shamefully,
and sometimes her a little; that is why she hated it--Elnora,
what are you making me do?"

The tears were rolling down Elnora's cheeks. "Oh, Aunt
Margaret," she sobbed. "Why haven't you told me about
him sooner? I feel as if you had given my father to me
living, so that I could touch him. I can see him, too!
Why didn't you ever tell me before? Go on! Go on!"

"I can't, Elnora! I'm scared silly. I never meant to
say anything. If I hadn't promised her not to talk of
him to you she wouldn't have let you come here.
She made me swear it."

"But why? Why? Was he a shame? Was he disgraced?"

"Maybe it was that unjust feeling that took possession
of her when she couldn't help him from the swamp. She had
to blame some one, or go crazy, so she took it out on you.
At times, those first ten years, if I had talked to you,
and you had repeated anything to her, she might have
struck you too hard. She was not master of herself.
You must be patient with her, Elnora. God only knows
what she has gone through, but I think she is a little
better, lately."

"So do I," said Elnora. "She seems more interested in
my clothes, and she fixes me such delicious lunches that the
girls bring fine candies and cake and beg to trade. I gave
half my lunch for a box of candy one day, brought it
home to her, and told her. Since, she has wanted me to
carry a market basket and treat the crowd every day, she
was so pleased. Life has been too monotonous for her.
I think she enjoys even the little change made by my going
and coming. She sits up half the night to read the library
books I bring, but she is so stubborn she won't even admit
that she touches them. Tell me more about my father."

"Wait until I see if I can find the violin."

So Elnora went home in suspense, and that night she
added to her prayers: "Dear Lord, be merciful to my
father, and oh, do help Aunt Margaret to get his violin."

Wesley and Billy came in to supper tired and hungry.
Billy ate heartily, but his eyes often rested on a plate of
tempting cookies, and when Wesley offered them to the
boy he reached for one. Margaret was compelled to explain
that cookies were forbidden that night.

"What!" said Wesley. "Wrong words been coming again.
Oh Billy, I do wish you could remember! I can't sit
and eat cookies before a little boy who has none.
I'll have to put mine back, too." Billy's face twisted
in despair.

"Aw go on!" he said gruffly, but his chin was jumping,
for Wesley was his idol.

"Can't do it," said Wesley. "It would choke me."

Billy turned to Margaret. "You make him," he appealed.

"He can't, Billy," said Margaret. "I know how he feels.
You see, I can't myself."

Then Billy slid from his chair, ran to the couch, buried his
face in the pillow and cried heart-brokenly. Wesley hurried
to the barn, and Margaret to the kitchen. When the dishes
were washed Billy slipped from the back door.

Wesley piling hay into the mangers heard a sound behind him
and inquired, "That you, Billy?"

"Yes," answered Billy, "and it's all so dark you can't
see me now, isn't it?"

"Well, mighty near," answered Wesley.

"Then you stoop down and open your mouth."

Sinton had shared bites of apple and nuts for weeks, for
Billy had not learned how to eat anything without dividing
with Jimmy and Belle. Since he had been separated
from them, he shared with Wesley and Margaret. So he
bent over the boy and received an instalment of cooky
that almost choked him.

"Now you can eat it!" shouted Billy in delight.
"It's all dark! I can't see what you're doing at all!"

Wesley picked up the small figure and set the boy on the
back of a horse to bring his face level so that they could
talk as men. He never towered from his height above
Billy, but always lifted the little soul when important
matters were to be discussed.

"Now what a dandy scheme," he commented. "Did you
and Aunt Margaret fix it up?"

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