Full Text Archive logoFull Text Archive — Free Classic E-books

A Girl Of The Limberlost, by Gene Stratton Porter

Part 4 out of 8

Adobe PDF icon
Download this document as a .pdf
File size: 0.9 MB
What's this? light bulb idea Many people prefer to read off-line or to print out text and read from the real printed page. Others want to carry documents around with them on their mobile phones and read while they are on the move. We have created .pdf files of all out documents to accommodate all these groups of people. We recommend that you download .pdfs onto your mobile phone when it is connected to a WiFi connection for reading off-line.

"No. She ain't had hers yet. But I got one for her.
Ist as soon as you eat yours, I am going to take hers, and
feed her first time I find her in the dark."

"But Billy, where did you get the cookies? You know
Aunt Margaret said you were not to have any."

"I ist took them," said Billy, "I didn't take them for me.
I ist took them for you and her."

Wesley thought fast. In the warm darkness of the barn
the horses crunched their corn, a rat gnawed at a corner of
the granary, and among the rafters the white pigeon cooed
a soft sleepy note to his dusky mate.

"Did--did--I steal?" wavered Billy.

Wesley's big hands closed until he almost hurt the boy.

"No!" he said vehemently. "That is too big a word.
You made a mistake. You were trying to be a fine
little man, but you went at it the wrong way. You only
made a mistake. All of us do that, Billy. The world
grows that way. When we make mistakes we can see them;
that teaches us to be more careful the next time, and
so we learn."

"How wouldn't it be a mistake?"

"If you had told Aunt Margaret what you wanted to do, and
asked her for the cookies she would have given them to you."

"But I was 'fraid she wouldn't, and you ist had to have it."

"Not if it was wrong for me to have it, Billy. I don't
want it that much."

"Must I take it back?"

"You think hard, and decide yourself."

"Lift me down," said Billy, after a silence, "I got
to put this in the jar, and tell her."

Wesley set the boy on the floor, but as he did so he
paused one second and strained him close to his breast.

Margaret sat in her chair sewing; Billy slipped in and
crept beside her. The little face was lined with tragedy.

"Why Billy, whatever is the matter?" she cried as she
dropped her sewing and held out her arms. Billy stood back.
He gripped his little fists tight and squared his shoulders.
"I got to be shut up in the closet," he said.

"Oh Billy! What an unlucky day! What have you
done now?"

"I stold!" gulped Billy. "He said it was ist a mistake,
but it was worser 'an that. I took something you told
me I wasn't to have."

"Stole!" Margaret was in despair. "What, Billy?"

"Cookies!" answered Billy in equal trouble.

"Billy!" wailed Margaret. "How could you?"

"It was for him and you," sobbed Billy. "He said
he couldn't eat it 'fore me, but out in the barn it's all
dark and I couldn't see. I thought maybe he could there.
Then we might put out the light and you could have yours.
He said I only made it worse, cos I mustn't take things,
so I got to go in the closet. Will you hold me tight a
little bit first? He did."

Margaret opened her arms and Billy rushed in and clung
to her a few seconds, with all the force of his being,
then he slipped to the floor and marched to the closet.
Margaret opened the door. Billy gave one glance at
the light, clinched his fists and, walking inside, climbed
on a box. Margaret closed the door.

Then she sat and listened. Was the air pure enough?
Possibly he might smother. She had read something once.
Was it very dark? What if there should be a mouse in
the closet and it should run across his foot and
frighten him into spasms. Somewhere she had heard--
Margaret leaned forward with tense face and listened.
Something dreadful might happen. She could bear it
no longer. She arose hurriedly and opened the door.
Billy was drawn up on the box in a little heap, and he
lifted a disapproving face to her.

"Shut that door!" he said. "I ain't been in here near
long enough yet!"

CHAPTER X

WHEREIN ELNORA HAS MORE FINANCIAL TROUBLES,
AND MRS. COMSTOCK AGAIN HEARS THE SONG OF THE LIMBERLOST

The following night Elnora hurried to Sintons'.
She threw open the back door and with anxious
eyes searched Margaret's face.

"You got it!" panted Elnora. "You got it! I can
see by your face that you did. Oh, give it to me!"

"Yes, I got it, honey, I got it all right, but don't be
so fast. It had been kept in such a damp place it needed
glueing, it had to have strings, and a key was gone.
I knew how much you wanted it, so I sent Wesley right
to town with it. They said they could fix it good as
new, but it should be varnished, and that it would take
several days for the glue to set. You can have it Saturday."

"You found it where you thought it was? You know
it's his?"

"Yes, it was just where I thought, and it's the same
violin I've seen him play hundreds of times. It's all
right, only laying so long it needs fixing."

"Oh Aunt Margaret! Can I ever wait?"

"It does seem a long time, but how could I help it?
You couldn't do anything with it as it was. You see,
it had been hidden away in a garret, and it needed cleaning
and drying to make it fit to play again. You can
have it Saturday sure. But Elnora, you've got to promise
me that you will leave it here, or in town, and not let
your mother get a hint of it. I don't know what she'd do."

"Uncle Wesley can bring it here until Monday. Then I will
take it to school so that I can practise at noon. Oh, I
don't know how to thank you. And there's more than the
violin for which to be thankful. You've given me my father.
Last night I saw him plainly as life."

"Elnora you were dreaming!"

"I know I was dreaming, but I saw him. I saw him so
closely that a tiny white scar at the corner of his
eyebrow showed. I was just reaching out to touch him
when he disappeared."

"Who told you there was a scar on his forehead?"

"No one ever did in all my life. I saw it last night
as he went down. And oh, Aunt Margaret! I saw what
she did, and I heard his cries! No matter what she does,
I don't believe I ever can be angry with her again. Her heart
is broken, and she can't help it. Oh, it was terrible,
but I am glad I saw it. Now, I will always understand."

"I don't know what to make of that," said Margaret.
I don't believe in such stuff at all, but you couldn't make
it up, for you didn't know."

"I only know that I played the violin last night, as
he played it, and while I played he came through the
woods from the direction of Carneys'. It was summer
and all the flowers were in bloom. He wore gray
trousers and a blue shirt, his head was bare, and his
face was beautiful. I could almost touch him when he sank."

Margaret stood perplexed. "I don't know what to
think of that!" she ejaculated. "I was next to the last
person who saw him before he was drowned. It was late
on a June afternoon, and he was dressed as you describe.
He was bareheaded because he had found a quail's nest
before the bird began to brood, and he gathered the eggs
in his hat and left it in a fence corner to get on his way
home; they found it afterward."

"Was he coming from Carneys'?"

"He was on that side of the quagmire. Why he ever skirted
it so close as to get caught is a mystery you will have to
dream out. I never could understand it."

"Was he doing something he didn't want my mother to know?"

"Why?"

"Because if he had been, he might have cut close the
swamp so he couldn't be seen from the garden. You know,
the whole path straight to the pool where he sank can be
seen from our back door. It's firm on our side.
The danger is on the north and east. If he didn't want
mother to know, he might have tried to pass on either of
those sides and gone too close. Was he in a hurry?"

"Yes, he was," said Margaret. "He had been away
longer than he expected, and he almost ran when he
started home."

"And he'd left his violin somewhere that you knew, and
you went and got it. I'll wager he was going to play,
and didn't want mother to find it out!"

"It wouldn't make any difference to you if you knew
every little thing, so quit thinking about it, and just be
glad you are to have what he loved best of anything."
"That's true. Now I must hurry home. I am dreadfully late."

Elnora sprang up and ran down the road, but when
she approached the cabin she climbed the fence, crossed
the open woods pasture diagonally and entered at the
back garden gate. As she often came that way when she
had been looking for cocoons her mother asked no questions.

Elnora lived by the minute until Saturday, when,
contrary to his usual custom, Wesley went to town in
the forenoon, taking her along to buy some groceries.
Wesley drove straight to the music store, and asked for
the violin he had left to be mended.

In its new coat of varnish, with new keys and strings,
it seemed much like any other violin to Sinton, but to
Elnora it was the most beautiful instrument ever made,
and a priceless treasure. She held it in her arms, touched
the strings softly and then she drew the bow across them
in whispering measure. She had no time to think what
a remarkably good bow it was for sixteen years' disuse.
The tan leather case might have impressed her as being
in fine condition also, had she been in a state to
question anything. She did remember to ask for the bill
and she was gravely presented with a slip calling for
four strings, one key, and a coat of varnish, total, one
dollar fifty. It seemed to Elnora she never could put the
precious instrument in the case and start home. Wesley left
her in the music store where the proprietor showed her all
he could about tuning, and gave her several beginners'
sheets of notes and scales. She carried the violin in her
arms as far as the crossroads at the corner of their land,
then reluctantly put it under the carriage seat.

As soon as her work was done she ran down to Sintons'
and began to play, and on Monday the violin went to
school with her. She made arrangements with the superintendent
to leave it in his office and scarcely took time for her food
at noon, she was so eager to practise. Often one of the
girls asked her to stay in town all night for some lecture
or entertainment. She could take the violin with her,
practise, and secure help. Her skill was so great that
the leader of the orchestra offered to give her lessons
if she would play to pay for them, so her progress was
rapid in technical work. But from the first day the
instrument became hers, with perfect faith that she could
play as her father did, she spent half her practice time in
imitating the sounds of all outdoors and improvising the
songs her happy heart sang in those days.

So the first year went, and the second and third were
a repetition; but the fourth was different, for that was the
close of the course, ending with graduation and all its
attendant ceremonies and expenses. To Elnora these
appeared mountain high. She had hoarded every cent,
thinking twice before she parted with a penny, but teaching
natural history in the grades had taken time from her studies
in school which must be made up outside. She was a
conscientious student, ranking first in most of her classes,
and standing high in all branches. Her interest in
her violin had grown with the years. She went to school
early and practised half an hour in the little room adjoining
the stage, while the orchestra gathered. She put in a
full hour at noon, and remained another half hour at night.
She carried the violin to Sintons' on Saturday and practised
all the time she could there, while Margaret watched the
road to see that Mrs. Comstock was not coming. She had
become so skilful that it was a delight to hear her play
music of any composer, but when she played her own, that
was joy inexpressible, for then the wind blew, the water
rippled, the Limberlost sang her songs of sunshine, shadow,
black storm, and white night.

Since her dream Elnora had regarded her mother with
peculiar tenderness. The girl realized, in a measure, what
had happened. She avoided anything that possibly could
stir bitter memories or draw deeper a line on the hard,
white face. This cost many sacrifices, much work, and
sometimes delayed progress, but the horror of that awful
dream remained with Elnora. She worked her way cheerfully,
doing all she could to interest her mother in things
that happened in school, in the city, and by carrying books
that were entertaining from the public library.

Three years had changed Elnora from the girl of sixteen
to the very verge of womanhood. She had grown tall,
round, and her face had the loveliness of perfect
complexion, beautiful eyes and hair and an added touch
from within that might have been called comprehension.
It was a compound of self-reliance, hard knocks, heart
hunger, unceasing work, and generosity. There was no
form of suffering with which the girl could not sympathize,
no work she was afraid to attempt, no subject she had
investigated she did not understand. These things combined
to produce a breadth and depth of character altogether unusual.
She was so absorbed in her classes and her music that she
had not been able to gather many specimens. When she
realized this and hunted assiduously, she soon found
that changing natural conditions had affected such work.
Men all around were clearing available land. The trees
fell wherever corn would grow. The swamp was broken by
several gravel roads, dotted in places around the edge
with little frame houses, and the machinery of oil wells;
one especially low place around the region of Freckles's
room was nearly all that remained of the original.
Wherever the trees fell the moisture dried, the creeks
ceased to flow, the river ran low, and at times the
bed was dry. With unbroken sweep the winds of the
west came, gathering force with every mile and howled and
raved; threatening to tear the shingles from the roof,
blowing the surface from the soil in clouds of fine dust and
rapidly changing everything. From coming in with two or
three dozen rare moths in a day, in three years' time Elnora
had grown to be delighted with finding two or three.
Big pursy caterpillars could not be picked from their favourite
bushes, when there were no bushes. Dragonflies would
not hover over dry places, and butterflies became scarce
in proportion to the flowers, while no land yields over three
crops of Indian relics.

All the time the expense of books, clothing and
incidentals had continued. Elnora added to her bank
account whenever she could, and drew out when she was
compelled, but she omitted the important feature of calling
for a balance. So, one early spring morning in the last
quarter of the fourth year, she almost fainted when she
learned that her funds were gone. Commencement with its
extra expense was coming, she had no money, and very few
cocoons to open in June, which would be too late. She had
one collection for the Bird Woman complete to a pair of
Imperialis moths, and that was her only asset. On the
day she added these big Yellow Emperors she had been
promised a check for three hundred dollars, but she would
not get it until these specimens were secured.
She remembered that she never had found an Emperor
before June.

Moreover, that sum was for her first year in college.
Then she would be of age, and she meant to sell enough of
her share of her father's land to finish. She knew her
mother would oppose her bitterly in that, for Mrs.
Comstock had clung to every acre and tree that belonged to
her husband. Her land was almost complete forest where her
neighbours owned cleared farms, dotted with wells that
every hour sucked oil from beneath her holdings, but she
was too absorbed in the grief she nursed to know or care.
The Brushwood road and the redredging of the big Limberlost
ditch had been more than she could pay from her income,
and she had trembled before the wicket as she asked
the banker if she had funds to pay it, and wondered why he
laughed when he assured her she had. For Mrs. Comstock
had spent no time on compounding interest, and
never added the sums she had been depositing through
nearly twenty years. Now she thought her funds were
almost gone, and every day she worried over expenses.
She could see no reason in going through the forms of
graduation when pupils had all in their heads that was
required to graduate. Elnora knew she had to have her
diploma in order to enter the college she wanted to attend,
but she did not dare utter the word, until high school
was finished, for, instead of softening as she hoped her
mother had begun to do, she seemed to remain very
much the same.

When the girl reached the swamp she sat on a log and
thought over the expense she was compelled to meet.
Every member of her particular set was having a large
photograph taken to exchange with the others. Elnora loved
these girls and boys, and to say she could not have
their pictures to keep was more than she could endure.
Each one would give to all the others a handsome
graduation present. She knew they would prepare gifts for
her whether she could make a present in return or not.
Then it was the custom for each graduating class to give a
great entertainment and use the funds to present the school
with a statue for the entrance hall. Elnora had been cast
for and was practising a part in that performance. She was
expected to furnish her dress and personal necessities.
She had been told that she must have a green gauze dress,
and where was it to come from?

Every girl of the class would have three beautiful new
frocks for Commencement: one for the baccalaureate
sermon, another, which could be plain, for graduation
exercises, and a handsome one for the banquet and ball.
Elnora faced the past three years and wondered how she
could have spent so much money and not kept account of it.
She did not realize where it had gone. She did not
know what she could do now. She thought over the
photographs, and at last settled that question to
her satisfaction. She studied longer over the gifts,
ten handsome ones there must be, and at last decided she
could arrange for them. The green dress came first.
The lights would be dim in the scene, and the setting
deep woods. She could manage that. She simply could not
have three dresses. She would have to get a very simple one
for the sermon and do the best she could for graduation.
Whatever she got for that must be made with a guimpe that
could be taken out to make it a little more festive for
the ball. But where could she get even two pretty dresses?

The only hope she could see was to break into the collection
of the man from India, sell some moths, and try to replace
them in June. But in her soul she knew that never
would do. No June ever brought just the things she
hoped it would. If she spent the college money she knew
she could not replace it. If she did not, the only way was
to secure a room in the grades and teach a year. Her work
there had been so appreciated that Elnora felt with
the recommendation she knew she could get from the
superintendent and teachers she could secure a position.
She was sure she could pass the examinations easily.
She had once gone on Saturday, taken them and secured a
license for a year before she left the Brushwood school.

She wanted to start to college when the other girls were going.
If she could make the first year alone, she could manage
the remainder. But make that first year herself, she must.
Instead of selling any of her collection, she must hunt
as she never before had hunted and find a Yellow Emperor.
She had to have it, that was all. Also, she had to have
those dresses. She thought of Wesley and dismissed it.
She thought of the Bird Woman, and knew she could not
tell her. She thought of every way in which she ever had
hoped to earn money and realized that with the play,
committee meetings, practising, and final examinations
she scarcely had time to live, much less to do more than
the work required for her pictures and gifts. Again Elnora
was in trouble, and this time it seemed the worst of all.

It was dark when she arose and went home.

"Mother," she said, "I have a piece of news that is
decidedly not cheerful."

"Then keep it to yourself!" said Mrs. Comstock. "I think
I have enough to bear without a great girl like you
piling trouble on me."

"My money is all gone!" said Elnora.

"Well, did you think it would last forever? It's been
a marvel to me that it's held out as well as it has, the way
you've dressed and gone."

"I don't think I've spent any that I was not compelled
to," said Elnora. "I've dressed on just as little as I
possibly could to keep going. I am heartsick. I thought
I had over fifty dollars to put me through Commencement,
but they tell me it is all gone."

"Fifty dollars! To put you through Commencement!
What on earth are you proposing to do?"

"The same as the rest of them, in the very cheapest
way possible."

"And what might that be?"

Elnora omitted the photographs, the gifts and the play.
She told only of the sermon, graduation exercises, and the ball.

"Well, I wouldn't trouble myself over that," sniffed
Mrs. Comstock. "If you want to go to a sermon, put on
the dress you always use for meeting. If you need white
for the exercises wear the new dress you got last spring.
As for the ball, the best thing for you to do is to stay a
mile away from such folly. In my opinion you'd best
bring home your books, and quit right now. You can't
be fixed like the rest of them, don't be so foolish
as to run into it. Just stay here and let these last few
days go. You can't learn enough more to be of any account."

"But, mother," gasped Elnora. "You don't understand!"

"Oh, yes, I do!" said Mrs. Comstock. "I understand perfectly.
So long as the money lasted, you held up your head,
and went sailing without even explaining how you got it
from the stuff you gathered. Goodness knows I couldn't see.
But now it's gone, you come whining to me. What have I got?
Have you forgot that the ditch and the road completely
strapped me? I haven't any money. There's nothing for you
to do but get out of it."

"I can't!" said Elnora desperately. "I've gone on too long.
It would make a break in everything. They wouldn't let me
have my diploma!"

"What's the difference? You've got the stuff in your head.
I wouldn't give a rap for a scrap of paper. That don't
mean anything!"

"But I've worked four years for it, and I can't enter--
I ought to have it to help me get a school, when I want
to teach. If I don't have my grades to show, people
will think I quit because I couldn't pass my examinations.
I must have my diploma!"

"Then get it!" said Mrs. Comstock.

"The only way is to graduate with the others."

"Well, graduate if you are bound to!"

"But I can't, unless I have things enough like the
class, that I don't look as I did that first day."

"Well, please remember I didn't get you into this,
and I can't get you out. You are set on having your
own way. Go on, and have it, and see how you like it!"

Elnora went upstairs and did not come down again
that night, which her mother called pouting.

"I've thought all night," said the girl at breakfast,
"and I can't see any way but to borrow the money of
Uncle Wesley and pay it back from some that the Bird
Woman will owe me, when I get one more specimen.
But that means that I can't go to--that I will have to
teach this winter, if I can get a city grade or a
country school."

"Just you dare go dinging after Wesley Sinton for money,"
cried Mrs. Comstock. "You won't do any such a thing!"

"I can't see any other way. I've got to have the money!"

"Quit, I tell you!"

"I can't quit!--I've gone too far!"

"Well then, let me get your clothes, and you can pay
me back."

"But you said you had no money!"

"Maybe I can borrow some at the bank. Then you
can return it when the Bird Woman pays you."

"All right," said Elnora. "I don't need expensive things.
Just some kind of a pretty cheap white dress for the sermon,
and a white one a little better than I had last summer,
for Commencement and the ball. I can use the white
gloves and shoes I got myself for last year, and you can
get my dress made at the same place you did that one.
They have my measurements, and do perfect work.
Don't get expensive things. It will be warm so I can
go bareheaded."

Then she started to school, but was so tired and
discouraged she scarcely could walk. Four years' plans
going in one day! For she felt that if she did not start
to college that fall she never would. Instead of feeling
relieved at her mother's offer, she was almost too ill to
go on. For the thousandth time she groaned: "Oh, why
didn't I keep account of my money?"

After that the days passed so swiftly she scarcely had
time to think, but several trips her mother made to town,
and the assurance that everything was all right,
satisfied Elnora. She worked very hard to pass good
final examinations and perfect herself for the play.
For two days she had remained in town with the Bird Woman
in order to spend more time practising and at her work.

Often Margaret had asked about her dresses for graduation,
and Elnora had replied that they were with a woman in the
city who had made her a white dress for last year's
Commencement when she was a junior usher, and they would
be all right. So Margaret, Wesley, and Billy concerned
themselves over what they would give her for a present.
Margaret suggested a beautiful dress. Wesley said that
would look to every one as if she needed dresses.
The thing was to get a handsome gift like all the others
would have. Billy wanted to present her a five-dollar gold
piece to buy music for her violin. He was positive Elnora
would like that best of anything.

It was toward the close of the term when they drove to
town one evening to try to settle this important question.
They knew Mrs. Comstock had been alone several days,
so they asked her to accompany them. She had
been more lonely than she would admit, filled with unusual
unrest besides, and so she was glad to go. But before
they had driven a mile Billy had told that they were going
to buy Elnora a graduation present, and Mrs. Comstock
devoutly wished that she had remained at home. She was
prepared when Billy asked: "Aunt Kate, what are you going
to give Elnora when she graduates?"

"Plenty to eat, a good bed to sleep in, and do all
the work while she trollops," answered Mrs. Comstock dryly.

Billy reflected. "I guess all of them have that," he said.
"I mean a present you buy at the store, like Christmas?"

"It is only rich folks who buy presents at stores,"
replied Mrs.Comstock. "I can't afford it."

"Well, we ain't rich," he said, "but we are going to buy
Elnora something as fine as the rest of them have if we sell
a corner of the farm. Uncle Wesley said so."

"A fool and his land are soon parted," said Mrs.
Comstock tersely. Wesley and Billy laughed, but
Margaret did not enjoy the remark.

While they were searching the stores for something on
which all of them could decide, and Margaret was holding
Billy to keep him from saying anything before Mrs. Comstock
about the music on which he was determined, Mr. Brownlee
met Wesley and stopped to shake hands.

"I see your boy came out finely," he said.

"I don't allow any boy anywhere to be finer than Billy,"
said Wesley.

"I guess you don't allow any girl to surpass Elnora,"
said Mr. Brownlee. "She comes home with Ellen often,
and my wife and I love her. Ellen says she is great in her
part to-night. Best thing in the whole play! Of course,
you are in to see it! If you haven't reserved seats, you'd
better start pretty soon, for the high school auditorium
only seats a thousand. It's always jammed at these home-
talent plays. All of us want to see how our children perform."

"Why yes, of course," said the bewildered Wesley.
Then he hurried to Margaret. "Say," he said, "there is
going to be a play at the high school to-night; and Elnora
is in it. Why hasn't she told us?"

"I don't know," said Margaret, "but I'm going."

"So am I," said Billy.

"Me too!" said Wesley, "unless you think for some
reason she doesn't want us. Looks like she would have
told us if she had. I'm going to ask her mother."

"Yes, that's what's she's been staying in town for," said
Mrs. Comstock. "It's some sort of a swindle to raise
money for her class to buy some silly thing to stick up in
the school house hall to remember them by. I don't know
whether it's now or next week, but there's something of the
kind to be done."

"Well, it's to-night," said Wesley, "and we are going.
It's my treat, and we've got to hurry or we won't get in.
There are reserved seats, and we have none, so it's the
gallery for us, but I don't care so I get to take one good
peep at Elnora."

"S'pose she plays?" whispered Margaret in his ear.

"Aw, tush! She couldn't!" said Wesley.

"Well, she's been doing it three years in the orchestra,
and working like a slave at it."

"Oh, well that's different. She's in the play to-night.
Brownlee told me so. Come on, quick! We'll drive and
hitch closest place we can find to the building."

Margaret went in the excitement of the moment, but
she was troubled.

When they reached the building Wesley tied the team
to a railing and Billy sprang out to help Margaret.
Mrs. Comstock sat still.

"Come on, Kate," said Wesley, reaching his hand.

"I'm not going anywhere," said Mrs. Comstock,
settling comfortably back against the cushions.

All of them begged and pleaded, but it was no use. Not an
inch would Mrs. Comstock budge. The night was warm and
the carriage comfortable, the horses were securely hitched.
She did not care to see what idiotic thing a pack of school
children were doing, she would wait until the Sintons returned.
Wesley told her it might be two hours, and she said she did
not care if it were four, so they left her.

"Did you ever see such----?"

"Cookies!" cried Billy.

"Such blamed stubbornness in all your life?" demanded Wesley.
"Won't come to see as fine a girl as Elnora in a
stage performance. Why, I wouldn't miss it for fifty dollars!

"I think it's a blessing she didn't," said Margaret placidly.
"I begged unusually hard so she wouldn't. I'm scared of my
life for fear Elnora will play."

They found seats near the door where they could see
fairly well. Billy stood at the back of the hall and had a
good view. By and by, a great volume of sound welled
from the orchestra, but Elnora was not playing.

"Told you so!" said Sinton. "Got a notion to go out
and see if Kate won't come now. She can take my seat,
and I'll stand with Billy."

"You sit still!" said Margaret emphatically. "This is
not over yet."

So Wesley remained in his seat. The play opened and
progressed very much as all high school plays have gone
for the past fifty years. But Elnora did not appear in any
of the scenes.

Out in the warm summer night a sour, grim woman
nursed an aching heart and tried to justify herself.
The effort irritated her intensely. She felt that she
could not afford the things that were being done.
The old fear of losing the land that she and Robert
Comstock had purchased and started clearing was strong
upon her. She was thinking of him, how she needed him,
when the orchestra music poured from the open windows
near her. Mrs. Comstock endured it as long as she
could, and then slipped from the carriage and fled down
the street.

She did not know how far she went or how long she stayed,
but everything was still, save an occasional raised
voice when she wandered back. She stood looking at
the building. Slowly she entered the wide gates and
followed up the walk. Elnora had been coming here for
almost four years. When Mrs. Comstock reached the door she
looked inside. The wide hall was lighted with electricity,
and the statuary and the decorations of the walls did not
seem like pieces of foolishness. The marble appeared
pure, white, and the big pictures most interesting.
She walked the length of the hall and slowly read the titles
of the statues and the names of the pupils who had donated them.
She speculated on where the piece Elnora's class would buy
could be placed to advantage.

Then she wondered if they were having a large enough
audience to buy marble. She liked it better than the
bronze, but it looked as if it cost more. How white the
broad stairway was! Elnora had been climbing those
stairs for years and never told her they were marble.
Of course, she thought they were wood. Probably the upper
hall was even grander than this. She went over to the
fountain, took a drink, climbed to the first landing and
looked around her, and then without thought to the second.
There she came opposite the wide-open doors and the
entrance to the auditorium packed with people and a
crowd standing outside. When they noticed a tall
woman with white face and hair and black dress, one by
one they stepped a little aside, so that Mrs. Comstock
could see the stage. It was covered with curtains, and no
one was doing anything. Just as she turned to go a sound
so faint that every one leaned forward and listened,
drifted down the auditorium. It was difficult to tell just
what it was; after one instant half the audience looked
toward the windows, for it seemed only a breath of wind
rustling freshly opened leaves; merely a hint of stirring air.

Then the curtains were swept aside swiftly. The stage
had been transformed into a lovely little corner of creation,
where trees and flowers grew and moss carpeted the earth.
A soft wind blew and it was the gray of dawn. Suddenly a
robin began to sing, then a song sparrow joined him, and
then several orioles began talking at once. The light grew
stronger, the dew drops trembled, flower perfume began
to creep out to the audience; the air moved the branches
gently and a rooster crowed. Then all the scene was
shaken with a babel of bird notes in which you could hear
a cardinal whistling, and a blue finch piping. Back somewhere
among the high branches a dove cooed and then a horse
neighed shrilly. That set a blackbird crying, "T'check,"
and a whole flock answered it. The crows began to caw and
a lamb bleated. Then the grosbeaks, chats, and vireos
had something to say, and the sun rose higher, the light
grew stronger and the breeze rustled the treetops
loudly; a cow bawled and the whole barnyard answered.
The guineas were clucking, the turkey gobbler strutting,
the hens calling, the chickens cheeping, the light streamed
down straight overhead and the bees began to hum. The air
stirred strongly, and away in an unseen field a reaper
clacked and rattled through ripening wheat while the
driver whistled. An uneasy mare whickered to her colt,
the colt answered, and the light began to decline.
Miles away a rooster crowed for twilight, and dusk was
coming down. Then a catbird and a brown thrush sang
against a grosbeak and a hermit thrush. The air was
tremulous with heavenly notes, the lights went out in the
hall, dusk swept across the stage, a cricket sang and a
katydid answered, and a wood pewee wrung the heart with
its lonesome cry. Then a night hawk screamed, a whip-
poor-will complained, a belated killdeer swept the sky,
and the night wind sang a louder song. A little screech owl
tuned up in the distance, a barn owl replied, and a great
horned owl drowned both their voices. The moon shone and the
scene was warm with mellow light. The bird voices died
and soft exquisite melody began to swell and roll. In the
centre of the stage, piece by piece the grasses, mosses and
leaves dropped from an embankment, the foliage softly
blew away, while plainer and plainer came the outlines of a
lovely girl figure draped in soft clinging green. In her
shower of bright hair a few green leaves and white blossoms
clung, and they fell over her robe down to her feet. Her white
throat and arms were bare, she leaned forward a little and
swayed with the melody, her eyes fast on the clouds above her,
her lips parted, a pink tinge of exercise in her cheeks as
she drew her bow. She played as only a peculiar chain of
circumstances puts it in the power of a very few to play.
All nature had grown still, the violin sobbed, sang,
danced and quavered on alone, no voice in particular;
the soul of the melody of all nature combined in one
great outpouring.

At the doorway, a white-faced woman endured it as long
as she could and then fell senseless. The men nearest
carried her down the hall to the fountain, revived her, and
then placed her in the carriage to which she directed them.
The girl played on and never knew. When she finished,
the uproar of applause sounded a block down the street, but
the half-senseless woman scarcely realized what it meant.
Then the girl came to the front of the stage, bowed, and
lifting the violin she played her conception of an invitation
to dance. Every living soul within sound of her notes
strained their nerves to sit still and let only their hearts
dance with her. When that began the woman ran toward
the country. She never stopped until the carriage overtook
her half-way to her cabin. She said she had grown
tired of sitting, and walked on ahead. That night she
asked Billy to remain with her and sleep on Elnora's bed.
Then she pitched headlong upon her own, and suffered
agony of soul such as she never before had known.
The swamp had sent back the soul of her loved dead and
put it into the body of the daughter she resented,
and it was almost more than she could endure and live.

CHAPTER XI

WHEREIN ELNORA GRADUATES,
AND FRECKLES AND THE ANGEL SEND GIFTS

That was Friday night. Elnora came home Saturday morning
and began work. Mrs. Comstock asked no questions, and
the girl only told her that the audience had been large
enough to more than pay for the piece of statuary the class
had selected for the hall. Then she inquired about her
dresses and was told they would be ready for her. She had
been invited to go to the Bird Woman's to prepare for both
the sermon and Commencement exercises. Since there was so
much practising to do, it had been arranged that she should
remain there from the night of the sermon until after she
was graduated. If Mrs. Comstock decided to attend she was
to drive in with the Sintons. When Elnora begged her to
come she said she cared nothing about such silliness.

It was almost time for Wesley to come to take Elnora to
the city, when fresh from her bath, and dressed to her outer
garment, she stood with expectant face before her mother
and cried: "Now my dress, mother!"

Mrs. Comstock was pale as she replied: "It's on my bed.
Help yourself."

Elnora opened the door and stepped into her mother's
room with never a misgiving. Since the night Margaret
and Wesley had brought her clothing, when she first started
to school, her mother had selected all of her dresses, with
Mrs. Sinton's help made most of them, and Elnora had
paid the bills. The white dress of the previous spring was
the first made at a dressmaker's. She had worn that as
junior usher at Commencement; but her mother had selected
the material, had it made, and it had fitted perfectly and
had been suitable in every way. So with her heart at rest on
that point, Elnora hurried to the bed to find only her last
summer's white dress, freshly washed and ironed. For an
instant she stared at it, then she picked up the garment,
looked at the bed beneath it, and her gaze slowly swept the room.

It was unfamiliar. Perhaps this was the third time she
had been in it since she was a very small child. Her eyes
ranged over the beautiful walnut dresser, the tall bureau,
the big chest, inside which she never had seen, and the row
of masculine attire hanging above it. Somewhere a
dainty lawn or mull dress simply must be hanging: but it
was not. Elnora dropped on the chest because she felt too
weak to stand. In less than two hours she must be in
the church, at Onabasha. She could not wear a last
year's washed dress. She had nothing else. She leaned
against the wall and her father's overcoat brushed her face.
She caught the folds and clung to it with all her might.

"Oh father! Father!" she moaned. "I need you! I don't
believe you would have done this!" At last she
opened the door.

"I can't find my dress," she said.

"Well, as it's the only one there I shouldn't think it
would be much trouble."

"You mean for me to wear an old washed dress to-night?"

"It's a good dress. There isn't a hole in it! There's no
reason on earth why you shouldn't wear it."

"Except that I will not," said Elnora. "Didn't you
provide any dress for Commencement, either?"

"If you soil that to-night, I've plenty of time to wash
it again."

Wesley's voice called from the gate.

"In a minute," answered Elnora.

She ran upstairs and in an incredibly short time came
down wearing one of her gingham school dresses. Her face
cold and hard, she passed her mother and went into
the night. Half an hour later Margaret and Billy stopped
for Mrs. Comstock with the carriage. She had determined
fully that she would not go before they called. With the
sound of their voices a sort of horror of being left seized her,
so she put on her hat, locked the door and went out to them.

"How did Elnora look?" inquired Margaret anxiously.

"Like she always does," answered Mrs. Comstock curtly.

"I do hope her dresses are as pretty as the others,"
said Margaret. "None of them will have prettier faces or
nicer ways."

Wesley was waiting before the big church to take care of
the team. As they stood watching the people enter the
building, Mrs. Comstock felt herself growing ill. When they
went inside among the lights, saw the flower-decked stage,
and the masses of finely dressed people, she grew no better.
She could hear Margaret and Billy softly commenting on what
was being done.

"That first chair in the very front row is Elnora's,"
exulted Billy, "cos she's got the highest grades, and so she
gets to lead the procession to the platform."

"The first chair!" "Lead the procession!" Mrs. Comstock
was dumbfounded. The notes of the pipe organ began to fill
the building in a slow rolling march. Would Elnora lead
the procession in a gingham dress? Or would she be absent
and her chair vacant on this great occasion? For now, Mrs.
Comstock could see that it was a great occasion. Every one
would remember how Elnora had played a few nights before,
and they would miss her and pity her. Pity? Because she had
no one to care for her. Because she was worse off than if she
had no mother. For the first time in her life, Mrs. Comstock
began to study herself as she would appear to others.
Every time a junior girl came fluttering down the aisle,
leading some one to a seat, and Mrs. Comstock saw a beautiful
white dress pass, a wave of positive illness swept over her.
What had she done? What would become of Elnora?

As Elnora rode to the city, she answered Wesley's
questions in monosyllables so that he thought she was
nervous or rehearsing her speech and did not care to talk.
Several times the girl tried to tell him and realized that if
she said the first word it would bring uncontrollable tears.
The Bird Woman opened the screen and stared unbelievingly.

"Why, I thought you would be ready; you are so late!"

she said. "If you have waited to dress here, we must hurry."

"I have nothing to put on," said Elnora.

In bewilderment the Bird Woman drew her inside.

"Did--did--" she faltered. "Did you think you would wear that?"

"No. I thought I would telephone Ellen that there had
been an accident and I could not come. I don't know yet
how to explain. I'm too sick to think. Oh, do you suppose
I can get something made by Tuesday, so that I can graduate?"

"Yes; and you'll get something on you to-night, so that
you can lead your class, as you have done for four years.
Go to my room and take off that gingham, quickly. Anna, drop
everything, and come help me."

The Bird Woman ran to the telephone and called Ellen Brownlee.

"Elnora has had an accident. She will be a little late,"
she said. "You have got to make them wait. Have them
play extra music before the march."

Then she turned to the maid. "Tell Benson to have the
carriage at the gate, just as soon as he can get it there.
Then come to my room. Bring the thread box from the
sewing-room, that roll of wide white ribbon on the cutting
table, and gather all the white pins from every dresser in
the house. But first come with me a minute."

"I want that trunk with the Swamp Angel's stuff in it,
from the cedar closet," she panted as they reached the top
of the stairs.

They hurried down the hall together and dragged the
big trunk to the Bird Woman's room. She opened it and
began tossing out white stuff.

"How lucky that she left these things!" she cried.
"Here are white shoes, gloves, stockings, fans, everything!"

"I am all ready but a dress," said Elnora.

The Bird Woman began opening closets and pulling out
drawers and boxes.

"I think I can make it this way," she said.

She snatched up a creamy lace yoke with long sleeves
that recently had been made for her and held it out.
Elnora slipped into it, and the Bird Woman began smoothing
out wrinkles and sewing in pins. It fitted very well
with a little lapping in the back. Next, from among the
Angel's clothing she caught up a white silk waist with low
neck and elbow sleeves, and Elnora put it on. It was
large enough, but distressingly short in the waist, for the
Angel had worn it at a party when she was sixteen. The Bird
Woman loosened the sleeves and pushed them to a puff on
the shoulders, catching them in places with pins.
She began on the wide draping of the yoke, fastening it
front, back and at each shoulder. She pulled down the
waist and pinned it. Next came a soft white dress skirt
of her own. By pinning her waist band quite four inches
above Elnora's, the Bird Woman could secure a perfect
Empire sweep, with the clinging silk. Then she began
with the wide white ribbon that was to trim a new frock for
herself, bound it three times around the high waist effect
she had managed, tied the ends in a knot and let them fall
to the floor in a beautiful sash.

"I want four white roses, each with two or three
leaves," she cried.

Anna ran to bring them, while the Bird Woman added pins.

"Elnora," she said, "forgive me, but tell me truly. Is your
mother so poor as to make this necessary?"

"No," answered Elnora. "Next year I am heir to my share
of over three hundred acres of land covered with almost
as valuable timber as was in the Limberlost. We adjoin it.
There could be thirty oil wells drilled that would yield
to us the thousands our neighbours are draining from under
us, and the bare land is worth over one hundred dollars an
acre for farming. She is not poor, she is--I don't know
what she is. A great trouble soured and warped her.
It made her peculiar. She does not in the least understand,
but it is because she doesn't care to, instead of ignorance.
She does not----"

Elnora stopped.

"She is--is different," finished the girl.

Anna came with the roses. The Bird Woman set one
on the front of the draped yoke, one on each shoulder and
the last among the bright masses of brown hair. Then she
turned the girl facing the tall mirror.

"Oh!" panted Elnora. "You are a genius! Why, I
will look as well as any of them."

"Thank goodness for that!" cried the Bird Woman.
"If it wouldn't do, I should have been ill. You are lovely;
altogether lovely! Ordinarily I shouldn't say that; but
when I think of how you are carpentered, I'm admiring
the result."

The organ began rolling out the march as they came in sight.
Elnora took her place at the head of the procession,
while every one wondered. Secretly they had hoped that
she would be dressed well enough, that she would not
appear poor and neglected. What this radiant young
creature, gowned in the most recent style, her smooth skin
flushed with excitement, and a rose-set coronet of red gold
on her head, had to do with the girl they knew was difficult
to decide. The signal was given and Elnora began the
slow march across the vestry and down the aisle. The music
welled softly, and Margaret began to sob without knowing why.

Mrs. Comstock gripped her hands together and shut
her eyes. It seemed an eternity to the suffering woman
before Margaret caught her arm and whispered, "Oh, Kate!
For any sake look at her! Here! The aisle across!"

Mrs. Comstock opened her eyes and directing them
where she was told, gazed intently, and slid down in
her seat close to collapse. She was saved by Margaret's
tense clasp and her command: "Here! Idiot! Stop that!"

In the blaze of light Elnora climbed the steps to the
palm-embowered platform, crossed it and took her place.
Sixty young men and women, each of them dressed the
best possible, followed her. There were manly, fine-
looking men in that class which Elnora led. There were
girls of beauty and grace, but not one of them was handsomer
or clothed in better taste than she.

Billy thought the time never would come when Elnora
would see him, but at last she met his eye, then Margaret
and Wesley had faint signs of recognition in turn,
but there was no softening of the girl's face and no hint
of a smile when she saw her mother.

Heartsick, Katharine Comstock tried to prove to herself
that she was justified in what she had done, but she
could not. She tried to blame Elnora for not saying that
she was to lead a procession and sit on a platform in the
sight of hundreds of people; but that was impossible, for
she realized that she would have scoffed and not understood
if she had been told. Her heart pained until she suffered
with every breath.

When at last the exercises were over she climbed into
the carriage and rode home without a word. She did
not hear what Margaret and Billy were saying. She scarcely
heard Wesley, who drove behind, when he told her that
Elnora would not be home until Wednesday. Early the next
morning Mrs. Comstock was on her way to Onabasha.
She was waiting when the Brownlee store opened.
She examined ready-made white dresses, but they had
only one of the right size, and it was marked forty dollars.
Mrs. Comstock did not hesitate over the price, but whether
the dress would be suitable. She would have to ask Elnora.
She inquired her way to the home of the Bird Woman and knocked.

"Is Elnora Comstock here?" she asked the maid.

"Yes, but she is still in bed. I was told to let her
sleep as long as she would."

"Maybe I could sit here and wait," said Mrs. Comstock.
"I want to see about getting her a dress for to-morrow.
I am her mother."

"Then you don't need wait or worry," said the girl cheerfully.
"There are two women up in the sewing-room at work on a
dress for her right now. It will be done in time, and it will
be a beauty."

Mrs. Comstock turned and trudged back to the Limberlost.
The bitterness in her soul became a physical actuality,
which water would not wash from her lips. She was
too late! She was not needed. Another woman was
mothering her girl. Another woman would prepare a
beautiful dress such as Elnora had worn the previous night.
The girl's love and gratitude would go to her. Mrs. Comstock
tried the old process of blaming some one else, but she felt
no better. She nursed her grief as closely as ever in
the long days of the girl's absence. She brooded
over Elnora's possession of the forbidden violin and her
ability to play it until the performance could not have
been told from her father's. She tried every refuge her
mind could conjure, to quiet her heart and remove the fear
that the girl never would come home again, but it persisted.
Mrs. Comstock could neither eat nor sleep. She wandered
around the cabin and garden. She kept far from the pool
where Robert Comstock had sunk from sight for she felt
that it would entomb her also if Elnora did not come home
Wednesday morning. The mother told herself that she would
wait, but the waiting was as bitter as anything she ever had known.

When Elnora awoke Monday another dress was in the hands
of a seamstress and was soon fitted. It had belonged
to the Angel, and was a soft white thing that with a
little alteration would serve admirably for Commencement
and the ball. All that day Elnora worked, helping prepare
the auditorium for the exercises, rehearsing the march
and the speech she was to make in behalf of the class.
The following day was even busier. But her mind was at
rest, for the dress was a soft delicate lace easy to
change, and the marks of alteration impossible to detect.

The Bird Woman had telephoned to Grand Rapids, explained
the situation and asked the Angel if she might use it.
The reply had been to give the girl the contents of the chest.
When the Bird Woman told Elnora, tears filled her eyes.

"I will write at once and thank her," she said. "With all
her beautiful gowns she does not need them, and I do.
They will serve for me often, and be much finer than anything
I could afford. It is lovely of her to give me the dress
and of you to have it altered for me, as I never could."

The Bird Woman laughed. "I feel religious to-day,"
she said. "You know the first and greatest rock of my
salvation is `Do unto others.' I'm only doing to you
what there was no one to do for me when I was a girl
very like you. Anna tells me your mother was here early
this morning and that she came to see about getting you
a dress."

"She is too late!" said Elnora coldly. "She had over
a month to prepare my dresses, and I was to pay for them,
so there is no excuse."

"Nevertheless, she is your mother," said the Bird
Woman, softly. "I think almost any kind of a mother
must be better than none at all, and you say she has had
great trouble."

"She loved my father and he died," said Elnora. "The same
thing, in quite as tragic a manner, has happened to
thousands of other women, and they have gone on with
calm faces and found happiness in life by loving others.
There was something else I am afraid I never shall forget;
this I know I shall not, but talking does not help. I must
deliver my presents and photographs to the crowd. I have
a picture and I made a present for you, too, if you would
care for them."

"I shall love anything you give me," said the Bird Woman.
"I know you well enough to know that whatever you do will
be beautiful."

Elnora was pleased over that, and as she tried on her
dress for the last fitting she was really happy. She was
lovely in the dainty gown: it would serve finely for the ball
and many other like occasions, and it was her very own.

The Bird Woman's driver took Elnora in the carriage and
she called on all the girls with whom she was especially
intimate, and left her picture and the package containing
her gift to them. By the time she returned parcels for
her were arriving. Friends seemed to spring from everywhere.
Almost every one she knew had some gift for her, while
because they so loved her the members of her crowd had
made her beautiful presents. There were books, vases,
silver pieces, handkerchiefs, fans, boxes of flowers
and candy. One big package settled the trouble at Sinton's,
for it contained a dainty dress from Margaret,
a five-dollar gold piece, conspicuously labelled,
"I earned this myself," from Billy, with which to buy
music; and a gorgeous cut-glass perfume bottle, it would
have cost five dollars to fill with even a moderate-
priced scent, from Wesley.

In an expressed crate was a fine curly-maple dressing
table, sent by Freckles. The drawers were filled with
wonderful toilet articles from the Angel. The Bird
Woman added an embroidered linen cover and a small
silver vase for a few flowers, so no girl of the class had
finer gifts. Elnora laid her head on the table sobbing
happily, and the Bird Woman was almost crying herself.
Professor Henley sent a butterfly book, the grade rooms in
which Elnora had taught gave her a set of volumes covering
every phase of life afield, in the woods, and water.
Elnora had no time to read so she carried one of these
books around with her hugging it as she went. After she
had gone to dress a queer-looking package was brought
by a small boy who hopped on one foot as he handed it
in and said: "Tell Elnora that is from her ma."

"Who are you?" asked the Bird Woman as she took
the bundle.

"I'm Billy!" announced the boy. "I gave her the five dollars.
I earned it myself dropping corn, sticking onions, and
pulling weeds. My, but you got to drop, and stick, and
pull a lot before it's five dollars' worth."

"Would you like to come in and see Elnora's gifts?"

"Yes, ma'am!" said Billy, trying to stand quietly.

"Gee-mentley!" he gasped. "Does Elnora get all this?"

"Yes."

"I bet you a thousand dollars I be first in my class
when I graduate. Say, have the others got a lot more
than Elnora?"

"I think not."

"Well, Uncle Wesley said to find out if I could, and if
she didn't have as much as the rest, he'd buy till she did,
if it took a hundred dollars. Say, you ought to know him!
He's just scrumptious! There ain't anybody any where finer
'an he is. My, he's grand!"

"I'm very sure of it!" said the Bird Woman. "I've often
heard Elnora say so."

"I bet you nobody can beat this!" he boasted. Then he
stopped, thinking deeply. "I don't know, though,"
he began reflectively. "Some of them are awful rich;
they got big families to give them things and wagon loads
of friends, and I haven't seen what they have. Now, maybe
Elnora is getting left, after all!"

"Don't worry, Billy," she said. "I will watch, and
if I find Elnora is `getting left' I'll buy her some more
things myself. But I'm sure she is not. She has more
beautiful gifts now than she will know what to do with, and
others will come. Tell your Uncle Wesley his girl is
bountifully remembered, very happy, and she sends her
dearest love to all of you. Now you must go, so I can
help her dress. You will be there to-night of course?"

"Yes, sir-ee! She got me a seat, third row from the
front, middle section, so I can see, and she's going to
wink at me, after she gets her speech off her mind.
She kissed me, too! She's a perfect lady, Elnora is.
I'm going to marry her when I am big enough."

"Why isn't that splendid!" laughed the Bird Woman
as she hurried upstairs.

"Dear!" she called. "Here is another gift for you."

Elnora was half disrobed as she took the package and,
sitting on a couch, opened it. The Bird Woman bent over
her and tested the fabric with her fingers.

"Why, bless my soul!" she cried. "Hand-woven, hand-
embroidered linen, fine as silk. It's priceless' I haven't
seen such things in years. My mother had garments like
those when I was a child, but my sisters had them cut up
for collars, belts, and fancy waists while I was small.
Look at the exquisite work!"

"Where could it have come from?" cried Elnora.

She shook out a petticoat, with a hand-wrought ruffle
a foot deep, then an old-fashioned chemise the neck and
sleeve work of which was elaborate and perfectly wrought.
On the breast was pinned a note that she hastily opened.

"I was married in these," it read, "and I had intended
to be buried in them, but perhaps it would be more sensible
for you to graduate and get married in them yourself, if
you like. Your mother."

"From my mother!" Wide-eyed, Elnora looked at
the Bird Woman. "I never in my life saw the like.
Mother does things I think I never can forgive, and when
I feel hardest, she turns around and does something that
makes me think she just must love me a little bit, after all.
Any of the girls would give almost anything to graduate
in hand-embroidered linen like that. Money can't buy
such things. And they came when I was thinking she
didn't care what became of me. Do you suppose she can
be insane?"

"Yes," said the Bird Woman. "Wildly insane, if she
does not love you and care what becomes of you."

Elnora arose and held the petticoat to her. "Will you
look at it?" she cried. "Only imagine her not getting my
dress ready, and then sending me such a petticoat as this!
Ellen would pay fifty dollars for it and never blink.
I suppose mother has had it all my life, and I never saw
it before."

"Go take your bath and put on those things," said the
Bird Woman. "Forget everything and be happy. She is
not insane. She is embittered. She did not understand
how things would be. When she saw, she came at once to
provide you a dress. This is her way of saying she is
sorry she did not get the other. You notice she has not
spent any money, so perhaps she is quite honest in saying
she has none."

"Oh, she is honest!" said Elnora. "She wouldn't care
enough to tell an untruth. She'd say just how things were,
no matter what happened."

Soon Elnora was ready for her dress. She never had
looked so well as when she again headed the processional
across the flower and palm decked stage of the high
school auditorium. As she sat there she could have
reached over and dropped a rose she carried into the
seat she had occupied that September morning when she
entered the high school. She spoke the few words she
had to say in behalf of the class beautifully, had the
tiny wink ready for Billy, and the smile and nod of
recognition for Wesley and Margaret. When at last she
looked into the eyes of a white-faced woman next them,
she slipped a hand to her side and raised her skirt the
fraction of an inch, just enough to let the embroidered
edge of a petticoat show a trifle. When she saw the look
of relief which flooded her mother's face, Elnora knew
that forgiveness was in her heart, and that she would
go home in the morning.

It was late afternoon before she arrived, and a dray
followed with a load of packages. Mrs. Comstock was
overwhelmed. She sat half dazed and made Elnora show
her each costly and beautiful or simple and useful gift,
tell her carefully what it was and from where it came.
She studied the faces of Elnora's particular friends.
The gifts from them had to be set in a group. Several times
she started to speak and then stopped. At last, between
her dry lips, came a harsh whisper.

"Elnora, what did you give back for these things?"

"I'll show you," said Elnora cheerfully. "I made the
same gifts for the Bird Woman, Aunt Margaret and you
if you care for it. But I have to run upstairs to get it."

When she returned she handed her mother an oblong frame,
hand carved, enclosing Elnora's picture, taken by a
schoolmate's camera. She wore her storm-coat and carried
a dripping umbrella. From under it looked her bright face;
her books and lunchbox were on her arm, and across the
bottom of the frame was carved, "Your Country Classmate."

Then she offered another frame.

"I am strong on frames," she said. "They seemed to
be the best I could do without money. I located the
maple and the black walnut myself, in a little corner that
had been overlooked between the river and the ditch.
They didn't seem to belong to any one so I just took them.
Uncle Wesley said it was all right, and he cut and hauled
them for me. I gave the mill half of each tree for sawing
and curing the remainder. Then I gave the wood-carver
half of that for making my frames. A photographer gave
me a lot of spoiled plates, and I boiled off the emulsion, and
took the specimens I framed from my stuff. The man
said the white frames were worth three and a half, and the
black ones five. I exchanged those little framed pictures
for the photographs of the others. For presents, I gave
each one of my crowd one like this, only a different moth.
The Bird Woman gave me the birch bark. She got it up
north last summer."

Elnora handed her mother a handsome black-walnut
frame a foot and a half wide by two long. It finished a
small, shallow glass-covered box of birch bark, to the
bottom of which clung a big night moth with delicate pale
green wings and long exquisite trailers.

"So you see I did not have to be ashamed of my gifts,"
said Elnora. "I made them myself and raised and
mounted the moths."

"Moth, you call it," said Mrs. Comstock. "I've seen a
few of the things before."

"They are numerous around us every June night, or at
least they used to be," said Elnora. "I've sold hundreds
of them, with butterflies, dragonflies, and other specimens.
Now, I must put away these and get to work, for it is
almost June and there are a few more I want dreadfully.
If I find them I will be paid some money for which I have
been working."

She was afraid to say college at that time. She thought it
would be better to wait a few days and see if an opportunity
would not come when it would work in more naturally.
Besides, unless she could secure the Yellow Emperor she
needed to complete her collection, she could not talk
college until she was of age, for she would have no money.

CHAPTER XII

WHEREIN MARGARET SINTON REVEALS A SECRET,
AND MRS. COMSTOCK POSSESSES THE LIMBERLOST

Elnora, bring me the towel, quick!" cried Mrs Comstock.

"In a minute, mother," mumbled Elnora.

She was standing before the kitchen mirror, tying the
back part of her hair, while the front turned over her face.

"Hurry! There's a varmint of some kind!"

Elnora ran into the sitting-room and thrust the heavy
kitchen towel into her mother's hand. Mrs. Comstock
swung open the screen door and struck at some object,
Elnora tossed the hair from her face so that she could see
past her mother. The girl screamed wildly.

"Don't! Mother, don't!"

Mrs. Comstock struck again. Elnora caught her arm.
"It's the one I want! It's worth a lot of money!
Don't! Oh, you shall not!"

"Shan't, missy?" blazed Mrs. Comstock. "When did
you get to bossing me?"

The hand that held the screen swept a half-circle and
stopped at Elnora's cheek. She staggered with the blow,
and across her face, paled with excitement, a red mark
arose rapidly. The screen slammed shut, throwing the
creature on the floor before them. Instantly Mrs.
Comstock crushed it with her foot. Elnora stepped back.
Excepting the red mark, her face was very white.

"That was the last moth I needed," she said, "to complete
a collection worth three hundred dollars. You've ruined
it before my eyes!"

"Moth!" cried Mrs. Comstock. "You say that because
you are mad. Moths have big wings. I know a moth!"

"I've kept things from you," said Elnora, "because I
didn't dare confide in you. You had no sympathy with me.
But you know I never told you untruths in all my life."

"It's no moth!" reiterated Mrs. Comstock.

"It is!" cried Elnora. "It's from a case in the ground.
Its wings take two or three hours to expand and harden."

"If I had known it was a moth----" Mrs. Comstock wavered.

"You did know! I told you! I begged you to stop!
It meant just three hundred dollars to me."

"Bah! Three hundred fiddlesticks!"

"They are what have paid for books, tuition, and clothes
for the past four years. They are what I could have
started on to college. You've ruined the very one I needed.
You never made any pretence of loving me. At last I'll
be equally frank with you. I hate you! You are a selfish,
wicked woman! I hate you!"

Elnora turned, went through the kitchen and from the
back door. She followed the garden path to the gate and
walked toward the swamp a short distance when reaction
overtook her. She dropped on the ground and leaned
against a big log. When a little child, desperate as now,
she had tried to die by holding her breath. She had
thought in that way to make her mother sorry, but she had
learned that life was a thing thrust upon her and she could
not leave it at her wish.

She was so stunned over the loss of that moth, which
she had childishly named the Yellow Emperor, that she
scarcely remembered the blow. She had thought no luck
in all the world would be so rare as to complete her
collection; now she had been forced to see a splendid
Imperialis destroyed before her. There was a possibility
that she could find another, but she was facing the
certainty that the one she might have had and with which she
undoubtedly could have attracted others, was spoiled by
her mother. How long she sat there Elnora did not know
or care. She simply suffered in dumb, abject misery, an
occasional dry sob shaking her. Aunt Margaret was right.
Elnora felt that morning that her mother never would be
any different. The girl had reached the place where she
realized that she could endure it no longer.

As Elnora left the room, Mrs. Comstock took one step
after her.

"You little huzzy!" she gasped.

But Elnora was gone. Her mother stood staring.

"She never did lie to me," she muttered. "I guess
it was a moth. And the only one she needed to get three
hundred dollars, she said. I wish I hadn't been so fast!
I never saw anything like it. I thought it was some
deadly, stinging, biting thing. A body does have to be
mighty careful here. But likely I've spilt the milk now.
Pshaw! She can find another! There's no use to be foolish.
Maybe moths are like snakes, where there's one, there are two."

Mrs. Comstock took the broom and swept the moth out
of the door. Then she got down on her knees and
carefully examined the steps, logs and the earth of the
flower beds at each side. She found the place where
the creature had emerged from the ground, and the hard,
dark-brown case which had enclosed it, still wet inside.
Then she knew Elnora had been right. It was a moth.
Its wings had been damp and not expanded. Mrs. Comstock
never before had seen one in that state, and she
did not know how they originated. She had thought all
of them came from cases spun on trees or against walls
or boards. She had seen only enough to know that there
were such things; as a flash of white told her that an ermine
was on her premises, or a sharp "buzzzzz" warned her
of a rattler.

So it was from creatures like that Elnora had secured
her school money. In one sickening sweep there rushed
into the heart of the woman a full realization of the
width of the gulf that separated her from her child.
Lately many things had pointed toward it, none more plainly
than when Elnora, like a reincarnation of her father, had
stood fearlessly before a large city audience and played
with even greater skill than he, on what Mrs. Comstock
felt very certain was his violin. But that little crawling
creature of earth, crushed by her before its splendid yellow
and lavender wings could spread and carry it into the
mystery of night, had performed a miracle.

"We are nearer strangers to each other than we are with
any of the neighbours," she muttered.

So one of the Almighty's most delicate and beautiful
creations was sacrificed without fulfilling the law, yet
none of its species ever served so glorious a cause, for
at last Mrs. Comstock's inner vision had cleared. She went
through the cabin mechanically. Every few minutes
she glanced toward the back walk to see if Elnora
were coming. She knew arrangements had been made with
Margaret to go to the city some time that day, so she
grew more nervous and uneasy every moment. She was
haunted by the fear that the blow might discolour
Elnora's cheek; that she would tell Margaret. She went
down the back walk, looking intently in all directions,
left the garden and followed the swamp path. Her step
was noiseless on the soft, black earth, and soon she
came close enough to see Elnora. Mrs. Comstock stood
looking at the girl in troubled uncertainty. Not knowing
what to say, at last she turned and went back to the cabin.

Noon came and she prepared dinner, calling, as she
always did, when Elnora was in the garden, but she got
no response, and the girl did not come. A little after
one o'clock Margaret stopped at the gate.

"Elnora has changed her mind. She is not going,"
called Mrs. Comstock.

She felt that she hated Margaret as she hitched her
horse and came up the walk instead of driving on.

"You must be mistaken," said Margaret. "I was
going on purpose for her. She asked me to take her.
I had no errand. Where is she?"

"I will call her," said Mrs. Comstock.

She followed the path again, and this time found Elnora
sitting on the log. Her face was swollen and discoloured,
and her eyes red with crying. She paid no attention
to her mother.

"Mag Sinton is here," said Mrs. Comstock harshly.
"I told her you had changed your mind, but she said
you asked her to go with you, and she had nothing to
go for herself."

Elnora arose, recklessly waded through the deep swamp
grasses and so reached the path ahead of her mother.
Mrs. Comstock followed as far as the garden, but she
could not enter the cabin. She busied herself among
the vegetables, barely looking up when the back-door
screen slammed noisily. Margaret Sinton approached
colourless, her eyes so angry that Mrs. Comstock shrank back.

"What's the matter with Elnora's face?" demanded Margaret.

Mrs. Comstock made no reply.

"You struck her, did you?"

"I thought you wasn't blind!"

"I have been, for twenty long years now, Kate Comstock,"
said Margaret Sinton, "but my eyes are open at last.
What I see is that I've done you no good and Elnora a
big wrong. I had an idea that it would kill you to know,
but I guess you are tough enough to stand anything.
Kill or cure, you get it now!"

"What are you frothing about?" coolly asked Mrs. Comstock.

"You!" cried Margaret. "You! The woman who doesn't
pretend to love her only child. Who lets her grow to
a woman, as you have let Elnora, and can't be satisfied
with every sort of neglect, but must add abuse yet;
and all for a fool idea about a man who wasn't worth
his salt!"

Mrs. Comstock picked up a hoe.

"Go right on!" she said. "Empty yourself. It's the
last thing you'll ever do!"

"Then I'll make a tidy job of it," said Margaret.
"You'll not touch me. You'll stand there and hear
the truth at last, and because I dare face you and tell
it, you will know in your soul it is truth. When Robert
Comstock shaved that quagmire out there so close he
went in, he wanted to keep you from knowing where he
was coming from. He'd been to see Elvira Carney.
They had plans to go to a dance that night----"

"Close your lips!" said Mrs. Comstock in a voice of
deadly quiet.

"You know I wouldn't dare open them if I wasn't
telling you the truth. I can prove what I say. I was
coming from Reeds. It was hot in the woods and I
stopped at Carney's as I passed for a drink.
Elvira's bedridden old mother heard me, and she was so
crazy for some one to talk with, I stepped in a minute.
I saw Robert come down the path. Elvira saw him, too, so
she ran out of the house to head him off. It looked funny,
and I just deliberately moved where I could see and hear.
He brought her his violin, and told her to get ready and
meet him in the woods with it that night, and they would
go to a dance. She took it and hid it in the loft to the
well-house and promised she'd go."

"Are you done?" demanded Mrs. Comstock.

"No. I am going to tell you the whole story. You don't
spare Elnora anything. I shan't spare you. I hadn't
been here that day, but I can tell you just how he was
dressed, which way he went and every word they said,
though they thought I was busy with her mother
and wouldn't notice them. Put down your hoe, Kate.
I went to Elvira, told her what I knew and made her give
me Comstock's violin for Elnora over three years ago.
She's been playing it ever since. I won't see her
slighted and abused another day on account of a man
who would have broken your heart if he had lived.
Six months more would have showed you what everybody
else knew. He was one of those men who couldn't trust
himself, and so no woman was safe with him. Now, will
you drop grieving over him, and do Elnora justice?"

Mrs. Comstock grasped the hoe tighter and turning she
went down the walk, and started across the woods to the
home of Elvira Carney. With averted head she passed
the pool, steadily pursuing her way. Elvira Carney,
hanging towels across the back fence, saw her coming
and went toward the gate to meet her. Twenty years
she had dreaded that visit. Since Margaret Sinton
had compelled her to produce the violin she had hidden
so long, because she was afraid to destroy it, she had
come closer expectation than dread. The wages of sin
are the hardest debts on earth to pay, and they are always
collected at inconvenient times and unexpected places.
Mrs. Comstock's face and hair were so white, that her
dark eyes seemed burned into their setting. Silently she
stared at the woman before her a long time.

"I might have saved myself the trouble of coming,"
she said at last, "I see you are guilty as sin!"

"What has Mag Sinton been telling you?" panted the
miserable woman, gripping the fence.

"The truth!" answered Mrs. Comstock succinctly.
"Guilt is in every line of your face, in your eyes, all over
your wretched body. If I'd taken a good look at you
any time in all these past years, no doubt I could have
seen it just as plain as I can now. No woman or man
can do what you've done, and not get a mark set on them
for every one to read."

"Mercy!" gasped weak little Elvira Carney. "Have mercy!"

"Mercy?" scoffed Mrs. Comstock. "Mercy! That's a
nice word from you! How much mercy did you have
on me? Where's the mercy that sent Comstock to the
slime of the bottomless quagmire, and left me to see it,
and then struggle on in agony all these years?
How about the mercy of letting me neglect my baby all
the days of her life? Mercy! Do you really dare use
the word to me?"

"If you knew what I've suffered!"

"Suffered?" jeered Mrs. Comstock. "That's interesting.
And pray, what have you suffered?"

"All the neighbours have suspected and been down
on me. I ain't had a friend. I've always felt guilty
of his death! I've seen him go down a thousand times,
plain as ever you did. Many's the night I've stood on the
other bank of that pool and listened to you, and I tried
to throw myself in to keep from hearing you, but I
didn't dare. I knew God would send me to burn forever,
but I'd better done it; for now, He has set the burning
on my body, and every hour it is slowly eating the life
out of me. The doctor says it's a cancer----"

Mrs. Comstock exhaled a long breath. Her grip on the
hoe relaxed and her stature lifted to towering height.

"I didn't know, or care, when I came here, just what I
did," she said. "But my way is beginning to clear. If the
guilt of your soul has come to a head, in a cancer on
your body, it looks as if the Almighty didn't need any of
my help in meting out His punishments. I really couldn't
fix up anything to come anywhere near that. If you are
going to burn until your life goes out with that sort of fire,
you don't owe me anything!"

"Oh, Katharine Comstock!" groaned Elvira Carney,
clinging to the fence for support.

"Looks as if the Bible is right when it says, `The wages
of sin is death,' doesn't it?" asked Mrs. Comstock.
"Instead of doing a woman's work in life, you chose the
smile of invitation, and the dress of unearned cloth.
Now you tell me you are marked to burn to death with the
unquenchable fire. And him! It was shorter with him, but
let me tell you he got his share! He left me with an
untruth on his lips, for he told me he was going to take
his violin to Onabasha for a new key, when he carried it
to you. Every vow of love and constancy he ever made me
was a lie, after he touched your lips, so when he tried
the wrong side of the quagmire, to hide from me the
direction in which he was coming, it reached out for him,
and it got him. It didn't hurry, either! It sucked him
down, slow and deliberate."

"Mercy!" groaned Elvira Carney. "Mercy!"

"I don't know the word," said Mrs. Comstock. "You took
all that out of me long ago. The past twenty years
haven't been of the sort that taught mercy. I've never
had any on myself and none on my child. Why in the
name of justice, should I have mercy on you, or on him?
You were both older than I, both strong, sane people, you
deliberately chose your course when you lured him, and he,
when he was unfaithful to me. When a Loose Man and a
Light Woman face the end the Almighty ordained for
them, why should they shout at me for mercy? What did
I have to do with it?"

Elvira Carney sobbed in panting gasps.

"You've got tears, have you?" marvelled Mrs. Comstock.
"Mine all dried long ago. I've none left to shed
over my wasted life, my disfigured face and hair, my years
of struggle with a man's work, my wreck of land among the
tilled fields of my neighbours, or the final knowledge that
the man I so gladly would have died to save, wasn't worth
the sacrifice of a rattlesnake. If anything yet could wring
a tear from me, it would be the thought of the awful
injustice I always have done my girl. If I'd lay hand on
you for anything, it would be for that."

"Kill me if you want to," sobbed Elvira Carney. "I know
that I deserve it, and I don't care."

"You are getting your killing fast enough to suit me,"
said Mrs. Comstock. "I wouldn't touch you, any more
than I would him, if I could. Once is all any man or
woman deceives me about the holiest things of life.
I wouldn't touch you any more than I would the
black plague. I am going back to my girl."

Mrs. Comstock turned and started swiftly through the woods,
but she had gone only a few rods when she stopped, and
leaning on the hoe, she stood thinking deeply. Then she
turned back. Elvira still clung to the fence, sobbing bitterly.

"I don't know," said Mrs. Comstock, "but I left a
wrong impression with you. I don't want you to think
that I believe the Almighty set a cancer to burning you as
a punishment for your sins. I don't! I think a lot
more of the Almighty. With a whole sky-full of worlds on
His hands to manage, I'm not believing that He has time
to look down on ours, and pick you out of all the millions
of us sinners, and set a special kind of torture to eating you.
It wouldn't be a gentlemanly thing to do, and first
of all, the Almighty is bound to be a gentleman. I think
likely a bruise and bad blood is what caused your trouble.
Anyway, I've got to tell you that the cleanest housekeeper
I ever knew, and one of the noblest Christian women, was
slowly eaten up by a cancer. She got hers from the careless
work of a poor doctor. The Almighty is to forgive sin
and heal disease, not to invent and spread it."

She had gone only a few steps when she again turned back.

"If you will gather a lot of red clover bloom, make a tea
strong as lye of it, and drink quarts, I think likely it will
help you, if you are not too far gone. Anyway, it will cool
your blood and make the burning easier to bear."

Then she swiftly went home. Enter the lonely cabin
she could not, neither could she sit outside and think.
She attacked a bed of beets and hoed until the perspiration
ran from her face and body, then she began on the potatoes.
When she was too tired to take another stroke she
bathed and put on dry clothing. In securing her dress she
noticed her husband's carefully preserved clothing lining
one wall. She gathered it in an armload and carried it to
the swamp. Piece by piece she pitched into the green
maw of the quagmire all those articles she had dusted
carefully and fought moths from for years, and stood
watching as it slowly sucked them down. She went back
to her room and gathered every scrap that had in any way
belonged to Robert Comstock, excepting his gun and revolver,
and threw it into the swamp. Then for the first time she
set her door wide open.

She was too weary now to do more, but an urging unrest
drove her. She wanted Elnora. It seemed to her she
never could wait until the girl came and delivered
her judgment. At last in an effort to get nearer to
her, Mrs. Comstock climbed the stairs and stood looking
around Elnora's room. It was very unfamiliar. The pictures
were strange to her. Commencement had filled it with
packages and bundles. The walls were covered with
cocoons; moths and dragonflies were pinned everywhere.
Under the bed she could see half a dozen large white boxes.
She pulled out one and lifted the lid. The bottom was
covered with a sheet of thin cork, and on long pins sticking
in it were large, velvet-winged moths. Each one was
labelled, always there were two of a kind, in many cases
four, showing under and upper wings of both male and female.
They were of every colour and shape.

Mrs. Comstock caught her breath sharply. When and
where had Elnora found them? They were the most
exquisite sight the woman ever had seen, so she opened all
the boxes to feast on their beautiful contents. As she did
so there came more fully a sense of the distance between
her and her child. She could not understand how Elnora
had gone to school, and performed so much work secretly.
When it was finished, to the last moth, she, the mother
who should have been the first confidant and helper, had
been the one to bring disappointment. Small wonder Elnora
had come to hate her.

Mrs. Comstock carefully closed and replaced the boxes;
and again stood looking around the room. This time her
eyes rested on some books she did not remember having
seen before, so she picked up one and found that it was a
moth book. She glanced over the first pages and was soon
eagerly reading. When the text reached the classification
of species, she laid it down, took up another and read the
introductory chapters. By that time her brain was in a
confused jumble of ideas about capturing moths with
differing baits and bright lights.

She went down stairs thinking deeply. Being unable to
sit still and having nothing else to do she glanced at the
clock and began preparing supper. The work dragged.
A chicken was snatched up and dressed hurriedly. A spice
cake sprang into being. Strawberries that had been
intended for preserves went into shortcake. Delicious odours
crept from the cabin. She put many extra touches
on the table and then commenced watching the road.
Everything was ready, but Elnora did not come. Then began
the anxious process of trying to keep cooked food warm
and not spoil it. The birds went to bed and dusk came.
Mrs. Comstock gave up the fire and set the supper
on the table. Then she went out and sat on the front-door
step watching night creep around her. She started eagerly
as the gate creaked, but it was only Wesley Sinton coming.

"Katharine, Margaret and Elnora passed where I was
working this afternoon, and Margaret got out of the
carriage and called me to the fence. She told me what she
had done. I've come to say to you that I am sorry. She has
heard me threaten to do it a good many times, but I
never would have got it done. I'd give a good deal if I
could undo it, but I can't, so I've come to tell you how
sorry I am."

"You've got something to be sorry for," said Mrs. Comstock,
"but likely we ain't thinking of the same thing. It hurts
me less to know the truth, than to live in ignorance.
If Mag had the sense of a pewee, she'd told me long ago.
That's what hurts me, to think that both of you knew
Robert was not worth an hour of honest grief, yet you'd let
me mourn him all these years and neglect Elnora while I

Book of the day: