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A Girl Of The Limberlost, by Gene Stratton Porter

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Miss Carr had ignored what he said, and talked of
something else. But that girl's name had been Elnora.
It was she who was collecting moths! No doubt she was
the competent judge who was responsible for the yellow
costume Philip had devised. Had Edith Carr been in
her room, she would have torn off the dress at the thought.

Being in a circle of her best friends, which to her meant
her keenest rivals and harshest critics, she grew rigid
with anger. Her breath hurt her paining chest. No one
thought to speak to the musicians, and seeing the floor
filled, they began the waltz. Only part of the guests
could see what had happened, and at once the others
formed and commenced to dance. Gay couples came
whirling past her.

Edith Carr grew very white as she stood alone. Her lips
turned pale, while her dark eyes flamed with anger.
She stood perfectly still where Philip had left her, and
the approaching men guided their partners around her,
while the girls, looking back, could be seen making
exclamations of surprise.

The idolized only daughter of the Carr family hoped that
she would drop dead from mortification, but nothing happened.
She was too perverse to step aside and say that she was
waiting for Philip. Then came Tom Levering dancing with
Polly Ammon. Being in the scales with the Ammon family,
Tom scented trouble from afar, so he whispered to Polly:
"Edith is standing in the middle of the floor, and she's
awful mad about something."

"That won't hurt her," laughed Polly. "It's an old
pose of hers. She knows she looks superb when she is
angry, so she keeps herself furious half the time on purpose."

"She looks like the mischief!" answered Tom. "Hadn't we
better steer over and wait with her? She's the ugliest
sight I ever saw!"

"Why, Tom!" cried Polly. "Stop, quickly!"

They hurried to Edith.

"Come dear," said Polly. "We are going to wait
with you until Phil returns. Let's go after a drink.
I am so thirsty!"

"Yes, do!" begged Tom, offering his arm. "Let's get
out of here until Phil comes."

There was the opportunity to laugh and walk away, but
Edith Carr would not accept it.

"My betrothed left me here," she said. "Here I shall
remain until he returns for me, and then--he will be my
betrothed no longer!"

Polly grasped Edith's arm.

"Oh, Edith!" she implored. "Don't make a scene here,
and to-night. Edith, this has been the loveliest
dance ever given at the club house. Every one is saying so.
Edith! Darling, do come! Phil will be back in a second.
He can explain! It's only a breath since I saw him go out.
I thought he had returned."

As Polly panted these disjointed ejaculations, Tom
Levering began to grow angry on her account.

"He has been gone just long enough to show every
one of his guests that he will leave me standing alone,
like a neglected fool, for any passing whim of his.
Explain! His explanation would sound well! Do you know
for whom he caught that moth? It is being sent to a girl
he flirted with all last summer. It has just occurred to me
that the dress I am wearing is her suggestion. Let him
try to explain!"

Speech unloosed the fountain. She stripped off her
gloves to free her hands. At that instant the dancers
parted to admit Philip. Instinctively they stopped as
they approached and with wondering faces walled in
Edith and Philip, Polly and Tom.

"Mighty good of you to wait!" cried Philip, his face
showing his delight over his success in capturing the
Yellow Emperor. "I thought when I heard the music
you were going on."

"How did you think I was going on?" demanded Edith
Carr in frigid tones.

"I thought you would step aside and wait a few seconds
for me, or dance with Henderson. It was most important
to have that moth. It completes a valuable collection for
a person who needs the money. Come!"

He held out his arms.

"I `step aside' for no one!" stormed Edith Carr.
"I await no other girl's pleasure! You may `complete
the collection' with that!"

She drew her engagement ring from her finger and
reached to place it on one of Philip's outstretched hands.
He saw and drew back. Instantly Edith dropped the ring.
As it fell, almost instinctively Philip caught it in air.
With amazed face he looked closely at Edith Carr.
Her distorted features were scarcely recognizable.
He held the ring toward her.

"Edith, for the love of mercy, wait until I can explain,"
he begged. "Put on your ring and let me tell you how it is."

"I know perfectly `how it is,'" she answered. "I never
shall wear that ring again."

"You won't even hear what I have to say? You won't
take back your ring?" he cried.

"Never! Your conduct is infamous!"

"Come to think of it," said Philip deliberately, "it is
`infamous' to cut a girl, who has danced all her life, out of
a few measures of a waltz. As for asking forgiveness for so
black a sin as picking up a moth, and starting it to a friend
who lives by collecting them, I don't see how I could!
I have not been gone three minutes by the clock, Edith.
Put on your ring and finish the dance like a dear girl."

He thrust the glittering ruby into her fingers and again
held out his arms. She dropped the ring, and it rolled some
distance from them. Hart Henderson followed its shining
course, and caught it before it was lost.

"You really mean it?" demanded Philip in a voice as
cold as hers ever had been.

"You know I mean it!" cried Edith Carr.

"I accept your decision in the presence of these
witnesses," said Philip Ammon. "Where is my father?"
The elder Ammon with a distressed face hurried to him.
"Father, take my place," said Philip. "Excuse me to
my guests. Ask all my friends to forgive me. I am
going away for awhile."

He turned and walked from the pavilion. As he went
Hart Henderson rushed to Edith Carr and forced the ring
into her fingers. "Edith, quick. Come, quick!" he implored.
"There's just time to catch him. If you let him go that way,
he never will return in this world. Remember what I told you."

"Great prophet! aren't you, Hart?" she sneered.
"Who wants him to return? If that ring is thrust upon
me again I shall fling it into the lake. Signal the
musicians to begin, and dance with me."

Henderson put the ring into his pocket, and began the dance.
He could feel the muscular spasms of the girl in his arms,
her face was cold and hard, but her breath burned with
the scorch of fever. She finished the dance and all
others, taking Phil's numbers with Henderson, who had
arrived too late to arrange a programme. She left with
the others, merely inclining her head as she passed
Ammon's father taking his place, and entered the big touring
car for which Henderson had telephoned. She sank limply
into a seat and moaned softly.

"Shall I drive awhile in the night air?" asked Henderson.

She nodded. He instructed the chauffeur.

She raised her head in a few seconds. "Hart, I'm going
to pieces," she said. "Won't you put your arm around me
a little while?"

Henderson gathered her into his arms and her head fell
on his shoulder. "Closer!" she cried.

Henderson held her until his arms were numb, but he
did not know it. The tricks of fate are cruel enough, but
there scarcely could have been a worse one than that:
To care for a woman as he loved Edith Carr and have her
given into his arms because she was so numb with misery
over her trouble with another man that she did not know or
care what she did. Dawn was streaking the east when he
spoke to her.

"Edith, it is growing light."

"Take me home," she said.

Henderson helped her up the steps and rang the bell.

"Miss Carr is ill," he said to the footman. "Arouse her
maid instantly, and have her prepare something hot as
quickly as possible."

"Edith," he cried, "just a word. I have been thinking.
It isn't too late yet. Take your ring and put it on.
I will go find Phil at once and tell him you have, that
you are expecting him, and he will come."

"Think what he said!" she cried. "He accepted my decision
as final, `in the presence of witnesses,' as if it were court.
He can return it to me, if I ever wear it again."

"You think that now, but in a few days you will find
that you feel very differently. Living a life of heartache
is no joke, and no job for a woman. Put on your ring and
send me to tell him to come."

"No."

"Edith, there was not a soul who saw that, but sympathized
with Phil. It was ridiculous for you to get so angry over
a thing which was never intended for the slightest offence,
and by no logical reasoning could have been so considered."

"Do you think that?" she demanded.

"I do!" said Henderson. "If you had laughed and stepped
aside an instant, or laughed and stayed where you were,
Phil would have been back; or, if he needed punishment
in your eyes, to have found me having one of his dances
would have been enough. I was waiting. You could have
called me with one look. But to publicly do and say
what you did, my lady--I know Phil, and I know you
went too far. Put on that ring, and send him word
you are sorry, before it is too late."

"I will not! He shall come to me."

"Then God help you!" said Henderson, "for you are
plunging into misery whose depth you do not dream.
Edith, I beg of you----"

She swayed where she stood. Her maid opened the door
and caught her. Henderson went down the hall and out
to his car.

CHAPTER XX

WHEREIN THE ELDER AMMON OFFERS ADVICE,
AND EDITH CARR EXPERIENCES REGRETS

Philip Ammon walked from among his friends a
humiliated and a wounded man. Never before had
Edith Carr appeared quite so beautiful. All evening
she had treated him with unusual consideration.
Never had he loved her so deeply. Then in a few seconds
everything was different. Seeing the change in her face,
and hearing her meaningless accusations, killed something
in his heart. Warmth went out and a cold weight took
its place. But even after that, he had offered the ring
to her again, and asked her before others to reconsider.
The answer had been further insult.

He walked, paying no heed to where he went. He had
traversed many miles when he became aware that his feet
had chosen familiar streets. He was passing his home.
Dawn was near, but the first floor was lighted.
He staggered up the steps and was instantly admitted.
The library door stood open, while his father sat with
a book pretending to read. At Philip's entrance the
father scarcely glanced up.

"Come on!" he called. "I have just told Banks to bring
me a cup of coffee before I turn in. Have one with me!"

Philip sat beside the table and leaned his head on his
hands, but he drank a cup of steaming coffee and felt better.

"Father," he said, "father, may I talk with you a little while?"

"Of course," answered Mr. Ammon. "I am not at
all tired. I think I must have been waiting in the
hope that you would come. I want no one's version
of this but yours. Tell me the straight of the
thing, Phil."

Philip told all he knew, while his father sat in deep thought.

"On my life I can't see any occasion for such a display of
temper, Phil. It passed all bounds of reason and breeding.
Can't you think of anything more?"

"I cannot!"

"Polly says every one expected you to carry the moth
you caught to Edith. Why didn't you?"

"She screams if a thing of that kind comes near her.
She never has taken the slightest interest in them. I was
in a big hurry. I didn't want to miss one minute of my
dance with her. The moth was not so uncommon, but by
a combination of bad luck it had become the rarest in
America for a friend of mine, who is making a collection to
pay college expenses. For an instant last June the series
was completed; when a woman's uncontrolled temper ruined
this specimen and the search for it began over. A few
days later a pair was secured, and again the money was
in sight for several hours. Then an accident wrecked
one-fourth of the collection. I helped replace those
last June, all but this Yellow Emperor which we could
not secure, and we haven't been able to find, buy or
trade for one since. So my friend was compelled to teach
this past winter instead of going to college. When that
moth came flying in there to-night, it seemed to me like fate.
All I thought of was, that to secure it would complete the
collection and secure the money. So I caught the Emperor and
started it to Elnora. I declare to you that I was not out of
the pavilion over three minutes at a liberal estimate. If I
only had thought to speak to the orchestra! I was sure I
would be back before enough couples gathered and formed
for the dance."

The eyes of the father were very bright.

"The friend for whom you wanted the moth is a girl?"
he asked indifferently, as he ran the book leaves through
his fingers.

"The girl of whom I wrote you last summer, and told
you about in the fall. I helped her all the time I was away."

"Did Edith know of her?"

"I tried many times to tell her, to interest her, but she
was so indifferent that it was insulting. She would not
hear me."

"We are neither one in any condition to sleep. Why don't
you begin at the first and tell me about this girl?
To think of other matters for a time may clear our vision
for a sane solution of this. Who is she, just what is she
doing, and what is she like? You know I was reared among
those Limberlost people, I can understand readily.
What is her name and where does she live?"

Philip gave a man's version of the previous summer,
while his father played with the book industriously.

"You are very sure as to her refinement and education?"

"In almost two months' daily association, could a man
be mistaken? She can far and away surpass Polly, Edith,
or any girl of our set on any common, high school, or
supplementary branch, and you know high schools have
French, German, and physics now. Besides, she is a
graduate of two other institutions. All her life she has
been in the school of Hard Knocks. She has the biggest,
tenderest, most human heart I ever knew in a girl. She has
known life in its most cruel phases, and instead of
hardening her, it has set her trying to save other
people suffering. Then this nature position of which
I told you; she graduated in the School of the Woods,
before she secured that. The Bird Woman, whose work you
know, helped her there. Elnora knows more interesting
things in a minute than any other girl I ever met knew in
an hour, provided you are a person who cares to understand
plant and animal life."

The book leaves slid rapidly through his fingers as
the father drawled: "What sort of looking girl is she?"

"Tall as Edith, a little heavier, pink, even complexion,
wide open blue-gray eyes with heavy black brows, and
lashes so long they touch her cheeks. She has a rope
of waving, shining hair that makes a real crown on her
head, and it appears almost red in the light. She is as
handsome as any fair woman I ever saw, but she doesn't
know it. Every time any one pays her a compliment,
her mother, who is a caution, discovers that, for some
reason, the girl is a fright, so she has no appreciation of
her looks."

"And you were in daily association two months with
a girl like that! How about it, Phil?"

"If you mean, did I trifle with her, no!" cried Philip hotly.
"I told her the second time I met her all about Edith.
Almost every day I wrote to Edith in her presence.
Elnora gathered violets and made a fancy basket to put
them in for Edith's birthday. I started to err in
too open admiration for Elnora, but her mother brought
me up with a whirl I never forgot. Fifty times a day
in the swamps and forests Elnora made a perfect picture,
but I neither looked nor said anything. I never met
any girl so downright noble in bearing and actions.
I never hated anything as I hated leaving her, for we were
dear friends, like two wholly congenial men. Her mother
was almost always with us. She knew how much I admired
Elnora, but so long as I concealed it from the girl,
the mother did not care."

"Yet you left such a girl and came back whole-hearted
to Edith Carr!"

"Surely! You know how it has been with me about
Edith all my life."

"Yet the girl you picture is far her superior to an
unprejudiced person, when thinking what a man would
require in a wife to be happy."

"I never have thought what I would `require' to be happy!
I only thought whether I could make Edith happy. I have
been an idiot! What I've borne you'll never know!
To-night is only one of many outbursts like that,
in varying and lesser degrees."

"Phil, I love you, when you say you have thought
only of Edith! I happen to know that it is true.
You are my only son, and I have had a right to watch
you closely. I believe you utterly. Any one who cares
for you as I do, and has had my years of experience in
this world over yours, knows that in some ways, to-night
would be a blessed release, if you could take it; but
you cannot! Go to bed now, and rest. To-morrow, go back
to her and fix it up."

"You heard what I said when I left her! I said it because
something in my heart died a minute before that, and
I realized that it was my love for Edith Carr. Never again
will I voluntarily face such a scene. If she can act
like that at a ball, before hundreds, over a thing of which
I thought nothing at all, she would go into actual physical
fits and spasms, over some of the household crises I've
seen the mater meet with a smile. Sir, it is truth that
I have thought only of her up to the present. Now, I
will admit I am thinking about myself. Father, did you
see her? Life is too short, and it can be too sweet, to
throw it away in a battle with an unrestrained woman.
I am no fighter--where a girl is concerned, anyway.
I respect and love her or I do nothing. Never again is
either respect or love possible between me and Edith Carr.
Whenever I think of her in the future, I will see her as
she was to-night. But I can't face the crowd just yet.
Could you spare me a few days?"

"It is only ten days until you were to go north for the
summer, go now."

"I don't want to go north. I don't want to meet people
I know. There, the story would precede me. I do not
need pitying glances or rough condolences. I wonder if
I could not hide at Uncle Ed's in Wisconsin for awhile?"

The book closed suddenly. The father leaned across
the table and looked into the son's eyes.

"Phil, are you sure of what you just have said?"

"Perfectly sure!"

"Do you think you are in any condition to decide to-night?"

"Death cannot return to life, father. My love for
Edith Carr is dead. I hope never to see her again."

"If I thought you could be certain so soon! But, come
to think of it, you are very like me in many ways. I am
with you in this. Public scenes and disgraces I would
not endure. It would be over with me, were I in your
position, that I know."

"It is done for all time," said Philip Ammon. "Let us
not speak of it further."

"Then, Phil," the father leaned closer and looked at the
son tenderly, "Phil, why don't you go to the Limberlost?"

"Father!"

"Why not? No one can comfort a hurt heart like a
tender woman; and, Phil, have you ever stopped to think
that you may have a duty in the Limberlost, if you
are free? I don't know! I only suggest it. But, for a
country schoolgirl, unaccustomed to men, two months
with a man like you might well awaken feelings of which
you do not think. Because you were safe-guarded is no
sign the girl was. She might care to see you. You can
soon tell. With you, she comes next to Edith, and you
have made it clear to me that you appreciate her in many
ways above. So I repeat it, why not go to the Limberlost?"

A long time Philip Ammon sat in deep thought. At last
he raised his head.

"Well, why not!" he said. "Years could make me
no surer than I am now, and life is short. Please ask
Banks to get me some coffee and toast, and I will bathe
and dress so I can take the early train."

"Go to your bath. I will attend to your packing
and everything. And Phil, if I were you, I would
leave no addresses."

"Not an address!" said Philip. "Not even Polly."

When the train pulled out, the elder Ammon went home
to find Hart Henderson waiting.

"Where is Phil?" he demanded.

"He did not feel like facing his friends at present, and
I am just back from driving him to the station. He said
he might go to Siam, or Patagonia. He would leave no address."

Henderson almost staggered. "He's not gone? And left
no address? You don't mean it! He'll never forgive her!"

"Never is a long time, Hart," said Mr. Ammon. "And it
seems even longer to those of us who are well acquainted
with Phil. Last night was not the last straw. It was
the whole straw-stack. It crushed Phil so far as she
is concerned. He will not see her again voluntarily, and
he will not forget if he does. You can take it from him,
and from me, we have accepted the lady's decision. Will you
have a cup of coffee?"

Twice Henderson opened his lips to speak of Edith
Carr's despair. Twice he looked into the stern, inflexible
face of Mr. Ammon and could not betray her. He held
out the ring.

"I have no instructions as to that," said the elder
Ammon, drawing back. "Possibly Miss Carr would have
it as a keepsake."

"I am sure not," said Henderson curtly.

"Then suppose you return it to Peacock. I will phone him.
He will give you the price of it, and you might add
it to the children's Fresh Air Fund. We would be obliged
if you would do that. No one here cares to handle the object."

"As you choose," said Henderson. "Good morning!"

Then he went to his home, but he could not think of sleep.
He ordered breakfast, but he could not eat. He paced the
library for a time, but it was too small. Going on the
streets he walked until exhausted, then he called
a hansom and was driven to his club. He had thought
himself familiar with every depth of suffering; that night
had taught him that what he felt for himself was not to be
compared with the anguish which wrung his heart over
the agony of Edith Carr. He tried to blame Philip Ammon,
but being an honest man, Henderson knew that was unjust.
The fault lay wholly with her, but that only made it
harder for him, as he realized it would in time for her.

As he sauntered into the room an attendant hurried to him.

"You are wanted most urgently at the 'phone, Mr.
Henderson," he said. "You have had three calls from
Main 5770."

Henderson shivered as he picked down the receiver and
gave the call.

"Is that you, Hart?" came Edith's voice.

"Yes."

"Did you find Phil?"

"No."

"Did you try?"

"Yes. As soon as I left you I went straight there."

"Wasn't he home yet?"

"He has been home and gone again."

"Gone!"

The cry tore Henderson's heart.

"Shall I come and tell you, Edith?"

"No! Tell me now."

"When I reached the house Banks said Mr. Ammon
and Phil were out in the motor, so I waited. Mr. Ammon
came back soon. Edith, are you alone?"

"Yes. Go on!"

"Call your maid. I can't tell you until some one is
with you."

"Tell me instantly!"

"Edith, he said he had been to the station. He said
Phil had started to Siam or Patagonia, he didn't know
which, and left no address. He said----"

Distinctly Henderson heard her fall. He set the buzzer
ringing, and in a few seconds heard voices, so he knew she
had been found. Then he crept into a private den and
shook with a hard, nervous chill.

The next day Edith Carr started on her trip to Europe.
Henderson felt certain she hoped to meet Philip there.
He was sure she would be disappointed, though he had no
idea where Ammon could have gone. But after much
thought he decided he would see Edith soonest by
remaining at home, so he spent the summer in Chicago.

CHAPTER XXI

WHEREIN PHILIP AMMON RETURNS TO THE LIMBERLOST,
AND ELNORA STUDIES THE SITUATION

We must be thinking about supper, mother," said Elnora,
while she set the wings of a Cecropia with much care.
"It seems as if I can't get enough to eat, or enough
of being at home. I enjoyed that city house. I don't
believe I could have done my work if I had been
compelled to walk back and forth. I thought at first
I never wanted to come here again. Now, I feel as if
I could not live anywhere else."

"Elnora," said Mrs. Comstock, "there's some one
coming down the road."

"Coming here, do you think?"

"Yes, coming here, I suspect."

Elnora glanced quickly at her mother and then turned
to the road as Philip Ammon reached the gate.

"Careful, mother!" the girl instantly warned. "If you
change your treatment of him a hair's breadth, he
will suspect. Come with me to meet him."

She dropped her work and sprang up.

"Well, of all the delightful surprises!" she cried.

She was a trifle thinner than during the previous summer.
On her face there was a more mature, patient look, but
the sun struck her bare head with the same ray of red gold.
She wore one of the old blue gingham dresses, open
at the throat and rolled to the elbows. Mrs. Comstock
did not appear at all the same woman, but Philip saw only
Elnora; heard only her greeting. He caught both hands
where she offered but one.

"Elnora," he cried, "if you were engaged to me, and we
were at a ball, among hundreds, where I offended you very
much, and didn't even know I had done anything, and if I
asked you before all of them to allow me to explain,
to forgive me, to wait, would your face grow distorted
and unfamiliar with anger? Would you drop my ring on the
floor and insult me repeatedly? Oh Elnora, would you?"

Elnora's big eyes seemed to leap, while her face grew
very white. She drew away her hands.

"Hush, Phil! Hush!" she protested. "That fever has
you again! You are dreadfully ill. You don't know
what you are saying."

"I am sleepless and exhausted; I'm heartsick; but I am
well as I ever was. Answer me, Elnora, would you?"

"Answer nothing!" cried Mrs. Comstock. "Answer nothing!
Hang your coat there on your nail, Phil, and come split
some kindling. Elnora, clean away that stuff, and set
the table. Can't you see the boy is starved and tired?
He's come home to rest and eat a decent meal. Come on, Phil!"

Mrs. Comstock marched away, and Philip hung his coat
in its old place and followed. Out of sight and hearing
she turned on him.

"Do you call yourself a man or a hound?" she flared.

"I beg your pardon----" stammered Philip Ammon.

"I should think you would!" she ejaculated. "I'll admit
you did the square thing and was a man last summer,
though I'd liked it better if you'd faced up and told
me you were promised; but to come back here babying,
and take hold of Elnora like that, and talk that way
because you have had a fuss with your girl, I don't tolerate.
Split that kindling and I'll get your supper, and then you
better go. I won't have you working on Elnora's big
heart, because you have quarrelled with some one else.
You'll have it patched up in a week and be gone again, so
you can go right away."

"Mrs. Comstock, I came to ask Elnora to marry me."

"The more fool you, then!" cried Mrs. Comstock.
"This time yesterday you were engaged to another woman,
no doubt. Now, for some little flare-up you come racing
here to use Elnora as a tool to spite the other girl.
A week of sane living, and you will be sorry and ready to
go back to Chicago, or, if you really are man enough to be
sure of yourself, she will come to claim you. She has
her rights. An engagement of years is a serious matter, and
not broken for a whim. If you don't go, she'll come.
Then, when you patch up your affairs and go sailing away
together, where does my girl come in?"

"I am a lawyer, Mrs. Comstock," said Philip. "It appeals
to me as beneath your ordinary sense of justice to decide
a case without hearing the evidence. It is due me that
you hear me first."

"Hear your side!" flashed Mrs. Comstock. "I'd a
heap sight rather hear the girl!"

"I wish to my soul that you had heard and seen her last
night, Mrs. Comstock," said Ammon. "Then, my way
would be clear. I never even thought of coming
here to-day. I'll admit I would have come in time,
but not for many months. My father sent me."

"Your father sent you! Why?"

"Father, mother, and Polly were present last night.
They, and all my friends, saw me insulted and disgraced
in the worst exhibition of uncontrolled temper any of us
ever witnessed. All of them knew it was the end.
Father liked what I had told him of Elnora, and he
advised me to come here, so I came. If she does not
want me, I can leave instantly, but, oh I hoped she
would understand!"

"You people are not splitting wood," called Elnora.

"Oh yes we are!" answered Mrs. Comstock. "You set
out the things for biscuit, and lay the table." She turned
again to Philip. "I know considerable about your father,"
she said. "I have met your Uncle's family frequently
this winter. I've heard your Aunt Anna say that she
didn't at all like Miss Carr, and that she and all your
family secretly hoped that something would happen to
prevent your marrying her. That chimes right in with
your saying that your father sent you here. I guess you
better speak your piece."

Philip gave his version of the previous night.

"Do you believe me?" he finished.

"Yes," said Mrs. Comstock.

"May I stay?"

"Oh, it looks all right for you, but what about her?"

"Nothing, so far as I am concerned. Her plans were all
made to start to Europe to-day. I suspect she is on the
way by this time. Elnora is very sensible, Mrs. Comstock.
Hadn't you better let her decide this?"

"The final decision rests with her, of course," admitted
Mrs. Comstock. "But look you one thing! She's all I have.
As Solomon says, `she is the one child, the only child
of her mother.' I've suffered enough in this world
that I fight against any suffering which threatens her.
So far as I know you've always been a man, and you
may stay. But if you bring tears and heartache to her,
don't have the assurance to think I'll bear it tamely.
I'll get right up and fight like a catamount, if things
go wrong for Elnora!"

"I have no doubt but you will," replied Philip, "and I
don't blame you in the least if you do. I have the utmost
devotion to offer Elnora, a good home, fair social position,
and my family will love her dearly. Think it over. I know
it is sudden, but my father advised it."

"Yes, I reckon he did!" said Mrs. Comstock dryly. "I guess
instead of me being the catamount, you had the genuine
article up in Chicago, masquerading in peacock feathers,
and posing as a fine lady, until her time came to scratch.
Human nature seems to be the same the world over. But I'd
give a pretty to know that secret thing you say you don't,
that set her raving over your just catching a moth for Elnora.
You might get that crock of strawberries in the spring house."

They prepared and ate supper. Afterward they sat in
the arbour and talked, or Elnora played until time for
Philip to go.

"Will you walk to the gate with me?" he asked Elnora
as he arose.

"Not to-night," she answered lightly. "Come early in
the morning if you like, and we will go over to Sleepy
Snake Creek and hunt moths and gather dandelions for dinner."

Philip leaned toward her. "May I tell you to-morrow
why I came?" he asked.

"I think not," replied Elnora. "The fact is, I don't
care why you came. It is enough for me that we are your
very good friends, and that in trouble, you have found us
a refuge. I fancy we had better live a week or two before
you say anything. There is a possibility that what you
have to say may change in that length of time.

"It will not change one iota!" cried Philip.

"Then it will have the grace of that much age to give it
some small touch of flavour," said the girl. "Come early
in the morning."

She lifted the violin and began to play.

"Well bless my soul!" ejaculated the astounded Mrs. Comstock.
"To think I was worrying for fear you couldn't take care
of yourself!"

Elnora laughed while she played.

"Shall I tell you what he said?"

"Nope! I don't want to hear it!" said Elnora. "He is
only six hours from Chicago. I'll give her a week to
find him and fix it up, if he stays that long. If she doesn't
put in an appearance then, he can tell me what he wants
to say, and I'll take my time to think it over. Time in
plenty, too! There are three of us in this, and one must
be left with a sore heart for life. If the decision rests
with me I propose to be very sure that it is the one who
deserves such hard luck."

The next morning Philip came early, dressed in the outing
clothing he had worn the previous summer, and aside
from a slight paleness seemed very much the same as when
he left. Elnora met him on the old footing, and for a
week life went on exactly as it had the previous summer.
Mrs. Comstock made mental notes and watched in silence.
She could see that Elnora was on a strain, though she
hoped Philip would not. The girl grew restless as the
week drew to a close. Once when the gate clicked she
suddenly lost colour and moved nervously. Billy came down
the walk.

Philip leaned toward Mrs. Comstock and said: "I am
expressly forbidden to speak to Elnora as I would like.
Would you mind telling her for me that I had a letter from
my father this morning saying that Miss Carr is on her way
to Europe for the summer?"

"Elnora," said Mrs. Comstock promptly, "I have just
heard that Carr woman is on her way to Europe, and I
wish to my gracious stars she'd stay there!"

Philip Ammon shouted, but Elnora arose hastily and
went to meet Billy. They came into the arbour together
and after speaking to Mrs. Comstock and Philip, Billy
said: "Uncle Wesley and I found something funny, and
we thought you'd like to see."

"I don't know what I should do without you and Uncle
Wesley to help me," said Elnora. "What have you found now?"

"Something I couldn't bring. You have to come to it.
I tried to get one and I killed it. They are a kind of
insecty things, and they got a long tail that is three
fine hairs. They stick those hairs right into the hard
bark of trees, and if you pull, the hairs stay fast and
it kills the bug."

"We will come at once," laughed Elnora. "I know
what they are, and I can use some in my work."

"Billy, have you been crying?" inquired Mrs. Comstock.

Billy lifted a chastened face. "Yes, ma'am," he replied.
"This has been the worst day."

"What's the matter with the day?"

"The day is all right," admitted Billy. "I mean every
single thing has gone wrong with me."

"Now that is too bad!" sympathized Mrs. Comstock.

"Began early this morning," said Billy. "All Snap's
fault, too."

"What has poor Snap been doing?" demanded Mrs.
Comstock, her eyes beginning to twinkle.

"Digging for woodchucks, like he always does. He gets
up at two o'clock to dig for them. He was coming
in from the woods all tired and covered thick with dirt.
I was going to the barn with the pail of water for Uncle
Wesley to use in milking. I had to set down the pail to
shut the gate so the chickens wouldn't get into the flower
beds, and old Snap stuck his dirty nose into the water
and began to lap it down. I knew Uncle Wesley wouldn't
use that, so I had to go 'way back to the cistern for more,
and it pumps awful hard. Made me mad, so I threw the
water on Snap."

"Well, what of it?"

"Nothing, if he'd stood still. But it scared him awful,
and when he's afraid he goes a-humping for Aunt Margaret.
When he got right up against her he stiffened
out and gave a big shake. You oughter seen the nice
blue dress she had put on to go to Onabasha!"

Mrs. Comstock and Philip laughed, but Elnora put
her arms around the boy. "Oh Billy!" she cried.
"That was too bad!"

"She got up early and ironed that dress to wear because
it was cool. Then, when it was all dirty, she
wouldn't go, and she wanted to real bad." Billy wiped
his eyes. "That ain't all, either," he added.

"We'd like to know about it, Billy," suggested Mrs.
Comstock, struggling with her face.

"Cos she couldn't go to the city, she's most worked
herself to death. She's done all the dirty, hard jobs she
could find. She's fixing her grape juice now."

"Sure!" cried Mrs. Comstock. "When a woman is
disappointed she always works like a dog to gain sympathy!"

"Well, Uncle Wesley and I are sympathizing all we
know how, without her working so. I've squeezed until
I almost busted to get the juice out from the seeds
and skins. That's the hard part. Now, she has to strain
it through white flannel and seal it in bottles, and it's
good for sick folks. Most wish I'd get sick myself, so
I could have a glass. It's so good!"

Elnora glanced swiftly at her mother.

"I worked so hard," continued Billy, "that she said if
I would throw the leavings in the woods, then I could come
after you to see about the bugs. Do you want to go?"

"We will all go," said Mrs. Comstock. "I am mightily
interested in those bugs myself."

From afar commotion could be seen at the Sinton home.
Wesley and Margaret were running around wildly and
peculiar sounds filled the air.

"What's the trouble?" asked Philip, hurrying to Wesley.

"Cholera!" groaned Sinton. "My hogs are dying like flies."

Margaret was softly crying. "Wesley, can't I fix
something hot? Can't we do anything? It means several
hundred dollars and our winter meat."

"I never saw stock taken so suddenly and so hard,"
said Wesley. "I have 'phoned for the veterinary to come
as soon as he can get here."

All of them hurried to the feeding pen into which the
pigs seemed to be gathering from the woods. Among the
common stock were big white beasts of pedigree which
were Wesley's pride at county fairs. Several of these
rolled on their backs, pawing the air feebly and emitting
little squeaks. A huge Berkshire sat on his haunches,
slowly shaking his head, the water dropping from his
eyes, until he, too, rolled over with faint grunts. A pair
crossing the yard on wavering legs collided, and attacked
each other in anger, only to fall, so weak they scarcely
could squeal. A fine snowy Plymouth Rock rooster, after
several attempts, flew to the fence, balanced with great
effort, wildly flapped his wings and started a guttural crow,
but fell sprawling among the pigs, too helpless to stand.

"Did you ever see such a dreadful sight?" sobbed Margaret.

Billy climbed on the fence, took one long look and
turned an astounded face to Wesley.

"Why them pigs is drunk!" he cried. "They act just
like my pa!"

Wesley turned to Margaret.

"Where did you put the leavings from that grape juice?"
he demanded.

"I sent Billy to throw it in the woods."

"Billy----" began Wesley.

"Threw it just where she told me to," cried Billy.
But some of the pigs came by there coming into the
pen, and some were close in the fence corners."

"Did they eat it?" demanded Wesley.

"They just chanked into it," replied Billy graphically.
"They pushed, and squealed, and fought over it.
You couldn't blame 'em! It was the best stuff I ever tasted!"

"Margaret," said Wesley, "run 'phone that doctor he
won't be needed. Billy, take Elnora and Mr. Ammon to
see the bugs. Katharine, suppose you help me a minute."

Wesley took the clothes basket from the back porch and
started in the direction of the cellar. Margaret returned
from the telephone.

"I just caught him," she said. "There's that much saved.
Why Wesley, what are you going to do?"

"You go sit on the front porch a little while," said Wesley.
"You will feel better if you don't see this."

"Wesley," cried Margaret aghast. "Some of that wine
is ten years old. There are days and days of hard work
in it, and I couldn't say how much sugar. Dr. Ammon
keeps people alive with it when nothing else will stay on
their stomachs."

"Let 'em die, then!" said Wesley. "You heard the boy,
didn't you?"

"It's a cold process. There's not a particle of fermentation
about it."

"Not a particle of fermentation! Great day, Margaret! Look at
those pigs!"

Margaret took a long look. "Leave me a few bottles
for mince-meat," she wavered.

"Not a smell for any use on this earth! You heard
the boy! He shan't say, when he grows to manhood, that
he learned to like it here!"

Wesley threw away the wine, Mrs. Comstock cheerfully assisting.
Then they walked to the woods to see and learn about the
wonderful insects. The day ended with a big supper at
Sintons', and then they went to the Comstock cabin for
a concert. Elnora played beautifully that night. When the
Sintons left she kissed Billy with particular tenderness.
She was so moved that she was kinder to Philip than she had
intended to be, and Elnora as an antidote to a disappointed
lover was a decided success in any mood.

However strong the attractions of Edith Carr had
been, once the bond was finally broken, Philip Ammon
could not help realizing that Elnora was the superior
woman, and that he was fortunate to have escaped, when
he regarded his ties strongest. Every day, while working
with Elnora, he saw more to admire. He grew very
thankful that he was free to try to win her, and impatient
to justify himself to her.

Elnora did not evince the slightest haste to hear what
he had to say, but waited the week she had set, in spite
of Philip's hourly manifest impatience. When she did
consent to listen, Philip felt before he had talked five
minutes, that she was putting herself in Edith Carr's
place, and judging him from what the other girl's
standpoint would be. That was so disconcerting, he did
not plead his cause nearly so well as he had hoped, for
when he ceased Elnora sat in silence.

"You are my judge," he said at last. "What is your verdict?"

"If I could hear her speak from her heart as I just have
heard you, then I could decide," answered Elnora.

"She is on the ocean," said Philip. "She went because
she knew she was wholly in the wrong. She had nothing
to say, or she would have remained."

"That sounds plausible," reasoned Elnora, "but it is
pretty difficult to find a woman in an affair that involves
her heart with nothing at all to say. I fancy if I could
meet her, she would say several things. I should love to
hear them. If I could talk with her three minutes, I
could tell what answer to make you."

"Don't you believe me, Elnora?"

"Unquestioningly," answered Elnora. "But I would
believe her also. If only I could meet her I soon
would know."

"I don't see how that is to be accomplished," said
Philip, "but I am perfectly willing. There is no reason
why you should not meet her, except that she probably
would lose her temper and insult you."

"Not to any extent," said Elnora calmly. "I have
a tongue of my own, while I am not without some small
sense of personal values."

Philip glanced at her and began to laugh. Very different
of facial formation and colouring, Elnora at times closely
resembled her mother. She joined in his laugh ruefully.

"The point is this," she said. "Some one is going to
be hurt, most dreadfully. If the decision as to whom it
shall be rests with me, I must know it is the right one.
Of course, no one ever hinted it to you, but you are a
very attractive man, Philip. You are mighty good to
look at, and you have a trained, refined mind, that makes
you most interesting. For years Edith Carr has felt that
you were hers. Now, how is she going to change? I have
been thinking--thinking deep and long, Phil. If I were
in her place, I simply could not give you up, unless
you had made yourself unworthy of love. Undoubtedly, you
never seemed so desirable to her as just now, when she is
told she can't have you. What I think is that she will
come to claim you yet."

"You overlook the fact that it is not in a woman's power
to throw away a man and pick him up at pleasure," said
Philip with some warmth. "She publicly and repeatedly
cast me off. I accepted her decision as publicly as
it was made. You have done all your thinking from
a wrong viewpoint. You seem to have an idea that it
lies with you to decide what I shall do, that if you say the
word, I shall return to Edith. Put that thought out of
your head! Now, and for all time to come, she is a matter
of indifference to me. She killed all feeling in my heart
for her so completely that I do not even dread meeting her.

"If I hated her, or was angry with her, I could not be
sure the feeling would not die. As it is, she has deadened
me into a creature of indifference. So you just revise
your viewpoint a little, Elnora. Cease thinking it is for
you to decide what I shall do, and that I will obey you.
I make my own decisions in reference to any woman, save you.
The question you are to decide is whether I may remain here,
associating with you as I did last summer; but with the
difference that it is understood that I am free; that it
is my intention to care for you all I please, to make you
return my feeling for you if I can. There is just one
question for you to decide, and it is not triangular.
It is between us. May I remain? May I love you?
Will you give me the chance to prove what I think of you?"

"You speak very plainly," said Elnora.

"This is the time to speak plainly," said Philip Ammon.
"There is no use in allowing you to go on threshing out
a problem which does not exist. If you do not want
me here, say so and I will go. Of course, I warn you
before I start, that I will come back. I won't yield
without the stiffest fight it is in me to make. But drop
thinking it lies in your power to send me back to Edith Carr.
If she were the last woman in the world, and I the last man,
I'd jump off the planet before I would give her further
opportunity to exercise her temper on me. Narrow this to
us, Elnora. Will you take the place she vacated?
Will you take the heart she threw away? I'd give my
right hand and not flinch, if I could offer you my
life, free from any contact with hers, but that is
not possible. I can't undo things which are done.
I can only profit by experience and build better in
the future."

"I don't see how you can be sure of yourself," said Elnora.
"I don't see how I could be sure of you. You loved her first,
you never can care for me anything like that. Always I'd
have to be afraid you were thinking of her and regretting."

"Folly!" cried Philip. "Regretting what? That I
was not married to a woman who was liable to rave at
me any time or place, without my being conscious of
having given offence? A man does relish that! I am
likely to pine for more!"

"You'd be thinking she'd learned a lesson. You would
think it wouldn't happen again."

"No, I wouldn't be `thinking,'" said, Philip. "I'd be
everlastingly sure! I wouldn't risk what I went
through that night again, not to save my life! Just you
and me, Elnora. Decide for us."

"I can't!" cried Elnora. "I am afraid!"

"Very well," said Philip. "We will wait until you feel
that you can. Wait until fear vanishes. Just decide
now whether you would rather have me go for a few
months, or remain with you. Which shall it be, Elnora?"

"You can never love me as you did her," wailed Elnora.

"I am happy to say I cannot," replied he. "I've cut
my matrimonial teeth. I'm cured of wanting to swell
in society. I'm over being proud of a woman for her
looks alone. I have no further use for lavishing myself on
a beautiful, elegantly dressed creature, who thinks only
of self. I have learned that I am a common man. I admire
beauty and beautiful clothing quite as much as I ever
did; but, first, I want an understanding, deep as the lowest
recess of my soul, with the woman I marry. I want to work
for you, to plan for you, to build you a home with every
comfort, to give you all good things I can, to shield
you from every evil. I want to interpose my body between
yours and fire, flood, or famine. I want to give
you everything; but I hate the idea of getting nothing at
all on which I can depend in return. Edith Carr had
only good looks to offer, and when anger overtook her,
beauty went out like a snuffed candle.

"I want you to love me. I want some consideration.
I even crave respect. I've kept myself clean. So far
as I know how to be, I am honest and scrupulous.
It wouldn't hurt me to feel that you took some interest
in these things. Rather fierce temptations strike a man,
every few days, in this world. I can keep decent, for a
woman who cares for decency, but when I do, I'd like
to have the fact recognized, by just enough of a show of
appreciation that I could see it. I am tired of this one-
sided business. After this, I want to get a little in return
for what I give. Elnora, you have love, tenderness,
and honest appreciation of the finest in life. Take what
I offer, and give what I ask."

"You do not ask much," said Elnora.

"As for not loving you as I did Edith," continued
Philip, "as I said before, I hope not! I have a newer
and a better idea of loving. The feeling I offer you was
inspired by you. It is a Limberlost product. It is as
much bigger, cleaner, and more wholesome than any feeling
I ever had for Edith Carr, as you are bigger than she,
when you stand before your classes and in calm dignity
explain the marvels of the Almighty, while she stands
on a ballroom floor, and gives way to uncontrolled temper.
Ye gods, Elnora, if you could look into my soul, you
would see it leap and rejoice over my escape! Perhaps it
isn't decent, but it's human; and I'm only a common
human being. I'm the gladdest man alive that I'm free!
I would turn somersaults and yell if I dared. What an escape!
Stop straining after Edith Carr's viewpoint and take a look
from mine. Put yourself in my place and try to study out
how I feel.

"I am so happy I grow religious over it. Fifty times
a day I catch myself whispering, `My soul is escaped!'
As for you, take all the time you want. If you prefer to
be alone, I'll take the next train and stay away as long as
I can bear it, but I'll come back. You can be most sure
of that. Straight as your pigeons to their loft, I'll come
back to you, Elnora. Shall I go?"

"Oh, what's the use to be extravagant?" murmured Elnora.

CHAPTER XXII

WHEREIN PHILIP AMMON KNEELS TO ELNORA,
AND STRANGERS COME TO THE LIMBERLOST

The month which followed was a reproduction of
the previous June. There were long moth hunts,
days of specimen gathering, wonderful hours with
great books, big dinners all of them helped to prepare,
and perfect nights filled with music. Everything was as
it had been, with the difference that Philip was now an
avowed suitor. He missed no opportunity to advance
himself in Elnora's graces. At the end of the month
he was no nearer any sort of understanding with her
than he had been at the beginning. He revelled in the
privilege of loving her, but he got no response.
Elnora believed in his love, yet she hesitated to
accept him, because she could not forget Edith Carr.

One afternoon early in July, Philip came across the
fields, through the Comstock woods, and entered the garden.
He inquired for Elnora at the back door and was told that
she was reading under the willow. He went around the
west end of the cabin to her. She sat on a rustic
bench they had made and placed beneath a drooping branch.
He had not seen her before in the dress she was wearing.
It was clinging mull of pale green, trimmed with narrow
ruffles and touched with knots of black velvet; a simple
dress, but vastly becoming. Every tint of her bright hair,
her luminous eyes, her red lips, and her rose-flushed
face, neck, and arms grew a little more vivid with the
delicate green setting.

He stopped short. She was so near, so temptingly
sweet, he lost control. He went to her with a half-
smothered cry after that first long look, dropped on one
knee beside her and reached an arm behind her to the bench
back, so that he was very near. He caught her hands.

"Elnora!" he cried tensely, "end it now! Say this
strain is over. I pledge you that you will be happy.
You don't know! If you only would say the word, you
would awake to new life and great joy! Won't you promise
me now, Elnora?"

The girl sat staring into the west woods, while strong
in her eyes was her father's look of seeing something
invisible to others. Philip's arm slipped from the bench
around her. His fingers closed firmly over hers.
Elnora," he pleaded, "you know me well enough.
You have had time in plenty. End it now. Say you will
be mine!" He gathered her closer, pressing his face against
hers, his breath on her cheek. "Can't you quite promise
yet, my girl of the Limberlost?"

Elnora shook her head. Instantly he released her.

"Forgive me," he begged. "I had no intention of thrusting
myself upon you, but, Elnora, you are the veriest Queen
of Love this afternoon. From the tips of your toes to
your shining crown, I worship you. I want no woman save you.
You are so wonderful this afternoon, I couldn't help urging.
Forgive me. Perhaps it was something that came this
morning for you. I wrote Polly to send it. May we try
if it fits? Will you tell me if you like it?"

He drew a little white velvet box from his pocket and
showed her a splendid emerald ring.

"It may not be right," he said. "The inside of a glove
finger is not very accurate for a measure, but it was the
best I could do. I wrote Polly to get it, because she and
mother are home from the East this week, but next they
will go on to our cottage in the north, and no one knows
what is right quite so well as Polly." He laid the ring
in Elnora's hand. "Dearest," he said, "don't slip that
on your finger; put your arms around my neck and promise me,
all at once and abruptly, or I'll keel over and die of sheer joy."

Elnora smiled.

"I won't! Not all those venturesome things at once;
but, Phil, I'm ashamed to confess that ring simply
fascinates me. It is the most beautiful one I ever saw,
and do you know that I never owned a ring of any kind
in my life? Would you think me unwomanly if I slip
it on for a second, before I can say for sure? Phil, you
know I care! I care very much! You know I will tell
you the instant I feel right about it."

"Certainly you will," agreed Philip promptly. "It is
your right to take all the time you choose. I can't
put that ring on you until it means a bond between us.
I'll shut my eyes and you try it on, so we can see if
it fits." Philip turned his face toward the west woods
and tightly closed his eyes. It was a boyish thing to do,
and it caught the hesitating girl in the depths of her
heart as the boy element in a man ever appeals to a
motherly woman. Before she quite realized what she
was doing, the ring slid on her finger. With both arms
she caught Philip and drew him to her breast, holding
him closely. Her head drooped over his, her lips were
on his hair. So an instant, then her arms dropped.
He lifted a convulsed, white face.

"Dear Lord!" he whispered. "You--you didn't mean that,
Elnora! You---- What made you do it?"

"You--you looked so boyish!" panted Elnora. "I didn't
mean it! I--I forgot that you were older than Billy.
Look--look at the ring!"

"`The Queen can do no wrong,'" quoted Philip between his
set teeth. "But don't you do that again, Elnora, unless
you do mean it. Kings are not so good as queens, and
there is a limit with all men. As you say, we will
look at your ring. It seems very lovely to me. Suppose you
leave it on until time for me to go. Please do! I have
heard of mute appeals; perhaps it will plead for me.
I am wild for your lips this afternoon. I am going to
take your hands."

He caught both of them and covered them with kisses.

"Elnora," he said, "Will you be my wife?"

"I must have a little more time," she whispered. "I must
be absolutely certain, for when I say yes, and give
myself to you, only death shall part us. I would not
give you up. So I want a little more time--but, I think
I will."

"Thank you," said Philip. "If at any time you feel that
you have reached a decision, will you tell me? Will you
promise me to tell me instantly, or shall I keep asking
you until the time comes?"

"You make it difficult," said Elnora. "But I will
promise you that. Whenever the last doubt vanishes, I
will let you know instantly--if I can."

"Would it be difficult for you?" whispered Ammon.

"I--I don't know," faltered Elnora.

"It seems as if I can't be man enough to put this
thought aside and give up this afternoon," said Philip.
"I am ashamed of myself, but I can't help it. I am going
to ask God to make that last doubt vanish before I go
this night. I am going to believe that ring will plead
for me. I am going to hope that doubt will disappear suddenly.
I will be watching. Every second I will be watching.
If it happens and you can't speak, give me your hand.
Just the least movement toward me, I will understand.
Would it help you to talk this over with your mother?
Shall I call her? Shall I----?"

Honk! Honk! Honk! Hart Henderson set the horn
of the big automobile going as it shot from behind the
trees lining the Brushwood road. The picture of a vine-
covered cabin, a large drooping tree, a green-clad girl
and a man bending over her very closely flashed into view.
Edith Carr caught her breath with a snap. Polly Ammon
gave Tom Levering a quick touch and wickedly winked
at him.

Several days before, Edith had returned from Europe suddenly.
She and Henderson had called at the Ammon residence saying
that they were going to motor down to the Limberlost to see
Philip a few hours, and urged that Polly and Tom accompany them.
Mrs. Ammon knew that her husband would disapprove of the trip,
but it was easy to see that Edith Carr had determined on going.
So the mother thought it better to have Polly along to support
Philip than to allow him to confront Edith unexpectedly and alone.
Polly was full of spirit. She did not relish the thought of
Edith as a sister. Always they had been in the same set,
always Edith, because of greater beauty and wealth,
had patronized Polly. Although it had rankled, she had borne
it sweetly. But two days before, her father had extracted
a promise of secrecy, given her Philip's address and told her
to send him the finest emerald ring she could select.
Polly knew how that ring would be used. What she did not know
was that the girl who accompanied her went back to the store
afterward, made an excuse to the clerk that she had been sent
to be absolutely sure that the address was right, and so secured
it for Edith Carr.

Two days later Edith had induced Hart Henderson to take
her to Onabasha. By the aid of maps they located the
Comstock land and passed it, merely to see the place.
Henderson hated that trip, and implored Edith not to take
it, but she made no effort to conceal from him what she
suffered, and it was more than he could endure. He pointed
out that Philip had gone away without leaving an address,
because he did not wish to see her, or any of them.
But Edith was so sure of her power, she felt certain Philip
needed only to see her to succumb to her beauty as he always
had done, while now she was ready to plead for forgiveness.
So they came down the Brushwood road, and Henderson had just
said to Edith beside him: "This should be the Comstock land
on our left."

A minute later the wood ended, while the sunlight,
as always pitiless, etched with distinctness the scene at
the west end of the cabin. Instinctively, to save Edith,
Henderson set the horn blowing. He had thought to drive to
the city, but Polly Ammon arose crying: "Phil! Phil!"
Tom Levering was on his feet shouting and waving, while
Edith in her most imperial manner ordered him to turn
into the lane leading through the woods beside the cabin.

"Find some way for me to have a minute alone with her,"
she commanded as he stopped the car.

"That is my sister Polly, her fiance Tom Levering, a
friend of mine named Henderson, and----" began Philip,

"--and Edith Carr," volunteered Elnora.

"And Edith Carr," repeated Philip Ammon. "Elnora, be
brave, for my sake. Their coming can make no difference
in any way. I won't let them stay but a few minutes.
Come with me!"

"Do I seem scared?" inquired Elnora serenely. "This is
why you haven't had your answer. I have been waiting
just six weeks for that motor. You may bring them to me
at the arbour."

Philip glanced at her and broke into a laugh. She had
not lost colour. Her self-possession was perfect.
She deliberately turned and walked toward the grape arbour,
while he sprang over the west fence and ran to the car.

Elnora standing in the arbour entrance made a perfect
picture, framed in green leaves and tendrils. No matter
how her heart ached, it was good to her, for it pumped
steadily, and kept her cheeks and lips suffused with colour.
She saw Philip reach the car and gather his sister into
his arms. Past her he reached a hand to Levering,
then to Edith Carr and Henderson. He lifted his sister
to the ground, and assisted Edith to alight. Instantly, she
stepped beside him, and Elnora's heart played its first trick.

She could see that Miss Carr was splendidly beautiful,
while she moved with the hauteur and grace supposed to
be the prerogatives of royalty. And she had instantly
taken possession of Philip. But he also had a brain which
was working with rapidity. He knew Elnora was watching,
so he turned to the others.

"Give her up, Tom!" he cried. "I didn't know I wanted
to see the little nuisance so badly, but I do. How are
father and mother? Polly, didn't the mater send me something?"

"She did!" said Polly Ammon, stopping on the path and
lifting her chin as a little child, while she drew away
her veil.

Philip caught her in his arms and stooped for his
mother's kiss.

"Be good to Elnora!" he whispered.

"Umhu!" assented Polly. And aloud--"Look at that ripping
green and gold symphony! I never saw such a beauty!
Thomas Asquith Levering, you come straight here and take
my hand!"

Edith's move to compel Philip to approach Elnora beside her
had been easy to see; also its failure. Henderson stepped
into Philip's place as he turned to his sister. Instead of
taking Polly's hand Levering ran to open the gate.
Edith passed through first, but Polly darted in front
of her on the run, with Phil holding her arm, and swept up
to Elnora. Polly looked for the ring and saw it. That settled
matters with her.

"You lovely, lovely, darling girl!" she cried, throwing
her arms around Elnora and kissing her. With her lips close
Elnora's ear, Polly whispered, "Sister! Dear, dear sister!"

Elnora drew back, staring at Polly in confused amazement.
She was a beautiful girl, her eyes were sparkling and
dancing, and as she turned to make way for the others,
she kept one of Elnora's hands in hers. Polly would have
dropped dead in that instant if Edith Carr could have
killed with a look, for not until then did she realize that
Polly would even many a slight, and that it had been a
great mistake to bring her.

Edith bowed low, muttered something and touched
Elnora's fingers. Tom took his cue from Polly.

"I always follow a good example," he said, and before
any one could divine his intention he kissed Elnora as he
gripped her hand and cried: "Mighty glad to meet you!
Like to meet you a dozen times a day, you know!"

Elnora laughed and her heart pumped smoothly. They had
accomplished their purpose. They had let her know they
were there through compulsion, but on her side. In that
instant only pity was in Elnora's breast for the flashing
dark beauty, standing with smiling face while her heart
must have been filled with exceeding bitterness.
Elnora stepped back from the entrance.

"Come into the shade," she urged. "You must have
found it warm on these country roads. Won't you lay
aside your dust-coats and have a cool drink? Philip, would
you ask mother to come, and bring that pitcher from the
spring house?"

They entered the arbour exclaiming at the dim, green coolness.
There was plenty of room and wide seats around the sides,
a table in the centre, on which lay a piece of embroidery,
magazines, books, the moth apparatus, and the cyanide jar
containing several specimens. Polly rejoiced in the
cooling shade, slipped off her duster, removed her hat,
rumpled her pretty hair and seated herself to indulge in
the delightful occupation of paying off old scores.
Tom Levering followed her example. Edith took a seat
but refused to remove her hat and coat, while Henderson
stood in the entrance.

"There goes something with wings! Should you have
that?" cried Levering.

He seized a net from the table and raced across the garden
after a butterfly. He caught it and came back mightily
pleased with himself. As the creature struggled in the net,
Elnora noted a repulsed look on Edith Carr's face.
Levering helped the situation beautifully.

"Now what have I got?" he demanded. "Is it just a
common one that every one knows and you don't keep, or
is it the rarest bird off the perch?"

"You must have had practice, you took that so perfectly,"
said Elnora. "I am sorry, but it is quite common and not
of a kind I keep. Suppose all of you see how beautiful
it is and then it may go nectar hunting again."

She held the butterfly where all of them could see,
showed its upper and under wing colours, answered Polly's
questions as to what it ate, how long it lived, and how
it died. Then she put it into Polly's hand saying: "Stand
there in the light and loosen your hold slowly and easily."

Elnora caught a brush from the table and began softly
stroking the creature's sides and wings. Delighted with
the sensation the butterfly opened and closed its wings,
clinging to Polly's soft little fingers, while every one cried
out in surprise. Elnora laid aside the brush, and the
butterfly sailed away.

"Why, you are a wizard! You charm them!" marvelled Levering.

"I learned that from the Bird Woman," said Elnora.
"She takes soft brushes and coaxes butterflies and moths
into the positions she wants for the illustrations of a book
she is writing. I have helped her often. Most of the rare
ones I find go to her."

"Then you don't keep all you take?" questioned Levering.

"Oh, dear, no!" cried Elnora. "Not a tenth! For myself,
a pair of each kind to use in illustrating the lectures I
give in the city schools in the winter, and one pair for each
collection I make. One might as well keep the big night
moths of June, for they only live four or five days anyway.
For the Bird Woman, I only save rare ones she has not yet secured.
Sometimes I think it is cruel to take such creatures from
freedom, even for an hour, but it is the only way to teach
the masses of people how to distinguish the pests they
should destroy, from the harmless ones of great beauty.
Here comes mother with something cool to drink."

Mrs. Comstock came deliberately, talking to Philip as
she approached. Elnora gave her one searching look, but
could discover only an extreme brightness of eye to denote
any unusual feeling. She wore one of her lavender dresses,
while her snowy hair was high piled. She had taken care
of her complexion, and her face had grown fuller during
the winter. She might have been any one's mother with
pride, and she was perfectly at ease.

Polly instantly went to her and held up her face to be kissed.
Mrs. Comstock's eyes twinkled and she made the greeting hearty.

The drink was compounded of the juices of oranges and
berries from the garden. It was cool enough to frost
glasses and pitcher and delicious to dusty tired travellers.
Soon the pitcher was empty, and Elnora picked it up and
went to refill it. While she was gone Henderson asked
Philip about some trouble he was having with his car.
They went to the woods and began a minute examination
to find a defect which did not exist. Polly and Levering
were having an animated conversation with Mrs. Comstock.
Henderson saw Edith arise, follow the garden path
next the woods and stand waiting under the willow which
Elnora would pass on her return. It was for that meeting
he had made the trip. He got down on the ground, tore
up the car, worked, asked for help, and kept Philip busy
screwing bolts and applying the oil can. All the time
Henderson kept an eye on Edith and Elnora under the willow.
But he took pains to lay the work he asked Philip to do
where that scene would be out of his sight. When Elnora
came around the corner with the pitcher, she found herself
facing Edith Carr.

"I want a minute with you," said Miss Carr.

"Very well," replied Elnora, walking on.

"Set the pitcher on the bench there," commanded Edith
Carr, as if speaking to a servant.

"I prefer not to offer my visitors a warm drink," said Elnora.
"I'll come back if you really wish to speak with me."

"I came solely for that," said Edith Carr.

"It would be a pity to travel so far in this dust and heat
for nothing. I'll only be gone a second."

Elnora placed the pitcher before her mother. "Please serve
this," she said. "Miss Carr wishes to speak with me."

"Don't you pay the least attention to anything she
says," cried Polly. "Tom and I didn't come here because
we wanted to. We only came to checkmate her. I hoped
I'd get the opportunity to say a word to you, and now she
has given it to me. I just want to tell you that she threw
Phil over in perfectly horrid way. She hasn't any right
to lay the ghost of a claim to him, has she, Tom?"

"Nary a claim," said Tom Levering earnestly. "Why, even
you, Polly, couldn't serve me as she did Phil, and
ever get me back again. If I were you, Miss Comstock,
I'd send my mother to talk with her and I'd stay here."

Tom had gauged Mrs. Comstock rightly. Polly put her
arms around Elnora. "Let me go with you, dear," she begged.

"I promised I would speak with her alone," said Elnora,
"and she must be considered. But thank you, very much."

"How I shall love you!" exulted Polly, giving Elnora
a parting hug.

The girl slowly and gravely walked back to the willow.
She could not imagine what was coming, but she was promising
herself that she would be very patient and control her temper.

"Will you be seated?" she asked politely.

Edith Carr glanced at the bench, while a shudder shook her.

"No. I prefer to stand," she said. "Did Mr. Ammon
give you the ring you are wearing, and do you consider
yourself engaged to him?"

"By what right do you ask such personal questions as
those?" inquired Elnora.

"By the right of a betrothed wife. I have been promised
to Philip Ammon ever since I wore short skirts. All our
lives we have expected to marry. An agreement of years
cannot be broken in one insane moment. Always he has
loved me devotedly. Give me ten minutes with him and he
will be mine for all time."

"I seriously doubt that," said Elnora. "But I am
willing that you should make the test. I will call him."

"Stop!" commanded Edith Carr. "I told you that it was
you I came to see."

"I remember," said Elnora.

"Mr. Ammon is my betrothed," continued Edith Carr.
"I expect to take him back to Chicago with me."

"You expect considerable," murmured Elnora. "I will
raise no objection to your taking him, if you can--but, I
tell you frankly, I don't think it possible."

"You are so sure of yourself as that," scoffed Edith Carr.
"One hour in my presence will bring back the old spell,
full force. We belong to each other. I will not give him up."

"Then it is untrue that you twice rejected his ring,
repeatedly insulted him, and publicly renounced him?"

"That was through you!" cried Edith Carr. "Phil and
I never had been so near and so happy as we were on
that night. It was your clinging to him for things that
caused him to desert me among his guests, while he tried
to make me await your pleasure. I realize the spell of
this place, for a summer season. I understand what you
and your mother have done to inveigle him. I know that
your hold on him is quite real. I can see just how you
have worked to ensnare him!"

"Men would call that lying," said Elnora calmly.
"The second time I met Philip Ammon he told me of
his engagement to you, and I respected it. I did by you
as I would want you to do by me. He was here parts
of each day, almost daily last summer. The Almighty
is my witness that never once, by word or look, did I ever
make the slightest attempt to interest him in my person
or personality. He wrote you frequently in my presence.
He forgot the violets for which he asked to send you.
I gathered them and carried them to him. I sent him back
to you in unswerving devotion, and the Almighty is also
my witness that I could have changed his heart last summer,
if I had tried. I wisely left that work for you. All my
life I shall be glad that I lived and worked on the square.
That he ever would come back to me free, by your act,
I never dreamed. When he left me I did not hope or expect
to see him again," Elnora's voice fell soft and low,"
and, behold! You sent him--and free!"

"You exult in that!" cried Edith Carr. "Let me tell
you he is not free! We have belonged for years.
We always shall. If you cling to him, and hold him to rash
things he has said and done, because he thought me still
angry and unforgiving with him, you will ruin all our lives.
If he married you, before a month you would read heart-hunger
for me in his eyes. He could not love me as he has done,
and give me up for a little scene like that!"

"There is a great poem," said Elnora, "one line of which
reads, `For each man kills the thing he loves.' Let me
tell you that a woman can do that also. He did love you
--that I concede. But you killed his love everlastingly,
when you disgraced him in public. Killed it so completely
he does not even feel resentment toward you. To-day,
he would do you a favour, if he could; but love you, no!
That is over!"

Edith Carr stood truly regal and filled with scorn.
"You are mistaken! Nothing on earth could kill that!"
she cried, and Elnora saw that the girl really believed
what she said.

"You are very sure of yourself!" said Elnora.

"I have reason to be sure," answered Edith Carr.

"We have lived and loved too long. I have had years
with him to match against your days. He is mine!
His work, his ambitions, his friends, his place in
society are with me. You may have a summer charm for a
sick man in the country; if he tried placing you in
society, he soon would see you as others will. It takes
birth to position, schooling, and endless practice to meet
social demands gracefully. You would put him to shame in
a week."

"I scarcely think I should follow your example so far,"
said Elnora dryly. "I have a feeling for Philip that
would prevent my hurting him purposely, either in public
or private. As for managing a social career for him he
never mentioned that he desired such a thing. What he
asked of me was that I should be his wife. I understood
that to mean that he desired me to keep him a clean house,
serve him digestible food, mother his children, and give
him loving sympathy and tenderness."

"Shameless!" cried Edith Carr.

"To which of us do you intend that adjective to apply?"
inquired Elnora. "I never was less ashamed in all my life.
Please remember I am in my own home, and your presence here
is not on my invitation."

Miss Carr lifted her head and struggled with her veil.
She was very pale and trembling violently, while Elnora
stood serene, a faint smile on her lips.

"Such vulgarity!" panted Edith Carr. "How can a
man like Philip endure it?"

"Why don't you ask him?" inquired Elnora. "I can
call him with one breath; but, if he judged us as we stand,
I should not be the one to tremble at his decision.
Miss Carr, you have been quite plain. You have told me
in carefully selected words what you think of me.
You insult my birth, education, appearance, and home.
I assure you I am legitimate. I will pass a test examination
with you on any high school or supplementary branch,
or French or German. I will take a physical examination
beside you. I will face any social emergency you can
mention with you. I am acquainted with a whole world
in which Philip Ammon is keenly interested, that you
scarcely know exists. I am not afraid to face any
audience you can get together anywhere with my violin.
I am not repulsive to look at, and I have a wholesome regard
for the proprieties and civilities of life. Philip Ammon
never asked anything more of me, why should you?"

"It is plain to see," cried Edith Carr, "that you took
him when he was hurt and angry and kept his wound wide open.
Oh, what have you not done against me?"

"I did not promise to marry him when an hour ago he
asked me, and offered me this ring, because there was so
much feeling in my heart for you, that I knew I never
could be happy, if I felt that in any way I had failed in
doing justice to your interests. I did slip on this ring,
which he had just brought, because I never owned one,
and it is very beautiful, but I made him no promise, nor
shall I make any, until I am quite, quite sure, that you
fully realize he never would marry you if I sent him away
this hour."

"You know perfectly that if your puny hold on him
were broken, if he were back in his home, among his
friends, and where he was meeting me, in one short week
he would be mine again, as he always has been. In your
heart you don't believe what you say. You don't dare
trust him in my presence. You are afraid to allow him
out of your sight, because you know what the results
would be. Right or wrong, you have made up your mind
to ruin him and me, and you are going to be selfish enough
to do it. But----"

"That will do!" said Elnora. "Spare me the enumeration
of how I will regret it. I shall regret nothing.
I shall not act until I know there will be nothing to regret.
I have decided on my course. You may return to your friends."

"What do you mean?" demanded Edith Carr.

"That is my affair," replied Elnora. "Only this!
When your opportunity comes, seize it! Any time you
are in Philip Ammon's presence, exert the charms of which
you boast, and take him. I grant you are justified in
doing it if you can. I want nothing more than I want to
see you marry Philip if he wants you. He is just across
the fence under that automobile. Go spread your meshes
and exert your wiles. I won't stir to stop you. Take him
to Onabasha, and to Chicago with you. Use every art you possess.
If the old charm can be revived I will be the first to wish
both of you well. Now, I must return to my visitors.
Kindly excuse me."

Elnora turned and went back to the arbour. Edith Carr
followed the fence and passed through the gate into
the west woods where she asked Henderson about the car.
As she stood near him she whispered: "Take Phil back
to Onabasha with us."

"I say, Ammon, can't you go to the city with us and
help me find a shop where I can get this pinion fixed?"
asked Henderson. "We want to lunch and start back by five.
That will get us home about midnight. Why don't you
bring your automobile here?"

"I am a working man," said Philip. "I have no time to
be out motoring. I can't see anything the matter with
your car, myself; but, of course you don't want to break
down in the night, on strange roads, with women on your hands.
I'll see."

Philip went into the arbour, where Polly took possession of
his lap, fingered his hair, and kissed his forehead and lips.

"When are you coming to the cottage, Phil?" she asked.
"Come soon, and bring Miss Comstock for a visit. All of
us will be so glad to have her."

Philip beamed on Polly. "I'll see about that," he said.
"Sounds pretty good. Elnora, Henderson is in trouble
with his automobile. He wants me to go to Onabasha
with him to show him where the doctor lives, and make
repairs so he can start back this evening. It will take
about two hours. May I go?"

"Of course, you must go," she said, laughing lightly.
"You can't leave your sister. Why don't you return to
Chicago with them? There is plenty of room, and you
could have a fine visit."

"I'll be back in just two hours," said Philip. "While I
am gone, you be thinking over what we were talking of
when the folks came."

"Miss Comstock can go with us as well as not," said Polly.
"That back seat was made for three, and I can sit on your lap."

"Come on! Do come!" urged Philip instantly, and
Tom Levering joined him, but Henderson and Edith
silently waited at the gate.

"No, thank you," laughed Elnora. "That would crowd you,
and it's warm and dusty. We will say good-bye here."

She offered her hand to all of them, and when she came
to Philip she gave him one long steady look in the eyes,
then shook hands with him also.

CHAPTER XXIII

WHEREIN ELNORA REACHES A DECISION,
AND FRECKLES AND THE ANGEL APPEAR

Well, she came, didn't she?" remarked Mrs. Comstock
to Elnora as they watched the automobile speed down
the road. As it turned the Limberlost corner, Philip
arose and waved to them.

"She hasn't got him yet, anyway," said Mrs. Comstock,

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