Chapter 1 Wherein Elnora goes to high school and learns many lessons no_ound in her books
"Elnora Comstock, have you lost your senses?" demanded the angry voice o_atharine Comstock while she glared at her daughter.
"Why mother!" faltered the girl.
"Don't you 'why mother' me!" cried Mrs. Comstock. "You know very well what _ean. You've given me no peace until you've had your way about this going t_chool business; I've fixed you good enough, and you're ready to start. But n_hild of mine walks the streets of Onabasha looking like a play-actress woman.
You wet your hair and comb it down modest and decent and then be off, o_ou'll have no time to find where you belong."
Elnora gave one despairing glance at the white face, framed in a most becomin_iot of reddish-brown hair, which she saw in the little kitchen mirror. The_he untied the narrow black ribbon, wet the comb and plastered the wavin_urls close to her head, bound them fast, pinned on the skimpy black hat an_pened the back door.
"You've gone so plumb daffy you are forgetting your dinner," jeered he_other.
"I don't want anything to eat," replied Elnora.
"You'll take your dinner or you'll not go one step. Are you crazy? Walk almos_hree miles and no food from six in the morning until six at night. A prett_igure you'd cut if you had your way! And after I've gone and bought you thi_ice new pail and filled it especial to start on!"
Elnora came back with a face still whiter and picked up the lunch. "Thank you, mother! Good-bye!" she said. Mrs. Comstock did not reply. She watched the gir_ollow the long walk to the gate and go from sight on the road, in the brigh_unshine of the first Monday of September.
"I bet a dollar she gets enough of it by night!" commented Mrs. Comstock.
Elnora walked by instinct, for her eyes were blinded with tears. She left th_oad where it turned south, at the corner of the Limberlost, climbed a snak_ence and entered a path worn by her own feet. Dodging under willow and scru_ak branches she came at last to the faint outline of an old trail made in th_ays when the precious timber of the swamp was guarded by armed men. This pat_he followed until she reached a thick clump of bushes. From the debris in th_nd of a hollow log she took a key that unlocked the padlock of a larg_eatherbeaten old box, inside of which lay several books, a butterfl_pparatus, and a small cracked mirror. The walls were lined thickly with gaud_utterflies, dragonflies, and moths. She set up the mirror and once mor_ulling the ribbon from her hair, she shook the bright mass over he_houlders, tossing it dry in the sunshine. Then she straightened it, bound i_oosely, and replaced her hat. She tugged vainly at the low brown calic_ollar and gazed despairingly at the generous length of the narrow skirt. Sh_ifted it as she would have cut it if possible. That disclosed the heavy hig_eather shoes, at sight of which she seemed positively ill, and hastil_ropped the skirt. She opened the pail, removed the lunch, wrapped it in th_apkin, and placed it in a small pasteboard box. Locking the case again sh_id the key and hurried down the trail.
She followed it around the north end of the swamp and then entered a footpat_rossing a farm leading in the direction of the spires of the city to th_ortheast. Again she climbed a fence and was on the open road. For an instan_he leaned against the fence staring before her, then turned and looked back.
Behind her lay the land on which she had been born to drudgery and a mothe_ho made no pretence of loving her; before her lay the city through whos_chools she hoped to find means of escape and the way to reach the things fo_hich she cared. When she thought of how she appeared she leaned more heavil_gainst the fence and groaned; when she thought of turning back and wearin_uch clothing in ignorance all the days of her life she set her teeth firml_nd went hastily toward Onabasha.
On the bridge crossing a deep culvert at the suburbs she glanced around, an_hen kneeling she thrust the lunch box between the foundation and th_looring. This left her empty-handed as she approached the big stone hig_chool building. She entered bravely and inquired her way to the office of th_uperintendent. There she learned that she should have come the previous wee_nd arranged about her classes. There were many things incident to the openin_f school, and one man unable to cope with all of them.
"Where have you been attending school?" he asked, while he advised the teache_f Domestic Science not to telephone for groceries until she knew how many sh_ould have in her classes; wrote an order for chemicals for the students o_cience; and advised the leader of the orchestra to hire a professional t_ake the place of the bass violist, reported suddenly ill.
"I finished last spring at Brushwood school, district number nine," sai_lnora. "I have been studying all summer. I am quite sure I can do the firs_ear work, if I have a few days to get started."
"Of course, of course," assented the superintendent. "Almost invariabl_ountry pupils do good work. You may enter first year, and if it is to_ifficult, we will find it out speedily. Your teachers will tell you the lis_f books you must have, and if you will come with me I will show you the wa_o the auditorium. It is now time for opening exercises. Take any seat yo_ind vacant."
Elnora stood before the entrance and stared into the largest room she ever ha_een. The floor sloped to a yawning stage on which a band of musicians, grouped around a grand piano, were tuning their instruments. She had tw_leeting impressions. That it was all a mistake; this was no school, but _rand display of enormous ribbon bows; and the second, that she was sinking, and had forgotten how to walk. Then a burst from the orchestra nerved he_hile a bevy of daintily clad, sweet-smelling things that might have bee_irds, or flowers, or possibly gaily dressed, happy young girls, pushed he_orward. She found herself plodding across the back of the auditorium, prayin_or guidance, to an empty seat.
As the girls passed her, vacancies seemed to open to meet them. Their friend_ere moving over, beckoning and whispering invitations. Every one else wa_eated, but no one paid any attention to the white-faced girl stumbling half- blindly down the aisle next the farthest wall. So she went on to the very en_acing the stage. No one moved, and she could not summon courage to crowd pas_thers to several empty seats she saw. At the end of the aisle she paused i_esperation, while she stared back at the whole forest of faces most of whic_ere now turned upon her.
In a flash came the full realization of her scanty dress, her pitiful littl_at and ribbon, her big, heavy shoes, her ignorance of where to go or what t_o; and from a sickening wave which crept over her, she felt she was going t_ecome very ill. Then out of the mass she saw a pair of big, brown boy eyes, three seats from her, and there was a message in them. Without moving his bod_e reached forward and with a pencil touched the back of the seat before him.
Instantly Elnora took another step which brought her to a row of vacant fron_eats.
She heard laughter behind her; the knowledge that she wore the only hat in th_oom burned her; every matter of moment, and some of none at all, cut an_tung. She had no books. Where should she go when this was over? What woul_he give to be on the trail going home! She was shaking with a nervous chil_hen the music ceased, and the superintendent arose, and coming down to th_ront of the flower-decked platform, opened a Bible and began to read. Elnor_id not know what he was reading, and she felt that she did not care. Wildl_he was racking her brain to decide whether she should sit still when th_thers left the room or follow, and ask some one where the Freshmen wen_irst.
In the midst of the struggle one sentence fell on her ear. "Hide me under th_hadow of Thy wings."
Elnora began to pray frantically. "Hide me, O God, hide me, under the shado_f Thy wings."
Again and again she implored that prayer, and before she realized what wa_oming, every one had arisen and the room was emptying rapidly. Elnora hurrie_fter the nearest girl and in the press at the door touched her sleev_imidly.
"Will you please tell me where the Freshmen go?" she asked huskily.
The girl gave her one surprised glance, and drew away.
"Same place as the fresh women," she answered, and those nearest her laughed.
Elnora stopped praying suddenly and the colour crept into her face. "I'l_ager you are the first person I meet when I find it," she said and stoppe_hort. "Not that! Oh, I must not do that!" she thought in dismay. "Make a_nemy the first thing I do. Oh, not that!"
She followed with her eyes as the young people separated in the hall, som_limbing stairs, some disappearing down side halls, some entering adjoinin_oors. She saw the girl overtake the brown-eyed boy and speak to him. H_lanced back at Elnora with a scowl on his face. Then she stood alone in th_all.
Presently a door opened and a young woman came out and entered another room.
Elnora waited until she returned, and hurried to her. "Would you tell me wher_he Freshmen are?" she panted.
"Straight down the hall, three doors to your left," was the answer, as th_irl passed.
"One minute please, oh please," begged Elnora: "Should I knock or just ope_he door?"
"Go in and take a seat," replied the teacher.
"What if there aren't any seats?" gasped Elnora.
"Classrooms are never half-filled, there will be plenty," was the answer.
Elnora removed her hat. There was no place to put it, so she carried it in he_and. She looked infinitely better without it. After several efforts she a_ast opened the door and stepping inside faced a smaller and more concentrate_attery of eyes.
"The superintendent sent me. He thinks I belong here," she said to th_rofessor in charge of the class, but she never before heard the voice wit_hich she spoke. As she stood waiting, the girl of the hall passed on her wa_o the blackboard, and suppressed laughter told Elnora that her thrust ha_een repeated.
"Be seated," said the professor, and then because he saw Elnora wa_esperately embarrassed he proceeded to lend her a book and to ask her if sh_ad studied algebra. She said she had a little, but not the same book the_ere using. He asked her if she felt that she could do the work they wer_eginning, and she said she did.
That was how it happened, that three minutes after entering the room she wa_old to take her place beside the girl who had gone last to the board, an_hose flushed face and angry eyes avoided meeting Elnora's. Being compelled t_oncentrate on her proposition she forgot herself. When the professor aske_hat all pupils sign their work she firmly wrote "Elnora Comstock" under he_emonstration. Then she took her seat and waited with white lips and tremblin_imbs, as one after another professor called the names on the board, whil_heir owners arose and explained their propositions, or "flunked" if they ha_ot found a correct solution. She was so eager to catch their forms o_xpression and prepare herself for her recitation, that she never looked fro_he work on the board, until clearly and distinctly, "Elnora Cornstock,"
called the professor.
The dazed girl stared at the board. One tiny curl added to the top of th_irst curve of the m in her name, had transformed it from a good old Englis_atronymic that any girl might bear proudly, to Cornstock. Elnora sa_peechless. When and how did it happen? She could feel the wave of smothere_aughter in the air around her. A rush of anger turned her face scarlet an_er soul sick. The voice of the professor addressed her directly.
"This proposition seems to be beautifully demonstrated, Miss Cornstalk," h_aid. "Surely, you can tell us how you did it."
That word of praise saved her. She could do good work. They might wear thei_retty clothes, have their friends and make life a greater misery than it eve_efore had been for her, but not one of them should do better work or be mor_omanly. That lay with her. She was tall, straight, and handsome as she arose.
"Of course I can explain my work," she said in natural tones. "What I can'_xplain is how I happened to be so stupid as to make a mistake in writing m_wn name. I must have been a little nervous. Please excuse me."
She went to the board, swept off the signature with one stroke, then rewrot_t plainly. "My name is Comstock," she said distinctly. She returned to he_eat and following the formula used by the others made her first high schoo_ecitation.
As Elnora resumed her seat Professor Henley looked at her steadily. "I_uzzles me," he said deliberately, "how you can write as beautiful _emonstration, and explain it as clearly as ever has been done in any of m_lasses and still be so disturbed as to make a mistake in your own name. Ar_ou very sure you did that yourself, Miss Comstock?"
"It is impossible that any one else should have done it," answered Elnora.
"I am very glad you think so," said the professor. "Being Freshmen, all of yo_re strangers to me. I should dislike to begin the year with you feeling ther_as one among you small enough to do a trick like that. The next proposition, please."
When the hour had gone the class filed back to the study room and Elnor_ollowed in desperation, because she did not know where else to go. She coul_ot study as she had no books, and when the class again left the room to go t_nother professor for the next recitation, she went also. At least they coul_ut her out if she did not belong there. Noon came at last, and she kept wit_he others until they dispersed on the sidewalk. She was so abnormally self- conscious she fancied all the hundreds of that laughing, throng saw and jeste_t her. When she passed the brown-eyed boy walking with the girl of he_ncounter, she knew, for she heard him say: "Did you really let that gawk_iece of calico get ahead of you?" The answer was indistinct.
Elnora hurried from the city. She intended to get her lunch, eat it in th_hade of the first tree, and then decide whether she would go back or go home.
She knelt on the bridge and reached for her box, but it was so very light tha_he was prepared for the fact that it was empty, before opening it. There wa_ne thing for which to be thankful. The boy or tramp who had seen her hide it, had left the napkin. She would not have to face her mother and account for it_oss. She put it in her pocket, and threw the box into the ditch. Then she sa_n the bridge and tried to think, but her brain was confused.
"Perhaps the worst is over," she said at last. "I will go back. What woul_other say to me if I came home now?"
So she returned to the high school, followed some other pupils to the coa_oom, hung her hat, and found her way to the study where she had been in th_orning. Twice that afternoon, with aching head and empty stomach, she face_trange professors, in different branches. Once she escaped notice; the secon_ime the worst happened. She was asked a question she could not answer.
"Have you not decided on your course, and secured your books?" inquired th_rofessor.
"I have decided on my course," replied Elnora, "I do not know where to ask fo_y books."
"Ask?" the professor was bewildered.
"I understood the books were furnished," faltered Elnora.
"Only to those bringing an order from the township trustee," replied th_rofessor.
"No! Oh no!" cried Elnora. "I will have them to-morrow," and gripped her des_or support for she knew that was not true. Four books, ranging perhaps at _ollar and a half apiece; would her mother buy them? Of course she woul_ot—could not.
Did not Elnora know the story of old. There was enough land, but no one to d_learing and farm. Tax on all those acres, recently the new gravel road ta_dded, the expense of living and only the work of two women to meet all of it.
She was insane to think she could come to the city to school. Her mother ha_een right. The girl decided that if only she lived to reach home, she woul_tay there and lead any sort of life to avoid more of this torture. Bad a_hat she wished to escape had been, it was nothing like this. She never coul_ive down the movement that went through the class when she inadvertentl_evealed the fact that she had expected books to be furnished. Her mothe_ould not secure them; that settled the question.
But the end of misery is never in a hurry to come; before the day was over th_uperintendent entered the room and explained that pupils from the countr_ere charged a tuition of twenty dollars a year. That really was the end.
Previously Elnora had canvassed a dozen methods for securing the money fo_ooks, ranging all the way from offering to wash the superintendent's dishe_o breaking into the bank. This additional expense made her plans so wildl_mpossible, there was nothing to do but hold up her head until she was fro_ight.
Down the long corridor alone among hundreds, down the long street alone amon_housands, out into the country she came at last. Across the fence and field, along the old trail once trodden by a boy's bitter agony, now stumbled _hite-faced girl, sick at heart. She sat on a log and began to sob in spite o_er efforts at self-control. At first it was physical breakdown, later, thought came crowding.
Oh the shame, the mortification! Why had she not known of the tuition? How di_he happen to think that in the city books were furnished? Perhaps it wa_ecause she had read they were in several states. But why did she not know?
Why did not her mother go with her? Other mothers—but when had her mother eve_een or done anything at all like other mothers? Because she never had been i_as useless to blame her now. Elnora realized she should have gone to town th_eek before, called on some one and learned all these things herself. Sh_hould have remembered how her clothing would look, before she wore it i_ublic places. Now she knew, and her dreams were over. She must go home t_eed chickens, calves, and pigs, wear calico and coarse shoes, and wit_verted head, pass a library all her life. She sobbed again.
"For pity's sake, honey, what's the matter?" asked the voice of the neares_eighbour, Wesley Sinton, as he seated himself beside Elnora. "There, there,"
he continued, smearing tears all over her face in an effort to dry them. "Wa_t as bad as that, now? Maggie has been just wild over you all day. She's go_ervouser every minute. She said we were foolish to let you go. She said you_lothes were not right, you ought not to carry that tin pail, and that the_ould laugh at you. By gum, I see they did!"
"Oh, Uncle Wesley," sobbed the girl, "why didn't she tell me?"
"Well, you see, Elnora, she didn't like to. You got such a way of holding u_our head, and going through with things. She thought some way that you'd mak_t, till you got started, and then she begun to see a hundred things we shoul_ave done. I reckon you hadn't reached that building before she remembere_hat your skirt should have been pleated instead of gathered, your shoes bee_ow, and lighter for hot September weather, and a new hat. Were your clothe_ight, Elnora?"
The girl broke into hysterical laughter. "Right!" she cried. "Right! Uncl_esley, you should have seen me among them! I was a picture! They'll neve_orget me. No, they won't get the chance, for they'll see me again to-morrow!
"Now that is what I call spunk, Elnora! Downright grit," said Wesley Sinton.
"Don't you let them laugh you out. You've helped Margaret and me for years a_arvest and busy times, what you've earned must amount to quite a sum. You ca_et yourself a good many clothes with it."
"Don't mention clothes, Uncle Wesley," sobbed Elnora, "I don't care now how _ook. If I don't go back all of them will know it's because I am so poor _an't buy my books."
"Oh, I don't know as you are so dratted poor," said Sinton meditatively.
"There are three hundred acres of good land, with fine timber as ever grew o_t."
"It takes all we can earn to pay the tax, and mother wouldn't cut a tree fo_er life."
"Well then, maybe, I'll be compelled to cut one for her," suggested Sinton.
"Anyway, stop tearing yourself to pieces and tell me. If it isn't clothes, what is it?"
"It's books and tuition. Over twenty dollars in all."
"Humph! First time I ever knew you to be stumped by twenty dollars, Elnora,"
said Sinton, patting her hand.
"It's the first time you ever knew me to want money," answered Elnora. "Thi_s different from anything that ever happened to me. Oh, how can I get it, Uncle Wesley?"
"Drive to town with me in the morning and I'll draw it from the bank for you.
I owe you every cent of it."
"You know you don't owe me a penny, and I wouldn't touch one from you, unles_ really could earn it. For anything that's past I owe you and Aunt Margare_or all the home life and love I've ever known. I know how you work, and I'l_ot take your money."
"Just a loan, Elnora, just a loan for a little while until you can earn it.
You can be proud with all the rest of the world, but there are no secret_etween us, are there, Elnora?"
"No," said Elnora, "there are none. You and Aunt Margaret have given me al_he love there has been in my life. That is the one reason above all other_hy you shall not give me charity. Hand me money because you find me cryin_or it! This isn't the first time this old trail has known tears an_eartache. All of us know that story. Freckles stuck to what he undertook an_on out. I stick, too. When Duncan moved away he gave me all Freckles left i_he swamp, and as I have inherited his property maybe his luck will come wit_t. I won't touch your money, but I'll win some way. First, I'm going home an_ry mother. It's just possible I could find second-hand books, and perhaps al_he tuition need not be paid at once. Maybe they would accept it quarterly.
But oh, Uncle Wesley, you and Aunt Margaret keep on loving me! I'm so lonely, and no one else cares!"
Wesley Sinton's jaws met with a click. He swallowed hard on bitter words an_hanged what he would have liked to say three times before it becam_rticulate.
"Elnora," he said at last, "if it hadn't been for one thing I'd have tried t_ake legal steps to make you ours when you were three years old. Maggie sai_hen it wasn't any use, but I've always held on. You see, I was the first ma_here, honey, and there are things you see, that you can't ever make anybod_lse understand. She loved him Elnora, she just made an idol of him. There wa_hat oozy green hole, with the thick scum broke, and two or three big bubble_lowly rising that were the breath of his body. There she was in spasms o_gony, and beside her the great heavy log she'd tried to throw him. I can'_ver forgive her for turning against you, and spoiling your childhood as sh_as, but I couldn't forgive anybody else for abusing her. Maggie has got n_ercy on her, but Maggie didn't see what I did, and I've never tried to mak_t very clear to her. It's been a little too plain for me ever since. Wheneve_ look at your mother's face, I see what she saw, so I hold my tongue and say, in my heart, 'Give her a mite more time.' Some day it will come. She does lov_ou, Elnora. Everybody does, honey. It's just that she's feeling so much, sh_an't express herself. You be a patient girl and wait a little longer. Afte_ll, she's your mother, and you're all she's got, but a memory, and it migh_o her good to let her know that she was fooled in that."
"It would kill her!" cried the girl swiftly. "Uncle Wesley, it would kill her!
What do you mean?"
"Nothing," said Wesley Sinton soothingly. "Nothing, honey. That was just on_f them fool things a man says, when he is trying his best to be wise. Yo_ee, she loved him mightily, and they'd been married only a year, and what sh_as loving was what she thought he was. She hadn't really got acquainted wit_he man yet. If it had been even one more year, she could have borne it, an_ou'd have got justice. Having been a teacher she was better educated an_marter than the rest of us, and so she was more sensitive like. She can'_nderstand she was loving a dream. So I say it might do her good if somebod_hat knew, could tell her, but I swear to gracious, I never could. I've hear_er out at the edge of that quagmire calling in them wild spells of hers of_nd on for the last sixteen years, and imploring the swamp to give him back t_er, and I've got out of bed when I was pretty tired, and come down to see sh_idn't go in herself, or harm you. What she feels is too deep for me. I've go_o respectin' her grief, and I can't get over it. Go home and tell your ma, honey, and ask her nice and kind to help you. If she won't, then you got t_wallow that little lump of pride in your neck, and come to Aunt Maggie, lik_ou been a-coming all your life."
"I'll ask mother, but I can't take your money, Uncle Wesley, indeed I can't.
I'll wait a year, and earn some, and enter next year."
"There's one thing you don't consider, Elnora," said the man earnestly. "An_hat's what you are to Maggie. She's a little like your ma. She hasn't give_p to it, and she's struggling on brave, but when we buried our second littl_irl the light went out of Maggie's eyes, and it's not come back. The onl_ime I ever see a hint of it is when she thinks she's done something tha_akes you happy, Elnora. Now, you go easy about refusing her anything sh_ants to do for you. There's times in this world when it's our bounden duty t_orget ourselves, and think what will help other people. Young woman, you ow_e and Maggie all the comfort we can get out of you. There's the two of ou_wn we can't ever do anything for. Don't you get the idea into your head tha_ fool thing you call pride is going to cut us out of all the pleasure we hav_n life beside ourselves."
"Uncle Wesley, you are a dear," said Elnora. "Just a dear! If I can't possibl_et that money any way else on earth, I'll come and borrow it of you, and the_'ll pay it back if I must dig ferns from the swamp and sell them from door t_oor in the city. I'll even plant them, so that they will be sure to come u_n the spring. I have been sort of panic stricken all day and couldn't think.
I can gather nuts and sell them. Freckles sold moths and butterflies, and I'v_ lot collected. Of course, I am going back to-morrow! I can find a way to ge_he books. Don't you worry about me. I am all right!
"Now, what do you think of that?" inquired Wesley Sinton of the swamp i_eneral. "Here's our Elnora come back to stay. Head high and right as _rivet! You've named three ways in three minutes that you could earn te_ollars, which I figure would be enough, to start you. Let's go to supper an_top worrying!"
Elnora unlocked the case, took out the pail, put the napkin in it, pulled th_ibbon from her hair, binding it down tightly again and followed to the road.
From afar she could see her mother in the doorway. She blinked her eyes, an_ried to smile as she answered Wesley Sinton, and indeed she did feel better.
She knew now what she had to expect, where to go, and what to do. Get th_ooks she must; when she had them, she would show those city girls and boy_ow to prepare and recite lessons, how to walk with a brave heart; and the_ould show her how to wear pretty clothes and have good times.
As she neared the door her mother reached for the pail. "I forgot to tell yo_o bring home your scraps for the chickens," she said.
Elnora entered. "There weren't any scraps, and I'm hungry again as I ever wa_n my life."
"I thought likely you would be," said Mrs. Comstock, "and so I got suppe_eady. We can eat first, and do the work afterward. What kept you so? _xpected you an hour ago."
Elnora looked into her mother's face and smiled. It was a queer sort of _ittle smile, and would have reached the depths with any normal mother.
"I see you've been bawling," said Mrs. Comstock. "I thought you'd get you_ill in a hurry. That's why I wouldn't go to any expense. If we keep out o_he poor-house we have to cut the corners close. It's likely this Brushwoo_oad tax will eat up all we've saved in years. Where the land tax is to com_rom I don't know. It gets bigger every year. If they are going to dredge th_wamp ditch again they'll just have to take the land to pay for it. I can't, that's all! We'll get up early in the morning and gather and hull the bean_or winter, and put in the rest of the day hoeing the turnips."
Elnora again smiled that pitiful smile.
"Do you think I didn't know that I was funny and would be laughed at?" sh_sked.
"Funny?" cried Mrs. Comstock hotly.
"Yes, funny! A regular caricature," answered Elnora. "No one else wore calico, not even one other. No one else wore high heavy shoes, not even one. No on_lse had such a funny little old hat; my hair was not right, my ribbo_nvisible compared with the others, I did not know where to go, or what to do, and I had no books. What a spectacle I made for them!" Elnora laughe_ervously at her own picture. "But there are always two sides! The professo_aid in the algebra class that he never had a better solution and explanatio_han mine of the proposition he gave me, which scored one for me in spite o_y clothes."
"Well, I wouldn't brag on myself!"
"That was poor taste," admitted Elnora. "But, you see, it is a case o_histling to keep up my courage. I honestly could see that I would have looke_ust as well as the rest of them if I had been dressed as they were. We can'_fford that, so I have to find something else to brace me. It was rather bad, mother!"
"Well, I'm glad you got enough of it!"
"Oh, but I haven't," hurried in Elnora. "I just got a start. The hardest i_ver. To-morrow they won't be surprised. They will know what to expect. I a_orry to hear about the dredge. Is it really going through?"
"Yes. I got my notification today. The tax will be something enormous. I don'_now as I can spare you, even if you are willing to be a laughing-stock fo_he town."
With every bite Elnora's courage returned, for she was a healthy young thing.
"You've heard about doing evil that good might come from it," she said. "Well, mother mine, it's something like that with me. I'm willing to bear the har_art to pay for what I'll learn. Already I have selected the ward building i_hich I shall teach in about four years. I am going to ask for a room with _outh exposure so that the flowers and moths I take in from the swamp to sho_he children will do well."
"You little idiot!" said Mrs. Comstock. "How are you going to pay you_xpenses?"
"Now that is just what I was going to ask you!" said Elnora. "You see, I hav_ad two startling pieces of news to-day. I did not know I would need an_oney. I thought the city furnished the books, and there is an out-of-tow_uition, also. I need ten dollars in the morning. Will you please let me hav_t?"
"Ten dollars!" cried Mrs. Comstock. "Ten dollars! Why don't you say a hundre_nd be done with it! I could get one as easy as the other. I told you! I tol_ou I couldn't raise a cent. Every year expenses grow bigger and bigger. _old you not to ask for money!"
"I never meant to," replied Elnora. "I thought clothes were all I needed and _ould bear them. I never knew about buying books and tuition."
"Well, I did!" said Mrs. Comstock. "I knew what you would run into! But yo_re so bull-dog stubborn, and so set in your way, I thought I would just le_ou try the world a little and see how you liked it!"
Elnora pushed back her chair and looked at her mother.
"Do you mean to say," she demanded, "that you knew, when you let me go into _ity classroom and reveal the fact before all of them that I expected to hav_y books handed out to me; do you mean to say that you knew I had to pay fo_hem?"
Mrs. Comstock evaded the direct question.
"Anybody but an idiot mooning over a book or wasting time prowling the wood_ould have known you had to pay. Everybody has to pay for everything. Life i_ade up of pay, pay, pay! It's always and forever pay! If you don't pay on_ay you do another! Of course, I knew you had to pay. Of course, I knew yo_ould come home blubbering! But you don't get a penny! I haven't one cent, an_an't get one! Have your way if you are determined, but I think you will fin_he road somewhat rocky."
"Swampy, you mean, mother," corrected Elnora. She arose white and trembling.
"Perhaps some day God will teach me how to understand you. He knows I do no_ow. You can't possibly realize just what you let me go through to-day, or ho_ou let me go, but I'll tell you this: You understand enough that if you ha_he money, and would offer it to me, I wouldn't touch it now. And I'll tel_ou this much more. I'll get it myself. I'll raise it, and do it some hones_ay. I am going back to-morrow, the next day, and the next. You need not com_ut, I'll do the night work, and hoe the turnips."
It was ten o'clock when the chickens, pigs, and cattle were fed, the turnip_oed, and a heap of bean vines was stacked beside the back door.