Chapter 16 Wherein the Limberlost sings for Philip, and the talking tree_ell great secrets
A few days later Philip handed Elnora a sheet of paper and she read: "In you_ondition I should think the moth hunting and life at that cabin would be ver_ood for you, but for any sake keep away from that Grosbeak person, and don'_ome home with your head full of granger ideas. No doubt he has a remarkabl_oice, but I can't bear untrained singers, and don't you get the idea that _une song is perennial. You are not hearing the music he will make when th_our babies have the scarlet fever and the measles, and the gadding wif_eaves him at home to care for them then. Poor soul, I pity her! How sh_xists where rampant cows bellow at you, frogs croak, mosquitoes consume you, the butter goes to oil in summer and bricks in winter, while the pump freeze_very day, and there is no earthly amusement, and no society! Poor things!
Can't you influence him to move? No wonder she gads when she has a chance! _hould die. If you are thinking of settling in the country, think also of _oman who is satisfied with white and brown to accompany you! Brown! Of al_eadly colours! I should go mad in brown."
Elnora laughed while she read. Her face was dimpling, as she returned th_heet. "Who's ahead?" she asked.
"Who do you think?" he parried.
"She is," said Elnora. "Are you going to tell her in your next that R. B.
Grosbeak is a bird, and that he probably will spend the winter in a wild plu_hicket in Tennessee?"
"No," said Philip. "I shall tell her that I understand her ideas of lif_erfectly, and, of course, I never shall ask her to deal with oily butter an_rozen pumps—"
"—and measley babies," interpolated Elnora.
"Exactly!" said Philip. "At the same time I find so much to counterbalanc_hose things, that I should not object to bearing them myself, in view of th_ecompense. Where do we go and what do we do to-day?"
"We will have to hunt beside the roads and around the edge of the Limberlos_o-day," said Elnora. "Mother is making strawberry preserves, and she can'_ome until she finishes. Suppose we go down to the swamp and I'll show yo_hat is left of the flower-room that Terence O'More, the big lumber man o_reat Rapids, made when he was a homeless boy here. Of course, you have hear_he story?"
"Yes, and I've met the O'Mores who are frequently in Chicago society. The_ave friends there. I think them one ideal couple."
"That sounds as if they might be the only one," said Elnora, "and, indeed, they are not. I know dozens. Aunt Margaret and Uncle Wesley are another, th_rownlees another, and my mathematics professor and his wife. The world i_ull of happy people, but no one ever hears of them. You must fight and make _candal to get into the papers. No one knows about all the happy people. I a_appy myself, and look how perfectly inconspicuous I am."
"You only need go where you will be seen," began Philip, when he remembere_nd finished. "What do we take to-day?"
"Ourselves," said Elnora. "I have a vagabond streak in my blood and it's i_vidence. I am going to show you where real flowers grow, real birds sing, an_f I feel quite right about it, perhaps I shall raise a note or two myself."
"Oh, do you sing?" asked Philip politely.
"At times," answered Elnora. "'As do the birds; because I must,' but don't b_cared. The mood does not possess me often. Perhaps I shan't raise a note."
They went down the road to the swamp, climbed the snake fence, followed th_ath to the old trail and then turned south upon it. Elnora indicated t_hilip the trail with remnants of sagging barbed wire.
"It was ten years ago," she said. "I was a little school girl, but I wandere_idely even then, and no one cared. I saw him often. He had been in a cit_nstitution all his life, when he took the job of keeping timber thieves ou_f this swamp, before many trees had been cut. It was a strong man's work, an_e was a frail boy, but he grew hardier as he lived out of doors. This trai_e are on is the path his feet first wore, in those days when he was insan_ith fear and eaten up with loneliness, but he stuck to his work and won out.
I used to come down to the road and creep among the bushes as far as I dared, to watch him pass. He walked mostly, at times he rode a wheel.
"Some days his face was dreadfully sad, others it was so determined a littl_hild could see the force in it, and once he was radiant. That day the Swam_ngel was with him. I can't tell you what she was like. I never saw any on_ho resembled her. He stopped close here to show her a bird's nest. Then the_ent on to a sort of flower-room he had made, and he sang for her. By the tim_e left, I had gotten bold enough to come out on the trail, and I met the bi_cotchman Freckles lived with. He saw me catching moths and butterflies, so h_ook me to the flower-room and gave me everything there. I don't dare com_lone often, so I can't keep it up as he did, but you can see something of ho_t was."
Elnora led the way and Philip followed. The outlines of the room were no_istinct, because many of the trees were gone, but Elnora showed how it ha_een as nearly as she could.
"The swamp is almost ruined now," she said. "The maples, walnuts, and cherrie_re all gone. The talking trees are the only things left worth while."
"The 'talking trees!' I don't understand," commented Philip.
"No wonder!" laughed Elnora. "They are my discovery. You know all tree_hisper and talk during the summer, but there are two that have so much to sa_hey keep on the whole winter, when the others are silent. The beeches an_aks so love to talk, they cling to their dead, dry leaves. In the winter th_inds are stiffest and blow most, so these trees whisper, chatter, sob, laugh, and at times roar until the sound is deafening. They never cease until ne_eaves come out in the spring to push off the old ones. I love to stan_eneath them with my ear to the trunks, interpreting what they say to fit m_oods. The beeches branch low, and their leaves are small so they only kno_ommon earthly things; but the oaks run straight above almost all other tree_efore they branch, their arms are mighty, their leaves large. They meet th_inds that travel around the globe, and from them learn the big things."
Philip studied the girls face. "What do the beeches tell you, Elnora?" h_sked gently.
"To be patient, to be unselfish, to do unto others as I would have them do t_e."
"And the oaks?"
"They say 'be true,' 'live a clean life,' 'send your soul up here and th_inds of the world will teach it what honour achieves.'"
"Wonderful secrets, those!" marvelled Philip. "Are they telling them now?
Could I hear?"
"No. They are only gossiping now. This is play-time. They tell the big secret_o a white world, when the music inspires them."
"All other trees are harps in the winter. Their trunks are the frames, thei_ranches the strings, the winds the musicians. When the air is cold and clear, the world very white, and the harp music swelling, then the talking trees tel_he strengthening, uplifting things."
"You wonderful girl!" cried Philip. "What a woman you will be!"
"If I am a woman at all worth while, it will be because I have had suc_onderful opportunities," said Elnora. "Not every girl is driven to the fores_o learn what God has to say there. Here are the remains of Freckles's room.
The time the Angel came here he sang to her, and I listened. I never hear_usic like that. No wonder she loved him. Every one who knew him did, and the_o yet. Try that log, it makes a fairly good seat. This old store box was hi_reasure house, just as it's now mine. I will show you my dearest possession.
I do not dare take it home because mother can't overcome her dislike for it.
It was my father's, and in some ways I am like him. This is the strongest."
Elnora lifted the violin and began to play. She wore a school dress of gree_ingham, with the sleeves rolled to the elbows. She seemed a part of th_etting all around her. Her head shone like a small dark sun, and her fac_ever had seemed so rose-flushed and fair. From the instant she drew the bow, her lips parted and her eyes turned toward something far away in the swamp, and never did she give more of that impression of feeling for her notes an_epeating something audible only to her. Philip was too close to get the bes_ffect. He arose and stepped back several yards, leaning against a large tree, looking and listening intently.
As he changed positions he saw that Mrs. Comstock had followed them, and wa_tanding on the trail, where she could not have helped hearing everythin_lnora had said.
So to Philip before her and the mother watching on the trail, Elnora playe_he Song of the Limberlost. It seemed as if the swamp hushed all its othe_oices and spoke only through her dancing bow. The mother out on the trail ha_eard it all, once before from the girl, many times from her father. To th_an it was a revelation. He stood so stunned he forgot Mrs. Comstock. He trie_o realize what a city audience would say to that music, from such a player, with a similar background, and he could not imagine.
He was wondering what he dared say, how much he might express, when the las_ote fell and the girl laid the violin in the case, closed the door, locked i_nd hid the key in the rotting wood at the end of a log. Then she came to him.
Philip stood looking at her curiously.
"I wonder," he said, "what people would say to that?"
"I played that in public once," said Elnora. "I think they liked it, fairl_ell. I had a note yesterday offering me the leadership of the high schoo_rchestra in Onabasha. I can take it as well as not. None of my talks to th_rades come the first thing in the morning. I can play a few minutes in th_rchestra and reach the rooms in plenty of time. It will be more work that _ove, and like finding the money. I would gladly play for nothing, merely t_e able to express myself."
"With some people it makes a regular battlefield of the human heart—thi_truggle for self-expression," said Philip. "You are going to do beautifu_ork in the world, and do it well. When I realize that your violin belonged t_our father, that he played it before you were born, and it no doubt affecte_our mother strongly, and then couple with that the years you have roame_hese fields and swamps finding in nature all you had to lavish your hear_pon, I can see how you evolved. I understand what you mean by self- expression. I know something of what you have to express. The world never s_anted your message as it does now. It is hungry for the things you know. _an see easily how your position came to you. What you have to give is taugh_n no college, and I am not sure but you would spoil yourself if you tried t_un your mind through a set groove with hundreds of others. I never thought _hould say such a thing to any one, but I do say to you, and I honestl_elieve it; give up the college idea. Your mind does not need that sort o_evelopment. Stick close to your work in the woods. You are becoming s_nfinitely greater on it, than the best college girl I ever knew, that ther_s no comparison. When you have money to spend, take that violin and go to on_f the world's great masters and let the Limberlost sing to him; if he think_e can improve it, very well. I have my doubts."
"Do you really mean that you would give up all idea of going to college, in m_lace?"
"I really mean it," said Philip. "If I now held the money in my hands to sen_ou, and could give it to you in some way you would accept I would not. I d_ot know why it is the fate of the world always to want something differen_rom what life gives them. If you only could realize it, my girl, you are i_ollege, and have been always. You are in the school of experience, and it ha_aught you to think, and given you a heart. God knows I envy the man who win_t! You have been in the college of the Limberlost all your life, and I neve_et a graduate from any other institution who could begin to compare with yo_n sanity, clarity, and interesting knowledge. I wouldn't even advise you t_ead too many books on your lines. You acquire your material first hand, an_ou know that you are right. What you should do is to begin early to practis_elf-expression. Don't wait too long to tell us about the woods as you kno_hem."
"Follow the course of the Bird Woman, you mean?" asked Elnora.
"In your own way; with your own light. She won't live forever. You ar_ounger, and you will be ready to begin where she ends. The swamp has give_ou all you need so far; now you give it to the world in payment. College b_onfounded! Go to work and show people what there is in you!"
Not until then did he remember Mrs. Comstock.
"Should we go out to the trail and see if your mother is coming?" he asked.
"Here she is now," said Elnora. "Gracious, it's a mercy I got that violin pu_way in time! I didn't expect her so soon," whispered the girl as she turne_nd went toward her mother. Mrs. Comstock's expression was peculiar as sh_ooked at Elnora.
"I forgot that you were making sun-preserves and they didn't require muc_ooking," she said. "We should have waited for you."
"Not at all!" answered Mrs. Comstock. "Have you found anything yet?"
"Nothing that I can show you," said Elnora. "I am almost sure I have found a_dea that will revolutionize the whole course of my work, thought, an_mbitions."
"'Ambitions!' My, what a hefty word!" laughed Mrs. Comstock. "Now who woul_uspect a little red-haired country girl of harbouring such a deadly germ i_er body? Can you tell mother about it?"
"Not if you talk to me that way, I can't," said Elnora.
"Well, I guess we better let ambition lie. I've always heard it was safes_sleep. If you ever get a bona fide attack, it will be time to attend it.
Let's hunt specimens. It is June. Philip and I are in the grades. You have a_our to put an idea into our heads that will stick for a lifetime, and gro_or good. That's the way I look at your job. Now, what are you going to giv_s? We don't want any old silly stuff that has been hashed over and over, w_ant a big new idea to plant in our hearts. Come on, Miss Teacher, what is th_oiled-down, double-distilled essence of June? Give it to us strong. We ar_arge enough to furnish it developing ground. Hurry up! Time is short and w_re waiting. What is the miracle of June? What one thing epitomizes the whol_onth, and makes it just a little different from any other?"
"The birth of these big night moths," said Elnora promptly.
Philip clapped his hands. The tears started to Mrs. Comstock's eyes. She too_lnora in her arms, and kissed her forehead.
"You'll do!" she said. "June is June, not because it has bloom, bird, fruit, or flower, exclusive to it alone.
"It's half May and half July in all of them. But to me, it's just June, whe_t comes to these great, velvet-winged night moths which sweep its moonli_kies, consummating their scheme of creation, and dropping like a bloomed-ou_lower. Give them moths for June. Then make that the basis of your year'_ork. Find the distinctive feature of each month, the one thing which marks i_ time apart, and hit them squarely between the eyes with it. Even the babie_f the lowest grades can comprehend moths when they see a few emerge, an_earn their history, as it can be lived before them. You should show you_pecimens in pairs, then their eggs, the growing caterpillars, and then th_ocoons. You want to dig out the red heart of every month in the year, an_old it pulsing before them.
"I can't name all of them off-hand, but I think of one more right now.
February belongs to our winter birds. It is then the great horned owl of th_wamp courts his mate, the big hawks pair, and even the crows begin to tak_otice. These are truly our birds. Like the poor we have them always with us.
You should hear the musicians of this swamp in February, Philip, on a mello_ight. Oh, but they are in earnest! For twenty-one years I've listened b_ight to the great owls, all the smaller sizes, the foxes, coons, and ever_esident left in these woods, and by day to the hawks, yellow-hammers, sap- suckers, titmice, crows, and other winter birds. Only just now it's come to m_hat the distinctive feature of February is not linen bleaching, nor suga_aking; it's the love month of our very own birds. Give them hawks and owl_or February, Elnora."
With flashing eyes the girl looked at Philip. "How's that?" she said. "Don'_ou think I will succeed, with such help? You should hear the concert she i_alking about! It is simply indescribable when the ground is covered wit_now, and the moonlight white."
"It's about the best music we have," said Mrs. Comstock. "I wonder if yo_ouldn't copy that and make a strong, original piece out of it for you_iolin, Elnora?"
There was one tense breath, then—— "I could try," said Elnora simply.
Philip rushed to the rescue. "We must go to work," he said, and bega_xamining a walnut branch for Luna moth eggs. Elnora joined him while Mrs.
Comstock drew her embroidery from her pocket and sat on a log. She said sh_as tired, they could come for her when they were ready to go. She could hea_heir voices around her until she called them at supper time. When they cam_o her she stood waiting on the trail, the sewing in one hand, the violin i_he other. Elnora became very white, but followed the trail without a word.
Philip, unable to see a woman carry a heavier load than he, reached for th_nstrument. Mrs. Comstock shook her head. She carried the violin home, took i_nto her room and closed the door. Elnora turned to Philip.
"If she destroys that, I shall die!" cried the girl.
"She won't!" said Philip. "You misunderstand her. She wouldn't have said wha_he did about the owls, if she had meant to. She is your mother. No one love_ou as she does. Trust her! Myself—I think she's simply great!"
Mrs. Comstock returned with serene face, and all of them helped with th_upper. When it was over Philip and Elnora sorted and classified th_fternoon's specimens, and made a trip to the woods to paint and light severa_rees for moths. When they came back Mrs. Comstock sat in the arbour, and the_oined her. The moonlight was so intense, print could have been read by it.
The damp night air held odours near to earth, making flower and tree perfum_trong. A thousand insects were serenading, and in the maple the grosbea_ccasionally said a reassuring word to his wife, while she answered that al_as well. A whip-poor-will wailed in the swamp and beside the blue-bordere_ool a chat complained disconsolately. Mrs. Comstock went into the cabin, bu_he returned immediately, laying the violin and bow across Elnora's lap. "_ish you would give us a little music," she said.