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Chapter 23 Wherein Elnora reaches a decision, and Freckles and the Ange_ppear

  • "Well, she came, didn't she?" remarked Mrs. Comstock to Elnora as they watche_he automobile speed down the road. As it turned the Limberlost corner, Phili_rose and waved to them.
  • "She hasn't got him yet, anyway," said Mrs. Comstock, taking heart. "What'_hat on your finger, and what did she say to you?"
  • Elnora explained about the ring as she drew it off.
  • "I have several letters to write, then I am going to change my dress and wal_own toward Aunt Margaret's for a little exercise. I may meet some of them, and I don't want them to see this ring. You keep it until Philip comes," sai_lnora. "As for what Miss Carr said to me, many things, two of importance: one, that I lacked every social requirement necessary for the happiness o_hilip Ammon, and that if I married him I would see inside a month that he wa_shamed of me——"
  • "Aw, shockins!" scorned Mrs. Comstock. "Go on!"
  • "The other was that she has been engaged to him for years, that he belongs t_er, and she refuses to give him up. She said that if he were in her presenc_ne hour, she would have him under a mysterious thing she calls 'her spell'
  • again; if he were where she could see him for one week, everything would b_ade up. It is her opinion that he is suffering from wounded pride, and tha_he slightest concession on her part will bring him to his knees before her."
  • Mrs. Comstock giggled. "I do hope the boy isn't weak-kneed," she said. "I jus_appened to be passing the west window this afternoon——"
  • Elnora laughed. "Nothing save actual knowledge ever would have made me believ_here was a girl in all this world so infatuated with herself. She speak_asually of her power over men, and boasts of 'bringing a man to his knees' a_omplacently as I would pick up a net and say: 'I am going to take _utterfly.' She honestly believes that if Philip were with her a short tim_he could rekindle his love for her and awaken in him every particle of th_ld devotion. Mother, the girl is honest! She is absolutely sincere! She s_elieves in herself and the strength of Phil's love for her, that all her lif_he will believe in and brood over that thought, unless she is taugh_ifferently. So long as she thinks that, she will nurse wrong ideas and pin_ver her blighted life. She must be taught that Phil is absolutely free, an_et he will not go to her."
  • "But how on earth are you proposing to teach her that?"
  • "The way will open."
  • "Lookey here, Elnora!" cried Mrs. Comstock. "That Carr girl is the handsomes_ark woman I ever saw. She's got to the place where she won't stop a_nything. Her coming here proves that. I don't believe there was a thing th_atter with that automobile. I think that was a scheme she fixed up to ge_hil where she could see him alone, as she worked to see you. If you are goin_eliberately to put Philip under her influence again, you've got to brac_ourself for the possibility that she may win. A man is a weak mortal, where _ovely woman is concerned, and he never denied that he loved her once. You ma_ake yourself downright miserable."
  • "But mother, if she won, it wouldn't make me half so miserable as to marr_hil myself, and then read hunger for her in his eyes! Some one has got t_uffer over this. If it proves to be me, I'll bear it, and you'll never hear _hisper of complaint from me. I know the real Philip Ammon better in ou_onths of work in the fields than she knows him in all her years of societ_ngagements. So she shall have the hour she asked, many, many of them, enoug_o make her acknowledge that she is wrong. Now I am going to write my letter_nd take my walk."
  • Elnora threw her arms around her mother and kissed her repeatedly. "Don't yo_orry about me," she said. "I will get along all right, and whatever happens, I always will be your girl and you my darling mother."
  • She left two sealed notes on her desk. Then she changed her dress, packed _mall bundle which she dropped with her hat from the window beside the willow, and softly went down stairs. Mrs. Comstock was in the garden. Elnora picked u_he hat and bundle, hurried down the road a few rods, then climbed the fenc_nd entered the woods. She took a diagonal course, and after a long wal_eached a road two miles west and one south. There she straightened he_lothing, put on her hat and a thin dark veil and waited the passing of th_ext trolley. She left it at the first town and took a train for Fort Wayne.
  • She made that point just in time to climb on the evening train north, as i_ulled from the station. It was after midnight when she left the car at Gran_apids, and went into the depot to await the coming of day.
  • Tired out, she laid her head on her bundle and fell asleep on a seat in th_omen's waiting-room. Long after light she was awakened by the roar and rattl_f trains. She washed, re-arranged her hair and clothing, and went into th_eneral waiting-room to find her way to the street. She saw him as he entere_he door. There was no mistaking the tall, lithe figure, the bright hair, th_ean, brown-splotched face, the steady gray eyes. He was dressed fo_ravelling, and carried a light overcoat and a bag. Straight to him Elnor_ent speeding.
  • "Oh, I was just starting to find you!" she cried.
  • "Thank you!" he said.
  • "You are going away?" she panted.
  • "Not if I am needed. I have a few minutes. Can you be telling me briefly?"
  • "I am the Limberlost girl to whom your wife gave the dress for Commencemen_ast spring, and both of you sent lovely gifts. There is a reason, a very goo_eason, why I must be hidden for a time, and I came straight to you—as if _ad a right."
  • "You have!" answered Freckles. "Any boy or girl who ever suffered one pang i_he Limberlost has a claim to the best drop of blood in my heart. You needn'_e telling me anything more. The Angel is at our cottage on Mackinac. Yo_hall tell her and play with the babies while you want shelter. This way!"
  • They breakfasted in a luxurious car, talked over the swamp, the work of th_ird Woman; Elnora told of her nature lectures in the schools, and soon the_ere good friends. In the evening they left the train at Mackinaw City an_rossed the Straits by boat. Sheets of white moonlight flooded the water an_aved a molten path across the breast of it straight to the face of the moon.
  • The island lay a dark spot on the silver surface, its tall trees sharpl_utlined on the summit, and a million lights blinked around the shore. Th_ight guns boomed from the white fort and a dark sentinel paced the rampart_bove the little city tucked down close to the water. A great tenor summerin_n the north came out on the upper deck of the big boat, and baring his head, faced the moon and sang: "Oh, the moon shines bright on my old Kentucky home!"
  • Elnora thought of the Limberlost, of Philip, and her mother, and almost choke_ith the sobs that would arise in her throat. On the dock a woman of exquisit_eauty swept into the arms of Terence O'More.
  • "Oh, Freckles!" she cried. "You've been gone a month!"
  • "Four days, Angel, only four days by the clock," remonstrated Freckles. "Wher_re the children?"
  • "Asleep! Thank goodness! I'm worn to a thread. I never saw such inventive, active children. I can't keep track of them!"
  • "I have brought you help," said Freckles. "Here is the Limberlost girl in who_he Bird Woman is interested. Miss Comstock needs a rest before beginning he_chool work for next year, so she came to us."
  • "You dear thing! How good of you!" cried the Angel. "We shall be so happy t_ave you!"
  • In her room that night, in a beautiful cottage furnished with every luxury, Elnora lifted a tired face to the Angel.
  • "Of course, you understand there is something back of this?" she said. "I mus_ell you."
  • "Yes," agreed the Angel. "Tell me! If you get it out of your system, you wil_tand a better chance of sleeping."
  • Elnora stood brushing the copper-bright masses of her hair as she talked. Whe_he finished the Angel was almost hysterical.
  • "You insane creature!" she cried. "How crazy of you to leave him to her! _now both of them. I have met them often. She may be able to make good he_oast. But it is perfectly splendid of you! And, after all, really it is th_nly way. I can see that. I think it is what I should have done myself, o_ried to do. I don't know that I could have done it! When I think of walkin_way and leaving Freckles with a woman he once loved, to let her see if sh_an make him love her again, oh, it gives me a graveyard heart. No, I neve_ould have done it! You are bigger than I ever was. I should have turne_oward, sure."
  • "I am a coward," admitted Elnora. "I am soul-sick! I am afraid I shall lose m_enses before this is over. I didn't want to come! I wanted to stay, to g_traight into his arms, to bind myself with his ring, to love him with all m_eart. It wasn't my fault that I came. There was something inside that jus_ushed me. She is beautiful——"
  • "I quite agree with you!"
  • "You can imagine how fascinating she can be. She used no arts on me. He_urpose was to cower me. She found she could not do that, but she did a thin_hich helped her more: she proved that she was honest, perfectly sincere i_hat she thought. She believes that if she merely beckons to Philip, he wil_o to her. So I am giving her the opportunity to learn from him what he wil_o. She never will believe it from any one else. When she is satisfied, _hall be also."
  • "But, child! Suppose she wins him back!"
  • "That is the supposition with which I shall eat and sleep for the coming fe_eeks. Would one dare ask for a peep at the babies before going to bed?"
  • "Now, you are perfect!" announced the Angel. "I never should have liked yo_ll I can, if you had been content to go to sleep in this house without askin_o see the babies. Come this way. We named the first boy for his father, o_ourse, and the girl for Aunt Alice. The next boy is named for my father, an_he baby for the Bird Woman. After this we are going to branch out."
  • Elnora began to laugh.
  • "Oh, I suspect there will be quite a number of them," said the Angel serenely.
  • "I am told the more there are the less trouble they make. The big ones tak_are of the little ones. We want a large family. This is our start."
  • She entered a dark room and held aloft a candle. She went to the side of _mall white iron bed in which lay a boy of eight and another of three. The_ere perfectly formed, rosy children, the elder a replica of his mother, th_ther very like. Then they came to a cradle where a baby girl of almost tw_lept soundly, and made a picture.
  • "But just see here!" said the Angel. She threw the light on a sleeping girl o_ix. A mass of red curls swept the pillow. Line and feature the face was tha_f Freckles. Without asking, Elnora knew the colour and expression of th_losed eyes. The Angel handed Elnora the candle, and stooping, straightene_he child's body. She ran her fingers through the bright curls, and lightl_ouched the aristocratic little nose.
  • "The supply of freckles holds out in my family, you see!" she said. "Both o_he girls will have them, and the second boy a few."
  • She stood an instant longer, then bending, ran her hand caressingly down _osy bare leg, while she kissed the babyish red mouth. There had been som_eason for touching all of them, the kiss fell on the lips which were lik_reckles's.
  • To Elnora she said a tender good-night, whispering brave words o_ncouragement and making plans to fill the days to come. Then she went away.
  • An hour later there was a light tap on the girl's door.
  • "Come!" she called as she lay staring into the dark.
  • The Angel felt her way to the bedside, sat down and took Elnora's hands.
  • "I just had to come back to you," she said. "I have been telling Freckles, an_e is almost hurting himself with laughing. I didn't think it was funny, bu_e does. He thinks it's the funniest thing that ever happened. He says that t_un away from Mr. Ammon, when you had made him no promise at all, when h_asn't sure of you, won't send him home to her; it will set him hunting you!
  • He says if you had combined the wisdom of Solomon, Socrates, and all th_emainder of the wise men, you couldn't have chosen any course that would hav_ealed him to you so surely. He feels that now Mr. Ammon will perfectly hat_er for coming down there and driving you away. And you went to give her th_hance she wanted. Oh, Elnora! It is becoming funny! I see it, too!"
  • The Angel rocked on the bedside. Elnora faced the dark in silence.
  • "Forgive me," gulped the Angel. "I didn't mean to laugh. I didn't think it wa_unny, until all at once it came to me. Oh, dear! Elnora, it  _is_  funny!
  • I've got to laugh!"
  • "Maybe it is," admitted Elnora "to others; but it isn't very funny to me. An_t won't be to Philip, or to mother."
  • That was very true. Mrs. Comstock had been slightly prepared for stringen_ction of some kind, by what Elnora had said. The mother instantly had guesse_here the girl would go, but nothing was said to Philip. That would have bee_o invalidate Elnora's test in the beginning, and Mrs. Comstock knew her chil_ell enough to know that she never would marry Philip unless she felt it righ_hat she should. The only way was to find out, and Elnora had gone to seek th_nformation. There was nothing to do but wait until she came back, and he_other was not in the least uneasy but that the girl would return brave an_elf-reliant, as always.
  • Philip Ammon hurried back to the Limberlost, strong in the hope that now h_ight take Elnora into his arms and receive her promise to become his wife.
  • His first shock of disappointment came when he found her gone. In talking wit_rs. Comstock he learned that Edith Carr had made an opportunity to speak wit_lnora alone. He hastened down the road to meet her, coming back alone, a_gitated man. Then search revealed the notes. His read:
  • DEAR PHILIP:
  • I find that I am never going to be able to answer your question of thi_fternoon fairly to all of us, when you are with me. So I am going away a fe_eeks to think over matters alone. I shall not tell you, or even mother, wher_ am going, but I shall be safe, well cared for, and happy. Please go bac_ome and live among your friends, just as you always have done, and on o_efore the first of September, I will write you where I am, and what I hav_ecided. Please do not blame Edith Carr for this, and do not avoid her. I hop_ou will call on her and be friends. I think she is very sorry, and covet_our friendship at least. Until September, then, as ever,
  • ELNORA.
  • Mrs. Comstock's note was much the same. Philip was ill with disappointment. I_he arbour he laid his head on the table, among the implements of Elnora'_oved work, and gulped down dry sobs he could not restrain. Mrs. Comstoc_ever had liked him so well. Her hand involuntarily crept toward his dar_ead, then she drew back. Elnora would not want her to do anything whatever t_nfluence him.
  • "What am I going to do to convince Edith Carr that I do not love her, an_lnora that I am hers?" he demanded.
  • "I guess you have to figure that out yourself," said Mrs. Comstock. "I'd b_lad to help you if I could, but it seems to be up to you."
  • Philip sat a long time in silence. "Well, I have decided!" he said abruptly.
  • "Are you perfectly sure Elnora had plenty of money and a safe place to go?"
  • "Absolutely!" answered Mrs. Comstock. "She has been taking care of hersel_ver since she was born, and she always has come out all right, so far; I'l_take all I'm worth on it, that she always will. I don't know where she is, but I'm not going to worry about her safety."
  • "I can't help worrying!" cried Philip. "I can think of fifty things that ma_appen to her when she thinks she is safe. This is distracting! First, I a_oing to run up to see my father. Then, I'll let you know what we hav_ecided. Is there anything I can do for you?"
  • "Nothing!" said Mrs. Comstock.
  • But the desire to do something for him was so strong with her she scarcel_ould keep her lips closed or her hands quiet. She longed to tell him wha_dith Carr had said, how it had affected Elnora, and to comfort him as sh_elt she could. But loyalty to the girl held her. If Elnora truly felt tha_he could not decide until Edith Carr was convinced, then Edith Carr woul_ave to yield or triumph. It rested with Philip. So Mrs. Comstock kept silent, while Philip took the night limited, a bitterly disappointed man.
  • By noon the next day he was in his father's offices. They had a lon_onference, but did not arrive at much until the elder Ammon suggested sendin_or Polly. Anything that might have happened could be explained after Poll_ad told of the private conference between Edith and Elnora.
  • "Talk about lovely woman!" cried Philip Ammon. "One would think that afte_uch a dose as Edith gave me, she would be satisfied to let me go my way, bu_o! Not caring for me enough herself to save me from public disgrace, she mus_ow pursue me to keep any other woman from loving me. I call that too much! _m going to see her, and I want you to go with me, father."
  • "Very well," said Mr. Ammon, "I will go."
  • When Edith Carr came into her reception-room that afternoon, gowned fo_onquest, she expected only Philip, and him penitent. She came hurrying towar_im, smiling, radiant, ready to use every allurement she possessed, and pause_n dismay when she saw his cold face and his father. "Why, Phil!" she cried.
  • "When did you come home?"
  • "I am not at home," answered Philip. "I merely ran up to see my father o_usiness, and to inquire of you what it was you said to Miss Comstoc_esterday that caused her to disappear before I could return to th_imberlost."
  • "Miss Comstock disappear! Impossible!" cried Edith Carr. "Where could she go?"
  • "I thought perhaps you could answer that, since it was through you that sh_ent."
  • "Phil, I haven't the faintest idea where she is," said the girl gently.
  • "But you know perfectly why she went! Kindly tell me that."
  • "Let me see you alone, and I will."
  • "Here and now, or not at all."
  • "Phil!"
  • "What did you say to the girl I love?"
  • Then Edith Carr stretched out her arms.
  • "Phil, I am the girl you love!" she cried. "All your life you have loved me.
  • Surely it cannot be all gone in a few weeks of misunderstanding. I was jealou_f her! I did not want you to leave me an instant that night for any othe_irl living. That was the moth I was representing. Every one knew it! I wante_ou to bring it to me. When you did not, I knew instantly it had been for he_hat you worked last summer, she who suggested my dress, she who had power t_ake you from me, when I wanted you most. The thought drove me mad, and I sai_nd did those insane things. Phil, I beg your pardon! I ask your forgiveness.
  • Yesterday she said that you had told her of me at once. She vowed both of yo_ad been true to me and Phil, I couldn't look into her eyes and not see tha_t was the truth. Oh, Phil, if you understood how I have suffered you woul_orgive me. Phil, I never knew how much I cared for you! I will d_nything—anything!"
  • "Then tell me what you said to Elnora yesterday that drove her, alone an_riendless, into the night, heaven knows where!"
  • "You have no thought for any one save her?"
  • "Yes," said Philip. "I have. Because I once loved you, and believed in you, m_eart aches for you. I will gladly forgive anything you ask. I will d_nything you want, except to resume our former relations. That is impossible.
  • It is hopeless and useless to ask it."
  • "You truly mean that!"
  • "Yes."
  • "Then find out from her what I said!"
  • "Come, father," said Philip, rising.
  • "You were going to show Miss Comstock's letter to Edith!" suggested Mr. Ammon.
  • "I have not the slightest interest in Miss Comstock's letter," said Edit_arr.
  • "You are not even interested in the fact that she says you are not responsibl_or her going, and that I am to call on you and be friends with you?"
  • "That is interesting, indeed!" sneered Miss Carr.
  • She took the letter, read and returned it.
  • "She has done what she could for my cause, it seems," she said coldly. "Ho_ery generous of her! Do you propose calling out Pinkertons and instituting _eneral search?"
  • "No," replied Philip. "I simply propose to go back to the Limberlost and liv_ith her mother, until Elnora becomes convinced that I am not courting you, and never shall be. Then, perhaps, she will come home to us. Good-bye. Goo_uck to you always!"