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Chapter 4 Wherein the Sintons are disappointed, and Mrs. Comstock learn_hat she can laugh

  • With the first streak of red above the Limberlost Margaret Sinton was bus_ith the gingham and the intricate paper pattern she had purchased. Wesle_ooked the breakfast and worked until he thought Elnora would be gone, then h_tarted to bring her mother.
  • "Now you be mighty careful," cautioned Margaret. "I don't know how she wil_ake it."
  • "I don't either," said Wesley philosophically, "but she's got to take it som_ay. That dress has to be finished by school time in the morning."
  • Wesley had not slept well that night. He had been so busy framing diplomati_peeches to make to Mrs. Comstock that sleep had little chance with him. Ever_tep nearer to her he approached his position seemed less enviable. By th_ime he reached the front gate and started down the walk between the rows o_sters and lady slippers he was perspiring, and every plausible and convincin_peech had fled his brain. Mrs. Comstock helped him. She met him at the door.
  • "Good morning," she said. "Did Margaret send you for something?"
  • "Yes," said Wesley. "She's got a job that's too big for her, and she wants yo_o help."
  • "Of course I will," said Mrs. Comstock. It was no one's affair how lonely th_revious day had been, or how the endless hours of the present would drag.
  • "What is she doing in such a rush?"
  • Now was his chance.
  • "She's making a dress for Elnora," answered, Wesley. He saw Mrs. Comstock'_orm straighten, and her face harden, so he continued hastily. "You see Elnor_as been helping us at harvest time, butchering, and with unexpected visitor_or years. We've made out that she's saved us a considerable sum, and as sh_ouldn't ever touch any pay for anything, we just went to town and got a fe_lothes we thought would fix her up a little for the high school. We want t_et a dress done to-day mighty bad, but Margaret is slow about sewing, and sh_ever can finish alone, so I came after you."
  • "And it's such a simple little matter, so dead easy; and all so between ol_riends like, that you can't look above your boots while you explain it,"
  • sneered Mrs. Comstock. "Wesley Sinton, what put the idea into your head tha_lnora would take things bought with money, when she wouldn't take the money?"
  • Then Sinton's eyes came up straightly.
  • "Finding her on the trail last night sobbing as hard as I ever saw any one a_ funeral. She wasn't complaining at all, but she's come to me all her lif_ith her little hurts, and she couldn't hide how she'd been laughed at, twitted, and run face to face against the fact that there were books an_uition, unexpected, and nothing will ever make me believe you didn't kno_hat, Kate Comstock."
  • "If any doubts are troubling you on that subject, sure I knew it! She was s_nxious to try the world, I thought I'd just let her take a few knocks and se_ow she liked them."
  • "As if she'd ever taken anything but knocks all her life!" cried Wesle_inton. "Kate Comstock, you are a heartless, selfish woman. You've never show_lnora any real love in her life. If ever she finds out that thing you'll los_er, and it will serve you right."
  • "She knows it now," said Mrs. Comstock icily, "and she'll be home to-nigh_ust as usual."
  • "Well, you are a brave woman if you dared put a girl of Elnora's make throug_hat she suffered yesterday, and will suffer again to-day, and let her kno_ou did it on purpose. I admire your nerve. But I've watched this since Elnor_as born, and I got enough. Things have come to a pass where they go bette_or her, or I interfere."
  • "As if you'd ever done anything but interfere all her life! Think I haven'_atched you? Think I, with my heart raw in my breast, and too numb to resen_t openly, haven't seen you and Mag Sinton trying to turn Elnora against m_ay after day? When did you ever tell her what her father meant to me? Whe_id you ever try to make her see the wreck of my life, and what I've suffered?
  • No indeed! Always it's been poor little abused Elnora, and cakes, kissing, extra clothes, and encouraging her to run to you with a pitiful mouth ever_ime I tried to make a woman of her."
  • "Kate Comstock, that's unjust," cried Sinton. "Only last night I tried to sho_er the picture I saw the day she was born. I begged her to come to you an_ell you pleasant what she needed, and ask you for what I happen to know yo_an well afford to give her."
  • "I can't!" cried Mrs. Comstock. "You know I can't!"
  • "Then get so you can!" said Wesley Sinton. "Any day you say the word you ca_ell six thousand worth of rare timber off this place easy. I'll see t_learing and working the fields cheap as dirt, for Elnora's sake. I'll buy yo_ore cattle to fatten. All you've got to do is sign a lease, to pull thousand_rom the ground in oil, as the rest of us are doing all around you!"
  • "Cut down Robert's trees!" shrieked Mrs. Comstock. "Tear up his land! Cove_verything with horrid, greasy oil! I'll die first."
  • "You mean you'll let Elnora go like a beggar, and hurt and mortify her pas_earing. I've got to the place where I tell you plain what I am going to do.
  • Maggie and I went to town last night, and we bought what things Elnora need_ost urgent to make her look a little like the rest of the high school girls.
  • Now here it is in plain English. You can help get these things ready, and le_s give them to her as we want——"
  • "She won't touch them!" cried Mrs. Comstock.
  • "Then you can pay us, and she can take them as her right——"
  • "I won't!"
  • "Then I will tell Elnora just what you are worth, what you can afford, and ho_uch of this she owns. I'll loan her the money to buy books and decen_lothes, and when she is of age she can sell her share and pay me."
  • Mrs. Comstock gripped a chair-back and opened her lips, but no words came.
  • "And," Sinton continued, "if she is so much like you that she won't do that, I'll go to the county seat and lay complaint against you as her guardia_efore the judge. I'll swear to what you are worth, and how you are raisin_er, and have you discharged, or have the judge appoint some man who will se_hat she is comfortable, educated, and decent looking!"
  • "You—you wouldn't!" gasped Kate Comstock.
  • "I won't need to, Kate!" said Sinton, his heart softening the instant the har_ords were said. "You won't show it, but you do love Elnora! You can't hel_t! You must see how she needs things; come help us fix them, and be friends.
  • Maggie and I couldn't live without her, and you couldn't either. You've got t_ove such a fine girl as she is; let it show a little!"
  • "You can hardly expect me to love her," said Mrs. Comstock coldly. "But fo_er a man would stand back of me now, who would beat the breath out of you_neaking body for the cowardly thing with which you threaten me. After al_'ve suffered you'd drag me to court and compel me to tear up Robert'_roperty. If I ever go they carry me. If they touch one tree, or put down on_reasy old oil well, it will be over all I can shoot, before they begin. Now, see how quick you can clear out of here!"
  • "You won't come and help Maggie with the dress?"
  • For answer Mrs. Comstock looked around swiftly for some object on which to la_er hands. Knowing her temper, Wesley Sinton left with all the hast_onsistent with dignity. But he did not go home. He crossed a field, and in a_our brought another neighbour who was skilful with her needle. With sinkin_eart Margaret saw them coming.
  • "Kate is too busy to help to-day, she can't sew before to-morrow," said Wesle_heerfully as they entered.
  • That quieted Margaret's apprehension a little, though she had some doubts.
  • Wesley prepared the lunch, and by four o'clock the dress was finished as fa_s it possibly could be until it was fitted on Elnora. If that did not entai_oo much work, it could be completed in two hours.
  • Then Margaret packed their purchases into the big market basket. Wesley too_he hat, umbrella, and raincoat, and they went to Mrs. Comstock's. As the_eached the step, Margaret spoke pleasantly to Mrs. Comstock, who sat readin_ust inside the door, but she did not answer and deliberately turned a lea_ithout looking up.
  • Wesley Sinton opened the door and went in followed by Margaret.
  • "Kate," he said, "you needn't take out your mad over our little racket o_aggie. I ain't told her a word I said to you, or you said to me. She's not s_ery strong, and she's sewed since four o'clock this morning to get this dres_eady for to-morrow. It's done and we came down to try it on Elnora."
  • "Is that the truth, Mag Sinton?" demanded Mrs. Comstock.
  • "You heard Wesley say so," proudly affirmed Mrs. Sinton.
  • "I want to make you a proposition," said Wesley. "Wait till Elnora comes. The_e'll show her the things and see what she says."
  • "How would it do to see what she says without bribing her," sneered Mrs.
  • Comstock.
  • "If she can stand what she did yesterday, and will to-day, she can bear 'mos_nything," said Wesley. "Put away the clothes if you want to, till we tel_er."
  • "Well, you don't take this waist I'm working on," said Margaret, "for I hav_o baste in the sleeves and set the collar. Put the rest out of sight if yo_ike."
  • Mrs. Comstock picked up the basket and bundles, placed them inside her roo_nd closed the door.
  • Margaret threaded her needle and began to sew. Mrs. Comstock returned to he_ook, while Wesley fidgeted and raged inwardly. He could see that Margaret wa_ervous and almost in tears, but the lines in Mrs. Comstock's impassive fac_ere set and cold. So they sat while the clock ticked off the time—one hour, two, dusk, and no Elnora. Just when Margaret and Wesley were discussin_hether he had not better go to town to meet Elnora, they heard her coming u_he walk. Wesley dropped his tilted chair and squared himself. Margare_ripped her sewing, and turned pleading eyes toward the door. Mrs. Comstoc_losed her book and grimly smiled.
  • "Mother, please open the door," called Elnora.
  • Mrs. Comstock arose, and swung back the screen. Elnora stepped in beside her, bent half double, the whole front of her dress gathered into a sort of ba_illed with a heavy load, and one arm stacked high with books. In the di_ight she did not see the Sintons.
  • "Please hand me the empty bucket in the kitchen, mother," she said. "I jus_ad to bring these arrow points home, but I'm scared for fear I've spoiled m_ress and will have to wash it. I'm to clean them, and take them to the banke_n the morning, and oh, mother, I've sold enough stuff to pay for my books, m_uition, and maybe a dress and some lighter shoes besides. Oh, mother I'm s_appy! Take the books and bring the bucket!"
  • Then she saw Margaret and Wesley. "Oh, glory!" she exulted. "I was jus_ondering how I'd ever wait to tell you, and here you are! It's too perfectl_plendid to be true!"
  • "Tell us, Elnora," said Sinton.
  • "Well sir," said Elnora, doubling down on the floor and spreading out he_kirt, "set the bucket here, mother. These points are brittle, and should b_ut in one at a time. If they are chipped I can't sell them. Well sir! I'v_ad a time! You know I just had to have books. I tried three stores, and the_ouldn't trust me, not even three days, I didn't know what in this world _ould do quickly enough. Just when I was almost frantic I saw a sign in a ban_indow asking for caterpillars, cocoons, butterflies, arrow points, an_verything. I went in, and it was this Bird Woman who wants the insects, an_he banker wants the stones. I had to go to school then, but, if you'l_elieve it"—Elnora beamed on all of them in turn as she talked and slipped th_rrow points from her dress to the pail—"if you'll believe it—but you won't, hardly, until you look at the books—there was the mathematics teacher, waitin_t his door, and he had a set of books for me that he had telephoned _ophomore to bring."
  • "How did he happen to do that, Elnora?" interrupted Sinton.
  • Elnora blushed.
  • "It was a fool mistake I made yesterday in thinking books were just handed ou_o one. There was a teachers' meeting last night and the history teacher tol_bout that. Professor Henley thought of me. You know I told you what he sai_bout my algebra, mother. Ain't I glad I studied out some of it myself thi_ummer! So he telephoned and a girl brought the books. Because they are marke_nd abused some I get the whole outfit for two dollars. I can erase most o_he marks, paste down the covers, and fix them so they look better. But I mus_urry to the joy part. I didn't stop to eat, at noon, I just ran to the Bir_oman's, and I had lunch with her. It was salad, hot chocolate, and lovel_hings, and she wants to buy most every old scrap I ever gathered. She want_ragonflies, moths, butterflies, and he—the banker, I mean—wants everythin_ndian. This very night she came to the swamp with me and took away enoug_tuff to pay for the books and tuition, and to-morrow she is going to buy som_ore."
  • Elnora laid the last arrow point in the pail and arose, shaking leaves an_its of baked earth from her dress. She reached into her pocket, produced he_oney and waved it before their wondering eyes.
  • "And that's the joy part!" she exulted. "Put it up in the clock till morning, mother. That pays for the books and tuition and—" Elnora hesitated, for sh_aw the nervous grasp with which her mother's fingers closed on the bills.
  • Then she continued, but more slowly and thinking before she spoke.
  • "What I get to-morrow pays for more books and tuition, and maybe a few, just _ew, things to wear. These shoes are so dreadfully heavy and hot, and the_ake such a noise on the floor. There isn't another calico dress in the whol_uilding, not among hundreds of us. Why, what is that? Aunt Margaret, what ar_ou hiding in your lap?"
  • She snatched the waist and shook it out, and her face was beaming. "Have yo_aken to waists all fancy and buttoned in the back? I bet you this is mine!"
  • "I bet you so too," said Margaret Sinton. "You undress right away and try i_n, and if it fits, it will be done for morning. There are some low shoes, too!"
  • Elnora began to dance. "Oh, you dear people!" she cried. "I can pay for the_o-morrow night! Isn't it too splendid! I was just thinking on the way hom_hat I certainly would be compelled to have cooler shoes until later, and _as wondering what I'd do when the fall rains begin."
  • "I meant to get you some heavy dress skirts and a coat then," said Mrs.
  • Comstock.
  • "I know you said so!" cried Elnora. "But you needn't, now! I can buy ever_ingle stitch I need myself. Next summer I can gather up a lot more stuff, an_ll winter on the way to school. I am sure I can sell ferns, I know I ca_uts, and the Bird Woman says the grade rooms want leaves, grasses, birds'
  • nests, and cocoons. Oh, isn't this world lovely! I'll be helping with the tax, next, mother!"
  • Elnora waved the waist and started for the bedroom. When she opened the doo_he gave a little cry.
  • "What have you people been doing?" she demanded. "I never saw so man_nteresting bundles in all my life. I'm 'skeered' to death for fear I can'_ay for them, and will have to give up something."
  • "Wouldn't you take them, if you could not pay for them, Elnora?" asked he_other instantly.
  • "Why, not unless you did," answered Elnora. "People have no right to wea_hings they can't afford, have they?"
  • "But from such old friends as Maggie and Wesley!" Mrs. Comstock's voice wa_ily with triumph.
  • "From them least of all," cried Elnora stoutly. "From a stranger sooner tha_rom them, to whom I owe so much more than I ever can pay now."
  • "Well, you don't have to," said Mrs. Comstock. "Maggie just selected thes_hings, because she is more in touch with the world, and has got such goo_aste. You can pay as long as your money holds out, and if there's mor_ecessary, maybe I can sell the butcher a calf, or if things are too costl_or us, of course, they can take them back. Put on the waist now, and then yo_an look over the rest and see if they are suitable, and what you want."
  • Elnora stepped into the adjoining room and closed the door. Mrs. Comstoc_icked up the bucket and started for the well with it. At the bedroom sh_aused.
  • "Elnora, were you going to wash these arrow points?"
  • "Yes. The Bird Woman says they sell better if they are clean, so it can b_een that there are no defects in them."
  • "Of course," said Mrs. Comstock. "Some of them seem quite baked. Shall I pu_hem to soak? Do you want to take them in the morning?"
  • "Yes, I do," answered Elnora. "If you would just fill the pail with water."
  • Mrs. Comstock left the room. Wesley Sinton sat with his back to the window i_he west end of the cabin which overlooked the well. A suppressed sound behin_im caused him to turn quickly. Then he arose and leaned over Margaret.
  • "She's out there laughing like a blamed monkey!" he whispered indignantly.
  • "Well, she can't help it!" exclaimed Margaret.
  • "I'm going home!" said Wesley.
  • "Oh no, you are not!" retorted Margaret. "You are missing the point. The poin_s not how you look, or feel. It is to get these things in Elnora's possessio_ast dispute. You go now, and to-morrow Elnora will wear calico, and Kat_omstock will return these goods. Right here I stay until everything we bough_s Elnora's."
  • "What are you going to do?" asked Wesley.
  • "I don't know yet, myself," said Margaret.
  • Then she arose and peered from the window. At the well curb stood Katharin_omstock. The strain of the day was finding reaction. Her chin was in the air, she was heaving, shaking and strangling to suppress any sound. The word tha_lipped between Margaret Sinton's lips shocked Wesley until he dropped on hi_hair, and recalled her to her senses. She was fairly composed as she turne_o Elnora, and began the fitting. When she had pinched, pulled, and patted sh_alled, "Come see if you think this fits, Kate."
  • Mrs. Comstock had gone around to the back door and answered from the kitchen.
  • "You know more about it than I do. Go ahead! I'm getting supper. Don't forge_o allow for what it will shrink in washing!"
  • "I set the colours and washed the goods last night; it can be made to fi_ight now," answered Margaret.
  • When she could find nothing more to alter she told Elnora to heat some water.
  • After she had done that the girl began opening packages.
  • The hat came first.
  • "Mother!" cried Elnora. "Mother, of course, you have seen this, but yo_aven't seen it on me. I must try it on."
  • "Don't you dare put that on your head until your hair is washed and properl_ombed," said Margaret.
  • "Oh!" cried Elnora. "Is that water to wash my hair? I thought it was to se_he colour in another dress."
  • "Well, you thought wrong," said Margaret simply. "Your hair is going to b_ashed and brushed until it shines like copper. While it dries you can ea_our supper, and this dress will be finished. Then you can put on your ne_ibbon, and your hat. You can try your shoes now, and if they don't fit, yo_nd Wesley can drive to town and change them. That little round bundle on th_op of the basket is your stockings."
  • Margaret sat down and began sewing swiftly, and a little later opened th_achine, and ran several long seams.
  • Elnora returned in a few minutes holding up her skirts and stepping daintil_n the new shoes.
  • "Don't soil them, honey, else you're sure they fit," cautioned Wesley.
  • "They seem just a trifle large, maybe," said Elnora dubiously, and Wesle_nelt to feel. He and Margaret thought them a fit, and then Elnora appealed t_er mother. Mrs. Comstock appeared wiping her hands on her apron. She examine_he shoes critically.
  • "They seem to fit," she said, "but they are away too fine to walk countr_oads."
  • "I think so, too," said Elnora instantly. "We had better take these back an_et a cheaper pair."
  • "Oh, let them go for this time," said Mrs. Comstock. "They are so pretty, _ate to part with them. You can get cheaper ones after this."
  • Wesley and Margaret scarcely breathed for a long time.
  • When Wesley went to do the feeding. Elnora set the table. When the water wa_ot, Margaret pinned a big towel around Elnora's shoulders and washed an_ried the lovely hair according to the instructions she had been given th_revious night. As the hair began to dry it billowed out in a sparkling shee_hat caught the light and gleamed and flashed.
  • "Now, the idea is to let it stand naturally, just as the curl will make it.
  • Don't you do any of that nasty, untidy snarling, Elnora," cautioned Margaret.
  • "Wash it this way every two weeks while you are in school, shake it out, an_ry it. Then part it in the middle and turn a front quarter on each side fro_our face. You tie the back at your neck with a string—so, and the ribbon goe_n a big, loose bow. I'll show you." One after another Margaret Sinton tie_he ribbons, creasing each of them so they could not be returned, as sh_xplained that she was trying to find the colour most becoming. Then sh_roduced the raincoat which carried Elnora into transports.
  • Mrs. Comstock objected. "That won't be warm enough for cold weather, and yo_an't afford it and a coat, too."
  • "I'll tell you what I thought," said Elnora. "I was planning on the way home.
  • These coats are fine because they keep you dry. I thought I would get one, an_ warm sweater to wear under it cold days. Then I always would be dry, an_arm. The sweater only costs three dollars, so I could get it and the raincoa_oth for half the price of a heavy cloth coat."
  • "You are right about that," said Mrs. Comstock. "You can change more with th_eather, too. Keep the raincoat, Elnora."
  • "Wear it until you try the hat," said Margaret. "It will have to do until th_ress is finished."
  • Elnora picked up the hat dubiously. "Mother, may I wear my hair as it is now?"
  • she asked.
  • "Let me take a good look," said Katharine Comstock.
  • Heaven only knows what she saw. To Wesley and to Margaret the bright youn_ace of Elnora, with its pink tints, its heavy dark brows, its bright blue- gray eyes, and its frame of curling reddish-brown hair was the sweetest sigh_n earth, and at that instant Elnora was radiant.
  • "So long as it's your own hair, and combed back as plain as it will go, _on't suppose it cuts much ice whether it's tied a little tighter or looser,"
  • conceded Mrs. Comstock. "If you stop right there, you may let it go at that."
  • Elnora set the hat on her head. It was only a wide tan straw with thre_xquisite peacock quills at one side. Margaret Sinton cried out, Wesle_lapped his knee and sighed deeply while Mrs. Comstock stood speechless for _econd.
  • "I wish you had asked the price before you put that on," she said impatiently.
  • "We never can afford it."
  • "It's not so much as you think," said Margaret. "Don't you see what I did? _ad them take off the quills, and put on some of those Phoebe Simms gave m_rom her peacocks. The hat will only cost you a dollar and a half."
  • She avoided Wesley's eyes, and looked straight at Mrs. Comstock. Elnor_emoved the hat to examine it.
  • "Why, they are those reddish-tan quills of yours!" she cried. "Mother, loo_ow beautifully they are set on! I'd much rather have them than those from th_tore."
  • "So would I," said Mrs. Comstock. "If Margaret wants to spare them, that wil_ake you a beautiful hat; dirt cheap, too! You must go past Mrs. Simms an_how her. She would be pleased to see them."
  • Elnora sank into a chair and contemplated her toe. "Landy, ain't I a queen?"
  • she murmured. "What else have I got?"
  • "Just a belt, some handkerchiefs, and a pair of top shoes for rainy days an_older weather," said Margaret.
  • "About those high shoes, that was my idea," said Wesley. "Soon as it rains, low shoes won't do, and by taking two pairs at once I could get them som_heaper. The low ones are two and the high ones two fifty, together thre_eventy-five. Ain't that cheap?"
  • "That's a real bargain," said Mrs. Comstock, "if they are good shoes, and the_ook it."
  • "This," said Wesley, producing the last package, "is your Christmas presen_rom your Aunt Maggie. I got mine, too, but it's at the house. I'll bring i_p in the morning."
  • He handed Margaret the umbrella, and she passed it over to Elnora who opene_t and sat laughing under its shelter. Then she kissed both of them. Sh_rought a pencil and a slip of paper to set down the prices they gave her o_verything they had brought except the umbrella, added the sum, and sai_aughingly: "Will you please wait till to-morrow for the money? I will have i_hen, sure."
  • "Elnora," said Wesley Sinton. "Wouldn't you——"
  • "Elnora, hustle here a minute!" called Mrs. Comstock from the kitchen. "I nee_ou!"
  • "One second, mother," answered Elnora, throwing off the coat and hat, an_losing the umbrella as she ran. There were several errands to do in a hurry, and then supper. Elnora chattered incessantly, Wesley and Margaret talked al_hey could, while Mrs. Comstock said a word now and then, which was all sh_ver did. But Wesley Sinton was watching her, and time and again he saw _eculiar little twist around her mouth. He knew that for the first time i_ixteen years she really was laughing over something. She had all she could d_o preserve her usually sober face. Wesley knew what she was thinking.
  • After supper the dress was finished, the pattern for the next one discussed, and then the Sintons went home. Elnora gathered her treasures. When sh_tarted upstairs she stopped. "May I kiss you good-night, mother?" she aske_ightly.
  • "Never mind any slobbering," said Mrs. Comstock. "I should think you'd live_ith me long enough to know that I don't care for it."
  • "Well, I'd love to show you in some way how happy I am, and how I thank you."
  • "I wonder what for?" said Mrs. Comstock. "Mag Sinton chose that stuff an_rought it here and you pay for it."
  • "Yes, but you seemed willing for me to have it, and you said you would help m_f I couldn't pay all."
  • "Maybe I did," said Mrs. Comstock. "Maybe I did. I meant to get you some heav_ress skirts about Thanksgiving, and I still can get them. Go to bed, and fo_ny sake don't begin mooning before a mirror, and make a dunce of yourself."
  • Mrs. Comstock picked up several papers and blew out the kitchen light. Sh_tood in the middle of the sitting-room floor for a time and then went int_er room and closed the door. Sitting on the edge of the bed she thought for _ew minutes and then suddenly buried her face in the pillow and again heave_ith laughter.
  • Down the road plodded Margaret and Wesley Sinton. Neither of them had words t_tter their united thought.
  • "Done!" hissed Wesley at last. "Done brown! Did you ever feel like a bloomin', confounded donkey? How did the woman do it?"
  • "She didn't do it!" gulped Margaret through her tears. "She didn't d_nything. She trusted to Elnora's great big soul to bring her out right, an_eally she was right, and so it had to bring her. She's a darling, Wesley! Bu_he's got a time before her. Did you see Kate Comstock grab that money? Befor_ix months she'll be out combing the Limberlost for bugs and arrow points t_elp pay the tax. I know her."
  • "Well, I don't!" exclaimed Sinton, "she's too many for me. But there is _augh left in her yet! I didn't s'pose there was. Bet you a dollar, if w_ould see her this minute, she'd be chuckling over the way we got left."
  • Both of them stopped in the road and looked back.
  • "There's Elnora's light in her room," said Margaret. "The poor child will fee_hose clothes, and pore over her books till morning, but she'll look decent t_o to school, anyway. Nothing is too big a price to pay for that."
  • "Yes, if Kate lets her wear them. Ten to one, she makes her finish the wee_ith that old stuff!"
  • "No, she won't," said Margaret. "She'll hardly dare. Kate made som_oncessions, all right; big ones for her—if she did get her way in the main.
  • She bent some, and if Elnora proves that she can walk out barehanded in th_orning and come back with that much money in her pocket, an armful of books, and buy a turnout like that, she proves that she is of some consideration, an_ate's smart enough. She'll think twice before she'll do that. Elnora won'_ear a calico dress to high school again. You watch and see if she does. Sh_ay have the best clothes she'll get for a time, for the least money, but sh_on't know it until she tries to buy goods herself at the same rates. Wesley, what about those prices? Didn't they shrink considerable?"
  • "You began it," said Wesley. "Those prices were all right. We didn't say wha_he goods cost us, we said what they would cost her. Surely, she's mistake_bout being able to pay all that. Can she pick up stuff of that value aroun_he Limberlost? Didn't the Bird Woman see her trouble, and just give her th_oney?"
  • "I don't think so," said Margaret. "Seems to me I've heard of her paying, o_ffering to pay those who would take the money, for bugs and butterflies, an_'ve known people who sold that banker Indian stuff. Once I heard that hi_ipe collection beat that of the Government at the Philadelphia Centennial.
  • Those things have come to have a value."
  • "Well, there's about a bushel of that kind of valuables piled up in th_oodshed, that belongs to Elnora. At least, I picked them up because she sai_he wanted them. Ain't it queer that she'd take to stones, bugs, an_utterflies, and save them. Now they are going to bring her the very thing sh_ants the worst. Lord, but this is a funny world when you get to studying!
  • Looks like things didn't all come by accident. Looks as if there was a pla_ack of it, and somebody driving that knows the road, and how to handle th_ines. Anyhow, Elnora's in the wagon, and when I get out in the night and th_ark closes around me, and I see the stars, I don't feel so cheap. Maggie, ho_he nation did Kate Comstock do that?"
  • "You will keep on harping, Wesley. I told you she didn't do it. Elnora did it!
  • She walked in and took things right out of our hands. All Kate had to do wa_o enjoy having it go her way, and she was cute enough to put in a fe_uestions that sort of guided Elnora. But I don't know, Wesley. This thin_akes me think, too. S'pose we'd taken Elnora when she was a baby, and we'_eaped on her all the love we can't on our own, and we'd coddled, petted, an_hielded her, would she have made the woman that living alone, learning t_hink for herself, and taking all the knocks Kate Comstock could give, hav_ade of her?"
  • "You bet your life!" cried Wesley, warmly. "Loving anybody don't hurt them. W_ouldn't have done anything but love her. You can't hurt a child loving it.
  • She'd have learned to work, to study, and grown into a woman with us, withou_uffering like a poor homeless dog."
  • "But you don't see the point, Wesley. She would have grown into a fine woma_ith us; but as we would have raised her, would her heart ever have known th_orld as it does now? Where's the anguish, Wesley, that child can'_omprehend? Seeing what she's seen of her mother hasn't hardened her. She ca_nderstand any mother's sorrow. Living life from the rough side has onl_roadened her. Where's the girl or boy burning with shame, or struggling t_ind a way, that will cross Elnora's path and not get a lift from her? She'_ad the knocks, but there'll never be any of the thing you call 'false pride'
  • in her. I guess we better keep out. Maybe Kate Comstock knows what she'_oing. Sure as you live, Elnora has grown bigger on knocks than she would o_ove."
  • "I don't s'pose there ever was a very fine point to anything but I missed it,"
  • said Wesley, "because I am blunt, rough, and have no book learning to spea_f. Since you put it into words I see what you mean, but it's dinged hard o_lnora, just the same. And I don't keep out. I keep watching closer than ever.
  • I got my slap in the face, but if I don't miss my guess, Kate Comstock learne_er lesson, same as I did. She learned that I was in earnest, that I woul_aul her to court if she didn't loosen up a bit, and she'll loosen. You see i_he doesn't. It may come hard, and the hinges creak, but she'll fix Elnor_ecent after this, if Elnora doesn't prove that she can fix herself. As fo_e, I found out that what I was doing was as much for myself as for Elnora. _anted her to take those things from us, and love us for giving them. I_idn't work, and but for you, I'd messed the whole thing and stuck like a pi_n crossing a bridge. But you helped me out; Elnora's got the clothes, and b_orning, maybe I won't grudge Kate the only laugh she's had in sixteen years.
  • You been showing me the way quite a spell now, ain't you, Maggie?"
  • In her attic Elnora lighted two candles, set them on her little table, stacke_he books, and put away the precious clothes. How lovingly she hung the ha_nd umbrella, folded the raincoat, and spread the new dress over a chair. Sh_ingered the ribbons, and tried to smooth the creases from them. She put awa_he hose neatly folded, touched the handkerchiefs, and tried the belt. The_he slipped into her white nightdress, shook down her hair that it migh_ecome thoroughly dry, set a chair before the table, and reverently opened on_f the books. A stiff draught swept the attic, for it stretched the length o_he cabin, and had a window in each end. Elnora arose and going to the eas_indow closed it. She stood for a minute looking at the stars, the sky, an_he dark outline of the straggling trees of the rapidly dismantlin_imberlost. In the region of her case a tiny point of light flashed an_isappeared. Elnora straightened and wondered. Was it wise to leave he_recious money there? The light flashed once more, wavered a few seconds, an_ied out. The girl waited. She did not see it again, so she turned to he_ooks.
  • In the Limberlost the hulking figure of a man sneaked down the trail.
  • "The Bird Woman was at Freckles's room this evening," he muttered. "Wonde_hat for?"
  • He left the trail, entered the enclosure still distinctly outlined, an_pproached the case. The first point of light flashed from the tiny electri_amp on his vest. He took a duplicate key from his pocket, felt for th_adlock and opened it. The door swung wide. The light flashed the second time.
  • Swiftly his glance swept the interior.
  • "'Bout a fourth of her moths gone. Elnora must have been with the Bird Woma_nd given them to her." Then he stood tense. His keen eyes discovered the rol_f bills hastily thrust back in the bottom of the case. He snatched them up, shut off the light, relocked the case by touch, and swiftly went down th_rail. Every few seconds he paused and listened intently. Just as he reache_he road, a second figure approached him.
  • "Is it you, Pete?" came the whispered question.
  • "Yes," said the first man.
  • "I was coming down to take a peep, when I saw your flash," he said. "I hear_he Bird Woman had been at the case to-day. Anything doing?"
  • "Not a thing," said Pete. "She just took away about a fourth of the moths.
  • Probably had the Comstock girl getting them for her. Heard they were together.
  • Likely she'll get the rest to-morrow. Ain't picking gettin' bare these days?"
  • "Well, I should say so," said the second man, turning back in disgust. "Comin_ome, now?"
  • "No, I am going down this way," answered Pete, for his eyes caught the glea_rom the window of the Comstock cabin, and he had a desire to learn wh_lnora's attic was lighted at that hour.
  • He slouched down the road, occasionally feeling the size of the roll he ha_ot taken time to count.
  • The attic was too long, the light too near the other end, and the cabin stoo_uch too far back from the road. He could see nothing although he climbed th_ence and walked back opposite the window. He knew Mrs. Comstock was probabl_wake, and that she sometimes went to the swamp behind her home at night. A_imes a cry went up from that locality that paralyzed any one near, or sen_hem fleeing as if for life. He did not care to cross behind the cabin. H_eturned to the road, passed, and again climbed the fence. Opposite the wes_indow he could see Elnora. She sat before a small table reading from a boo_etween two candles. Her hair fell in a bright sheen around her, and with on_and she lightly shook, and tossed it as she studied. The man stood out in th_ight and watched.
  • For a long time a leaf turned at intervals and the hair-drying went on. Th_an drew nearer. The picture grew more beautiful as he approached. He coul_ot see so well as he desired, for the screen was of white mosquito netting, and it angered him. He cautiously crept closer. The elevation shut off hi_iew. Then he remembered the large willow tree shading the well and branchin_cross the window fit the west end of the cabin. From childhood Elnora ha_tepped from the sill to a limb and slid down the slanting trunk of the tree.
  • He reached it and noiselessly swung himself up. Three steps out on the bi_imb the man shuddered. He was within a few feet of the girl.
  • He could see the throb of her breast under its thin covering and smell th_ragrance of the tossing hair. He could see the narrow bed with its piece_alico cover, the whitewashed walls with gay lithographs, and every crevic_tuck full of twigs with dangling cocoons. There were pegs for the fe_lothes, the old chest, the little table, the two chairs, the uneven floo_overed with rag rugs and braided corn husk. But nothing was worth a glanc_xcept the perfect face and form within reach by one spring through the rotte_osquito bar. He gripped the limb above that on which he stood, licked hi_ips, and breathed through his throat to be sure he was making no sound.
  • Elnora closed the book and laid it aside. She picked up a towel, and turnin_he gathered ends of her hair rubbed them across it, and dropping the towel o_er lap, tossed the hair again. Then she sat in deep thought. By and by word_egan to come softly. Near as he was the man could not hear at first. He ben_loser and listened intently.
  • "—ever could be so happy," murmured the soft voice. "The dress is so pretty, such shoes, the coat, and everything. I won't have to be ashamed again, no_ver again, for the Limberlost is full of precious moths, and I always ca_ollect them. The Bird Woman will buy more to-morrow, and the next day, an_he next. When they are all gone, I can spend every minute gathering cocoons, and hunting other things I can sell. Oh, thank God, for my precious, preciou_oney. Why, I didn't pray in vain after all! I thought when I asked the Lor_o hide me, there in that big hall, that He wasn't doing it, because I wasn'_overed from sight that instant. But I'm hidden now, I feel that." Elnor_ifted her eyes to the beams above her. "I don't know much about prayin_roperly," she muttered, "but I do thank you, Lord, for hiding me in your ow_ime and way."
  • Her face was so bright that it shone with a white radiance. Two big tear_elled from her eyes, and rolled down her smiling cheeks. "Oh, I do feel tha_ou have hidden me," she breathed. Then she blew out the lights, and th_ittle wooden bed creaked under her weight.
  • Pete Corson dropped from the limb and found his way to the road. He stoo_till a long time, then started back to the Limberlost. A tiny point of ligh_lashed in the region of the case. He stopped with an oath.
  • "Another hound trying to steal from a girl," he exclaimed. "But it's likely h_hinks if he gets anything it will be from a woman who can afford it, as _id."
  • He went on, but beside the fences, and very cautiously.
  • "Swamp seems to be alive to-night," he muttered. "That's three of us out."
  • He entered a deep place at the northwest corner, sat on the ground and takin_ pencil from his pocket, he tore a leaf from a little notebook, an_aboriously wrote a few lines by the light he carried. Then he went back t_he region of the case and waited. Before his eyes swept the vision of th_lender white creature with tossing hair. He smiled, and worshipped it, unti_ distant rooster faintly announced dawn.
  • Then he unlocked the case again, and replaced the money, laid the note upo_t, and went back to concealment, where he remained until Elnora came down th_rail in the morning, appearing very lovely in her new dress and hat.