PORTER GENE STRATTON

Title:A GIRL OF THE LIMBERLOST
Subject:FICTION Scarica il testo


A GIRL OF THE LIMBERLOST





CHAPTER I


WHEREIN ELNORA GOES TO HIGH SCHOOL
AND LEARNS MANY LESSONS NOT FOUND IN HER BOOKS


Elnora Comstock, have you lost your senses?"
demanded the angry voice of Katharine Comstock
while she glared at her daughter.

"Why mother!" faltered the girl.

"you `why me!" cried Mrs. Comstock.
"You know very well what I mean. You've given me
no peace until had your way about this going to
school business; I've fixed you good enough, and you're
ready to start. But no child 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, or you'll have no time to find where you belong."

Elnora gave one despairing glance at the white face,
framed in a most becoming riot of reddish-brown hair,
which she saw in the little kitchen mirror. Then she
untied the narrow black ribbon, wet the comb and plastered
the waving curls close to her head, bound them fast, pinned
on the skimpy black hat and opened the back door.

"You've gone so plumb daffy you are forgetting your
dinner," jeered her mother.

"I want anything to eat," replied Elnora.

"You'll take your dinner or you'll not go one step.
Are you crazy? Walk almost three miles and no food
from six in the morning until six at night. A pretty
figure you'd cut if you had your way! And after I've
gone and bought you this nice 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
girl follow the long walk to the gate and go from sight
on the road, in the bright sunshine 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 the road where it turned south, at
the corner of the Limberlost, climbed a snake fence and
entered a path worn by her own feet. Dodging under
willow and scrub oak branches she came at last to the
faint outline of an old trail made in the days when the
precious timber of the swamp was guarded by armed
men. This path she followed until she reached a thick
clump of bushes. From the debris in the end of a hollow
log she took a key that unlocked the padlock of a large
weatherbeaten old box, inside of which lay several books,
a butterfly apparatus, and a small cracked mirror. The walls
were lined thickly with gaudy butterflies, dragonflies,
and moths. She set up the mirror and once more
pulling the ribbon from her hair, she shook the bright
mass over her shoulders, tossing it dry in the sunshine.
Then she straightened it, bound it loosely, and replaced
her hat. She tugged vainly at the low brown calico
collar and gazed despairingly at the generous length of
the narrow skirt. She lifted it as she would have cut
it if possible. That disclosed the heavy high leather
shoes, at sight of which she seemed positively ill, and
hastily dropped the skirt. She opened the pail, removed
the lunch, wrapped it in the napkin, and placed it in a
small pasteboard box. Locking the case again she hid
the key and hurried down the trail.

She followed it around the north end of the swamp
and then entered a footpath crossing a farm leading in
the direction of the spires of the city to the northeast.
Again she climbed a fence and was on the open road. For
an instant she 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
mother who made no pretence of loving her; before her
lay the city through whose schools she hoped to find
means of escape and the way to reach the things for
which she cared. When she thought of how she appeared
she leaned more heavily against the fence and groaned;
when she thought of turning back and wearing such
clothing in ignorance all the days of her life she set her
teeth firmly and went hastily toward Onabasha.

On the bridge crossing a deep culvert at the suburbs
she glanced around, and then kneeling she thrust the
lunch box between the foundation and the flooring.
This left her empty-handed as she approached the big stone
high school building. She entered bravely and inquired
her way to the office of the superintendent. There she
learned that she should have come the previous week
and arranged about her classes. There were many things
incident to the opening of school, and one man unable to
cope with all of them.

"Where have you been attending school?" he asked,
while he advised the teacher of Domestic Science not to
telephone for groceries until she knew how many she
would have in her classes; wrote an order for chemicals
for the students of science; and advised the leader of
the orchestra to hire a professional to take the place of
the bass violist, reported suddenly ill.

"I finished last spring at Brushwood school, district
number nine," said Elnora. "I have been studying all summer.
I am quite sure I can do the first year work, if I have
a few days to get started."

"Of course, of course," assented the superintendent.
"Almost invariably country pupils do good work. You may
enter first year, and if it is too difficult, we will find
it out speedily. Your teachers will tell you the list of
books you must have, and if you will come with me I will
show you the way to the auditorium. It is now time
for opening exercises. Take any seat you find vacant."

Elnora stood before the entrance and stared into the
largest room she ever had seen. The floor sloped to a
yawning stage on which a band of musicians, grouped
around a grand piano, were tuning their instruments.
She had two fleeting impressions. That it was all a
mistake; this was no school, but a grand 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 her while a bevy of daintily clad, sweetsmelling things that might have been birds, or flowers,
or possibly gaily dressed, happy young girls, pushed
her forward. She found herself plodding across the back of
the auditorium, praying for guidance, to an empty seat.

As the girls passed her, vacancies seemed to open to
meet them. Their friends were moving over, beckoning
and whispering invitations. Every one else was seated,
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 end facing the stage.
No one moved, and she could not summon courage to
crowd past others to several empty seats she saw.
At the end of the aisle she paused in desperation, while
she stared back at the whole forest of faces most of which
were now turned upon her.

In a flash came the full realization of her scanty dress,
her pitiful little hat and ribbon, her big, heavy shoes,
her ignorance of where to go or what to do; and from a
sickening wave which crept over her, she felt she was
going to become 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 body
he 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 front seats.

She heard laughter behind her; the knowledge that
she wore the only hat in the room burned her; every
matter of moment, and some of none at all, cut and stung.
She had no books. Where should she go when this
was over? What would she give to be on the trail
going home! She was shaking with a nervous chill when
the music ceased, and the superintendent arose, and
coming down to the front of the flower-decked platform,
opened a Bible and began to read. Elnora did not know
what he was reading, and she felt that she did not care.
Wildly she was racking her brain to decide whether she
should sit still when the others left the room or follow,
and ask some one where the Freshmen went first.

In the midst of the struggle one sentence fell on her ear.
"Hide me under the shadow of Thy wings."

Elnora began to pray frantically. "Hide me, O God,
...

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