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III - Mr. Harrison at Home
MR. HARRISON’S HOUSE was an old-fashioned, low-eaved, whitewashed structure, set against a thick spruce grove.
Mr. Harrison himself was sitting on his vine-shaded veranda, in his shirtsleeves, enjoying his evening pipe. When he realized who was coming up the path he sprang suddenly to his feet, bolted into the house, and shut the door. This was merely the uncomfortable result of his surprise, mingled with a good deal of shame over his outburst of temper the day before. But it nearly swept the remnant of her courage from Anne’s heart.
“If he’s so cross now what will he be when he hears what I’ve done,” she reflected miserably, as she rapped at the door.
But Mr. Harrison opened it, smiling sheepishly, and invited her to enter in a tone quite mild and friendly, if somewhat nervous. He had laid aside his pipe and donned his coat; he offered Anne a very dusty chair very politely, and her reception would have passed off pleasantly enough if it had not been for the tell-tale of a parrot who was peering through the bars of his cage with wicked golden eyes. No sooner had Anne seated herself than Ginger exclaimed: “Bless my soul, what’s that redheaded snippet coming here for?”
It would be hard to say whose face was the redder, Mr. Harrison’s or Anne’s.
“Don’t you mind that parrot,” said Mr. Harrison, casting a furious glance at Ginger. “He’s…he’s always talking nonsense. I got him from my brother who was a sailor. Sailors don’t always use the choicest language, and parrots are very imitative birds.” “So I should think,” said poor Anne, the remembrance of her errand quelling her resentment. She couldn’t afford to snub Mr. Harrison under the circumstances, that was certain. When you had just sold a man’s Jersey cow offhand, without his knowledge or consent, you must not mind if his parrot repeated uncomplimentary things. Nevertheless, the “redheaded snippet” was not quite so meek as she might otherwise have been.
“I’ve come to confess something to you, Mr. Harrison,” she said resolutely. “It’s…it’s about…that Jersey cow.”
“Bless my soul,” exclaimed Mr. Harrison nervously, “has she gone and broken into my oats again? Well, never mind…never mind if she has. It’s no difference…none at all. I…I was too hasty yesterday, that’s a fact. Never mind if she has.” “Oh, if it were only that,” sighed Anne. “But it’s ten times worse. I don’t…”
“Bless my soul, do you mean to say she’s got into my wheat?”
“No…no…not the wheat. But…”
“Then it’s the cabbages? She’s broken into my cabbages that I was raising for exhibition, hey?”
“It’s not the cabbages, Mr. Harrison. I’ll tell you everything…that is what I came for—but please don’t interrupt me. It makes me so nervous. Just let me tell my story and don’t say anything till I get through—and then no doubt you’ll say plenty,” Anne concluded, but in thought only.
“I won’t say another word,” said Mr. Harrison, and he didn’t. But Ginger was not bound by any contract of silence and kept ejaculating, “Redheaded snippet” at intervals until Anne felt quite wild.
“I shut my Jersey cow up in our pen yesterday. This morning I went to Carmody and when I came back I saw a Jersey cow in your oats. Diana and I chased her out and you can’t imagine what a hard time we had. I was so dreadfully wet and tired and vexed—and Mr. Shearer came by that very minute and offered to buy the cow. I sold her to him on the spot for twenty dollars. It was wrong of me. I should have waited and consulted Marilla, of course. But I’m dreadfully given to doing things without thinking—everybody who knows me will tell you that. Mr. Shearer took the cow right away to ship her on the afternoon train.” “Redheaded snippet,” quoted Ginger in a tone of profound contempt.
At this point Mr. Harrison arose and, with an expression that would have struck terror into any bird but a parrot, carried Ginger’s cage into an adjoining room and shut the door. Ginger shrieked, swore, and otherwise conducted himself in keeping with his reputation, but, finding himself left alone, relapsed into sulky silence.
“Excuse me and go on,” said Mr. Harrison, sitting down again. “My brother the sailor never taught that bird any manners.”
“I went home and after tea I went out to the milking pen. Mr. Harrison”…Anne leaned forward, clasping her hands with her old childish gesture, while her big gray eyes gazed imploringly into Mr. Harrison’s embarrassed face…“I found my cow still shut up in the pen. It was your cow I had sold to Mr. Shearer.” “Bless my soul,” exclaimed Mr. Harrison, in blank amazement at this unlooked-for conclusion. “What a very extraordinary thing!”
“Oh, it isn’t in the least extraordinary that I should be getting myself and other people into scrapes,” said Anne mournfully. “I’m noted for that. You might suppose I’d have grown out of it by this time…I’ll be seventeen next March…but it seems that I haven’t. Mr. Harrison, is it too much to hope that you’ll forgive me? I’m afraid it’s too late to get your cow back, but here is the money for her…or you can have mine in exchange if you’d rather. She’s a very good cow. And I can’t express how sorry I am for it all.” “Tut, tut,” said Mr. Harrison briskly, “don’t say another word about it, miss. It’s of no consequence…no consequence whatever. Accidents will happen. I’m too hasty myself sometimes, miss…far too hasty. But I can’t help speaking out just what I think, and folks must take me as they find me. If that cow had been in my cabbages now…but never mind, she wasn’t, so it’s all right. I think I’d rather have your cow in exchange, since you want to be rid of her.” “Oh, thank you, Mr. Harrison. I’m so glad you are not vexed. I was afraid you would be.”
“And I suppose you were scared to death to come here and tell me, after the fuss I made yesterday, hey? But you mustn’t mind me, I’m a terrible outspoken old fellow, that’s all…awful apt to tell the truth, no matter if it is a bit plain.” “So is Mrs. Lynde,” said Anne, before she could prevent herself.
“Who? Mrs. Lynde? Don’t you tell me I’m like that old gossip,” said Mr. Harrison irritably. “I’m not…not a bit. What have you got in that box?”
“A cake,” said Anne archly. In her relief at Mr. Harrison’s unexpected amiability her spirits soared upward feather-light. “I brought it over for you…I thought perhaps you didn’t have cake very often.” “I don’t, that’s a fact, and I’m mighty fond of it, too. I’m much obliged to you. It looks good on top. I hope it’s good all the way through.”
“It is,” said Anne, gaily confident. “I have made cakes in my time that were not, as Mrs. Allan could tell you, but this one is all right. I made it for the Improvement Society, but I can make another for them.” “Well, I’ll tell you what, miss, you must help me eat it. I’ll put the kettle on and we’ll have a cup of tea. How will that do?”
“Will you let me make the tea?” said Anne dubiously.
Mr. Harrison chuckled.
“I see you haven’t much confidence in my ability to make tea. You’re wrong…I can brew up as good a jorum of tea as you ever drank. But go ahead yourself. Fortunately it rained last Sunday, so there’s plenty of clean dishes.” Anne hopped briskly up and went to work. She washed the teapot in several waters before she put the tea to steep. Then she swept the stove and set the table, bringing the dishes out of the pantry. The state of that pantry horrified Anne, but she wisely said nothing. Mr. Harrison told her where to find the bread and butter and a can of peaches. Anne adorned the table with a bouquet from the garden and shut her eyes to the stains on the tablecloth. Soon the tea was ready and Anne found herself sitting opposite Mr. Harrison at his own table, pouring his tea for him, and chatting freely to him about her school and friends and plans. She could hardly believe the evidence of her. senses.
Mr. Harrison had brought Ginger back, averring that the poor bird would be lonesome; and Anne, feeling that she could forgive everybody and everything, offered him a walnut. But Ginger’s feelings had been grievously hurt and he rejected all overtures of friendship. He sat moodily on his perch and ruffled his feathers up until he looked like a mere ball of green and gold.
“Why do you call him Ginger?” asked Anne, who liked appropriate names and thought Ginger accorded not at all with such gorgeous plumage.
“My brother the sailor named him. Maybe it had some reference to his temper. I think a lot of that bird though…you’d be surprised if you knew how much. He has his faults of course. That bird has cost me a good deal one way and another. Some people object to his swearing habits, but he can’t be broken of them. I’ve tried…other people have tried. Some folks have prejudices against parrots. Silly, ain’t it? I like them myself. Ginger’s a lot of company to me. Nothing would induce me to give that bird up…nothing in the world, miss.” Mr. Harrison flung the last sentence at Anne as explosively as if he suspected her of some latent design of persuading him to give Ginger up. Anne, however, was beginning to like the queer, fussy, fidgety little man, and before the meal was over they were quite good friends. Mr. Harrison found out about the Improvement Society and was disposed to approve of it.
“That’s right. Go ahead. There’s lots of room for improvement in this settlement…and in the people too.”
“Oh, I don’t know,” flashed Anne. To herself, or to her particular cronies, she might admit that there were some small imperfections, easily removable, in Avonlea and its inhabitants. But to hear a practical outsider like Mr. Harrison saying it was an entirely different thing. “I think Avonlea is a lovely place; and the people in it are very nice, too.” “I guess you’ve got a spice of temper,” commented Mr. Harrison, surveying the flushed cheeks and indignant eyes opposite him. “It goes with hair like yours, I reckon. Avonlea is a pretty decent place or I wouldn’t have located here; but I suppose even you will admit that it has some faults?” “I like it all the better for them,” said loyal Anne. “I don’t like places or people either that haven’t any faults. I think a truly perfect person would be very uninteresting. Mrs. Milton White says she never met a perfect person, but she’s heard enough about one…her husband’s first wife. Don’t you think it must be very uncomfortable to be married to a man whose first wife was perfect?” “It would be more uncomfortable to be married to the perfect wife,” declared Mr. Harrison, with a sudden and inexplicable warmth.
When tea was over Anne insisted on washing the dishes, although Mr. Harrison assured her that there were enough in the house to do for weeks yet. She would dearly have loved to sweep the floor also, but no broom was visible and she did not like to ask where it was for fear there wasn’t one at all.
“You might run across and talk to me once in a while,” suggested Mr. Harrison when she was leaving. “’Tisn’t far and folks ought to be neighborly. I’m kind of interested in that society of yours. Seems to me there’ll be some fun in it. Who are you going to tackle first?” “We are not going to meddle with people…it is only places we mean to improve,” said Anne, in a dignified tone. She rather suspected that Mr. Harrison was making fun of the project.
When she had gone Mr. Harrison watched her from the window…a lithe, girlish shape, tripping lightheartedly across the fields in the sunset afterglow.
“I’m a crusty, lonesome, crabbed old chap,” he said aloud, “but there’s something about that little girl makes me feel young again…and it’s such a pleasant sensation I’d like to have it repeated once in a while.” “Redheaded snippet,” croaked Ginger mockingly.
Mr. Harrison shook his fist at the parrot.
“You ornery bird,” he muttered, “I almost wish I’d wrung your neck when my brother the sailor brought you home. Will you never be done getting me into trouble?”
Anne ran home blithely and recounted her adventures to Marilla, who had been not a little alarmed by her long absence and was on the point of starting out to look for her.
“It’s a pretty good world, after all, isn’t it, Marilla?” concluded Anne happily. “Mrs. Lynde was complaining the other day that it wasn’t much of a world. She said whenever you looked forward to anything pleasant you were sure to be more or less disappointed…that nothing came up to your expectations. Well, perhaps that is true. But there is a good side to it too. The bad things don’t always come up to your expectations either…they nearly always turn out ever so much better than you think. I looked forward to a dreadfully unpleasant experience when I went over to Mr. Harrison’s tonight; and instead he was quite kind and I had almost a nice time. I think we’re going to be real good friends if we make plenty of allowances for each other, and everything has turned out for the best. But all the same, Marilla, I shall certainly never again sell a cow before making sure to whom she belongs. And I do not like parrots!”
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