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VII - The Pointing of Duty
ANNE LEANED BACK in her chair one mild October evening and sighed. She was sitting at a table covered with textbooks and exercises, but the closely written sheets of paper before her had no apparent connection with studies or schoolwork.
“What is the matter?” asked Gilbert, who had arrived at the open kitchen door just in time to hear the sigh.
Anne colored, and thrust her writing out of sight under some school compositions.
“Nothing very dreadful. I was just trying to write out some of my thoughts, as Professor Hamilton advised me, but I couldn’t get them to please me. They seem so stiff and foolish directly they’re written down on white paper with black ink. Fancies are like shadows…you can’t cage them, they’re such wayward dancing things. But perhaps I’ll learn the secret some day if I keep on trying. I haven’t a great many spare moments, you know. By the time I finish correcting school exercises and compositions, I don’t always feel like writing any of my own.” “You are getting on splendidly in school, Anne. All the children like you,” said Gilbert, sitting down on the stone step.
“No, not all. Anthony Pye doesn’t and won’t like me. What is worse, he doesn’t respect me…no, he doesn’t. He simply holds me in contempt and I don’t mind confessing to you that it worries me miserably. It isn’t that he is so very bad…he is only rather mischievous, but no worse than some of the others. He seldom disobeys me; but he obeys with a scornful air of toleration as if it wasn’t worthwhile disputing the point or he would…and it has a bad effect on the others. I’ve tried every way to win him but I’m beginning to fear I never shall. I want to, for he’s rather a cute little lad, if he is a Pye, and I could like him if he’d let me.” “Probably it’s merely the effect of what he hears at home.”
“Not altogether. Anthony is an independent little chap and makes up his own mind about things. He has always gone to men before and he says girl teachers are no good. Well, we’ll see what patience and kindness will do. I like overcoming difficulties and teaching is really very interesting work. Paul Irving makes up for all that is lacking in the others. That child is a perfect darling, Gilbert, and a genius into the bargain. I’m persuaded the world will hear of him some day,” concluded Anne in a tone of conviction.
“I like teaching, too,” said Gilbert. “It’s good training, for one thing. Why, Anne, I’ve learned more in the weeks I’ve been teaching the young the ideas of White Sands than I learned in all the years I went to school myself. We all seem to be getting on pretty well. The Newbridge people like Jane, I hear; and I think White Sands is tolerably satisfied with your humble servant…all except Mr. Andrew Spencer. I met Mrs. Peter Blewett on my way home last night and she told me she thought it her duty to inform me that Mr. Spencer didn’t approve of my methods.” “Have you ever noticed,” asked Anne reflectively, “that when people say it is their duty to tell you a certain thing you may prepare for something disagreeable? Why is it that they never seem to think it a duty to tell you the pleasant things they hear about you? Mrs. H. B. Donnell called at the school again yesterday and told me she thought it her duty to inform me that Mrs. Harmon Andrew didn’t approve of my reading fairy tales to the children, and that Mr. Rogerson thought Prillie wasn’t coming on fast enough in arithmetic. If Prillie would spend less time making eyes at the boys over her slate she might do better. I feel quite sure that Jack Gillis works her class sums for her, though I’ve never been able to catch him red-handed.” “Have you succeeded in reconciling Mrs. Donnell’s hopeful son to his saintly name?”
“Yes,” laughed Anne, “but it was really a difficult task. At first, when I called him ‘St. Clair’ he would not take the least notice until I’d spoken two or three times; and then, when the other boys nudged him, he would look up with such an aggrieved air, as if I’d called him John or Charlie and he couldn’t be expected to know I meant him. So I kept him in after school one night and talked kindly to him. I told him his mother wished me to call him St. Clair and I couldn’t go against her wishes. He saw it when it was all explained out…he’s really a very reasonable little fellow…and he said I could call him St. Clair but that he’d ‘lick the stuffing’ out of any of the boys that tried it. Of course, I had to rebuke him again for using such shocking language. Since then I call him St. Clair and the boys call him Jake and all goes smoothly. He informs me that he means to be a carpenter, but Mrs. Donnell says I am to make a college professor out of him.” The mention of college gave a new direction to Gilbert’s thoughts, and they talked for a time of their plans and wishes…gravely, earnestly, hopefully, as youth loves to talk, while the future is yet an untrodden path full of wonderful possibilities.
Gilbert had finally made up his mind that he was going to be a doctor.
“It’s a splendid profession,” he said enthusiastically. “A fellow has to fight something all through life…didn’t somebody once define man as a fighting animal?…and I want to fight disease and pain and ignorance…which are all members one of another. I want to do my share of honest, real work in the world, Anne…add a little to the sum of human knowledge that all the good men have been accumulating since it began. The folks who lived before me have done so much for me that I want to show my gratitude by doing something for the folks who will live after me. It seems to me that is the only way a fellow can get square with his obligations to the race.” “I’d like to add some beauty to life,” said Anne dreamily. “I don’t exactly want to make people know more…though I know that is the noblest ambition…but I’d love to make them have a pleasanter time because of me…to have some little joy or happy thought that would never have existed if I hadn’t been born.” “I think you’re fulfilling that ambition every day,” said Gilbert admiringly.
And he was right. Anne was one of the children of light by birthright. After she had passed through a life with a smile or a word thrown across it like a gleam of sunshine the owner of that life saw it, for the time being at least, as hopeful and lovely and of good report.
Finally Gilbert rose regretfully.
“Well, I must run up to MacPhersons’. Moody Spurgeon came home from Queen’s today for Sunday and he was to bring me out a book Professor Boyd is lending me.”
“And I must get Marilla’s tea. She went to see Mrs. Keith this evening and she will soon be back.”
Anne had tea ready when Marilla came home; the fire was crackling cheerily, a vase of frost-bleached ferns and ruby-red maple leaves adorned the table, and delectable odors of ham and toast pervaded the air. But Marilla sank into her chair with a deep sigh.
“Are your eyes troubling you? Does your head ache?” queried Anne anxiously.
“No. I’m only tired…and worried. It’s about Mary and those children…Mary is worse…she can’t last much longer. And as for the twins, I don’t know what is to become of them.”
“Hasn’t their uncle been heard from?”
“Yes, Mary had a letter from him. He’s working in a lumber camp and ‘shacking it,’ whatever that means. Anyway, he says he can’t possibly take the children till the spring. He expects to be married then and will have a home to take them to; but he says she must get some of the neighbors to keep them for the winter. She says she can’t bear to ask any of them. Mary never got on any too well with the East Grafton people and that’s a fact. And the long and short of it is, Anne, that I’m sure Mary wants me to take those children…she didn’t say so but she looked it.” “Oh!” Anne clasped her hands, all athrill with excitement. “And of course you will, Marilla, won’t you?”
“I haven’t made up my mind,” said Marilla rather tartly. “I don’t rush into things in your headlong way, Anne. Third cousinship is a pretty slim claim. And it will be a fearful responsibility to have two children of six years to look after…twins, at that.” Marilla had an idea that twins were just twice as bad as single children.
“Twins are very interesting…at least one pair of them,” said Anne. “It’s only when there are two or three pairs that it gets monotonous. And I think it would be real nice for you to have something to amuse you when I’m away in school.”
“I don’t reckon there’d be much amusement in it…more worry and bother than anything else, I should say. It wouldn’t be so risky if they were even as old as you were when I took you. I wouldn’t mind Dora so much…she seems good and quiet. But that Davy is a limb.” Anne was fond of children and her heart yearned over the Keith twins. The remembrance of her own neglected childhood was very vivid with her still. She knew that Marilla’s only vulnerable point was her stern devotion to what she believed to be her duty, and Anne skillfully marshalled her arguments along this line.
“If Davy is naughty it’s all the more reason why he should have good training, isn’t it, Marilla? If we don’t take them we don’t know who will, nor what kind of influences may surround them. Suppose Mrs. Keith’s next-door neighbors, the Sprotts, were to take them. Mrs. Lynde says Henry Sprott is the most profane man that ever lived and you can’t believe a word his children say. Wouldn’t it be dreadful to have the twins learn anything like that? Or suppose they went to the Wiggins’. Mrs. Lynde says that Mr. Wiggins sells everything off the place that can be sold and brings his family up on skim milk. You wouldn’t like your relations to be starved, even if they were only third cousins, would you? It seems to me, Marilla, that it is our duty to take them.” “I suppose it is,” assented Marilla gloomily. “I daresay I’ll tell Mary I’ll take them. You needn’t look so delighted, Anne. It will mean a good deal of extra work for you. I can’t sew a stitch on account of my eyes, so you’ll have to see to the making and mending of their clothes. And you don’t like sewing.” “I hate it,” said Anne calmly, “but if you are willing to take those children from a sense of duty surely I can do their sewing from a sense of duty. It does people good to have to do things they don’t like…in moderation.”
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