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“Oh, you couldn’t spoil Stella. And I’m not denying Richard has got a good deal in his head-piece. But he’s a crank about young men . . . he has never let poor Stella have a single beau in her life! All the young men who tried to go with her he simply terrified out of their senses with sarcasm. He is the most sarcastic creature you ever heard of. Stella can’t manage him . . . her mother before her couldn’t manage him. They didn’t know how. He goes by contraries but neither of them ever seemed to catch on to that.”81
“I thought Stella seemed very devoted to her father.”
“Oh, she is. She adores him. He is a most agreeable man when he gets his own way about everything. But he should have more sense about Stella’s marrying. He must know he can’t live forever . . . though to hear him talk you’d think he meant to. He isn’t an old man, of course . . . he was very young when he was married.
But strokes run in that family. And what is Stella to do after he’s gone? Just shrivel up, I suppose.”
Susan looked up from the intricate rose of her Irish crochet long enough to say decidedly:
“I do not hold with old folks spoiling young ones lives in that fashion.”
“Perhaps if Stella really cared for anyone her father’s objections might not weight much with her.”
“That’s where you’re mistaken, Anne dearie. Stella would never marry anyone her father didn’t like. And I can tell you another whose life is going to be spoiled, and that’s Marshall’s nephew, Alden Churchill. Mary is determined he shan’t marry as long as she can keep him from it. She’s even more contrary than Richard . . . if she was a weather-vane she’d point north when the wind was south. The property is hers till Alden marries and then it goes to him, you know. Every time he’s gone about with a girl she has contrived to put a stop to it somehow.”
“Indeed, is it all her doings, Mrs. Marshall Elliott?” queried Susan dryly. “Some folks think that Alden is very changeable. I have heard him called a flirt.”
“Alden is handsome and the girls chase him,” retorted Miss Cornelia. “I don’t blame him for stringing them along a bit and dropping them when he’s taught them a lesson. But there’s been one or two nice girls he really liked and Mary just blocked it every time. She told me so herself . . . told me she went to the Bible . . . she’s always ‘going to the Bible’ . . . and turned up a verse and every time it was a warning against Alden getting married. I’ve no patience with her and her odd ways. Why can’t she go to church and be a decent creature like the rest of us around Four Winds? But no, she must set up a religion for herself, consisting of ‘going to the Bible.’ Last fall, when that valuable horse took sick . . . worth four hundred if a dollar . . . instead of sending for the Lowbridge vet she ‘went to the Bible’ and turned up a verse . . . ‘The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away.
Blessed be the name of the Lord.’ So send for the vet she would not and the horse died. Fancy applying that verse in such a way, Anne dearie. I call it irreverent. I told her so flat but all the answer I got was a dirty look. And she won’t have the82 phone put in. ‘Do you think I’m going to talk into a box on the wall?’ she says when anyone broaches it.”
Miss Cornelia paused, rather out of breath. Her sister-in-law’s vagaries always made her impatient.
“Alden isn’t at all like his mother,” said Anne.
“Alden’s like his father . . . a finer man never stepped . . . as men go. Why he ever married Mary was something the Elliotts could never fathom. Though they were more than glad to get her married off so well . . . she always had a screw loose and such a bean-pole of a girl. Of course she had lots of money . . . her Aunt Mary left her everything . . . but that wasn’t the reason, George Churchill was really in love with her. I don’t know how Alden stands his mother’s whims; but he’s been a good son.”
“Do you know what has just occurred to me, Miss Cornelia?” said Anne with an impish smile. “Wouldn’t it be a nice thing if Alden and Stella should fall in love with each other?”
“There isn’t much chance of that and they wouldn’t get anywhere if they did.
Mary would tear up the turf and Richard would show a plain farmer the door in a minute, even if he is a farmer himself now. But Stella isn’t the kind of a girl Alden fancies . . . he likes the high-coloured laughing ones. And Stella wouldn’t care for his type. I did hear the new minister at Lowbridge was making sheep’s eyes at her.”
“Isn’t he rather anemic and short-sighted?” asked Anne.
“And his eyes bulge,” said Susan. “They must be dreadful when he tries to look sentimental.”
“At least he’s a Presbyterian,” said Miss Cornelia, as if that atoned for much.
“Well, I must be going. I find if I’m out in the dew much my neuralgia troubles me.”
“I’ll walk down to the gate with you.”
“You always looked like a queen in that dress, Anne dearie,” said Miss Cornelia, admiringly and irrelevantly.83
Anne met Owen and Leslie Ford at the gate and brought them back to the verandah. Susan had vanished to get lemonade for the doctor, who had just arrived home, and the children came swarming up from the Hollow sleepy and happy.
“You were making dreadful noise as I drove in,” said Gilbert. “The whole countryside must have heard you.”
Persis Ford, shaking back her thick honey-tinted curls, stuck out her tongue at him. Persis was a great favourite with “Uncle Gil.”
“We were just imitating howling dervishes, so of course we had to howl,”
“Look at the state your blouse is in,” said Leslie rather severely.
“I fell in Di’s mud-pie,” said Kenneth, with decided satisfaction in his tone. He loathed those starched, spotless blouses Mother made him wear when he came up to the Glen.
“Mother dearwums,” said Jem, “can I have those old ostrich feathers in the garret to sew in the back of my pants for a tail? We’re going to have a circus tomorrow and I’m to be the ostrich. And we’re going to get an elephant.”
“Do you know that it costs six hundred dollars a year to feed an elephant?” said Gilbert solemnly.
“An imaginary elephant doesn’t cost anything,” explained Jem patiently.
Anne laughed. “We never need to be economical in our imaginations, thank heaven.”
Walter said nothing. He was a little tired and quite content to sit down beside Mother on the steps and lean his black head against her shoulder. Leslie Ford, looking at him, thought that he had the face of a genius . . . the remote, detached look of a soul from another star. Earth was not his habitat.
Everybody was very happy in this golden hour of a golden day. A bell in a church across the harbour rang faintly and sweetly. The moon was making patterns on the water. The dunes shimmered in hazy silver. There was a tang of mint in the air and some unseen roses were unbearably sweet. And Anne, looking dreamily over the lawn with eyes that, in spite of six children, were still very84 young, thought there was nothing in the world so slim and elfin as a very young lombardy poplar by moonlight.
Then she began to think about Stella Chase and Alden Churchill, until Gilbert offered her a penny for her thoughts.
“I’m thinking seriously of trying my hand at matchmaking,” retorted Anne.
Gilbert looked at the others in mock despair.
“I was afraid it would break out again some day. I’ve done my best, but you can’t reform a born matchmaker. She has a positive passion for it. The number of matches she has made is incredible. I couldn’t sleep o’ nights if I had such responsibilities on my conscience.”
“But they’re all happy,” protested Anne. “I’m really an adept. Think of all the matches I’ve made . . . or been accused of making . . . Theodora Dix and Ludovic Speed . . . Stephen Clark and Prissie Gardner . . . Janet Sweet and John Douglas . . . Professor Carter and Esme Taylor . . . Nora and Jim . . . and Dovie and Jarvis . . .”
“Oh, I admit it. This wife of mine, Owen, has never lost her sense of expectation.
Thistles may, for her, bear figs at any time. I suppose she’ll keep on trying to marry people off until she grows up.”
“I think she had something to do with another match yet,” said Owen, smiling at his wife.
“Not I,” said Anne promptly. “Blame Gilbert for that. I did my best to persuade him not to have that operation performed on George Moore. Talk about sleeping o’ nights . . . there are nights when I wake up in a cold perspiration dreaming that I succeeded.”
“Well, they say it is only happy women who match-make, so that is one up for me,” said Gilbert complacently. “What new victims have you in mind now, Anne?”
Anne only grinned at him. Matchmaking is something requiring subtlety and discretion and there are things you do not tell even to your husband.85 16
Anne lay awake for hours that night and several nights thereafter, thinking about Alden and Stella. She had a feeling that Stella thought longingly about marriage . . . a home . . . babies. She had begged one night to be allowed to give Rilla her bath . . . “It’s so delightful to bathe her plump, dimpled little body” . . . and again, shyly, “It’s so lovely, Mrs. Blythe, to have little darling velvet arms stretched out to you. Babies are so right, aren’t they?” It would be a shame if a grouchy father should prevent the blossoming of those secret hopes.
It would be an ideal marriage. But how could it be brought about, with everybody concerned a bit stubborn and contrary? For the stubbornness and contrariness were not all on the old folks’ side. Anne suspected that both Alden and Stella had a streak of it. This required an entirely different technique from any previous affair. In the nick of time Anne remembered Dovie’s father.
Anne tilted her chin and went at it. Alden and Stella, she considered, were as good as married from that hour.
There was no time to be lost. Alden, who lived at the Harbour Head and went to the Anglican church over the harbour, had not even met Stella Chase as yet . . . perhaps had not even seen her. He had not been dangling after any girl for some months, but he might begin at any moment. Mrs. Janet Swift, of the Upper Glen, had a very handsome niece visiting her and Alden was always after the new girls.
The first thing to do, then, was to have Alden and Stella meet. How was this to be managed? It must be brought about in some way absolutely innocent in appearance. Anne racked her brains but could think of nothing more original than giving a party and inviting them both. She did not altogether like the idea. It was hot weather for a party . . . and the Four Winds young people were such romps.
Anne knew Susan would never consent to a party without practically housecleaning Ingleside from attic to cellar . . . and Susan was feeling the heat this summer. But a good cause demands sacrifices. Jen Pringle, B.A., had written that she was coming for a long-promised visit to Ingleside and that would be the very excuse for a party. Luck seemed to be on her side. Jen came . . . the invitations were sent out . . . Susan gave Ingleside its overhauling . . . she and Anne did all the cooking for the party themselves in the heart of a heat-wave.
Anne was woefully tired the night before the party. The heat had been terrible . . . Jem was sick in bed with an attack of what Anne secretly feared was appendicitis though Gilbert lightly dismissed it as only green apples . . . and the Shrimp had86 been nearly scalded to death when Jen Pringle, trying to help Susan, knocked a pan of hot water off the stove on him. Every bone in Anne’s body ached, her head ached, her feet ached, her eyes ached. Jen had gone with a group of young fry to see the lighthouse, telling Anne to go right to bed; but instead of going to bed she sat out on the verandah in the dampness that followed the afternoon’s thunderstorm and talked to Alden Churchill, who had called to get some medicine for his mother’s bronchitis but would not go into the house. Anne thought it was a heaven-sent opportunity, for she wanted very much to have a talk with him. They were quite good friends, since Alden often called on a similar errand.
Alden sat on the verandah step with his bare head thrown back against the post.
He was, as Anne always thought, a very handsome fellow . . . tall and broadshouldered, with a marble-white face that never tanned, vivid blue eyes, and a stiff, upstanding brush of inky black hair. He had a laughing voice and a nice, deferential way which women of all ages liked. He had gone to Queen’s for three years and had thought of going to Redmond, but his mother refused to let him go, alleging Biblical reasons, and Alden had settled down contentedly enough on the farm. He liked farming, he had told Anne; it was free, out-of-doors, independent work: he had his mother’s knack of making money and his father’s attractive personality. It was no wonder he was considered something of a matrimonial prize.
“Alden, I want to ask a favour of you,” said Anne winningly. “Will you do it for me?”
“Sure, Mrs. Blythe,” he answered heartily. “Just name it. You know I’d do anything for you.”
Alden was really very fond of Mrs. Blythe and would really have done a good deal for her.
“I’m afraid it will bore you,” said Anne anxiously. “But it’s just this . . . I want you to see that Stella Chase has a good time at my party tomorrow night. I’m so afraid she won’t. She doesn’t know many young people around here yet . . . most of them are younger than she is . . . at least the boys are. Ask her to dance and see that she isn’t left alone and out of things. She’s so shy with strangers. I do want her to have a good time.”
“Oh, I’ll do my best,” said Alden readily.87
“But you mustn’t fall in love with her, you know,” warned Anne, laughing carefully.
“Have a heart, Mrs. Blythe. Why not?”
“Well,” confidentially, “I think Mr. Paxton of Lowbridge has taken quite a fancy to her.”
“That conceited young coxcomb?” exploded Alden, with unexpected warmth.
Anne looked mild rebuke.
“Why, Alden, I’m told he is a very nice young man. It’s only that kind of a man who would have any chance with Stella’s father, you know.”
“That so?” said Alden, relapsing into his indifference.
“Yes . . . and I don’t know if even he would. I understand Mr. Chase thinks there is nobody good enough for Stella. I’m afraid a plain farmer wouldn’t have a lookin. So I don’t want you to make trouble for yourself falling in love with a girl you could never get. I’m just dropping a friendly warning. I’m sure your mother would think as I do.”
“Oh, thanks . . . What sort of a girl is she, anyhow. Looks good?”
“Well, I admit she isn’t a beauty. I like Stella very much . . . but she’s a little pale and retiring. Not overly strong . . . but I’m told Mr. Paxton has money of his own.
To my thinking it should be an ideal match and I don’t want anyone to spoil it.”
“Why didn’t you invite Mr. Paxton to your spree and tell him to give your Stella a good time?” demanded Alden rather truculently.
“You know a minister wouldn’t come to a dance, Alden. Now, don’t be cranky . . . and do see that Stella has a nice time.”
“Oh, I’ll see that she has a rip-roaring time. Good-night, Mrs. Blythe.”
Alden swung off abruptly. Left alone, Anne laughed. “Now, if I know anything of human nature that boy will sail right in to show the world he can get Stella if he wants her in spite of anybody. He rose right to my bait about the minister. But I suppose I’m in for a bad night with this headache.”88
She had a bad night, complicated by what Susan called “a crick in the neck,” and felt about as brilliant as grey flannel in the morning; but in the evening she was a gay and gallant hostess. The party was a success. Everybody seemed to have a good time. Stella certainly had. Alden saw to that almost too zealously for good form, Anne thought. It was going a bit strong for a first meeting that Alden should whisk Stella off to a dim corner of the verandah after supper and keep her there for an hour. But on the whole Anne was satisfied when she thought things over the next morning. To be sure, the dining-room carpet has been practically ruined by two spilled saucerfuls of ice-cream and a plateful of cake being ground into it; Gilbert’s grandmother’s Bristol glass candlesticks had been smashed to smithereens; somebody had upset a pitcherful of rainwater in the spare room which had soaked down and discoloured the library ceiling in a tragic fashion; the tassels were half torn off the chesterfield; Susan’s big Boston fern, the pride of her heart, had apparently been sat upon by some large and heavy person. But on the credit side of the ledger was the fact that, unless all signs failed, Alden had fallen for Stella. Anne thought the balance was in her favour.
Local gossip within the next few weeks confirmed this view. It became increasingly evident that Alden was hooked. But what about Stella? Anne did not think Stella was the sort of girl to fall too ripely into any man’s outstretched hand.
She had a spice of her father’s “contrariness,” which in her worked out as a charming independence.
Again luck befriended a worried matchmaker. Stella came to see the Ingleside delphiniums one evening and afterwards they sat on the verandah and talked.
Stella Chase was a pale, slender thing, rather shy but intensely sweet. She had a soft cloud of pale gold hair and wood-brown eyes. Anne thought it was her eyelashes did the trick, for she was not really pretty. They were unbelievably long and when she lifted them and dropped them it did things to masculine hearts. She had a certain distinction of manner which made her seem a little older than her twenty-four years and a nose that might be decidedly aquiline in later life.
“I’ve been hearing things about you, Stella,” said Anne, shaking a finger at her.
“And . . . I . . . don’t . . . know . . . if . . . I . . . liked . . . them. Will you forgive me for saying that I wonder if Alden Churchill is just the right beau for you?”
Stella turned a startled face.
“Why . . . I thought you liked Alden, Mrs. Blythe.”89
“I do like him. But . . . well, you see . . . he has the reputation of being very fickle. I’m told no girl can hold him long. A good many have tried . . . and failed.
I’d hate to see you left like that if his fancy veered.”
“I think you are mistaken about Alden, Mrs. Blythe,” said Stella slowly.
“I hope so, Stella. If you were a different type now . . . bouncing and jolly, like Eileen Swift . . .”
“Oh, well . . . I must be going home,” said Stella vaguely. “Father will be lonely.”
When she had gone Anne laughed again.
“I rather think Stella has gone away secretly vowing that she will show meddlesome friends that she can hold Alden and that no Eileen Swift shall ever get her claws on him. That little toss of her head and that sudden flush on her cheeks told me that. So much for the young folks. I’m afraid the older ones will be tougher nuts to crack.”90
Anne’s luck held. The Women’s Missionary Auxiliary asked her if she would call on Mrs. George Churchill for her yearly contribution to the society. Mrs.
Churchill seldom went to church and was not a member of the Auxiliary, but she “believed in missions” and always gave a generous sum if anyone called and asked her for it. People enjoyed doing this so little that the members had to take their turn at it and this year the turn was Anne’s.
She walked down one evening, taking a daisied trail across lots which led over the sweet, cool loveliness of a hill-top to the road where the Churchill farm lay, a mile from the Glen. It was rather a dull road, with grey snake fences running up steep little slopes . . . yet it had homelights . . . a brook . . . the smell of hayfields that run down to the sea . . . gardens. Anne stopped to look at every garden she passed. Her interest in gardens was perennial. Gilbert was wont to say that Anne had to buy a book if the word “garden” were in the title.
A lazy boat idled down the harbour and far out a vessel was becalmed. Anne always watched an outward bound ship with a little quickening of her pulses. She understood Captain Franklin Drew when she heard him say once, as he went on board his vessel at the wharf, “God, how sorry I am for the folks we leave on shore!”
The big Churchill house, with the grim iron lacework around its flat mansard roof, looked down on the harbour and the dunes. Mrs. Churchill greeted her politely, if none too effusively, and ushered her into a gloomy and splendid parlour, the dark, brown-papered walls of which were hung with innumerable crayons of departed Churchills and Elliotts. Mrs. Churchill sat down on a green plush sofa, folded her long thin hands, and gazed steadily at her caller.
Mary Churchill was tall and gaunt and austere. She had a prominent chin, deepset blue eyes like Alden’s, and a wide, compressed mouth. She never wasted words and she never gossipped. So Anne found it rather difficult to work up to her objective naturally, but she managed it through the medium of the new minister across the harbour whom Mrs. Churchill did not like.
“He is not a spiritual man,” said Mrs. Churchill coldly.
“I have heard that his sermons are remarkable,” said Anne.91
“I heard one and do not wish to hear more. My soul sought food and was given a lecture. He believes the Kingdom of Heaven can be taken by brains. It cannot.”
“Speaking of ministers . . . they have a very clever one at Lowbridge now. I think he is interested in my young friend, Stella Chase. Gossip says it will be a match.”
“Do you mean a marriage?” said Mrs. Churchill.
Anne felt snubbed but reflected that you had to swallow things like that when you were interfering in what didn’t concern you.
“I think it would be a very suitable one, Mrs. Churchill. Stella is especially fitted for a minister’s wife. I’ve been telling Alden he mustn’t try to spoil it.”
“Why?” asked Mrs. Churchill, without the flicker of an eyelid.
“Well . . . really . . . you know . . . I’m afraid Alden would stand no chance whatever. Mr. Chase doesn’t think anyone good enough for Stella. All Alden’s friends would hate to see him dropped suddenly like an old glove. He’s too nice a boy for that.”
“No girl ever dropped my son,” said Mrs. Churchill, compressing her thin lips. “It was always the other way about. He found them out, for all their curls and giggles, their wrigglings and mincings. My son can marry any woman he chooses, Mrs. Blythe . . . any woman.”
“Oh?” said Anne’s tongue. Her tone said, “Of course I am too polite to contradict you but you have not changed my opinion.” Mary Churchill understood and her white, shrivelled face warmed a little as she went out of the room to get her missionary contribution.
“You have the most wonderful view here,” said Anne, when Mrs. Churchill ushered her to the door.
Mrs. Churchill gave the gulf a glance of disapproval.
“If you felt the bite of the east wind in winter, Mrs. Blythe, you might not think so much of the view. It’s cool enough tonight. I should think you’d be afraid of catching cold in that thin dress. Not but what it’s a pretty one. You are young enough still to care for gauds and vanities. I have ceased to feel any interest in such transitory things.”92
Anne felt fairly well satisfied with the interview as she went home through the dim green twilight.
“Of course one can’t count on Mrs. Churchill,” she told a flock of starlings who were holding a parliament in a little field scooped out of the woods, “but I think I worried her a little. I could see she didn’t like having people think Alden could be jilted. Well, I’ve done what in me lies with all concerned except Mr. Chase and I don’t see what I can do with him when I don’t even know him. I wonder if he has the slightest notion that Alden and Stella are sweethearting. Not likely. Stella would never dare take Alden to the house, of course. Now, what am I to do about Mr. Chase?”
It was really uncanny . . . the way things helped her out. One evening Miss Cornelia came along and asked Anne to accompany her to the Chase home.
“I’m going down to ask Richard Chase for a contribution to the new church kitchen stove. Will you come with me, dearie, just as a moral support? I hate to tackle him alone.”
They found Mr. Chase standing on his front steps, looking, with his long legs and his long nose, rather like a meditative crane. He had a few shining strands of hair brushed over the top of his bald head and his little grey eyes twinkled at them. He happened to be thinking that if that was the doctor’s wife with old Cornelia she had a mighty good figure. As for Cousin Cornelia, twice removed, she was a bit too solidly built and had about as much intellect as a grasshopper, but she wasn’t a bad old cat at all if you always rubbed her the right way.
He invited them courteously into his small library, where Miss Cornelia settled into a chair with a little grunt.
“It’s dreadful hot tonight. I’m afraid we’ll have a thunderstorm. Mercy on us, Richard, that cat is bigger than ever!”
Richard Chase had a familiar in the shape of a yellow cat of abnormal size which now climbed up on his knee. He stroked it tenderly.
“Thomas the Rhymer gives the world assurance of a cat,” he said. “Don’t you, Thomas? Look at your Aunt Cornelia, Rhymer. Observe the baleful glances she is casting at you out of orbs created to express only kindness and affection.”
“Don’t you call me that beast’s Aunt Cornelia!” protested Mrs. Elliott sharply. “A joke is a joke but that is carrying things too far.”93
“Wouldn’t you rather be the Rhymer’s aunt than Neddy Churchill’s aunt?” queried Richard Chase plaintively. “Neddy is a glutton and a wine-bibber, isn’t he? I’ve heard you giving a catalogue of his sins. Wouldn’t you rather be aunt to a fine upstanding cat like Thomas with a blameless record where whiskey and tabbies are concerned?”
“Poor Ned is a human being,” retorted Miss Cornelia. “I don’t like cats. That is the only fault I have to find with Alden Churchill. He has got the strangest liking for cats, too. Lord knows where he got it . . . both his father and mother loathed them.”
“What a sensible young man he must be!”
“Sensible! Well, he’s sensible enough . . . except in the matter of cats and his hankering after evolution . . . another thing he didn’t inherit from his mother.”
“Do you know, Mrs. Elliott,” said Richard Chase solemnly, “I have a secret leaning towards evolution myself.”
“So you’ve told me before. Well, believe what you want to, Dick Chase . . . just like a man. Thank God, nobody could ever make me believe that I descended from a monkey.”
“You don’t look it, I confess, you comely woman. I see no simian resemblances in your rosy, comfortable, eminently gracious physiognomy. Still, your greatgrandmother a million times removed swung herself from branch to branch by her tail. Science proves that, Cornelia . . . take it or leave it.”
“I’ll leave it, then. I’m not going to argue with you on that or any point. I’ve got my own religion and no ape-ancestors figure in it. By the way, Richard, Stella doesn’t look so well this summer as I’d like to see her.”
“She always feels the hot weather a good deal. She’ll pick up when it’s cooler.”
“I hope so. Lisette picked up every summer but the last, Richard . . . don’t forget that. Stella has her mother’s constitution. It’s just as well she isn’t likely to marry.”
“Why isn’t she likely to marry? I ask from curiosity, Cornelia . . . rank curiosity.
The processes of feminine thought are intensely interesting to me. From what premises or data do you draw the conclusion, in your own delightful offhand way, that Stella is not likely to marry?”94
“Well, Richard, to put it plainly, she isn’t the kind of girl that is very popular with men. She’s a good, sweet girl, but she doesn’t take with men.”
“She has had admirers. I have spent much of my substance in the purchase and maintenance of shotguns and bulldogs.”
“They admired your money-bags, I fancy. They were easily discouraged, weren’t they? Just one broadside of sarcasm from you and off they went. If they had really wanted Stella they wouldn’t have wilted for that any more than for your imaginary bulldog. No, Richard, you might as well admit the fact that Stella isn’t the girl to win desirable beaus. Lisette wasn’t, you know. She never had a beau till you came along.”
“But wasn’t I worth waiting for? Surely Lisette was a wise young woman. You would not have me give my daughter to any Tom, Dick or Harry, would you? My star, who, in spite of your disparaging remarks, is fit to shine in the palaces of kings?”
“We have no kings in Canada,” retorted Miss Cornelia. “I’m not saying Stella isn’t a lovely girl. I’m only saying the men don’t seem to see it and, considering her constitution, I think it is just as well. A good thing for you, too. You could never get on without her . . . you’d be as helpless as a baby. Well, promise us a contribution to the church stove range and we’ll be off. I know you’re dying to pick up that book of yours.”
“Admirable, clear-sighted woman! What a treasure you are for a cousin-in-law! I admit it. . . . I am dying. But no other than yourself would have been perspicacious enough to see it or amiable enough to save my life by acting upon it. How much are you holding me up for?”
“You can afford five dollars.”
“I never argue with a lady. Five dollars it is. Ah, going? She never loses time, this unique woman! Once her object is attained she straightway leaves you in peace. They don’t hatch her breed of cats nowadays. Good-evening pearl of inlaws.”
During the whole call Anne had not uttered one word. Why should she when Mrs. Elliott was doing her work for her so cleverly and unconsciously? But as Richard Chase bowed them out he suddenly bent forward confidentially.95 “You’ve got the finest pair of ankles I’ve ever seen, Mrs. Blythe, and I’ve been about a bit in my time.”
“Isn’t he dreadful?” gasped Miss Cornelia as they went down the lane. “He’s always saying outrageous things like that to women. You mustn’t mind him, Anne dearie.”
Anne didn’t. She rather liked Richard Chase.
“I don’t think,” she reflected, “that he quite liked the idea of Stella not being popular with the men, in spite of the fact that their grandfathers were monkeys. I think he’d like to ‘show folks,’ too. Well I have done all I can do. I have interested Alden and Stella in each other; and, between us, Miss Cornelia and I have, I think, made Mrs. Churchill and Mr. Chase rather for the match than against it.
Now I must just sit tight and see how it turns out.”
A month later Stella Chase came to Ingleside and again sat down by Anne on the verandah steps . . . thinking, as she did so, that she hoped she would look like Mrs. Blythe some day . . . with that ripened look . . . the look of a woman who has lived fully and graciously.
The cool smoky evening had followed a cool, yellowish-grey day in early September. It was threaded with the gentle moan of the sea.
“The sea is unhappy tonight,” Walter would say when he heard that sound.
Stella seemed absent-minded and quiet. Presently she said abruptly, looking up at a sorcery of stars that was being woven in the purple night, “Mrs. Blythe, I want to tell you something.”
“I’m engaged to Alden Churchill,” said Stella desperately. “We’ve been engaged ever since last Christmas. We told Father and Mrs. Churchill right away but we’ve kept it a secret from everyone else just because it was so sweet to have such a secret. We hated to share it with the world. But we are going to be married next month.”
Anne gave an excellent imitation of a woman who had been turned to stone.
Stella was still staring at the stars, so she did not see the expression on Mrs.
Blythe’s face. She went on, a little more easily:96
“Alden and I met at a party in Lowbridge last November. We . . . loved each other from the very first moment. He said he had always dreamed of me . . . had always been looking for me. He said to himself, ‘There is my wife,’ when he saw me come in at the door. And I . . . felt just the same. Oh, we are so happy, Mrs.
Still Anne said nothing, several times over.
“The only cloud on my happiness is your attitude about the matter, Mrs. Blythe.
Won’t you try to approve? You’ve been such a dear friend to me since I came to Glen St. Mary . . . I’ve felt as if you were an older sister. And I’ll feel so badly if I think my marriage is against your wish.”
There was a sound of tears in Stella’s voice. Anne recovered her powers of speech.
“Dearest, your happiness is all I’ve wanted. I like Alden . . . he’s a splendid fellow . . . only he had the reputation of being a flirt . . .”
“But he isn’t. He was just looking for the right one, don’t you see, Mrs. Blythe?
And he couldn’t find her.”
“How does your father regard it?”
“Oh, Father is greatly pleased. He took to Alden from the start. They used to argue for hours about evolution. Father said he always meant to let me marry when the right man came along. I feel dreadfully about leaving him, but he says young birds have a right to their own nest. Cousin Delia Chase is coming to keep house for him and Father likes her very much.”
“And Alden’s mother?”
“She is quite willing, too. When Alden told her last Christmas that we were engaged she went to the Bible and the very first verse she turned up was, ‘A man shall leave father and mother and cleave unto his wife.’ She said it was perfectly clear then what she ought to do and she consented at once. She is going to go to that little house of hers in Lowbridge.”
“I am glad you won’t have to live with that green plush sofa,” said Anne.97 “The sofa? Oh, yes, the furniture is very old-fashioned, isn’t it? But she is taking it with her and Alden is going to refurnish completely. So you see everyone is pleased, Mrs. Blythe, and won’t you give us your good wishes, too?”
Anne leaned forward and kissed Stella’s cool satin cheek.
“I am very glad for you. God bless the days that are coming for you, my dear.”
When Stella had gone Anne flew up to her own room to avoid seeing anyone for a few moments. A cynical, lopsided old moon was coming out from behind some shaggy clouds in the east and the fields beyond seemed to wink slyly and impishly at her.
She took stock of all the preceding weeks. She had ruined her dining-room carpet, destroyed two treasured heirlooms and spoiled her library ceiling; she had been trying to use Mrs. Churchill as a cat’s-paw and Mrs. Churchill must have been laughing in her sleeve all the time.
“Who,” asked Anne of the moon, “has been made the biggest fool of in this affair? I know what Gilbert’s opinion will be. All the trouble I’ve gone to, to bring about a marriage between two people who were already engaged? I’m cured of matchmaking then . . . absolutely cured. Never will I lift a finger to promote a marriage if nobody in the world ever gets married again. Well, there is one consolation . . . Jen Pringle’s letter today saying she is going to marry Lewis Stedman whom she met at my party. The Bristol candlesticks were not sacrificed entirely in vain. Boys . . . boys! Must you make such unearthly noises down there?”
“We’re owls . . . we have to hoot,” Jem’s injured voice proclaimed from the dark shrubbery. He knew he was making a very good job of hooting. Jem could mimic the voice of any little wild thing out in the woods. Walter was not so good at it and he presently ceased being an owl and became a rather disillusioned little boy, creeping to Mother for comfort.
“Mummy, I thought crickets sang . . . and Mr. Carter Flagg said today they don’t . . . they just make that noise scraping their hind-legs. Do they, Mummy?”
“Something like that . . . I’m not quite sure of the process. But that is their way of singing, you know.”
“I don’t like it. I’ll never like to hear them singing again.”98 “Oh, yes, you will. You’ll forget about the hind-legs in time and just think of their fairy chorus all over the harvest meadows and the autumn hills. Isn’t it bedtime, small son?”
“Mummy, will you tell me a bedtime story that will send a cold chill down my spine? And sit beside me afterwards till I go to sleep?”
“What else are mothers for, darling?”99
“‘The time has come the Walrus said to talk of’ . . . having a dog,” said Gilbert.
They had not had a dog at Ingleside since old Rex had been poisoned; but boys should have a dog and the doctor decided he would get them one. But he was so busy that fall that he kept putting it off; and finally one November day Jem arrived home from an afternoon spent with a school pal carrying a dog . . . a little “yaller” dog with two black ears sticking cockily up.
“Joe Reese gave it to me, Mother. His name is Gyp. Hasn’t he got the cutest tail?
I can keep him, can’t I, Mother?”
“What kind of a dog is he, darling?” asked Anne dubiously.
“I . . . I think he’s a lot of kinds,” said Jem. “That makes him more int’resting, don’t you think, Mother? More exciting than if he was just one kind. Please, Mother.”
“Oh, if your father says yes . . .”
Gilbert said “yes” and Jem entered into his heritage. Everybody at Ingleside welcomed Gyp into the family, except the Shrimp, who expressed his opinion without circumlocution. Even Susan took a liking to him and when she spun in the garret on rainy days Gyp, in his master’s absence at school, stayed with her, gloriously hunting imaginary rats in dark corners and uttering a yelp of terror whenever his eagerness brought him too close to the little spinning-wheel. It was never used . . . the Morgans had left it there when they moved out . . . and sat in its dark corner like a little bent old woman. Nobody could understand Gyp’s fear of it. He did not mind the big wheel at all but sat quite close to it while Susan sent it whirling around with her wheel-pin, and raced back and forward beside her as she paced the length of the garret, twirling the long thread of wool. Susan admitted that a dog could be real company and thought his trick of lying on his back, waving his fore-paws in the air, when he wanted a bone, the cleverest ever.
She was as angry as Jem when Bertie Shakespeare sneeringly remarked, “Call that a dog?”
“We do call it a dog,” said Susan with ominous calm. “Perhaps you would call it a hippopotamus.” And Bertie had to go home that day without getting a piece of a wonderful concoction Susan called “apple crunch pie” and made regularly for100 the two boys and their pals. She was not around when Mac Reese asked, “Did the tide bring that in?” but Jem was able to stand up for his own dog and when Nat Flagg said that Gypsy’s legs were too long for his size Jem retorted that a dog’s legs had to be long enough to reach the ground. Natty was not overbright and that floored him.
November was stingy of its sunshine that year: raw winds blew through the bare, silver-branched maple grove and the Hollow was almost constantly filled with mist . . . not a gracious, eerie thing like a fog but what Dad called “dank, dark, depressing, dripping, drizzly mist.” The Ingleside fry had to spend most of their play-time in the garret, but they made delightful friends of two partridges that came every evening to a certain huge old apple tree, and five of their gorgeous jays were still faithful, clucking impishly as they ate the food the children put out for them. Only they were greedy and selfish and kept all the other birds away.
Winter set in with December and it snowed ceaselessly for three weeks. The fields beyond Ingleside were unbroken silver pastures, fence and gate-posts wore tall white caps, windows whitened with fairy patterns and Ingleside lights bloomed out through the dim, snowy twilights, welcoming all wanderers home. It seemed to Susan that there had never been so many winter babies as there were that year; and when she left “the doctor’s bite” in the pantry for him night after night she darkly opined that it would be a miracle if he toughed it out till spring.
“The ninth Drew baby! As if there weren’t enough Drews in the world already!”
“I suppose Mrs. Drew will think it just the wonder we think Rilla, Susan.”
“You will have your joke, Mrs. Dr. dear.”
But in the library or the big kitchen the children planned out their summer playhouse in the Hollow while storms howled outside, or fluffy white clouds were blown over frosty stars. For blow it high or blow it low there was always at Ingleside glowing fires, comfort, shelter from storm, odours of good cheer, beds for tired little creatures.
Christmas came and went undarkened this year by any shadow of Aunt Mary Maria. There were rabbit trails in the snow to follow and great crusted fields over which you raced with your shadows and glistening hills for coasting and new skates to be tried out on the pond in the chill, rosy world of winter sunset. And always a yellow dog with black ears to run with you or meet you with ecstatic yelps of welcome when you came home, to sleep at the foot of your bed when101 you slept and lie at your feet while you learned your spellings, to sit close to you at meals and give you occasional reminding nudges with his little paw.
“Mother dearwums, I don’t know how I lived before Gyp came. He can talk, Mother . . . he can really . . . with his eyes, you know.”
Then . . . tragedy! One day Gyp seemed a little dull. He would not eat though Susan tempted him with the spare-rib bone he loved; the next day the Lowbridge vet was sent for and shook his head. It was hard to say . . . the dog might have found something poisonous in the woods . . . he might recover and he might not.
The little dog lay very quietly, taking no notice of anyone except Jem; almost to the last he tried to wag his tail when Jem touched him.
“Mother dearwums, would it be wrong to pray for Gyp?”
“Of course not, dear. We can pray always for anything we love. But I am afraid . . . Gyppy is a very sick little dog.”
“Mother, you don’t think Gyppy is going to die!”
Gyp died the next morning. It was the first time death had entered into Jem’s world. No one of us ever forgets the experience of watching something we love die, even if it is “only a little dog.” Nobody at weeping Ingleside used that expression, not even Susan, who wiped a very red nose and muttered: “I never took up with a dog before . . . and I never will again. It hurts too much.”
Susan was not acquainted with Kipling’s poem on the folly of giving your heart to a dog to tear; but if she had been she would, in spite of her contempt for poetry, have thought that for once a poet had uttered sense.
Night was hard for poor Jem. Mother and Father had to be away. Walter had cried himself to sleep and he was alone . . . with not even a dog to talk to. The dear brown eyes that had always been lifted to him so trustingly were glazed in death.
“Dear God,” prayed Jem, “please look after my little dog who died today. You’ll know him by the two black ears. Don’t let him be lonesome for me . . .”
Jem buried his face in the bedspread to smother a sob. When he put out the light the dark night would be looking through the window at him and there would be no Gyp. The cold winter morning would come and there would be no Gyp. Day102 would follow day for years and years and there would be no Gyp. He just couldn’t bear it.
Then a tender arm was slipped around him and he was held close in a warm embrace. Oh, there was love left yet in the world, even if Gyppy had gone.
“Mother, will it always be like this?”
“Not always.” Anne did not tell him he would soon forget . . . that before long Gyppy would only be a dear memory. “Not always, little Jem. This will heal sometime . . . as your burned hand healed though it hurt so much at first.”
“Dad said he would get me another dog. I don’t have to have it, do I? I don’t want another dog, Mother . . . not ever.”
“I know, darling.”
Mother knew everything. Nobody had a mother like his. He wanted to do something for her . . . and all at once it came to him what he would do. He would get her one of those pearl necklaces in Mr. Flagg’s store. He had heard her say once that she really would like to have a pearl necklace and Dad had said, “When our ship comes in I’ll get you one, Anne-girl.”
Ways and means must be considered: He had an allowance but it was all needed for necessary things and pearl necklaces were not among the items budgeted for.
Besides, he wanted to earn the money for it himself. It would be really his gift then. Mother’s birthday was in March . . . only six weeks away. And the necklace would cost fifty cents!103
It was not easy to earn money in the Glen but Jem went at it determinedly. He made tops out of old reels for the boys in school for two cents apiece. He sold three treasured milk teeth for three cents. He sold his slice of apple crunch pie every Saturday afternoon to Bertie Shakespeare Drew. Every night he put what he had earned into the little brass pig Nan had given him for Christmas. Such a nice shiny brass pig with a slit in his back wherein to drop coins. When you had put in fifty coppers the pig would open neatly of his own accord if you twisted his tail and yield you back your wealth. Finally to make up the last eight cents he sold his string of birds’ eggs to Mac Reese. It was the finest string in the Glen and it hurt a little to let it go. But the birthday was drawing nearer and the money must be come by. Jem dropped the eight cents into the pig as soon as Mac had paid him and gloated over it.
“Twist his tail and see if he will really open up,” said Mac, who didn’t believe he would. But Jem refused; he was not going to open it until he was ready to go for the necklace.
The Missionary Auxiliary met at Ingleside the next afternoon and never forgot it.
Right in the middle of Mrs. Norman Taylor’s prayer . . . and Mrs. Norman Taylor was credited with being very proud of her prayers . . . a frantic small boy burst into the living-room.
“My brass pig’s gone, Mother. .. my brass pig’s gone!”
Anne hustled him out but Mrs. Norman always considered that her prayer was spoiled and, as she had especially wanted to impress a visiting minister’s wife, it was long years before she forgave Jem or would have his father as a doctor again.
After the ladies had gone home Ingleside was ransacked from top to bottom for the pig, without result. Jem, between the scolding he had got for his behaviour and his anguish over his loss, could remember just when he had seen it last or where. Mac Reese, telephoned to, responded that the last he had seen of the pig it was standing on Jem’s bureau.
“You don’t suppose, Susan, that Mac Reese . . .”
“No, Mrs. Dr. dear, I feel quite sure he didn’t. The Reeses have their faults . . . terrible keen after the money they are, but it has to be honestly come by. Where can that blessed pig be?”104
“Maybe the rats et it?” said Di. Jem scoffed at the idea but it worried him. Of course rats couldn’t eat a brass pig with fifty coppers inside of him.
But could they?
“No, no, dear. Your pig will turn up,” assured Mother.
It hadn’t turned up when Jem went to school the next day. News of his loss had reached school before him and many things were said to him, not exactly comforting. But at recess Sissy Flagg sidled up to him ingratiatingly. Sissy Flagg liked Jem and Jem did not like her, in spite of–or perhaps because of–her thick yellow curls and huge brown eyes. Even at eight one may have problems concerning the opposite sex.
“I can tell you who’s got your pig.”
“You’ve got to pick me for Clap-in and Clap-out and I’ll tell you.”
It was a bitter pill but Jem swallowed it. Anything to find that pig! He sat in an agony of blushes beside the triumphant Sissy while they clapped in and clapped out, and when the bell rang he demanded his reward.
“Alice Palmer says Willy Drew told her Bob Russell told him Fred Elliott said he knew where your pig was. Go and ask Fred.”
“Cheat!” cried Jem, glaring at her. “Cheat!”
Sissy laughed arrogantly. She didn’t care. Jem Blythe had had to sit with her for once anyhow.
Jem went to Fred Elliott, who at first declared he knew nothing about the old pig and didn’t want to. Jem was in despair. Fred Elliott was three years older than he was and a noted bully. Suddenly he had an inspiration. He pointed a grimy forefinger sternly at big, red-faced Fred Elliott.
“You are a transubstantiationalist,” he said distinctly.
“Here, you, don’t you call me names, young Blythe.”
“That is more than a name,” said Jem. “That is a hoodoo word. If I say it again and point my finger at you . . . so . . . you may have bad luck for a week. Maybe105 your toes will drop off. I’ll count ten and if you haven’t told me before I get to ten I’ll hoodoo you.”
Fred didn’t believe it. But the skating race came off that night and he wasn’t taking chances. Besides, toes were toes. At six he surrendered.
“All right . . . all right. Don’t bust your jaws saying that a second time. Mac knows where your pig is . . . he said he did.”
Mac was not in school, but when Anne heard Jem’s story she telephoned his mother. Mrs. Reese came up a little later, flushed and apologetic.
“Mac didn’t take the pig, Mrs. Blythe. He just wanted to see if it would open, so when Jem was out of the room he twisted the tail. It fell apart in two pieces and he couldn’t get it together again. So he put the two halves of the pig and the money in one of Jem’s Sunday boots in the closet. He hadn’t ought to have touched it . . . and his father has whaled the stuffing out of him . . . but he didn’t steal it, Mrs. Blythe.”
“What was that word you said to Fred Elliott, Little Jem dear?” asked Susan, when the dismembered pig had been found and the money counted.
“Transubstantiationalist,” said Jem proudly. “Walter found it in the dictionary last week . . . you know he likes great big full words, Susan . . . and . . . and we both learned how to pronounce it. We said it over to each other twenty-one times in bed before we went to sleep so that we’d remember it.”
Now that the necklace was bought and stowed away in the third box from the top in the middle drawer of Susan’s bureau . . . Susan having been privy to the plan all along . . . Jem thought the birthday would never come. He gloated over his unconscious mother. Little she knew what was hidden in Susan’s bureau drawer . . . little she knew what her birthday would bring her . . . little she knew when she sang the twins to sleep with,
“I saw a ship a-sailing, a-sailing on the sea,
And oh, it was all laden with pretty things for me,”
what the ship would bring her.106
Gilbert had an attack of influenza in early March which almost ran to pneumonia.
There were a few anxious days at Ingleside. Anne went about as usual, smoothing out tangles, administering consolation, bending over moonlit beds to see if dear little bodies were warm; but the children missed her laughter.
“What will the world do if Father dies?” whispered Walter, white-lipped.
“He isn’t going to die, darling. He is out of danger now.”
Anne wondered herself what their small world of Four Winds and the Glens and the Harbour Head would do if . . . if . . . anything had happened to Gilbert. They were all coming to depend on him so. The Upper Glen people especially seemed really to believe that he could raise the dead and only refrained because it would be crossing the purposes of the Almighy. He had done it once, they averred . . . old Uncle Archibald MacGregor had solemnly assured Susan that Samuel Hewett was dead as a doornail when Dr. Blythe brought him to. However that might be, when living people saw Gilbert’s lean brown face and friendly hazel eyes by their bedside and heard his cheery, “Why, there’s nothing the matter withyou,” . . . well, they believed it until it came true. As for namesakes, he had more than he could count. The whole Four Winds district was peppered with young Gilberts.
There was even a tiny Gilbertine.
So Dad was about again and Mother was laughing again, and . . . at last, it was the night before the birthday.
“If you go to bed early, Little Jem, tomorrow will come quicker,” assured Susan.
Jem tried it but it didn’t seem to work. Walter fell asleep promptly, but Jem squirmed about. He was afraid to go sleep. Suppose he didn’t waken in time and everybody else had given their presents to Mother? He wanted to be the very first. Why hadn’t he asked Susan to be sure and call him? She had gone out to make a visit somewhere but he would ask her when she came in. If he were sure of hearing her! Well, he’d just go down and lie on the living-room sofa and then he couldn’t miss her.
Jem crept down and curled up on the chesterfield. He could see over the Glen.
The moon was filling the hollows among the white, snowy dunes with magic.
The great trees that were so mysterious at night held out their arms about Ingleside. He heard all the night sounds of a house . . . a floor creaking . . . someone turning in bed . . . the crumble and fall of coals in the fireplace . . . the scurrying of a little mouse in the china-closet. Was that an avalanche? No, only snow sliding off the roof. It was a little lonesome . . . why didn’t Susan come? . . .107 if he only had Gyp now . . . dear Gyppy. Had he forgotten Gyp? No, not forgotten exactly. But it didn’t hurt so much now to think of him . . . one did think of other things a good deal of the time. Sleep well, dearest of dogs. Perhaps sometime he would have another dog, after all. It would be nice if he had one right now . . . or Shrimp. But the Shrimp wasn’t round. Selfish old cat! Thinking of nothing but his own affairs!
No sign of Susan yet, coming along the long road that wound endlessly on through that strange white moonlit distance that was his own familiar Glen in daytime. Well, he would just have to imagine things to pass the time. Some day he would go to Baffin Land and live with Eskimos. Some day he would sail to far seas and cook a shark for Christmas dinner like Captain Jim. He would go on an expedition to the Congo in search of gorillas. He would be a diver and wander through radiant crystal halls under the sea. He would get Uncle Davy to teach him how to milk into the cat’s mouth the next time he went up to Avonlea. Uncle Davy did that so expertly. Perhaps he would be a pirate. Susan wanted him to be a minister. The minister could do the most good but wouldn’t a pirate have the most fun? Suppose the little wooden soldier hopped off the mantelpiece and shot off his gun! Suppose the chairs began walking about the room! Suppose the tiger rug came alive! Suppose the “quack beas” which he and Walter “pretended” all over the house when they were very young, really were about! Jem was suddenly frightened. In daytime he did not often forget the difference between romance and reality, but it was different in this endless night. Tick-tack went the clock . . . tick-tack . . . and for every tick there was a quack bear sitting on a step of the stairs. The stairs were just black with quack bears. They would sit there till daylight . . . gibbering.
Suppose God forgot to let the sun rise! The thought was so terrible that Jem buried his face in the afghan to shut it out, and there Susan found him sound asleep, when she came home in the fiery orange of a winter sunrise.
Jem uncoiled himself and sat up, yawning. It had been a busy night for Silversmith Frost and the woods were fairyland. A far-off hill was touched with a crimson spear. All the white fields beyond the Glen were a lovely rose-colour. It was Mother’s birthday morning.
“I was waiting for you, Susan . . . to tell you to call me . . . and you never came . . .”108
“I went down to see the John Warrens, because their aunt had died, and they asked me to stay and sit up with the corpse,” explained Susan cheerfully. “I didn’t suppose you’d be trying to catch pneumonia, too, the minute my back was turned.
Scamper off to your bed and I’ll call you when I hear your mother stirring.”
“Susan, how do you stab sharks?” Jem wanted to know before he went upstairs.
“I do not stab them,” answered Susan.
Mother was up when he went into her room, brushing her long shining hair before the glass. Her eyes when she saw the necklace!
“Jem darling! For me!”
“Now you won’t have to wait till Dad’s ship comes in,” said Jem with a fine nonchalance. What was that gleaming greenly on Mother’s hand? A ring . . . Dad’s present. All very well, but rings were common things . . . even Sissy Flagg had one. But a pearl necklace!
“A necklace is such a nice birthdayish thing,” said Mother.109 20
When Gilbert and Anne went to dinner with friends in Charlottetown one evening in late March Anne put on a new dress of ice-green encrusted with silver around neck and arms; and she wore Gilbert’s emerald ring and Jem’s necklace.
“Haven’t I got a handsome wife, Jem?” asked Dad proudly.
Jem thought Mother was very handsome and her dress very lovely. How pretty the pearls looked on her white throat! He always liked to see Mother dressed up, but he liked it still better when she took off a splendid dress. It had transformed her into an alien. She was not really Mother in it.
After supper Jem went to the village to do an errand for Susan and it was while he was waiting in Mr. Flagg’s store . . . rather afraid that Sissy might come in as she sometimes did and be entirely too friendly . . . that the blow fell . . . the shattering blow of disillusionment which is so terrible to a child because so unexpected and so seemingly inescapable.
Two girls were standing before the glass show case where Mr. Carter Flagg kept necklaces and chain bracelets and hair barettes.
“Aren’t those pearl strings pretty?” said Abbie Russell.
“You’d almost think they were real,” said Leona Reese.
They passed on then, quite unwitting of what they had done to the small boy sitting on the nail-keg. Jem continued to sit there for some time longer. He was incapable of movement.
“What’s the matter, sonny?” inquired Mr. Flagg. “You seem kind of low in your mind.”
Jem looked at Mr. Flagg with tragic eyes. His mouth was strangely dry.
“Please, Mr. Flagg . . . are those . . . those necklaces . . . they are real pearls, aren’t they?”
Mr. Flagg laughed.110
“No, Jem. I’m afraid you can’t get real pearls for fifty cents, you know. A real pearl necklace like that would cost hundreds of dollars. They’re just pearl beads . . . very good ones for the price, too. I got ‘em at a bankrupt sale . . . that’s why I can sell ‘em so cheap. Ordin’rily they run to a dollar. Only one left . . . they went like hot cakes.”
Jem slid off the keg and went out, totally forgetting what Susan had sent him for.
He walked blindly up the frozen road home. Overhead was a hard dark wintry sky; there was what Susan called “a feel” of snow in the air, and a skim of ice over the puddles. The harbour lay black and sullen between its bare banks.
Before Jem reached home a snow-squall was whitening over them. He wished it would snow . . . and snow . . . and snow . . . till he was buried and everybody was buried fathoms deep. There was no justice anywhere in the world.
Jem was heartbroken. And let no one scoff at his heartbreak for scorn of its cause. His humiliation was utter and complete. He had given Mother what he and she had supposed was a pearl necklace . . . and it was only an old imitation. What would she say . . . what would she feel like . . . when she knew? For of course she must be told. It never occurred to Jem to think for a moment that she need not be told. Mother must not be “fooled” any longer. She must know that her pearls weren’t real. Poor Mother! She had been so proud of them . . . had he not seen the pride shining in her eyes when she had kissed him and thanked him for them?
Jem slipped in by the side door and went straight to bed, where Walter was already sound asleep. But Jem could not sleep; he was awake when Mother came home and slipped in to see that Walter and he were warm.
“Jem, dear, are you awake at this hour? You’re not sick?”
“No, but I’m very unhappy here, Mother dearwums,” said Jem, putting his hand on his stomach, fondly believing it to be his heart.
“What is the matter, dear?”
“I . . . I . . . there is something I must tell you, Mother. You’ll be awfully disappointed, Mother . . . but I didn’t mean to deceive you, Mother . . . truly I didn’t.”
“I’m sure you didn’t, dear. What is it? Don’t be afraid.”
“Oh, Mother dearwums, those pearls aren’t real pearls . . . I thought they were . . . I did think they were . . . did . . .”111
Jem’s eyes were full of tears. He couldn’t go on.
If Anne wanted to smile there was no sign of it on her face. Shirley had bumped his head that day, Nan had sprained her ankle, Di had lost her voice with a cold.
Anne had kissed and bandaged and soothed; but this was different . . . this needed all the secret wisdom of mothers.
“Jem, I never thought you supposed they were real pearls. I knew they weren’t . . . at least in one sense of real. In another, they are the most real things I’ve ever had given me. Because there was love and work and self-sacrifice in them . . . and that makes them more precious to me than all the gems that divers have fished up from the sea for queens to wear. Darling, I wouldn’t exchange my pretty beads for the necklace I read of last night which some millionaire gave his bride and which cost half a million. So that shows you what your gift is worth to me, dearest of dear little sons. Do you feel better now?”
Jem was so happy he was ashamed of it. He was afraid it was babyish to be so happy. “Oh, life is bearable again,” he said cautiously.
The tears had vanished from his sparkling eyes. All was well. Mother’s arms were about him . . . Mother did like her necklace . . . nothing else mattered. Some day he would give her one that would cost no mere half but a whole million.
Meanwhile, he was tired . . . his bed was very warm and cosy . . . Mother’s hands smelled like roses . . . and he didn’t hate Leona Reese any more.
“Mother dearwums, you do look so sweet in that dress,” he said sleepily. “Sweet and pure . . . pure as Epps’ cocoa.”
Anne smiled as she hugged him and thought of a ridiculous thing she had read in a medical journal that day, signed Dr. V. Z. Tomachowsky. “You must never kiss your little son lest you set up a Jocasta complex.” She had laughed over it at the time and been a little angry as well. Now she only felt pity for the writer of it.
Poor, poor man! For of course V. Z. Tomachowsky was a man. No woman would ever write anything so silly and wicked.112
April came tiptoeing in beautifully that year with sunshine and soft winds for a few days; and then a driving northeast snowstorm dropped a white blanket over the world again. “Snow in April is abominable,” said Anne. “Like a slap in the face when you expected a kiss.” Ingleside was fringed with icicles and for two long weeks the days were raw and the nights hard-bitten. Then the snow grudgingly disappeared and when the news went round that the first robin had been seen in the Hollow Ingleside plucked up heart and ventured to believe that the miracle of spring was really going to happen again.
“Oh, Mummy, it smells like spring today,” cried Nan, delightedly snuffing the fresh moist air. “Mummy, isn’t spring an exciting time!”
Spring was trying out her paces that day . . . like an adorable baby just learning to walk. The winter pattern of trees and fields was beginning to be overlaid with hints of green and Jem had again brought in the first mayflowers. But an enormously fat lady, sinking puffingly into one of the Ingleside easy-chairs, sighed and said sadly that the springs weren’t so nice as they were when she was young.
“Don’t you think perhaps the change is in us . . . not in the springs, Mrs.
Mitchell?” smiled Anne.
“Mebbe so. I know I am changed, all too well. I don’t suppose to look at me now you’d think I was once the prettiest girl in these parts.”
Anne reflected that she certainly wouldn’t. The thin, stringy, mouse-coloured hair under Mrs. Mitchell’s crape bonnet and long sweeping “widow’s veil” was streaked with grey; her blue, expressionless eyes were faded and hollow; and to call her double chin chinned erred on the side of charity. But Mrs. Anthony Mitchell was feeling quite contented with herself just then for nobody in Four Winds had finer weeds. Her voluminous black dress was crape to the knees. One wore mourning in those days with a vengeance.
Anne was spared the necessity of saying anything, for Mrs. Mitchell gave her no chance.
“My soft water system went dry this week . . . there’s a leak in it . . . so I kem down to the village this morning to get Raymond Russell to come and fix it. And113 thinks I to myself, ‘Now that I’m here I’ll just run up to Ingleside and ask Mrs. Dr.
Blythe to write an obitchery for Anthony.”
“An obituary?” said Anne blankly.
“Yes . . . them things they put in the papers about dead people, you know,”
explained Mrs. Anthony. “I want Anthony should have a real good one . . . something out of the common. You write things, don’t you?”
“Occasionally I do write a little story,” admitted Anne. “But a busy mother hasn’t much time for that. I had wonderful dreams once but now I’m afraid I’ll never be in Who’s Who, Mrs. Mitchell. And I never wrote an obituary in my life.”
“Oh, they can’t be hard to write. Old Uncle Charlie Bates over our way writes most of them for the Lower Glen, but he ain’t a bit poetical and I’ve set my heart on a piece of poetry for Anthony. My, but he was always so fond of poetry. I was up to hear you give that talk on bandages to the Glen Institute last week and thinks I to myself, ‘Anyone who can talk as glib as that can likely write a real poetical obitchery.’ You will do it for me, won’t you, Mrs. Blythe? Anthony would have liked it. He always admired you. He said once that when you come into a room you made all the other women look ‘common and undistinguished.’
He sometimes talked real poetical but he meant well. I’ve been reading a lot of obitcheries . . . I have a big scrapbook full of them . . . but it didn’t seem to me he’d have liked any of them. He used to laugh at them so much. And it’s time it was done. He’s been dead two months. He died lingering but painless. Coming on spring’s an inconvenient time for anyone to die, Mrs. Blythe, but I’ve made the best of it. I s’pose Uncle Charlie will be hopping mad if I get anyone else to write Anthony’s obitchery but I don’t care. Uncle Charlie has a wonderful flow of language but him and Anthony never hit it off any too well and the long and short of it is I’m not going to have him write Anthony’s obitchery. I’ve been Anthony’s wife . . . his faithful and loving wife for thirty-five years . . . thirty-five years, Mrs. Blythe,” . . . as if she were afraid Anne might think of only thirty-four . . . “and I’m going to have an obitchery he’d like if it takes a leg. That was what my daughter Seraphine said to me–she’s married at Lowbridge, you know . . . nice name, Seraphine, isn’t it? . . . I got it off a gravestone. Anthony didn’t like it . . . he wanted to call her Judith after his mother. But I said it was too solemn a name and he give in real kindly. He weren’t no hand for arguing . . . though he always called her Seraph . . . where was I?”
“Your daughter was saying . . .”114
“Oh, yes, Seraphine said to me, ‘Mother, whatever else you have or don’t have, have a real nice obitchery for Father.’ Her and her father were always real thick, though he poked a bit of fun at her now and then, just as he did at me. Now, won’t you, Mrs. Blythe?”
“I really don’t know a great deal about your husband, Mrs. Mitchell.”
“Oh, I can tell you all about him . . . if you don’t want to know the colour of his eyes. Do you know, Mrs. Blythe, when Seraphine and me was talking things over after the funeral I couldn’t tell the colour of his eyes, after living with him thirtyfive years. They was kind of soft and dreamy anyhow. He used to look so pleading with them when he was courting me. He had a real hard time to get me, Mrs. Blythe. He was mad about me for years. I was full of bounce then and meant to pick and choose. My life story would be real thrilling if you ever get short of material, Mrs. Blythe. Ah well, them days are gone. I had more beaus than you could shake a stick at. But they kept coming and going . . . and Anthony just kept coming. He was kind of good-looking, too . . . such a nice lean man. I never could abide pudgy men . . . and he was a cut or two above me . . . I’d be the last one to deny that. ‘It’ll be a step up for a Plummer if you marry a Mitchell,’ Ma said . . . I was a Plummer, Mrs. Blythe . . . John A. Plummer’s daughter. And he paid me such nice romantic compliments, Mrs. Blythe. Once he told me I had the ethereal charm of moonlight. I knew it meant something nice though I don’t know yet what ‘ethereal’ means. I’ve always been meaning to look it up in the dictionary but I never get around to it. Well, anyway, in the end I passed my word of honour that I would be his bride. That is . . . I mean . . . I said I’d take him. My, but I wish you could have seen me in my wedding-dress, Mrs. Blythe. They all said I was a picture. Slim as a trout with hair yaller as gold, and such a complexion. Ah, time makes turrible changes in us. You haven’t come to that yet, Mrs. Blythe.
You’re real pretty still . . . and a highly eddicated woman into the bargain. Ah well, we can’t all be clever . . . some of us have to do the cooking. That dress you’ve got on is real handsome, Mrs. Blythe. You never wear black, I notice . . . you’re right . . . you’ll have to wear it soon enough. Put it off till you have to, I say. Well, where was I?”
“You were . . . trying to tell me something about Mr. Mitchell.”
“Oh, yes. Well, we were married. There was a big comet that night . . . I remember seeing it as we drove home. It’s a real pity you couldn’t have seen that comet, Mrs. Blythe. It was simply pretty. I don’t suppose you could work it into the obitchery, could you?”
“It . . . might be rather difficult . . .”115
“Well,” Mrs. Mitchell surrendered the comet with a sigh, “you’ll have to do the best you can. He hadn’t a very exciting life. He got drunk once . . . he said he just wanted to see what it was like for once . . . he was always of an inquiring turn of mind. But of course you couldn’t put that in an obitchery. Nothing much else ever happened to him. Not to complain, but just to state facts he was a bit shiftless and easy-going. He would sit for an hour looking into a hollyhock. My, but he was fond of flowers . . . hated to mow down the buttercups. No matter if the wheat crop failed as long as there was farewell-summers and goldenrod. And trees . . . that orchard of his . . . I always told him, joking like, that he cared more for his trees than for me. And his farm . . . my, but he loved his bit of land. He seemed to think it was a human being. Many’s the time I’ve heard him say, ‘I think I’ll go out and have a little talk to my farm.’ When we got old I wanted him to sell, seeing as we had no boys, and retire to Lowbridge, but he would say, ‘I can’t sell my farm . . . I can’t sell my heart.’ Ain’t men funny? Not long before he died he took a notion to have a boiled hen for dinner, ‘cooked in that way you have,’ says he. He was always partial to my cooking, if I do say it. The only thing he couldn’t abide was my lettuce salad with nuts in it. He said the nuts was so durned unexpected.
But there wasn’t a hen to spare . . . they was all laying good . . . and there was only one rooster left and of course I couldn’t kill him. My, but I like to see the roosters strutting round. Ain’t anything much handsomer than a fine rooster, do you think, Mrs. Blythe? Well, where was I?”
“You were saying your husband wanted you to cook a hen for him.”
“Oh, yes. And I’ve been so sorry ever since I didn’t. I wake up in the night and think of it. But I didn’t know he was going to die, Mrs. Blythe. He never complained much and always said he was better. And interested in things to the last. If I’d a-known he was going to die, Mrs. Blythe, I’d have cooked a hen for him, eggs or no eggs.”
Mrs. Mitchell removed her rusty black lace mitts and wiped her eyes with a handkerchief, black-bordered a full two inches.
“He’d have enjoyed it,” she sobbed. “He had his own teeth to the last, poor dear.
Well, anyway” . . . folding the handkerchief and putting on the mitts, “he was sixty-five, so he weren’t far from the allotted span. And I’ve got another coffinplate. Mary Martha Plummer and me started collecting coffin-plates at the same time but she soon got ahead of me . . . so many of her relation died, not to speak of her three children. She’s got more coffin-plates than anyone in these parts. I didn’t seem to have much luck but I’ve got a full mantelpiece at last. My cousin, Thomas Bates, was buried last week and I wanted his wife to give me the coffinplate, but she had it buried with him. Said collecting coffin-plates was a relic of116 barbarism. She was a Hampson and the Hampsons were always odd. Well, where was I?”
Anne really could not tell Mrs. Mitchell where she was this time. The coffinplates had dazed her.
“Oh, well, anyway poor Anthony died. ‘I go gladly and in quietness,’ was all that he said but he smiled just at the last . . . at the ceiling, not at me nor Seraphine.
I’m so glad he was so happy just afore he died. There were times I used to think perhaps he wasn’t quite happy, Mrs. Blythe . . . he was so terrible high-strung and sensitive. But he looked real noble and sublime in his coffin. We had a grand funeral. It was just a lovely day. He was buried with loads of flowers. I took a sinking spell at the last but otherwise everything went off very well. We buried him in the Lower Glen graveyard though all his family were buried in Lowbridge. But he picked out his graveyard long ago . . . said he wanted to be buried near his farm and where he could hear the sea and the wind in the trees . . . there’s trees around three sides of that graveyard, you know. I was glad, too . . . I always thought it was such a cosy little graveyard and we can keep geraniums growing on his grave. He was a good man . . . he’s likely in Heaven now, so that needn’t trouble you. I always think it must be some chore to write an obichery when you don’t know where the departed is. I can depend on you, then, Mrs.
Anne consented, feeling that Mrs. Mitchell would stay there and talk until she did consent. Mrs. Mitchell, with another sigh of relief, heaved herself out of her chair.
“I must be stepping. I’m expecting a hatching of turkey poults today. I’ve enjoyed my conversation with you and I wish I could have stayed longer. It’s lonesome being a widow woman. A man mayn’t amount to an awful lot but you sort of miss him when he goes.”
Anne politely saw her down the walk. The children were stalking robins on the lawn and daffodil tips were poking up everywhere.
“You’ve got a nice proud house here . . . a real nice proud house, Mrs. Blythe.
I’ve always felt I’d like a big house. But with only us and Seraphine . . . and where was the money to come from? . . . and, anyway, Anthony’d never hear of it. He had an awful affection for that old house. I’m meaning to sell if I get a fair offer and live either in Lowbridge or Mowbray Narrows, whichever I decide would be the best place to be a widow in. Anthony’s insurance will come in handy. Say what you like it’s easier to bear a full sorrow than an empty one.117 You’ll find that out when you’re a widow yourself . . . though I hope that’ll be a good few years yet. How is the doctor getting on? It’s been a real sickly winter so he ought to have done pretty well. My, what a nice little family you’ve got! Three girls! Nice now, but wait you till they come to the boy-crazy age. Not that I’d much trouble with Seraphine. She was quiet . . . like her father . . . and stubborn like him. When she fell in love with John Whitaker, have him she would in spite of all I could say. A rowan tree? Whyn’t you have it planted by the front door? It would keep the fairies out.”
“But who would want to keep the fairies out, Mrs. Mitchell?”
“Now you’re talking like Anthony. I was only joking. O’ course I don’t believe in fairies . . . but if they did happen to exist I’ve heard they were pesky mischievous.
Well, good-bye, Mrs. Blythe. I’ll call round next week for the obitchery.”118 22
“You’ve let yourself in for it, Mrs. Dr. dear,” said Susan, who had overheard most of he conversation as she polished her silver in the pantry.
“Haven’t I? But, Susan, I really do want to write that ‘obituary.’ I liked Anthony Mitchell . . . what little I’ve seen of him . . . and I feel sure that he’d turn over in his grave if his obituary was like the run of the mill in the Daily Enterprise. Anthony had an inconvenient sense of humour.”
“Anthony Mitchell was a real nice fellow when he was young, Mrs. Dr. dear.
Though a bit dreamy they said. He didn’t hustle enough to suit Bessy Plummer, but he made a decent living and paid his debts. Of course he married the last girl he should have. But although Bessy Plummer looks like a comic valentine now she was pretty as a picture then. Some of us, Mrs. Dr. dear,” concluded Susan with a sigh, “haven’t even that much to remember.”
“Mummy,” said Walter, “the snack-dragons are coming up thick all around the back porch. And a pair of robins are beginning to build a nest on the pantry window-sill. You’ll let them, won’t you, Mummy? You won’t open the window and scare them away?”
Anne had met Anthony Mitchell once or twice, though the little grey house between the spruce woods and the sea, with the great big willow tree over it like a huge umbrella, where he lived, was in the Lower Glen and the doctor from Mowbray Narrows attended most of the people there. But Gilbert had bought hay from him now and then and once when he had brought a load Anne had taken him all over her garden and they had found out that they talked the same language. She had liked him . . . his lean, lined, friendly face, his brave, shrewd, yellowish-hazel eyes that had never faltered or been hoodwinked . . . save once, perhaps, when Bessy Plummer’s shallow and fleeting beauty had tricked him into a foolish marriage. Yet he never seemed unhappy or unsatisfied. As long as he could plough and garden and reap he was as contented as a sunny old pasture.
His black hair was but lightly frosted with silver and a ripe, serene spirit revealed itself in his rare but sweet smiles. His old fields had given him bread and delight, joy of conquest and comfort in sorrow. Anne was satisfied because he was buried near them. He might have “gone gladly” but he had lived gladly, too. The Mowbray Narrows doctor had said that when he told Anthony Mitchell he could hold out to him no hope of recovery Anthony had smiled and replied, “Well, life is a trifle monotonous at times now I’m getting old. Death will be something of a119 change. I’m real curious about it, doctor.” Even Mrs. Anthony, among all her rambling absurdities, had dropped a few things that revealed the real Anthony.
Anne wrote “The Old Man’s Grave” a few evenings later by her room window and read it over with a sense of satisfaction.
“Make it where the winds may sweep
Through the pine boughs soft and deep,
And the murmur of the sea
Come across the orient lea,
And the falling raindrops sing
Gently to his slumbering.
“Make it where the meadows wide
Greenly lie on every side,
Harvest fields he reaped and trod,
Westering slopes of clover sod,
Orchard lands where bloom and blow
Trees he planted long ago.
“Make it where the starshine dim
May be always close to him,
And the sunrise glory spread
Lavishly around his bed,
And the dewy grasses creep
Tenderly above his sleep.
“Since these things to him were dear
Through full many a well-spent year,
It is surely meet their grace
Should be on his resting place,
And the murmur of the sea
Be his dirge eternally.”
“I think Anthony Mitchell would have liked that,” said Anne, flinging her window open to lean out to the spring. Already there were crooked little rows of young lettuce in the children’s garden; the sunset was soft and pink behind the maple grove; the Hollow rang with the faint, sweet laughter of children.
“Spring is so lovely I hate to go to sleep and miss any of it,” said Anne.120 Mrs. Anthony Mitchell came up to get her “obitchery” one afternoon the next week. Anne read it to her with a secret bit of pride; but Mrs. Anthony’s face did not express unmixed satisfaction.
“My, I call that real sprightly. You do put things so well. But . . . but . . . you didn’t say a word about him being in heaven. Weren’t you sure he is there?”
“So sure that it wasn’t necessary to mention it, Mrs. Mitchell.”
“Well, some people might doubt. He . . . he didn’t go to church as often as he might . . . though he was a member in good standing. And it doesn’t tell his age . . . nor mention the flowers. Why, you just couldn’t count the wreaths on the coffin.
Flowers are poetical enough, I should think!”
“I’m sorry . . .”
“Oh, I don’t blame you . . . not a mite do I blame you. You’ve done your best and it sounds beautiful. What do I owe you?”
“Why . . . why . . . nothing, Mrs. Mitchell. I couldn’t think of such a thing.”
“Well, I thought likely you’d say that, so I brung you up a bottle of my dandelion wine. It sweetens the stomach if you’re ever bothered with gas. I’d have brung a bottle of my yarb tea, too, only I was afraid the doctor mightn’t approve. But if you’d like some and think you can smuggle it in unbeknownst to him you’ve only to say the word.”
“No, no, thank you,” said Anne rather flatly. She had not yet quite recovered from “sprightly.”
“Just as you like. You’d be welcome to it. I’ll not be needing any more medicine myself this spring. When my second cousin, Malachi Plummer, died in the winter I asked his widow to give me the three bottles of medicine there was left over . . . they got it by the dozen. She was going to throw them out but I was always one that could never bear to waste anything. I couldn’t take more than one bottle myself but I made our hired man take the other two. ‘If it doesn’t do you any good it won’t do you any harm,’ I told him.
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