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“But do you mean to say, Mrs. Millison, that she was never tried . . . or punished?” gasped Mrs. Campbell.
“Well, nobody wanted to get a neighbour into a scrape like that. The Careys were well connected in the Upper Glen. Besides, she was driven to desperation. Of course nobody approves of murder as a habit but if ever a man deserved to be murdered Roger Carey did. She went to the States and married again. She’s been dead for years. Her second outlived her. It all happened when I was a girl. They used to say Roger Carey’s ghost walked.”
“Surely nobody believes in ghosts in this enlightened age,” said Mrs. Baxter.
“Why aren’t we to believe in ghosts?” demanded Tillie MacAllister. “Ghosts are interesting. I know a man who was haunted by a ghost that always laughed at him . . . sneering like. It used to make him so mad. The scissors, please, Mrs.
The little bride had to be asked for the scissors twice and handed them over blushing deeply. She was not yet used to being called Mrs. MacDougall.
“The old Truax house over harbour was haunted for years . . . raps and knocks all over the place . . . a most mysterious thing,” said Christine Crawford.
“All the Truaxes had bad stomachs,” said Mrs. Baxter.
“Of course if you don’t believe in ghosts they can’t happen,” said Mrs.
MacAllister sulkily. “But my sister worked in a house in Nova Scotia that was haunted by chuckles of laughter.”
“What a jolly ghost!” said Myra. “I shouldn’t mind that.”
“Likely it was owls,” said the determinedly sceptical Mrs. Baxter.
“My mother seen angels around her deathbed,” said Agatha Drew with an air of plaintive triumph.
“Angels ain’t ghosts,” said Mrs. Baxter.200
“Speaking of mothers, how is your Uncle Parker, Tillie?” asked Mrs. Chubb.
“Very poorly by spells. We don’t know what is going to come of it. It’s holding us all up . . . about our winter clothes, I mean. But I said to my sister the other day when we were talking it over, ‘We’d better get black dresses anyhow,’ I said, ‘and then it’s no matter what happens.’”
“Do you know what Mary Anna said the other day? She said, ‘Ma, I’m going to stop asking God to make my hair curly. I’ve asked Him every night for a week and He hasn’t done a thing.’”
“I’ve been asking Him something for twenty years,” bitterly said Mrs. Bruce Duncan, who had not spoken before or lifted her dark eyes from the quilt. She was noted for her beautiful quilting . . . perhaps because she was never diverted by gossip from setting each stitch precisely where it should be.
A brief hush fell over the circle. They could all guess what she had asked for . . . but it was not a thing to be discussed at a quilting. Mrs. Duncan did not speak again.
“Is it true that May Flagg and Billy Carter have broken up and that he is going with one of the over-harbour MacDougalls?” asked Martha Crothers after a decent interval.
“Yes. Nobody knows what happened though.”
“It’s sad . . . what little things break off matches sometimes,” said Candace Crawford. “Take Dick Pratt and Lilian MacAllister . . . he was just starting to propose to her at a picnic when his nose began to bleed. He had to go to the brook . . . and he met a strange girl there who lent him her handkerchief. He fell in love and they were married in two weeks’ time.”
“Did you hear what happened to Big Jim MacAllister last Saturday night in Milt Cooper’s store at the Harbour Head?” asked Mrs. Simon, thinking it time somebody introduced a more cheerful topic than ghosts and jiltings. “He had got into the habit of setting on the stove all summer. But Saturday night was cold and Milt had lit a fire. So when poor Big Jim sat down . . . well, he scorched his . . .”
Mrs. Simon would not say what he had scorched but she patted a portion of her anatomy silently.201
“His bottom,” said Walter gravely, poking his head through the creeper screen.
He honestly thought that Mrs. Simon could not remember the right word.
An appalled silence descended on the quilters. Had Walter Blythe been there all the time? Everyone was raking her recollection of the tales told to recall if any of them had been too terribly unfit for the ears of youth. Mrs. Dr. Blythe was said to be so fussy about what her children heard. Before their paralyzed tongues recovered Anne had come out and asked them to come to supper.
“Just ten minutes more, Mrs. Blythe. We’ll have both quilts finished then,” said Elizabeth Kirk.
The quilts were finished, taken out, shaken, held up and admired.
“I wonder who’ll sleep under them,” said Myra Murray.
“Perhaps a new mother will hold her first baby under one of them,” said Anne.
“Or little children cuddle under them on a cold prairie night,” said Miss Cornelia unexpectedly.
“Or some poor old rheumatic body be cosier for them,” said Mrs. Meade.
“I hope nobody dies under them,” said Mrs. Baxter sadly.
“Do you know what Mary Anna said before I came?” said Mrs. Donald as they filed into the dining-room. “She said, ‘Ma, don’t forget you must eat everything on your plate.’”
Whereupon they all sat down and ate and drank to the glory of God, for they had done a good afternoon’s work and there was very little malice in most of them, after all.
After supper they went home. Jane Burr walked as far as the village with Mrs.
“I must remember all the fixings to tell ma,” said Jane wistfully, not knowing that Susan was counting the spoons. “She never gets out since she’s bed-rid but she loves to hear about things. That table will be a real treat to her.”
“It was just like a picture you’d seen in a magazine,” agreed Mrs. Simon with a sigh. “I can cook as good a supper as anyone, if I do say it, but I can’t fix up a202 table with a singleprestige of style. As for that young Walter, I could spank his bottom with a relish. Such a turn as he gave me!”
“And I suppose Ingleside is strewn with dead characters?” the doctor was saying.
“I wasn’t quilting,” said Anne, “so I didn’t hear what was said.”
“You never do, dearie,” said Miss Cornelia, who had lingered to help Susan bind the quilts. “When you are at the quilt they never let themselves go. They think you don’t approve of gossip.”
“It all depends on the kind,” said Anne.
“Well, nobody really said anything too terrible today. Most of the people they talked about were dead . . . or ought to be,” said Miss Cornelia, recalling the story of Abner Cromwell’s abortive funeral with a grin. “Only Mrs. Millison had to drag in that gruesome old murder story again about Madge Carey and her husband. I remember it all. There wasn’t a vestige of proof that Madge did it . . . except that a cat died after eating some of the soup. The animal had been sick for a week. If you ask me, Roger Carey died of appendicitis . . . though of course nobody knew they had appendixes then.”
“And indeed I think it is a great pity they ever found out,” said Susan. “The spoons are all intact, Mrs. Dr. dear, and nothing happened to the tablecloth.”
“Well, I must be getting home,” said Miss Cornelia. “I’ll send you up some spareribs next week when Marshall kills the pig.”
Walter was again sitting on the steps with eyes full of dreams. Dusk had fallen.
Where, he wondered, had it fallen from? Did some great spirit with bat-like wings pour it all over the world from a purple jar? The moon was rising and three wind-twisted old spruces looked like three lean, hump-backed old witches hobbling up a hill against it. Was that a little faun with furry ears crouching in the shadows? Suppose he opened the door in the brick wall now, wouldn’t he step, not into the well-known garden but into some strange land of faery, where princesses were waking from enchanted sleeps, where perhaps he might find and follow Echo as he so often longed to do? One dared not speak. Something would vanish if one did.
“Darling,” said Mother coming out, “you mustn’t sit here any longer. It is getting cold. Remember your throat.”203
The spoken word had broken the spell. Some magic light had gone. The lawn was still a beautiful place but it was no longer fairyland. Walter got up.
“Mother, will you tell me what happened at Peter Kirk’s funeral?”
Anne thought for a moment . . . then shivered.
“Not now, dear. Perhaps . . . sometime. . . .”204
Anne, alone in her room . . . for Gilbert had been called out . . . sat down at her window for a few minutes of communion with the tenderness of the night and of enjoyment of the eerie charm of her moonlit room. Say what you will, thought Anne, there is always something a little strange about a moonlit room. Its whole personality is changed. It is not so friendly . . . so human. It is remote and aloof and wrapped up in itself. Almost it regards you as an intruder.
She was a little tired after her busy day and everything was so beautifully quiet now . . . the children asleep, Ingleside restored to order. There was no sound in the house except a faint rhythmic thumping from the kitchen where Susan was setting her bread.
But through the open window came the sounds of the night, every one of which Anne knew and loved. Low laughter drifted up from the harbour on the still air.
Someone was singing down in the Glen and it sounded like the haunting notes of some song heard a long ago. There were silvery moonlight paths over the water but Ingleside was hooded in shadow. The trees were whispering “dark sayings of old” and an owl was hooting in Rainbow Valley.
“‘What a happy summer this has been,” thought Anne . . . and then recalled with a little pang something she had heard Aunt Highland Kitty of the Upper Glen say once . . . “the same summer will never be coming twice.”
Never quite the same. Another summer would come . . . but the children would be a little older and Rilla would be going to school . . . “and I’ll have no baby left,” thought Anne sadly. Jem was twelve now and there was already talk of “the Entrance” . . . Jem who but yesterday had been a wee baby in the old House of Dreams. Walter was shooting up and that very morning she had heard Nan teasing Di about some “boy” in school; and Di had actually blushed and tossed her red head. Well, that was life. Gladness and pain . . . hope and fear . . . and change. Always change! You could not help it. You had to let the old go and take the new to your heart . . . learn to love it and then let it go in turn. Spring, lovely as it was, must yield to summer and summer lose itself in autumn. The birth . . . the bridal . . . the death. . . .
Anne suddenly thought of Walter asking to be told what had happened at Peter Kirk’s funeral. She had not thought of it for years, but she had not forgotten it.205 Nobody who had been there, she felt sure, had forgotten it or ever would. Sitting there in the moonlit dusk she recalled it all.
It had been in November . . . the first November they had spent at Ingleside . . . following a week of Indian summer days. The Kirks lived at Mowbray Narrows but came to the Glen church and Gilbert was their doctor; so he and Anne both went to the funeral.
It had been, she remembered, a mild, calm, pearl-grey day. All around them had been the lonely brown-and-purple landscape of November, with patches of sunlight here and there on upland and slope where the sun shone through a rift in the clouds. “Kirkwynd” was so near the shore that a breath of salt wind blew through the grim firs behind it. It was a big, prosperous-looking house but Anne always thought that the gable of the L looked exactly like a long, narrow, spiteful face.
Anne paused to speak to a little knot of women on the stiff flowerless lawn. They were all good hardworking souls to whom a funeral was a not unpleasant excitement.
“I forgot to bring a handkerchief,” Mrs. Bryan Blake was saying plaintively.
“Whatever will I do when I cry?”
“Why will you have to cry?” bluntly asked her sister-in-law, Camilla Blake.
Camilla had no use for women who cried too easily. “Peter Kirk is no relation to you and you never liked him.”
“I think it is proper to cry at a funeral,” said Mrs. Blake stiffly. “It shows feeling when a neighbour has been summoned to his long home.”
“If nobody cries at Peter’s funeral except those who liked him there won’t be many wet eyes,” said Mrs. Curtis Rodd dryly. “That is the truth and why mince it? He was a pious old humbug and I know it if nobody else does. Who is that coming at the little gate? Don’t . . . don’t tell me it’s Clara Wilson.”
“It is,” whispered Mrs. Bryan incredulously.
“Well, you know after Peter’s first wife died she told him she would never enter his house again until she came to his funeral and she’s kept her word,” said Camilla Blake. “She’s a sister of Peter’s first wife,” . . . in an explanatory aside to Anne, who looked curiously at Clara Wilson as she swept past them, unseeing, her smouldering topaz eyes staring straight ahead. She was a thin slip of a206 woman with a dark-browed, tragic face and black hair under one of the absurd bonnets elderly women still wore . . . a thing of feathers and “bugles” with a skimpy nose veil. She looked at and spoke to no one, as her long black taffeta skirt swished over the grass and up the verandah steps.
“There’s Jed Clinton at the door, putting on his funeral face,” said Camilla sarcastically. “He’s evidently thinking it is time we went in. It’s always been his boast that at his funerals everything goes according to schedule. He’s never forgiven Winnie Clow for fainting before the sermon. It wouldn’t have been so bad afterwards. Well, nobody is likely to faint atthis funeral. Olivia isn’t the fainting kind.”
“Jed Clinton . . . the Lowbridge undertaker,” said Mrs. Reese. “Why didn’t they have the Glen man?”
“Who? Carter Flagg? Why, woman dear, Peter and him have been at daggers drawn all their lives. Carter wanted Amy Wilson, you know.”
“A good many wanted her,” said Camilla. “She was a very pretty girl, with her coppery red hair and inky black eyes. Though people thought Clara the handsomer of the two then. It’s odd she never married. There’s the minister at last . . . and the Rev. Mr. Owen of Lowbridge with him. Of course he is Olivia’s cousin. All right except that he puts too many ‘Oh’s’ in his prayers. We’d better go in or Jed will have a conniption.”
Anne paused to look at Peter Kirk on her way to a chair. She had never liked him. “He has a cruel face,” she thought, the first time she had ever seen him.
Handsome, yes . . . but with cold steely eyes even then becoming pouchy, and the thin pinched merciless mouth of a miser. He was known to be selfish and arrogant in his dealings with his fellow-men in spite of his profession of piety and his unctuous prayers. “Always feels his importance,” she had heard someone say once. Yet, on the whole, he had been respected and looked up to.
He was as arrogant in his death as in his life and there was something about the too-long fingers clasped over his still breast that made Anne shudder. She thought of a woman’s heart being held in them and glanced at Olivia Kirk, sitting opposite to her in her mourning. Olivia was a tall, fair, handsome woman with large blue eyes . . . “no ugly woman for me,” Peter Kirk had said once . . . and her face was composed and expressionless. There was no apparent trace of tears . . . but, then, Olivia had been a Random and the Randoms were not emotional. At least she sat decorously and the most heartbroken widow in the world could not have worn heavier weeds.207
The air was cloyed with the perfume of the flowers that banked the coffin . . . for Peter Kirk, who had never known flowers existed. His lodge had sent a wreath, the church had sent one, the Conservative Association had sent one, the school trustees had sent one, the Cheese Board had sent one. His one, long-alienated son had sent nothing, but the Kirk clan at large had sent a huge anchor of white roses with “Harbour At Last” in red rosebuds across it, and there was one from Olivia herself . . . a pillow of calla-lilies. Camilla Blake’s face twitched as she looked at it and Anne remembered that she had once heard Camilla say that she had been at Kirkwynd soon after Peter’s second marriage when Peter had fired out of the window a potted calla-lily which the bride had brought with her. He wasn’t, so he said, going to have his house cluttered up with weeds.
Olivia had apparently taken it very coolly and there had been no more calla-lilies at Kirkwynd. Could it be possible that Olivia . . . but Anne looked at Mrs. Kirk’s placid face and dismissed the suspicion. After all, it was generally the florist who suggested the flowers.
The choir sang “Death like a narrow sea divides that heavenly land from ours”
and Anne caught Camilla’s eye and knew they were both wondering just how Peter Kirk would fit into that heavenly land. Anne could almost hear Camilla saying, “Fancy Peter Kirk with a harp and halo if you dare.”
The Rev. Mr. Owen read a chapter and prayed, with many “Oh’s” and many entreaties that sorrowing hearts might be comforted. The Glen minister gave an address which many privately considered entirely too fulsome, even allowing for the fact that you had to say something good of the dead. To hear Peter Kirk called an affectionate father and a tender husband, a kind neighbour and an earnest Christian was, they felt, a misuse of language. Camilla took refuge behind her handkerchief, not to shed tears, and Stephen Macdonald cleared his throat once or twice. Mrs. Bryan must have borrowed a handkerchief from someone, for she was weeping into it, but Olivia’s down-dropped blue eyes remained tearless.
Jed Clinton drew a breath of relief. All had gone beautifully. Another hymn . . . the customary parade for a last look at “the remains” . . . and another successful funeral would be added to his long list.
There was a slight disturbance in a corner of the large room and Clara Wilson made her way through the maze of chairs to the table beside the casket. She turned there and faced the assembly. Her absurd bonnet had slipped a trifle to one side and a loose end of heavy black hair had escaped from its coil and hung down on her shoulder. But nobody thought Clara Wilson looked absurd. Her long208 sallow face was flushed, her haunted tragic eyes were flaming. She was a woman possessed. Bitterness, like some gnawing incurable disease, seemed to pervade her being.
“You have listened to a pack of lies . . . you people who have come here ‘to pay your respects’ . . . or glut your curiosity, whichever it was. Now I shall tell you the truth about Peter Kirk. I am no hypocrite . . . I never feared him living and I do not fear him now that he is dead. Nobody has ever dared to tell the truth about him to his face but it is going to be told now . . . here at his funeral where he has been called a good husband and a kind neighbour. A good husband! He married my sister Amy . . . my beautiful sister, Amy. You all know how sweet and lovely she was. He made her life a misery to her. He tortured and humiliated her . . . he liked to do it. Oh, he went to church regularly . . . and made long prayers . . . and paid his debts. But he was a tyrant and a bully . . . his very dog ran when he heard him coming.
“I told Amy she would repent marrying him. I helped her make her wedding dress . . . I’d rather have made her shroud. She was wild about him then, poor thing, but she hadn’t been his wife a week before she knew what he was. His mother had been a slave and he expected his wife to be one. ‘There will be no arguments in my household,’ he told her. She hadn’t the spirit to argue . . . her heart was broken. Oh, I know what she went through, my poor pretty darling. He crossed her in everything. She couldn’t have a flower-garden . . . she couldn’t even have a kitten . . . I gave her one and he drowned it. She had to account to him for every cent she spent. Did ever any of you see her in a decent stitch of clothes? He would fault her for wearing her best hat if it looked like rain. Rain couldn’t hurt any hat she had, poor soul. Her that loved pretty clothes! He was always sneering at her people. He never laughed in his life . . . did any of you ever hear him really laugh? He smiled . . . oh yes, he always smiled, calmly and sweetly when he was doing the most maddening things. He smiled when he told her after her little baby was born dead that she might as well have died, too, if she couldn’t have anything but dead brats. She died after ten years of it . . . and I was glad she had escaped him. I told him then I’d never enter his house again till I came to his funeral. Some of you heard me. I’ve kept my word and now I’ve come and told the truth about him. It is the truth . . . You know it” . . . she pointed fiercely at Stephen Macdonald . . . “You know it” . . . the long finger darted at Camilla Blake . . . “Youknow it” . . . Olivia Kirk did not move a muscle . . . “You know it” . . . the poor minister himself felt as if that finger stabbed completely through him. “I cried at Peter Kirk’s wedding but I told him I’d laugh at his funeral. And I am going to do it.”209
She swished furiously about and bent over the casket. Wrongs that had festered for years had been avenged. She had wreaked her hatred at last. Her whole body vibrated with triumph and satisfaction as she looked down at the cold quiet face of a dead man. Everybody listened for the burst of vindictive laughter. It did not come. Clara Wilson’s angry face suddenly changed . . . twisted . . . crumpled up like a child’s. Clara was . . . crying.
She turned, with the tears streaming down her ravaged cheeks, to leave the room.
But Olivia Kirk rose before her and laid a hand on her arm. For a moment the two women looked at each other. The room was engulfed in a silence that seemed like a personal presence.
“Thank you, Clara Wilson,” said Olivia Kirk. Her face was as inscrutable as ever but there was an undertone in her calm, even voice that made Anne shudder. She felt as if a pit had suddenly opened before her eyes. Clara Wilson might hate Peter Kirk, alive and dead, but Anne felt that her hatred was a pale thing compared to Olivia Kirk’s.
Clara went out, weeping, passing an infuriated Jed with a spoiled funeral on his hands. The minister, who had intended to announce for a last hymn, “Asleep in Jesus,” thought better of it and simply pronounced a tremulous benediction. Jed did not make the usual announcement that friends and relatives might now take a parting look at “the remains.” The only decent thing to do, he felt, was to shut down the cover of the casket at once and bury Peter Kirk out of sight as soon as possible.
Anne drew a long breath as she went down the verandah steps. How lovely the cold fresh air was after that stifling, perfumed room where two women’s bitterness had been as their torment.
The afternoon had grown colder and greyer. Little groups here and there on the lawn were discussing the affair with muted voices. Clara Wilson could still be seen crossing a sere pasture field on her way home.
“Well, didn’t that beat all?” said Nelson dazedly.
“Shocking . . . shocking!” said Elder Baxter.
“Why didn’t some of us stop her?” demanded Henry Reese.
“Because you all wanted to hear what she had to say,” retorted Camilla.210 “It wasn’t . . . decorous,” said Uncle Sandy MacDougall. He had got hold of a word that pleased him and rolled it under his tongue. “Not decorous. A funeral should be decorous whatever else it may be . . . decorous.”
“Gosh, ain’t life funny?” said Augustus Palmer.
“I mind when Peter and Amy began keeping company,” mused old James Porter.
“I was courting my woman that same winter. Clara was a fine-looking bit of goods then. And what a cherry pie she could make!”
“She was always a bitter-tongued girl,” said Boyce Warren. “I suspected there’d be dynamite of some kind when I saw her coming but I didn’t dream it would take that form. And Olivia! Would you have thought it? Weemen are a queer lot.”
“It will make quite a story for the rest of our lives,” said Camilla. “After all, I suppose if things like this never happened history would be dull stuff.”
A demoralized Jed had got his pall-bearers rounded up and the casket carried out.
As the hearse drove down the lane, followed by the slow-moving procession of buggies, a dog was heard howling heartbrokenly in the barn. Perhaps, after all, one living creature mourned Peter Kirk.
Stephen Macdonald joined Anne as she waited for Gilbert. He was a tall Upper Glen man with the head of an old Roman emperor. Anne had always liked him.
“Smells like snow,” he said. “It always seems to me that November is a homesick time. Does it ever strike you that way, Mrs. Blythe?”
“Yes. The year is looking back sadly to her lost spring.”
“Spring . . . spring! Mrs. Blythe, I’m getting old. I find myself imagining that the seasons are changing. Winter isn’t what it was . . . I don’t recognize summer . . . and spring . . . there are no springs now. At least, that’s how we feel when folks we used to know don’t come back to share them with us. Poor Clara Wilson now . . . what did you think of it all?”
“Oh, it was heartbreaking. Such hatred . . .”
“Ye-e-e-s. You see, she was in love with Peter herself long ago . . . terribly in love. Clara was the handsomest girl in Mowbray Narrows then . . . little dark curls all round her cream-white face . . . but Amy was a laughing, lilting thing.211 Peter dropped Clara and took up with Amy. It’s strange the way we’re made, Mrs.
There was an eerie stir in the wind-torn firs behind Kirkwynd; far away a snowsquall whitened over a hill where a row of lombardies stabbed the grey sky.
Everybody was hurrying to get away before it reached Mowbray Narrows.
“Have I any right to be so happy when other women are so miserable?” Anne wondered to herself as they drove home, remembering Olivia Kirk’s eyes as she thanked Clara Wilson.
Anne got up from her window. It was nearly twelve years ago now. Clara Wilson was dead and Olivia Kirk had gone to the coast where she had married again. She had been much younger than Peter.
“Time is kinder than we think,” thought Anne. “It’s a dreadful mistake to cherish bitterness for years . . . hugging it to our hearts like a treasure. But I think the story of what happened at Peter Kirk’s funeral is one which Walter must never know. It was certainly no story for children.”212
Rilla sat on the verandah steps at Ingleside with one knee crossed over the other . . . such adorable little fat brown knees! . . . very busy being unhappy. And if anyone asks why a petted little puss should be unhappy that inquirer must have forgotten her own childhood when things that were the merest trifles to grownups were dark and dreadful tragedies to her. Rilla was lost in deeps of despair because Susan had told her she was going to bake one of her silver-and-gold cakes for the Orphanage social that evening and she, Rilla, must carry it to the church in the afternoon.
Don’t ask me why Rilla felt she would rather die than carry a cake through the village to the Glen St. Mary Presbyterian church. Tots get odd notions into their little pates at times and somehow Rilla had got it into hers that it was a shameful and humiliating thing to be seen carrying a cake anywhere. Perhaps it was because, one day when she was only five, she had met old Tillie Pake carrying a cake down the street with all the little village boys yelping at her heels and making fun of her. Old Tillie lived down at the Harbour Mouth and was a very dirty ragged old woman.
“Old Tillie Pake
Up and stole a cake
And it give her stomach-ache,”
chanted the boys.
To be classed with Tillie Pake was something Rilla just could not bear. The idea had become lodged in her mind that you just “couldn’t be a lady” and carry cakes about. So this was why she sat disconsolately on the steps and the dear little mouth, with one front tooth missing, was without its usual smile. Instead of looking as if she understood what daffodils were thinking about or as if she shared with the golden rose a secret they alone knew, she looked like one crushed forever. Even her big hazel eyes that almost shut up when she laughed, were mournful and tormented, instead of being the usual pools of allurement. “It’s the fairies that have touched your eyes,” Aunt Kitty MacAllister told her once. Her father vowed she was born a charmer and had smiled at Dr. Parker half an hour213 after she was born. Rilla could, as yet, talk better with her eyes than her tongue, for she had a decided lisp. But she would grow out of that . . . she was growing fast. Last year Daddy had measured her by a rosebush; this year it was the phlox; soon it would be the hollyhocks and she would be going to school. Rilla had been very happy and very well-contented with herself until this terrible announcement of Susan’s. Really, Rilla told the sky indignantly, Susan had no sense of shame.
To be sure, Rilla pronounced it “thenth of thame” but the lovely soft-blue sky looked as if it understood.
Mummy and Daddy had gone to Charlottetown that morning and all the other children were in school, so Rilla and Susan were alone at Ingleside. Ordinarily Rilla would have been delighted under such circumstances. She was never lonely; she would have been glad to sit there on the steps or on her own particular mossy green stone in Rainbow Valley, with a fairy kitten or two for company, and spin fancies about everything she saw . . . the corner of the lawn that looked like a merry little land of butterflies . . . the poppies floating over the garden . . . that great fluffy cloud all alone in the sky . . . the big bumblebees booming over the nasturtiums . . . the honeysuckle that hung down to touch her red-brown curls with a yellow finger . . . the wind that blew . . . where did it blow to? . . . Cock Robin, who was back again and was strutting importantly along the railing of the verandah, wondering why Rilla would not play with him . . . Rilla who could think of nothing but the terrible fact that she must carry a cake . . . a cake . . . through the village to the church for the old social they were getting up for the orphans. Rilla was dimly aware that the Orphanage was at Lowbridge and that poor little children lived there who had no fathers or mothers. She felt terribly sorry for them. But not even for the orphanest of orphans was small Rilla Blythe willing to be seen in public carrying a cake.
Perhaps if it rained she wouldn’t have to go. It didn’t look like rain but Rilla clasped her hands together . . . there was a dimple at the root of every finger . . . and said earnestly:
“Plethe, dear God, make it rain hard. Make it rain pitchforkth. Or elth. . .” Rilla thought of another saving possibility, “make Thusanth cake burn . . . burn to a crithp.”
Alas, when dinner time came the cake, done to a turn, filled and iced, was sitting triumphantly on the kitchen table. It was a favourite cake of Rilla’s . . . “Goldand-silver cake” did sound so luxuriant . . . but she felt that never again would she be able to eat a mouthful of it.214
Still . . . wasn’t that thunder rolling over the low hills across the harbour? Perhaps God had heard her prayer . . . perhaps there would be an earthquake before it was time to go. Couldn’t she take a pain in her stomach if worst came to worst? No.
Rilla shuddered. That would mean castor-oil. Better the earthquake!
The rest of the children did not notice that Rilla, sitting in her own dear chair, with the saucy white duck worked in crewels on the back, was very quiet.
Thelfith pigth! If Mummy had been home she would have noticed it. Mummy had seen right away how troubled she was that dreadful day when Dad’s picture had come out in the Enterprise. Rilla was crying bitterly in bed when Mummy came in and found out that Rilla thought it was only murderers that had their pictures in the papers. It had not taken Mummy long to put that to rights. Would Mummy like to see her daughter carrying cake through the Glen like old Tillie Pake?
Rilla found it hard to eat any dinner, though Susan had put down her own lovely blue plate with the wreath of rosebuds on it that Aunt Rachel Lynde had sent her on her last birthday and which she was generally allowed to have only on Sundays. Blue plateth and rothbudth! When you had to do such a shameful thing!
Still, the fruit puffs Susan had made for dessert were nice.
“Thuthan, can’t Nan and Di take the cake after thchool?” she pleaded.
“Di is going home from school with Jessie Reese and Nan has a bone in her leg,”
said Susan, under the impression that she was being joky. “Besides it would be too late. The committee wants all the cakes in by three so they can cut them up and arrange the tables before they go home to have their suppers. Why in the world don’t you want to go, Roly-poly? You always think it is such fun to go for the mail.”
Rilla was a bit of a roly-poly but she hated to be called that.
“I don’t want to hurt my feelingth” she explained stiffly.
Susan laughed. Rilla was beginning to say things that made the family laugh. She never could understand why they laughed because she was always in earnest.
Only Mummy never laughed; she hadn’t laughed even when she found out that Rilla thought Daddy was a murderer.
“The social is to make money for poor little boys and girls who haven’t any kind fathers or mothers,” explained Susan . . . as if she was a baby who didn’t understand! 215
“I’m next thing to an orphan,” said Rilla. “I’ve only got one father and mother.”
Susan just laughed again. Nobody understood.
“You know your mother promised the committee that cake, pet. I have not time to take it myself and it must go. So put on your blue gingham and toddle off.”
“My doll hath been tooken ill,” said Rilla desperately. “I mutht put her to bed and thtay with her. Maybe itth ammonia.”
“Your doll will do very well till you get back. You can go and come in half an hour,” was Susan’s heartless response.
There was no hope. Even God had failed her . . . there wasn’t a sign of rain. Rilla, too near tears to protest any further, went up and put on her new smocked organdy and her Sunday hat, trimmed with daisies. Perhaps if she looked respectable people wouldn’t think she was like old Tillie Pake.
“I think my fathe itth clean if you will kindly look behind my earth,” she told Susan with great stateliness.
She was afraid Susan might scold her for putting on her best dress and hat. But Susan merely inspected her ears, handed her a basket containing the cake, told her to mind her pretty manners and for goodness’ sake not to stop to talk to every cat she met.
Rilla made a rebellious “face” at Gog and Magog and marched away. Susan looked after her tenderly.
“Fancy our baby being old enough to carry a cake all alone to the church,” she thought, half proudly, half sorrowfully, as she went back to work, blissfully unaware of the torture she was inflicting on a small mite she would have given her life for.
Rilla had not felt so mortified since the time she had fallen asleep in church and tumbled off the seat. Ordinarily she loved going down to the village; there were so many interesting things to see: but today Mrs. Carter Flagg’s fascinating clothesline, with all those lovely quilts on it, did not win a glance from Rilla, and the new cast-iron deer Mr. Augustus Palmer had set up in his yard left her cold.
She had never passed it before without wishing they could have one like it on the lawn at Ingleside. But what were cast-iron deer now? Hot sunshine poured along the street like a river and everybody was out. Two girls went by, whispering to216 each other. Was it about her? She imagined what they might be saying. A man driving along the road stared at her. He was really wondering if that could be the Blythe baby and by George, what a little beauty she was! But Rilla felt that his eyes pierced the basket and saw the cake. And when Annie Drew drove by with her father Rilla was sure she was laughing at her. Annie Drew was ten and a very big girl in Rilla’s eyes.
Then there was a whole crowd of boys and girls on Russell’s corner. She had to walk past them. It was dreadful to feel that their eyes were all looking at her and then at each other. She marched by, so proudly desperate that they all thought she was stuck-up and had to be brought down a peg or two. They’d show that kittenfaced thing! A regular hoity-toity like all those Ingleside girls! Just because they lived up at the big house!
Millie Flagg strutted along behind her, imitating her walk and scuffing up clouds of dust over them both.
“Where’s the basket going with the child?” shouted “Slicky” Drew.
“There’s a smudge on your nose, Jam-face,” jeered Bill Palmer.
“Cat got your tongue?” said Sarah Warren.
“Snippet!” sneered Beenie Bentley.
“Keep on your side of the road or I’ll make you eat a junebug,” big Sam Flagg stopped gnawing a raw carrot long enough to say.
“Look at her blushing,” giggled Mamie Taylor.
“Bet you’re taking a cake to the Presbyterian church,” said Charlie Warren. “Half dough like all Susan Baker’s cakes.”
Pride would not let Rilla cry, but there was a limit to what one could bear. After all, an Ingleside cake. . . .
“The next time any of you are thick I’ll tell my father not to give you any medithine,” she said defiantly.
Then she stared in dismay. That couldn’t be Kenneth Ford coming around the corner of the Harbour road! It couldn’t be! It was! 217
It was not to be borne. Ken and Walter were pals and Rilla thought in her small heart that Ken was the nicest, handsomest boy in the whole world. He seldom took much notice of her . . . though once he had given her a chocolate duck. And one unforgettable day he had sat down beside her on a mossy stone in Rainbow Valley and told her the story of the Three Bears and the Little House in the Wood. But she was content to worship afar. And now this wonderful being had caught her carrying a cake!
“‘Lo, Roly-poly! Heat’s something fierce, isn’t it? Hope I’ll get a slice of that cake tonight.”
So he knew it was a cake! Everybody knew it!
Rilla was through the village and thought the worst was over when the worst happened. She looked down a side-road and saw her Sunday School teacher, Miss Emmy Parker, coming along it. Miss Emmy Parker was still quite a distance away but Rilla knew her by her dress . . . that frilled organdy dress of pale green with clusters of little white flowers all over it . . . the “cherry blossom dress,” Rilla secretly called it. Miss Emmy had it on in Sunday School last Sunday and Rilla had thought it the sweetest dress she had ever seen. But then Miss Emmy always wore such pretty dresses . . . sometimes lacy and frilly, sometimes with the whisper of silk about them.
Rilla worshipped Miss Emmy. She was so pretty and dainty, with her white, white skin and her brown, brown eyes and her sad, sweet smile . . . sad, another small girl had whispered to Rilla one day, because the man she was going to marry had died. She was so glad she was in Miss Emmy’s class. She would have hated to be in Miss Florrie Flagg’s class . . . Florrie Flagg was ugly and Rilla couldn’t bear an ugly teacher.
When Rilla met Miss Emmy away from Sunday School and Miss Emmy smiled and spoke to her it was one of the high moments of life for Rilla. Only to be nodded to on the street by Miss Emmy gave a strange, sudden lift of the heart and when Miss Emmy had invited all her class to a soap-bubble party, where they made the bubbles red with strawberry juice, Rilla had all but died of sheer bliss.
But to meet Miss Emmy, carrying a cake, was just not to be endured and Rilla was not going to endure it. Besides, Miss Emmy was going to get up a dialogue for the next Sunday School concert and Rilla was cherishing secret hopes of being asked to take the fairy’s part in it . . . a fairy in scarlet with a little peaked green hat. But there would be no use in hoping for that if Miss Emmy saw her carrying a cake.218
Miss Emmy was not going to see her! Rilla was standing on the little bridge crossing the brook, which was quite deep and creek-like just there. She snatched the cake out of the basket and hurled it into the brook where the alders met over a dark pool. The cake hurtled through the branches and sank with a plop and a gurgle. Rilla felt a wild spasm of relief and freedom and escape, as she turned to meet Miss Emmy, who, she now saw, was carrying a big bulgy brown paper parcel.
Miss Emmy smiled down at her, from beneath a little green hat with a tiny orange feather in it.
“Oh, you’re beautiful, teacher . . . beautiful,” gasped Rilla adoringly.
Miss Emmy smiled again. Even when your heart is broken . . . and Miss Emmy truly believed hers was . . . it is not unpleasant to be given such a sincere compliment.
“It’s the new hat, I expect, dear. Fine feathers, you know. I suppose” . . . glancing at the empty basket . . . “you’ve been taking your cake up for the social. What a pity you’re not going instead of coming. I’m taking mine . . . such a big, gooey chocolate cake.”
Rilla gazed up piteously, unable to utter a word. Miss Emmy was carrying a cake, therefore, it could not be a disgraceful thing to carry a cake. And she . . . oh, what had she done? She had thrown Susan’s lovely gold-and-silver cake into the brook . . . and she had lost the chance of walking up to the church with Miss Emmy, both carrying cakes!
After Miss Emmy had gone on Rilla went home with her dreadful secret. She buried herself in Rainbow Valley until supper time, when again nobody noticed that she was very quiet. She was terribly afraid Susan would ask to whom she had given the cake but there were no awkward questions. After supper the others went to play in Rainbow Valley but Rilla sat alone on the steps until the sun went down and the sky was all a windy gold behind Ingleside and the lights sprang up in the village below. Always Rilla liked to watch them blooming out, here and there, all over the Glen, but tonight she was interested in nothing. She had never been so unhappy in her life. She just didn’t see how she could live. The evening deepened to purple and she was still more unhappy. A most delectable odour of maple sugar buns drifted out to her . . . Susan had waited for the evening coolness to do the family baking . . . but maple sugar buns, like all else, were just vanity. Miserably she climbed the stairs and went to bed under the new, pinkflowered spread she had once been so proud of. But she could not sleep. She was219 still haunted by the ghost of the cake she had drowned. Mother had promised the committee that cake . . . what would they think of Mother for not sending it? And it would have been the prettiest cake there! The wind had such a lonely sound tonight. It was reproaching her. It was saying, “Silly . . . silly . . . silly,” over and over again.
“What is keeping you awake, pet?” said Susan, coming in with a maple sugar bun.
“Oh, Thuthan, I’m . . . I’m jutht tired of being me.”
Susan looked troubled. Come to think of it, the child had looked tired at supper.
“And of course the doctor’s away. Doctors’ families die and shoemakers’ wives go barefoot,” she thought. Then aloud:
“I am going to see if you have a temperature, my pet.”
“No, no, Thuthan. It’th jutht . . . I’ve done thomething dreadful, Thuthan . . .Thatan made me do it . . . no, no, he didn’t, Thuthan . . . I did it mythelf, I . . . I threw the cake into the creek.”
“Land of hope and glory!” said Susan blankly. “Whatever made you do that?”
“Do what?” It was Mother, home from town. Susan retreated gladly, thankful that Mrs. Doctor had the situation in hand. Rilla sobbed out the whole story.
“Darling, I don’t understand. Why did you think it was such a dreadful thing to take a cake to the church?”
“I thought it wath jutht like old Tillie Pake, Mummy. And I’ve dithgrathed you!
Oh, Mummy, if you’ll forgive me I’ll never be naughty again . . . and I’ll tell the committee you didthend a cake . . .”
“Never mind the committee, darling. They would have more than enough cakes . . . they always do. It’s not likely anyone would notice we didn’t send one. We just won’t talk of this to anybody. But always after this, Bertha Marilla Blythe, remember the fact that neither Susan nor Mother would ever ask you to do anything disgraceful.”
Life was sweet again. Daddy came to the door to say, “Good-night, Kittenkin,”
and Susan slipped in to say they were going to have a chicken pie for dinner tomorrow.220
“With lotth of gravy, Thuthan?”
“Lashings of it.”
“And may I have a brown egg for breakfath, Thuthan. I don’t detherve it . . .”
“You shall have two brown eggs if you want them. And now you must eat your bun and go to sleep, little pet.”
Rilla ate her bun but before she went to sleep she slipped out of bed and knelt down. Very earnestly she said:
“Dear God, pleathe make me a good and obedient child alwayth, no matter what I’m told to do. And bleth dear Mith Emmy and all the poor orphanth.”221 35
The Ingleside children played together and walked together and had all kinds of adventures together; and each of them, in addition to this, had his and her own inner life of dream and fancy. Especially Nan, who from the very first had fashioned secret drama for herself out of everything she heard or saw or read and sojourned in realms of wonder and romance quite unsuspected in her household circle. At first she wove patterns of pixy dances and elves in haunted valleys and dryads in birch trees. She and the great willow at the gate had whispered secrets and the old empty Bailey house at the upper end of Rainbow Valley was the ruin of a haunted tower. For weeks she might be a king’s daughter imprisoned in a lonely castle by the sea . . . for months she was a nurse in a leper colony in India or some land “far, far away.” “Far, far away” had always been words of magic to Nan . . . like faint music over a windy hill.
As she grew older she built up her drama about the real people she saw in her little life. Especially the people in church. Nan liked to look at the people in church because everyone was so nicely dressed. It was almost miraculous. They looked so different from what they did on week days.
The quiet respectable occupants of the various family pews would have been amazed and perhaps a little horrified if they had known the romances the demure, brown-eyed maiden in the Ingleside pew was concocting about them. Blackbrowed, kind-hearted Annetta Millison would have been thunderstruck to know that Nan Blythe pictured her as a kidnapper of children, boiling them alive to make potions that would keep her young forever. Nan pictured this so vividly that she was half frightened to death when she met Annetta Millison once in a twilight lane astir with the golden whisper of buttercups. She was positively unable to reply to Annetta’s friendly greeting and Annetta reflected that Nan Blythe was really getting to be a proud and saucy little puss and needed a bit of training in good manners. Pale Mrs. Rod Palmer never dreamed that she had poisoned someone and was dying of remorse. Elder Gordon MacAllister of the solemn face had no notion that a curse had been put on him at birth by a witch, the result being that he could never smile. Dark-moustached Fraser Palmer of a blameless life little knew that when Nan Blythe looked at him she was thinking, “I am sure that man has committed a dark and desperate deed. He looks as if he had some dreadful secret on his conscience.” And Archibald Fyfe had no suspicion that when Nan Blythe saw him coming she was busy making up a rhyme as a reply to any remark he might make because he was never to be222 spoken to except in rhyme. He never did speak to her, being exceedingly afraid of children, but Nan got no end of fun out of desperately and quickly inventing a rhyme.
“I’m very well, thank you, Mr. Fyfe,
How are you yourself and your wife?”
“Yes, it is a very fine day,
Just the right kind for making hay.”
There is no knowing what Mrs. Morton Kirk would have said if she had been told that Nan Blythe would never come to her house . . . supposing she had ever been invited . . . because there was a red footprint on her doorstep; and her sister-inlaw, placid, kind, unsought Elizabeth Kirk, did not dream she was an old maid because her lover had dropped dead at the altar just before the wedding ceremony.
It was all very amusing and interesting and Nan never lost her way between fact and fiction until she became possessed with the Lady with the Mysterious Eyes.
It is no use asking how dreams grow. Nan herself could never have told you how it came about. It started with the GLOOMY HOUSE . . . Nan saw it always just like that, spelled in capitals. She liked to spin her romances about places as well as people and the GLOOMY HOUSE was the only place around, except the old Bailey house, which lent itself to romance. Nan had never seen the HOUSE itself . . . she only knew that it was there, behind a thick dark spruce on the Lowbridge side-road, and had been vacant from time immemorial,–so Susan said. Nan didn’t know what time immemorial was but it was a most fascinating phrase, just suited to gloomy houses.
Nan always ran madly past the lane that led up to the GLOOMY HOUSE when she went along the side-road to visit her chum, Dora Clow. It was a long dark223 tree-arched lane with thick grass growing between its ruts and ferns waist-high under the spruces. There was a long grey maple bough near the tumbledown gate that looked exactly like a crooked old arm reaching down to encircle her. Nan never knew when it might reach a wee bit further and grab her. It gave her such a thrill to escape it.
One day Nan, to her astonishment, heard Susan saying that Thomasine Fair had come to live in the GLOOMY HOUSE . . . or, as Susan unromantically phrased it, the old MacAllister place.
“She will find it rather lonely, I should imagine,” Mother had said. “It’s so out-ofthe-way.”
“She will not mind that,” said Susan. “She never goes anywhere, not even to church. Has not gone anywhere for years . . . though they say she walks in her garden at night. Well, well, to think what she has come to . . . her that was so handsome and such a terrible flirt. The hearts she broke in her day! And look at her now! Well, it is a warning and that you may tie to.”
Just to whom it was a warning Susan did not explain and nothing more was said, for nobody at Ingleside was very much interested in Thomasine Fair. But Nan, who had grown a little tired of all her old dream lives and was agog for something new, seized on Thomasine Fair in the GLOOMY HOUSE. Bit by bit, day after day, night after night . . . one could believe anything at night . . . she built up a legend about her until the whole thing flowered out unrecognisably and became a dearer dream to Nan than any she had hitherto known. Nothing before had ever seemed so entrancing, so real, as this vision of the Lady with the Mysterious Eyes. Great black velvet eyes . . . hollow eyes . . . haunted eyes . . . filled with remorse for the hearts she had broken. Wicked eyes . . . anyone who broke hearts and never went to church must be wicked. Wicked people were so interesting. The Lady was burying herself from the world as a penance for her crimes.
Could she be a princess? No, princesses were too scarce in P. E. Island. But she was tall, slim, remote, icily beautiful like a princess, with long jet-black hair in two thick braids over her shoulders, right to her feet. She would have a clear-cut ivory face, a beautiful Grecian nose, like the nose of Mother’s Artemis of the Silver Bow, and white lovely hands which she would wring as she walked in the garden at night, waiting for the one true lover she had disdained and learned too late to love . . . you perceive how the legend was growing? . . . while her long black velvet skirts trailed over the grass. She would wear a golden girdle and great pearl earrings in her ears and she must live her life of shadow and mystery224 until the lover came to set her free. Then she would repent of her old wickedness and heartlessness and hold out her beautiful hands to him and bend her proud head in submission at last. They would sit by the fountain . . . there was a fountain by this time . . . and pledge their vows anew and she would follow him, “over the hills and faraway, beyond their utmost purple rim,” just as the Sleeping Princess did in the poem Mother read to her one night from the old volume of Tennyson Father had given her long, long ago. But the lover of the Mysterious Eyed gave her jewels beyond all compare.
The GLOOMY HOUSE would be beautifully furnished, of course, and there would be secret rooms and staircases, and the Lady with the Mysterious Eyes would sleep on a bed made of mother-of-pearl under a canopy of purple velvet.
She would be attended by a greyhound . . . a brace of them . . . a whole retinue of them . . . and she would always be listening . . . listening . . . listening . . . for the music of a very far-off harp. But she could not hear it as long as she was wicked until her lover came and forgave her . . . and there you were.
Of course is sounds very foolish. Dreams do sound so foolish when they are put into cold brutal words. Ten-year-old Nan never put hers into words . . . she only lived them. This dream of the wicked Lady with the Mysterious Eyes became as real to her as the life that went on around her. It took possession of her. For two years now it had been part of her . . . she had somehow come, in some strange way, to believe it. Not for worlds would she have told anyone, not even Mother, about it. It was her own peculiar treasure, her inalienable secret, without which she could no longer imagine life going on. She would rather steal off by herself to dream of the Lady with the Mysterious Eyes than play in Rainbow Valley.
Anne noticed this tendency and worried a little over it. Nan was getting too much that way. Gilbert wanted to send her up to Avonlea for a visit, but Nan, for the first time, pleaded passionately not to be sent. She didn’t want to leave home, she said piteously. To herself she said she would just die if she had to go so far away from the strange sad lovely Lady with the Mysterious Eyes. True, the Mysterious Eyed never went out anywhere. But she might go out some day and if she, Nan, were away she would miss seeing her. How wonderful it would be to get just a glimpse of her! Why, the very road along which she passed would be forever romantic. The day on which it happened would be different from all other days.
She would make a ring around it in the calendar. Nan had got to the point when she greatly desired to see her just once. She knew quite well that much she had imagined about her was nothing but imagination. But she hadn’t the slightest doubt that Thomasine Fair was young and lovely and wicked and alluring . . . Nan was by this time absolutely certain she had heard Susan say so . . . and as long as she was that, Nan could go on imagining things about her forever.225 Nan could hardly believe her ears when Susan said to her one morning: “There is a parcel I want to send up to Thomasine Fair at the old MacAllister place. Your father brought it out from town last night. Will you run up with it this afternoon, pet?”
Just like that! Nan caught her breath. Would she? Did dreams really come true in such fashion? She would see the GLOOMY HOUSE . . . she would see her beautiful wicked Lady with the Mysterious Eyes. Actually see her . . . perhaps hear her speak . . . perhaps . . . oh, bliss! . . . touch her slender white hand. As for the greyhounds and the fountain and so forth, Nan knew she had only imagined them but surely the reality would be equally wonderful.
Nan watched the clock all the forenoon, seeing the time draw slowly . . . oh, so slowly . . . nearer and nearer. When a thundercloud rolled up ominously and rain began to fall she could hardly keep the tears back.
“I don’t see how God could let it rain today,” she whispered rebelliously.
But the shower was soon over and the sun shone again. Nan could eat hardly any dinner for excitement.
“Mummy, may I wear my yellow dress?”
“Why do you want to dress up like that to call on a neighbour, child?”
A neighbour! But of course Mother didn’t understand . . . couldn’t understand.
“Very well,” said Anne. The yellow dress would be outgrown very soon. May as well let Nan get the good of it.
Nan’s legs were fairly trembling as she set off, the precious small parcel in her hand. She took a short-cut through Rainbow Valley, up the hill, to the side-road.
The raindrops were still lying on the nasturtium leaves like great pearls; there was a delicious freshness in the air; the bees were buzzing in the white clover that edged the brook; slim blue dragonflies were glittering over the water . . . devil’s-darning-needles, Susan called them; in the hill pasture the daisies nodded to her . . . swayed to her . . . waved to her . . . laughed to her, with cool gold-andsilver laughter. Everything was so lovely and she was going to see the Wicked Lady with the Mysterious Eyes. What would the Lady say to her? And was226 itquite safe to go to see her? Suppose you stayed a few minutes with her and found that a hundred years had gone by, as in the story she and Walter had read last week? 227
Nan felt a queer tickly sensation in her spine as she turned into the lane. Did the dead maple bough move? No, she had escaped it . . . she was past. Aha, old witch, you didn’t catchMe! She was walking up the lane of which the mud and the ruts had no power to blight her anticipation. Just a few steps more . . . the GLOOMY HOUSE was before her, amid and behind those dark dripping trees.
She was going to see it at last! She shivered a little . . . and did not know that it was because of a secret unadmitted fear of losing her dream. Which is always, for youth or maturity or age, a catastrophe.
She pushed her way through a gap in a wild growth of young spruces that was choking up the end of the lane. Her eyes were shut; could she dare to open them?
For a moment sheer terror possessed her and for two pins she would have turned and run. After all . . . the Lady was wicked. Who knew what she might do to you? She might even be a Witch. How was it that it had never occurred to her before that the Wicked Lady might be a Witch?
Then she resolutely opened her eyes and stared piteously.
Was this the GLOOMY HOUSE . . . the dark, stately, towered and turreted mansion of her dreams? This!
It was a big house, once white, now a muddy gray. Here and there, broken shutters, once green, were swinging loose. The front steps were broken. A forlorn glassed-in porch had most of its panes shattered. The scrolled trimming around the verandah was broken. Why, it was only a tired old house worn out with living!
Nan looked about desperately. There was no fountain . . . no garden . . . well, nothing you could really call a garden. The space in front of the house, surrounded by a ragged paling, was full of weeds and knee-high tangled grass. A lank pig rooted beyond the paling. Burdocks grew along the mid-walk. Straggly clumps of golden-glow were in the corners, but there was one splendid clump of militant tiger-lilies and, just by the worn steps, a gay bed of marigolds.
Nan went slowly up the walk to the marigold bed. The GLOOMY HOUSE was gone forever. But the Lady with the Mysterious Eyes remained. Surely she was real . . . she must be! What had Susan really said about her so long ago? 228 “Laws-a-mercy, ye nearly scared the liver out of me!” said a rather mumbly though friendly voice.
Nan looked at the figure that had suddenly risen up from beside the marigold bed. Who was it? It could not be . . . Nan refused to believe that this was Thomasine Fair. It would be just too terrible!
“Why,” thought Nan, heartsick with disappointment, “she . . . she’s old!”
Thomasine Fair, if Thomasine Fair it was . . . and she knew now it was Thomasine Fair . . . was certainly old. And fat! She looked like the feather-bed with the string tied round its middle to which angular Susan was always comparing stout ladies. She was barefooted, wore a green dress that had faded yellowish, and a man’s old felt hat on her sparse, sandy-grey hair. Her face was round as an O, ruddy and wrinkled, with a snub nose. Her eyes were a faded blue, surrounded by great, jolly-looking crow’s-feet.
Oh, my Lady . . . my charming, Wicked Lady with the Mysterious Eyes, where are you? What has become of you? You did exist!
“Well now, and what nice little girl are you?” asked Thomasine Fair.
Nan clutched after her manners.
“I’m . . . I’m Nan Blythe. I came up to bring you this.”
Thomasine pounced on the parcel joyfully.
“Well, if I ain’t glad to get my specks back!” she said. “I’ve missed ‘em turrible for reading the almanack on Sundays. And you’re one of the Blythe girls? What pretty hair you’ve got! I’ve always wanted to see some of you. I’ve heered your ma was bringing you up scientific. Do you like it?”
“Like . . . what?” Oh, wicked, charming Lady, you did not read the almanack on Sundays. Nor did you talk of “ma’s.”
“Why, bein’ brought up scientific.”
“I like the way I’m being brought up,” said Nan, trying to smile and barely succeeding.
“Well, your ma is a real fine woman. She’s holding her own. I declare the first time I saw her at Libby Taylor’s funeral I thought she was a bride, she looked so229 happy. I always think when I see your ma come into a room that everyone perks up as if they expected something to happen. The new fashions set her, too. Most of us just ain’t made to wear ‘em. But come in and set a while . . . I’m glad to see someone . . . it gets kinder lonesome by spells. I can’t afford a telephone. Flowers is company . . . did ye ever see finer merrygolds? And I’ve got a cat.”
Nan wanted to flee to the uttermost parts of the earth, but she felt it would never do to hurt the old lady’s feelings by refusing to go in. Thomasine, her petticoat showing below her skirt, led the way up the sagging steps into a room which was evidently kitchen and living-room combined. It was scrupulously clean and gay with thrifty house plants. The air was full of the pleasant fragrance of newly cooked bread.
“Set here,” said Thomasine kindly, pushing forward a rocker with a gay patched cushion. “I’ll move that callow-lily out of your way. Wait till I get my lower plate in. I look funny with it out, don’t I? But it hurts me a mite. There, I’ll talk clearer now.”
A spotted cat, uttering all kinds of fancy meows, came forward to greet them. Oh, for the greyhounds of a vanished dream!
“That cat’s a fine ratter,” said Thomasine. “This place is overrun with rats. But it keeps the rain out and I got sick of living round with relations. Couldn’t call my soul my own. Ordered round as if I was dirt. Jim’s wife was the worst.
Complained because I was making faces at the moon one night. Well, what if I was? Did it hurt the moon? Says I, ‘I ain’t going to be a pincushion any longer.’
So I come here on my own and here I’ll stay as long as I have use of my legs.
Now, what’ll you have? Can I make you an onion sandwich?”
“No . . . no, thank you.”
“They’re fine when you have a cold. I’ve been having one . . . notice how hoarse I am? But I just tie a piece of red flannel with turpentine and goose-grease on it round my throat when I go to bed. Nothing better.”
Red flannel and goose-grease! Not to speak of turpentine!
“If you won’t have a sandwich . . . sure you won’t? . . . I’ll see what’s in the cooky box.”230
The cookies . . . cut in the shape of roosters and ducks . . . were surprisingly good and fairly melted in your mouth. Mrs. Fair beamed at Nan out of her round faded eyes.
“Now you’ll like me, won’t you? I like to have little girls like me.”
“I’ll try,” gasped Nan, who at that moment was hating poor Thomasine Fair as we can hate only those who destroy our illusions.
“I’ve got some little grandchildren of my own out West, you know.”
“I’ll show you their pictures. Pretty, ain’t they? That’s poor dear Poppa’s picture up there. Twenty years since he died.”
Poor dear Poppa’s picture was a large “crayon” of a bearded man with a curly fringe of white hair surrounding a bald head.
Oh, lover disdained!
“He was a good husband though he was bald at thirty,” said Mrs. Fair fondly.
“My, but I had the pick of the beaus when I was a girl. I’m old now but I had a fine time when I was young. The beaus on Sunday nights! Trying to sit each other out! And me holding up my head as haughty as any queen! Poppa was among them from the start but at first I hadn’t nothing to say to him. I liked ‘em a bit more dashing. There was Andrew Metcalf now . . . I was as near as no matter running away with him. But I knew ‘twould be unlucky. Don’t you ever run away.
It is unlucky and don’t let anyone ever tell you different.”
“I . . . I won’t . . . indeed I won’t.”
“In the end I married Poppa. His patience gin out at last and he give me twentyfour hours to take him or leave him. My pa wanted me to settle down. He got nervous when Jim Hewitt drowned himself because I wouldn’t have him. Poppa and I were real happy when we got used to each other. He said I suited him because I didn’t do too much thinking. Poppa held women weren’t made for thinking. He said it made ‘em dried-up and unnatteral. Baked beans disagreed with him turrible and he had spells of lumbago but my balmagilia balsam always straightened that out. There was a specialist in town said he could cure him permanent but Poppa always said if you got into the hands of them specialists they’d never let you out again . . . never. I miss him to feed the pig. He was real231 fond of pork. I never eat a bit of bacon but I think of him. That picture opposite Poppa is Queen Victoria. Sometimes I say to her, ‘If they stripped all them lace and jewels off you, my dear, I doubt if you’d be any better-looking than I am.”
Before she let Nan go she insisted on her taking a bag of peppermints, a pink glass slipper for holding flowers, and a glass of gooseberry jelly.
“That’s for your ma. I’ve always had good luck with my gooseberry jelly. I’m coming down to Ingleside some day. I want to see them chiney dogs of yours.
Tell Susan Baker I’m much obliged for that mess of turnip greens she sent me in the spring.”
“I ‘lowed I’d thank her at Jacob Warren’s funeral but she got away too quick. I like to take my time at funerals. There hasn’t been one for a month. I always think it’s a dull old time when there’s no funerals going. There’s always a fine lot of funerals over Lowbridge way. It don’t seem fair. Come again and see me, won’t you? You’ve got something about you . . . ‘loving favour is better than silver and gold,’ the Good Book says and I guess it’s right.”
She smiled very pleasantly at Nan . . . she had a sweet smile. In it you saw the pretty Thomasine of long ago. Nan managed another smile herself. Her eyes were stinging. She mustget away before she cried outright.
“Nice, well-behaved leetle creetur,” mused old Thomasine Fair, looking out of her window after Nan. “Hasn’t got her ma’s gift of gab but maybe none the worse of that. Most of the kids today think they’re smart when they’re just being sassy.
That little thing’s visit has kind of made me feel young again.”
Thomasine sighed and went out to finish cutting her marigolds and hoeing up some of the burdocks.
“Thank goodness, I’ve kept limber,” she reflected.
Nan went back to Ingleside the poorer by a lost dream. A dell full of daisies could not lure her . . . singing water called to her in vain. She wanted to get home and shut herself away from human eyes. Two girls she met giggled after they passed her. Were they laughing at her? How everybody would laugh if they knew! Silly little Nan Blythe who had spun a romance of cobweb fancies about a pale queen of mystery and found instead poor Poppa’s widow and peppermints.232 Peppermints!
Nan would not cry. Big girls of ten must not cry. But she felt indescribably dreary. Something precious and beautiful was gone . . . lost . . . a secret store of joy which, so she believed, could never be hers again. She found Ingleside filled with the delicious smell of spice cookies but she did not go into the kitchen to coax some out of Susan. At supper her appetite was noticeably poor, even though she read castor-oil in Susan’s eye. Anne had noticed that Nan had been very quiet ever since her return from the old MacAllister place . . . Nan, who sang literally from daylight to dark and after. Had the long walk on a hot day been too much for the child?
“Why that anguished expression, daughter?” she asked casually, when she went into the twins’ room at dusk with fresh towels and found Nan curled up on the window-seat, instead of being down stalking tigers in Equatorial jungles with the others in Rainbow Valley.
Nan hadn’t meant to tell anybody that she had been so silly. But somehow things told themselves to Mother.
“Oh, Mother, is everything in life a disappointment?”
“Not everything, dear. Would you like to tell me what disappointed you today?”
“Oh, Mummy, Thomasine Fair is . . . is good! And her nose turns up!”
“But why,” asked Anne in honest bewilderment, “should you care whether her nose turns up or down?”
It all came out then. Anne listened with her usual serious face, praying that she be not betrayed into a stifled shriek of laughter. She remembered the child she had been at old Green Gables. She remembered the Haunted Wood and two small girls who had been terribly frightened by their own pretending thereof. And she knew the dreadful bitterness of losing a dream.
“You musn’t take the vanishing of your fancies so much to heart, dear.”
“I can’t help it,” said Nan despairingly. “If I had my life to live over again I’d never imagine anything. And I never will again.”
“My foolish dear . . . my dear foolish dear, don’t say that. An imagination is a wonderful thing to have . . . but like every gift we must possess it and not let it233 possess us. You take your imaginings a wee bit too seriously. Oh, it’s delightful . . . I know that rapture. But you must learn to keep on this side of the borderline between the real and the unreal. Then the power to escape at will into a beautiful world of your own will help you amazingly through the hard places of life. I can always solve a problem more easily after I’ve had a voyage or two to the Islands of Enchantment.”
Nan felt her self-respect coming back to her with these words of comfort and wisdom. Mother did not think it so silly after all. And no doubt there was somewhere in the world a Wicked Beautiful Lady with Mysterious Eyes, even if she did not live in the GLOOMY HOUSE . . . which, now that Nan came to think of it, was not such a bad place after all, with its orange marigolds and its friendly spotted cat and its geraniums and poor dear Poppa’s picture. It was really rather a jolly place and perhaps some day she would go and see Thomasine Fair again and get some more of those nice cookies. She did not hate Thomasine any longer.
“What a nice mother you are!” she sighed, in the shelter and sanctuary of those beloved arms.
A violet-grey dusk was coming over the hill. The summer night darkened about them . . . a night of velvet and whispers. A star came out over the big apple tree.
When Mrs. Marshall Elliott came and Mother had to go down Nan was happy again. Mother had said she was going to repaper their room with a lovely buttercup-yellow paper and get a new cedar chest for her and Di to keep things in. Only it would not be a cedar chest. It would be an enchanted treasure chest which could not be opened unless certain mystic words were pronounced. One word the Witch of the Snow might whisper to you, the cold and lovely white Witch of the Snow. A wind might tell you another, as it passed you . . . a sad grey wind that mourned. Sooner or later you would find all the words and open the chest, to find it filled with pearls and rubies and diamonds galore. Wasn’t galore a nice word?
Oh, the old magic had not gone. The world was still full of it.234 37
“Can I be your dearest friend this year?” asked Delilah Green, during that afternoon recess.
Delilah had very round, dark-blue eyes, sleek sugar-brown curls, a small rosy mouth, and a thrilling voice with a little quaver in it. Diana Blythe responded to the charm of that voice instantly.
It was known in the Glen school that Diana Blythe was rather at loose ends for a chum. For two years she and Pauline Reese had been cronies but Pauline’s family had moved away and Diana felt very lonely. Pauline had been a good sort. To be sure, she was quite lacking in the mystic charm that the now almost forgotten Jenny Penny had possessed but she was practical, full of fun, sensible. That last was Susan’s adjective and was the highest praise Susan could bestow. She had been entirely satisfied with Pauline as a friend for Diana.
Diana looked at Delilah doubtfully, then glanced across the playground at Laura Carr, who was also a new girl. Laura and she had spent the forenoon recess together and had found each other very agreeable. But Laura was rather plain, with freckles and unmanageable sandy hair. She had none of Delilah Green’s beauty and not a spark of her allure.
Delilah understood Diana’s look and a hurt expression crept over her face; her blue eyes seemed ready to brim with tears.
“If you love her you can’t love me. Choose between us,” said Delilah, holding out her hands dramatically. Her voice was more thrilling than ever . . . it positively sent a creep along Diana’s spine. She put her hands in Delilah’s and they looked at each other solemnly, feeling dedicated and sealed. At least, Diana felt that way.
“You’ll love me forever, won’t you?” asked Delilah passionately.
“Forever,” vowed Diana with equal passion.
Delilah slipped her arms around Diana’s waist and they walked down to the brook together. The rest of the Fourth class understood that an alliance had been concluded. Laura Carr gave a tiny sigh. She had liked Diana Blythe very much.
But she knew she could not compete with Delilah.235
“I’m so glad you’re going to let me love you,” Delilah was saying. “I’m so very affectionate . . . I just can’t help loving people. Please be kind to me, Diana. I am a child of sorrow. I was put under a curse at birth. Nobody . . . nobody loves me.”
Delilah somehow contrived to put ages of loneliness and loveliness into that “nobody.” Diana tightened her clasp.
“You’ll never have to say that after this, Delilah. I will always love you.”
“World without end?”
“World without end,” answered Diana. They kissed each other, as in a rite. Two boys on the fence whooped derisively, but who cared?
“You’ll like me ever so much better than Laura Carr,” said Delilah. “Now that we’re dear friends I can tell you what I wouldn’t have dreamed of telling you if you had picked her.She is deceitful. Dreadfully deceitful. She pretends to be your friend to your face and behind your back she makes fun of you and says the meanest things. A girl I know went to school with her at Mowbray’s Narrows and she told me. You’ve had a narrow escape. I’m so different from that . . . I am as true as gold, Diana.”
“I’m sure you are. But what did you mean by saying you were a child of sorrow, Delilah?”
Delilah’s eyes seemed to expand until they were absolutely enormous.
“I have a stepmother,” she whispered.
“When your mother dies and your father marries again she is a stepmother,” said Delilah, with still more thrills in her voice. “Now you know it all, Diana. If you knew the way I am treated! But I never complain. I suffer in silence.”
If Delilah really suffered in silence it might be wondered where Diana got all the information she showered on the Ingleside folks during the next few weeks. She was in the throes of a wild passion of adoration and sympathy for and with sorrow-laden, persecuted Delilah, and she had to talk about her to anyone who would listen.236
“I suppose this new infatuation will run its course in due time,” said Anne. “Who is this Delilah, Susan? I don’t want the children to be little snobs . . . but after our experience with Jenny Penny . . .”
“The Greens are very respectable, Mrs. Dr. dear. They are well-known at Lowbridge. They moved into the old Hunter place this summer. Mrs. Green is the second wife and has two children of her own. I do not know much about her but she seems to have a slow, kind, easy way with her. I can hardly believe she uses Delilah as Di says.”
“Don’t put too much credence in everything Delilah tells you,” Anne warned Diana. “She may be prone to exaggerate a little. Remember Jenny Penny . . .”
“Why, Mother, Delilah isn’t a single bit like Jenny Penny,” said Di indignantly.
“Not one bit. She is scrupulously truthful. If you only saw her, Mother, you’d know she couldn’t tell a lie. They all pick on her at home because she is so different. And she has such an affectionate nature. She has been persecuted from her birth. Her stepmother hates her. It just breaks my heart to hear of her sufferings. Why, Mother, she doesn’t get enough to eat, truly she doesn’t. She never knows what it is not to be hungry. Mother, they send her to bed without any supper lots of times and she cries herself to sleep. Did you ever cry because you were hungry, Mother?”
“Often,” said Mother.
Diana stared at her mother, all the wind taken out of the sails of her rhetorical question.
“I was often very hungry before I came to Green Gables–at the orphanage . . . and before. I’ve never cared to talk of those days.”
“Well, you ought to be able to understand Delilah, then,” said Di, rallying her confused wits. “When she is so hungry she just sits down and imagines things to eat. Just think of her imagining things to eat!”
“You and Nan do enough of that yourselves,” said Anne. But Di would not listen.
“Her sufferings are not only physical but spiritual. Why, she wants to be a missionary, Mother . . . to consecrate her life . . . and they all laugh at her.”
“Very heartless of them,” agreed Anne. But something in her voice made Di suspicious.237
“Mother, why will you be so sceptical?” she demanded reproachfully.
“For the second time,” smiled Mother, “I must remind you of Jenny Penny. You believed in her, too.”
“I was only a child then and it was easy to fool me,” said Diana in her stateliest manner. She felt that Mother was not her usual sympathetic and understanding self in regard to Delilah Green. After that Diana talked only to Susan about her, since Nan merely nodded when Delilah’s name was mentioned. “Just jealousy,”
thought Diana sadly.
Not that Susan was so markedly sympathetic either. But Diana just had to talk to somebody about Delilah and Susan’s derision did not hurt like Mother’s. You wouldn’t expect Susan to understand fully. But Mother had been a girl . . . Mother had loved Aunt Diana . . . Mother had such a tender heart. How was it that the account of poor darling Delilah’s ill-treatment left her so cold?
“Maybe she’s a little jealous, too, because I love Delilah so much,” reflected Diana sagely. “They say mothers do get like that. Kind of possessive.”
“It makes my blood boil to hear of the way her stepmother treats Delilah,” Di told Susan. “She is a martyr, Susan. She never has anything but a little porridge for breakfast and supper . . . a very little bit of porridge. And she isn’t allowed sugar on the porridge. Susan, I’ve given up taking sugar on mine because it made me feel guilty.”
“Oh, so that’s why. Well, sugar has gone up a cent, so maybe it is just as well.”
Diana vowed she wouldn’t tell Susan anything more about Delilah, but next evening she was so indignant she couldn’t help herself.
“Susan, Delilah’s mother chased her last night with a red-hot teakettle. Think of if, Susan. Of course Delilah says she doesn’t do that very often . . . only when she is greatly exasperated. Mostly she just locks Delilah in a dark garret . . . a haunted garret. The ghosts that poor child has seen, Susan! It can’t be healthy for her. The last time they shut her in the garret she saw the weirdest little black creature sitting on the spinning-wheel, humming.”
“What kind of a creature,” asked Susan gravely. She was beginning to enjoy Delilah’s tribulations and Di’s italics, and she and Mrs. Dr. laughed over them in secret.238
“I don’t know . . . it was just a creature. It almost drove her to suicide. I am really afraid she will be driven to it yet. You know, Susan, she had an uncle who committed suicidetwice.”
“Was not once enough?” asked Susan heartlessly.
Di went off in a huff, but next day she had to come back with another tale of woe.
“Delilah has never had a doll, Susan. She did so hope she would get one in her stocking last Christmas. And what do you think she found instead, Susan?
A switch! They whip her almost every day, you know. Think of that poor child being whipped, Susan.”
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