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“I was whipped several times when I was young and I am none the worse of it now,” said Susan, who would have done goodness knows what if anyone had ever tried to whip an Ingleside child.
“When I told Delilah about our Christmas trees, she wept, Susan. She never had a Christmas tree. But she is bound she is going to have one this year. She had found an old umbrella with nothing but the ribs and she is going to set it in a pail and decorate it for a Christmas tree. Isn’t that pathetic, Susan?”
“Are there not plenty of young spruces handy? The back of the old Hunter place has practically gone spruce of late years,” said Susan. “I do wish that girl was called anything but Delilah. Such a name for a Christian child!”
“Why, it is in the Bible, Susan. Delilah is very proud of her Bible name. Today in school, Susan, I told Delilah we were going to have chicken for dinner tomorrow and she said . . . what do you think she said, Susan?”
“I am sure I could never guess,” said Susan emphatically. “And you have no business to be talking in school.”
“Oh, we don’t. Delilah says we must never break any of the rules. Her standards are very high. We write each other letters in our scribblers and exchange them.
Well, Delilah said, ‘Could you bring me a bone, Diana?’ It brought tears to my eye. I’m going to take her a bone . . . with a lot of meat on it. Delilah needs good food. She has to work like a slave . . . a slave, Susan. She has to do all the housework . . . well, nearly all anyway. And if it isn’t done right she is savagely shaken . . . or made to eat in the kitchen with the servants.”239 “The Greens have only one little French hired boy.”
“Well, she has to eat with him. And he sits in his sockfeet and eats in his shirtsleeves. Delilah says she doesn’t mind those things now when she has me to love her. She has no one to love her but me, Susan?”
“Awful!” said Susan, with great gravity of countenance.
“Delilah says if she had a million dollars she’d give it all to me, Susan. Of course I wouldn’t take it but it shows how good her heart is.”
“It is as easy to give away a million as a hundred if you have not got either,” was as far as Susan would go.240
Diana was overjoyed. After all, Mother wasn’t jealous . . . Mother wasn’t possessive . . . Mother did understand.
Mother and Father were going up to Avonlea for the week-end and Mother had told her she could ask Delilah Green to spend Saturday and Saturday night at Ingleside.
“I saw Delilah at the Sunday School picnic,” Anne told Susan. “She is a pretty, lady-like little thing . . . though of course she must exaggerate. Perhaps her stepmother is a little hard on her . . . and I’ve heard her father is rather dour and strict. She probably has some grievances and likes to dramatize them by way of getting sympathy.”
Susan was a bit dubious.
“But at least anyone living in Laura Green’s house will be clean,” she reflected.
Fine-tooth combs did not enter into this question.
Diana was full of plans for Delilah’s entertainment.
“Can we have a roast chicken, Susan . . . with lots of stuffing? And pie. You don’t know how that poor child longs to taste pie. They never have pies . . . her stepmother is too mean.”
Susan was very nice about it. Jem and Nan had gone to Avonlea and Walter was down at the House of Dreams with Kenneth Ford. There was nothing to cast a shadow on Delilah’s visit and it certainly seemed to go off very well. Delilah arrived Saturday morning very nicely dressed in pink muslin . . . at least the stepmother seemed to do her well in the matter of clothes. And she had, as Susan saw at a glance, irreproachable ears and nails.
“This is the day of my life,” she said solemnly to Diana. “My, what a grand house this is! And them’s the china dogs! Oh, they’re wonderful!”
Everything was wonderful. Delilah worked the poor word to death. She helped Diana set the table for dinner and picked the little glass basket full of pink sweetpeas for a centrepiece.241
“Oh, you don’t know how I love to do something just because I like to do it,” she told Diana. “Isn’t there anything else I can do, please?”
“You can crack the nuts for the cake I’m going to make this afternoon,” said Susan, who was herself falling under the spell of Delilah’s beauty and voice.
After all, perhaps Laura Green was a Tartar. You couldn’t always go by what people seemed like in public. Delilah’s plate was heaped with chicken and stuffing and gravy and she got a second piece of pie without hinting for it.
“I’ve often wondered what it would be like to have all you could eat for once. It is a wonderful sensation,” she told Diana as they left the table.
They had a gay afternoon. Susan had given Diana a box of candy and Diana shared it with Delilah. Delilah admired one of Di’s dolls and Di gave it to her.
They cleaned out the pansy bed and dug up a few stray dandelions that had invaded the lawn. They helped Susan polish the silver and assisted her to get supper. Delilah was so efficient and tidy that Susan capitulated completely. Only two things marred the afternoon . . . Delilah contrived to spatter her dress with ink and she lost her pearl bead necklace. But Susan took the ink out nicely . . . some of the colour coming out too . . . with salts of lemon and Delilah said it didn’t matter about the necklace. Nothing mattered except that she was at Ingleside with her dearest Diana.
“Aren’t we going to sleep in the spare-room bed?” asked Diana when bedtime came. “We always put company in the spare-room, Susan.”
“Your Aunt Diana is coming with your father and mother tomorrow night,” said Susan. “The spare-room has been made up for her. You can have the Shrimp on your own bed and you couldn’t have him in the spare-room.”
“My, but your sheets smell nice!” said Delilah as they snuggled down.
“Susan always boils them with orris root,” said Diana.
“I wonder if you know what a lucky girl you are, Diana. If I had a home like you . . . but it’s my lot in life. I just have to bear it.”
Susan, on her nightly round of the house before retiring, came in and told them to stop chattering and go to sleep. She gave them two maple sugar buns apiece.242 “I can never forget your kindness, Miss Baker,” said Delilah, her voice quivering with emotion. Susan went to her bed reflecting that a nicer-mannered, more appealing little girl she had never seen. Certainly she had misjudged Delilah Green. Though at that moment it occurred to Susan that, for a child who never got enough to eat, the bones of the said Delilah Green were very well covered!
Delilah went home the next afternoon and Mother and Father and Aunt Diana came at night. On Monday the bolt fell from the proverbial blue. Diana, returning to school at the noon hour, caught her own name as she entered the school porch.
Inside the schoolroom Delilah Green was the centre of a group of curious girls.
“I was so disappointed in Ingleside. After the way Di has bragged about her house I expected a mansion. Of course it’s big enough, but some of the furniture is shabby. The chairs want to be recovered the worst way.”
“Did you see the china dogs?” asked Bessy Palmer.
“They’re nothing wonderful. They haven’t even got hair. I told Diana right on the spot I was disappointed.”
Diana was standing “rooted to the ground” . . . or at least to the porch floor. She did not think about eavesdropping . . . she was simply too dumfounded to move.
“I’m sorry for Diana,” went on Delilah. “The way her parents neglect their family is something scandalous. Her mother is an awful gadabout. The way she goes off and leaves them young ones is terrible with only that old Susan to look after them . . . and she’s half cracked. She’ll land them all in the poorhouse yet. The waste that goes on in her kitchen you wouldn’t believe. The doctor’s wife is too gay and lazy to cook even when she is home, so Susan has it all her own way. She was going to give us our meals in the kitchen but I just up and said to her, ‘Am I company or am I not?’ Susan said if I gave her any sass she’d shut me up in the back closet. I said, ‘You don’t dare to,’ and she didn’t. ‘You can overcrow the Ingleside children, Susan Baker, but you can’t overcrow me,’ I said to her. Oh, I tell you I stood up to Susan. I wouldn’t let her give Rilla soothing-syrup. ‘Don’t you know it’s poison to children?’ I said.
“She took it out on me at meals though. The mean little helpings she gives you!
There was chicken but I only got the Pope’s nose and nobody even asked me to take the second piece of pie. But Susan would have let me sleep in the spareroom though and Di wouldn’t hear to it . . . just out of pure meanness. She’s so jealous. But still I’m sorry for her. She told me Nan pinches her something scandalous. Her arms are black and blue. We slept in her room and a mangy old243 tomcat was lying on the foot of the bed all night. It wasn’thaygeenic and I told Di so. And my pearl necklace disappeared. Of course I’m not saying Susan took it. I believe she’s honest . . . but it’s funny. And Shirley threw an ink-bottle at me. It ruined my dress but I don’t care. Ma’ll have to get me a new one. Well, anyhow, I dug all the dandelions out of their lawn for them and polished up the silver. You should have seen it. I don’t know when it has been cleaned before. I tell you Susan takes it easy when the doctor’s wife’s away. I let her see I saw through her.
‘Why don’t you ever wash the potato pot, Susan?’ I asked her. You should of seen her face. Look at my new ring, girls. A boy I know at Lowbridge give it to me.”
“Why, I’ve seen Diana Blythe wearing that ring often,” said Peggy MacAllister contemptuously.
“And I don’t believe one single word you’ve been saying about Ingleside, Delilah Green,” said Laura Carr.
Before Delilah could reply Diana, who had recovered her powers of locomotion and speech, dashed into the schoolroom.
“Judas!” she said. Afterwards she thought repentantly that it had not been a very ladylike thing to say. But she had been stung to the heart and when your feelings are all stirred up you can’t pick and choose your words.
“I ain’t Judas!” muttered Delilah, flushing, probably for the first time in her life.
“You are! There isn’t one spark of sincerity in you! Don’t you ever speak to me again as long as you live!”
Diana rushed out of the schoolhouse and ran home. She couldn’t stay in school that afternoon . . . she just couldn’t! The Ingleside front door was banged as it had never been banged before.
“Darling, what is the matter?” asked Anne, interrupted in her kitchen conference with Susan by a weeping daughter who flung herself stormily against the maternal shoulder.
The whole story was sobbed out, somewhat disjointedly.
“I’ve been hurt in all my finer feelings, Mother. And I’ll never believe in anyone again!”
“My dear, all your friends won’t be like this. Pauline wasn’t.”244 “This is twice,” said Diana bitterly, still smarting under the sense of betrayal and loss. “There isn’t going to be any third time.”
“I’m sorry Di has lost her faith in humanity,” said Anne rather ruefully, when Di had gone upstairs. “This is a real tragedy for her. She has been unlucky in some of her chums. Jenny Penny . . . and now Delilah Green. The trouble is Di always falls for the girls who can tell interesting stories. And Delilah’s martyr pose was very alluring.”
“If you ask me, Mrs. Dr. dear, that Green child is a perfect minx,” said Susan, all the more implacably because she had been so neatly fooled herself by Delilah’s eyes and manners. “The idea of her calling our cats mangy! I am not saying that there are not such things as tomcats, Mrs. Dr. dear, but little girls should not talk of them. I am no lover of cats, but the Shrimp is seven years old and should at least be respected. And as for my potato pot . . .”
But Susan really couldn’t express her feelings about the potato pot.
In her own room Di was reflecting that perhaps it was not too late to be “best friends” with Laura Carr after all. Laura was true, even if she wasn’t very exciting. Di sighed. Some colour had gone out of life with her belief in Delilah’s piteous lot.245
A bitter east wind was snarling around Ingleside like a shrewish old woman. It was one of those chill, drizzly, late August days that take the heart out of you, one of those days when everything goes wrong . . . what in old Avonlea days had been called “a Jonah day.” The new pup Gilbert had brought home for the boys had gnawed the enamel off the dining table leg . . . Susan had found that the moths had been having a Roman holiday in the blanket closet . . . Nan’s new kitten had ruined the choicest fern . . . Jem and Bertie Shakespeare had been making the most abominable racket in the garret all the afternoon with tin pails for drums . . . Anne herself had broken a painted glass lampshade. But somehow it had done her good just to hear it smash! Rilla had had earache and Shirley had a mysterious rash on his neck, which worried Anne but at which Gilbert only glanced casually and said in an absent-minded voice that he didn’t think it meant anything. Of course it didn’t mean anything to him! Shirley was only his own son! And it didn’t matter to him either that he had invited the Trents to dinner one evening last week and forgotten to tell Anne until they arrived. She and Susan had had an extra busy day and had planned a pick-up supper. And Mrs. Trent with the reputation of being Charlottetown’s smartest hostess! Where were Walter’s stockings with the black tops and the blue toes? “Do you think, Walter, that you could just for once put a thing where it belongs? Nan, I don’t know where the Seven Seas are. For mercy’s sake, stop asking questions! I don’t wonder they poisoned Socrates. They ought to have.”
Walter and Nan stared. Never had they heard their mother speak in such a tone before. Walter’s look annoyed Anne still more.
“Diana, is it necessary to be forever reminding you not to twist your legs around the piano stool? Shirley, if you haven’t got that new magazine all sticky with jam!
And perhapssomebody would be kind enough to tell me where the prisms of the hanging lamp have gone!”
Nobody could tell her . . . Susan having unhooked them and taken them out to wash them . . . and Anne whisked herself upstairs to escape from the grieved eyes of her children. In her own room she paced up and down feverishly. What was the matter with her? Was she turning into one of those peevish creatures who had no patience with anybody? Everything annoyed her these days. A little mannerism of Gilbert’s she had never minded before got on her nerves. She was sick-and-tired of never-ending, monotonous duties . . . sick-and-tired of catering to her family’s whims. Once everything she did for her house and household gave246 her delight. Now she did not seem to care what she did. She felt all the time like a creature in a nightmare, trying to overtake someone with fettered feet.
The worst of it all was that Gilbert never noticed that there was any change in her. He was busy night and day and seemed to care for nothing but his work. The only thing he had said at dinner that day had been “Pass the mustard, please.”
“I can talk to the chairs and table, of course,” thought Anne bitterly. “We’re just getting to be a sort of habit with each other . . . nothing else. He never noticed that I had on a new dress last night. And it’s so long since he called me ‘Annegirl’ that I’ve forgotten when. Well, I suppose all marriages come to this in the end. Probably most women go through this. He just takes me for granted. His work is the only thing that means anything to him now. Where is my handkerchief?”
Anne got her handkerchief and sat down in her chair to torture herself luxuriantly. Gilbert didn’t love her any more. When he kissed her he kissed her absently . . . just “habit.” All the glamour was gone. Old jokes they had laughed together over came up in recollection, charged with tragedy now. How could she ever have thought them funny? Monty Turner who kissed his wife systematically once a week . . . made a memorandum to remind him. (“Would any wife want such kisses?”) Curtis Ames who met his wife in a new bonnet and didn’t know her. Mrs. Clancy Dare who had said, “I don’t care an awful lot about my husband but I’d miss him if he wasn’t round.” (“I suppose Gilbert would miss me if I weren’t around! Has it come to that with us?”) Nat Elliott who told his wife after ten years of marriage, “if you must know I’m just tired of being married.” (“And we’ve been married fifteen years!”) Well, perhaps all men were like that.
Probably Miss Cornelia would say that they were. After a time they were hard to hold. (“If my husband has to be ‘held’ I don’t want to hold him.”) But there was Mrs. Theodore Clow who had said proudly at a Ladies’ Aid, “We’ve been married twenty years and my husband loves me as much as he did on our wedding day.”
But perhaps she was deceiving herself or only “keeping face.” And she looked every day of her age and more. (“I wonder if I am beginning to look old.”) For the first time her years felt like a weight. She went to the mirror and looked at herself critically. There were some tiny crow’s-feet around her eyes but they were only visible in a strong light. Her chin lines were yet unblurred. She had always been pale. Her hair was thick and wavy without a grey thread. But did anybody really like red hair? Her nose was still definitely good. Anne patted it as a friend, recalling certain moments of life when her nose was all that carried her through. But Gilbert just took her nose for granted now. It might be crooked or247 pug, for all it mattered to him. Likely he had forgotten that she had a nose. Like Mrs. Dare, he might miss it if it wasn’t there.
“Well, I must go and see to Rilla and Shirley,” thought Anne drearily. “At least, they need me still, poor darlings. What made me so snappish with them?
Oh, I suppose they’re all saying behind my back, ‘How cranky poor Mother is getting!’”
It continued to rain and the wind continued to wail. The fantasia of tin pans in the garret had stopped but the ceaseless chirping of a solitary cricket in the livingroom nearly drove her mad. The noon mail brought her two letters. One was from Marilla . . . but Anne sighed as she folded it up. Marilla’s handwriting was getting so frail and shaky. The other letter was from Mrs. Barrett Fowler of Charlottetown whom Anne knew very slightly. And Mrs. Barrett Fowler wanted Dr. and Mrs. Blythe to dine with her next Tuesday night at seven o’clock “to meet your old friend, Mrs. Andrew Dawson of Winnipeg, nee Christine Stuart.”
Anne dropped the letter. A flood of old memories poured over her . . . some of them decidedly unpleasant. Christine Stuart of Redmond . . . the girl to whom people had once said Gilbert was engaged . . . the girl of whom she had once been so bitterly jealous . . . yes, she admitted it now, twenty years after . . . she had been jealous . . . she had hated Christine Stuart. She had not thought of Christine for years but she remembered her distinctly. A tall, ivory-white girl with great dark-blue eyes and blue-black masses of hair. And a certain air of distinction. But with a long nose . . . yes, definitely a long nose. Handsome . . . oh, you couldn’t deny that Christine had been very handsome. She remembered hearing many years ago that Christine had “married well” and gone West.
Gilbert came in for a hurried bite of supper . . . there was an epidemic of measles in the Upper Glen . . . and Anne silently handed him Mrs. Fowler’s letter.
“Christine Stuart! Of course we’ll go. I’d like to see her for old sake’s sake,” he said, with the first appearance of admiration he had shown for weeks. “Poor girl, she has had her own troubles. She lost her husband four years ago, you know.”
Anne didn’t know. And how came Gilbert to know? Why had he never told her?
And had he forgotten that next Tuesday was the anniversary of their own wedding day? A day on which they had never accepted any invitation but went248 off on a little bat of their own. Well, she wouldn’t remind him. He could see his Christine if he wanted to. What had a girl at Redmond once said to her darkly, “There was a good deal more between Gilbert and Christine than you ever knew, Anne.” She had merely laughed at it at the time . . . Claire Hallett was a spiteful thing. But perhaps there had been something in it. Anne suddenly remembered, with a little chill of the spirit, that not long after her marriage she had found a small photograph of Christine in an old pocketbook of Gilbert’s. Gilbert had seemed quite indifferent and said he’d wondered where that old snap had got to.
But . . . was it one of those unimportant things that are significant of things tremendously important? Was it possible . . . had Gilbert ever loved Christine?
Was she, Anne, only a second choice? The consolation prize?
“Surely I’m not . . . jealous,” thought Anne, trying to laugh. It was all very ridiculous. What more natural than that Gilbert should like the idea of meeting an old Redmond friend? What more natural than that a busy man, married for fifteen years, should forget times and seasons and days and months? Anne wrote to Mrs.
Fowler, accepting her invitation . . . and then put in the three days before Tuesday hoping desperately that somebody in the Upper Glen would start having a baby Tuesday afternoon about half past five.249
The hoped for baby arrived too soon. Gilbert was sent for at nine Monday night.
Anne wept herself to sleep and wakened at three. It used to be delicious to wake in the night . . . to lie and look out of her window at the night’s enfolding loveliness . . . to hear Gilbert’s regular breathing beside her . . . to think of the children across the hall and the beautiful new day that was coming. But now!
Anne was still awake when the dawn, clear and green as fluor-spar, was in the eastern sky and Gilbert came home at last. “Twins,” he said hollowly as he flung himself into bed and was asleep in a minute. Twins, indeed! The dawn of the fifteenth anniversary of your wedding day and all your husband could say to you was “Twins.” He didn’t even remember it was an anniversary.
Gilbert apparently didn’t remember it any better when he came down at eleven.
For the first time he did not mention it; for the first time he had no gift for her.
Very well, he shouldn’t get his gift either. She had had ready for weeks . . . a silver-handled pocket-knife with the date on one side and his initials on the other.
Of course he must buy it from her with a cent, lest it cut their love. But since he had forgotten she would forget too, with a vengeance.
Gilbert seemed in a sort of daze all day. He hardly spoke to anyone and moped about the library. Was he lost in glamourous anticipation of seeing his Christine again? Probably he had been hankering after her all these years in the back of his mind. Anne knew quite well this idea was absolutely unreasonable but when was jealousy ever reasonable? It was no use trying to be philosophical. Philosophy had no effect on her mood.
They were going to town on the five-o’clock train. “Can we come in and watch you dreth, Mummy?” asked Rilla.
“Oh, if you want to,” said Anne . . . then pulled herself up sharply. Why, her voice was getting querulous. “Come along, darling,” she added repentantly.
Rilla had no greater delight than watching Mummy dress. But even Rilla thought Mummy was not getting much fun out of it that night.
Anne took some thought as to what dress she should wear. Not that it mattered, she told herself bitterly, what she put on. Gilbert never noticed now. The mirror was no longer her friend . . . she looked pale and tired . . . and unwanted. But she must not look too countrified and passé before Christine. (“I won’t have her sorry250 for me.”) Was it to be her new apple-green net over a slip with rosebuds in it? Or her cream silk gauze with its Eton jacket of Cluny lace? She tried both of them on and decided on the net. She experimented with several hair-do’s and concluded that the new drooping pompadour was very becoming.
“Oh, Mummy, you look beautiful!” gasped Rilla in round-eyed admiration.
Well, children and fools were supposed to tell the truth. Had not Rebecca Dew once told her that she was “comparatively beautiful”? As for Gilbert, he used to pay her compliments in the past but when had he given utterance to one of late months? Anne could not recall a single one.
Gilbert passed through on his way to his dressing closet and said not a word about her new dress. Anne stood for a moment burning with resentment; then she petulantly tore off the dress and flung it on the bed. She would wear her old black . . . a thin affair that was considered extremely “smart” in Four Winds circles but which Gilbert had never liked. What should she wear on her neck? Jem’s beads, though treasured for years, had long since crumbled. She really hadn’t a decent necklace. Well . . . she got out the little box containing the pink enamel heart Gilbert had given her at Redmond. She seldom wore it now . . . after all, pink didn’t go well with her red hair . . . but she would put it on tonight. Would Gilbert notice it? There, she was ready. Why wasn’t Gilbert? What was keeping him? Oh, no doubt he was shaving very carefully! She tapped sharply on the door.
“Gilbert, we’re going to miss the train if you don’t hurry.”
“You sound school-teacherish,” said Gilbert, coming out. “Anything wrong with your metatarsals?”
Oh, he could make a joke of it, could he? She would not let herself think how well he looked in his tails. After all, the modern fashions of men’s clothes were really ridiculous. Entirely lacking in glamour. How gorgeous it must have been in “the spacious days of Great Elizabeth” when men could wear white satin doublets and cloaks of crimson velvet and lace ruffs! Yet they were not effeminate. They were the most wonderful and adventurous men the world had ever seen.
“Well, come along if you’re in such a hurry,” said Gilbert absently. He was always absent now when he spoke to her. She was just a part of the furniture . . . yes, just a piece of furniture! 251
Jem drove them to the station. Susan and Miss Cornelia . . . who had come up to ask Susan if they could depend on her as usual for scalloped potatoes for the church supper . . . looked after them admiringly.
“Anne is holding her own,” said Miss Cornelia.
“She is,” agreed Susan, “though I have sometimes thought these past few weeks that her liver needed stirring up a bit. But she keeps her looks. And the doctor has got the same nice flat stomach he always had.”
“An ideal couple,” said Miss Cornelia.
The ideal couple said nothing in particular very beautifully all the way to town.
Of course Gilbert was too profoundly stirred over the prospect of seeing his old love to talk to his wife! Anne sneezed. She began to be afraid she was taking a cold in the head. How ghastly it would be to sniffle all through dinner under the eyes of Mrs. Andrew Dawson, neeChristine Stuart! A spot on her lip stung . . . probably a horrible cold-sore was coming on it. Did Juliet ever sneeze? Fancy Portia with chilblains! Or Argive Helen hiccoughing! Or Cleopatra with corns!
When Anne came downstairs in the Barrett Fowler residence she stumbled over the bear’s head on the rug in the hall, staggered through the drawing-room door and across the wilderness of overstuffed furniture and gilt fandangoes Mrs.
Barrett Fowler called her drawing-room, and fell on the chesterfield, fortunately landing right side up. She looked about in dismay for Christine, then thankfully realized that Christine had not yet put in an appearance. How awful it would have been had she been sitting there amusedly watching Gilbert Blythe’s wife make such a drunken entrance! Gilbert hadn’t even asked if she were hurt. He was already deep in conversation with Dr. Fowler and some unknown Dr. Murray, who hailed from New Brunswick and was the author of a notable monograph on tropical diseases which was making a stir in medical circles. But Anne noticed that when Christine came downstairs, heralded by a sniff of heliotrope, the monograph was promptly forgotten. Gilbert stood up with a very evident light of interest in his eyes.
Christine stood for an impressive moment in the doorway. No falling over bears’
heads for her. Christine, Anne remembered, had of old that habit of pausing in the doorway to show herself off. And no doubt she regarded this as an excellent chance to show Gilbert what he had lost.
She wore a gown of purple velvet with long flowing sleeves, lined with gold, and a fish-tail train lined with gold lace. A gold bandeau encircled the still dark wings252 of her hair. A long, thin gold chain, starred with diamonds, hung from her neck.
Anne instantly felt frumpy, provincial, unfinished, dowdy, and six months behind the fashion. She wished she had not put on that silly enamel heart.
There was no question that Christine was as handsome as ever. A bit too sleek and well-preserved, perhaps . . . yes, considerably stouter. Her nose had assuredly not grown any shorter and her chin was definitely middle-aged. Standing in the doorway like that, you saw that her feet were . . . substantial. And wasn’t her air of distinction getting a little shopworn? But her cheeks were still like smooth ivory and her great dark-blue eyes still looked out brilliantly from under that intriguing parallel crease that had been considered so fascinating at Redmond.
Yes, Mrs. Andrew Dawson was a very handsome woman . . . and did not at all convey the impression that her heart had been wholly buried in the said Andrew Dawson’s grave.
Christine took possession of the whole room the moment she entered it. Anne felt as if she were not in the picture at all. But she sat up erectly. Christine should not see any middle-aged sag. She would go into battle with all flags flying. Her grey eyes turned exceedingly green and a faint flush coloured her oval cheek. (“Remember you have a nose!”) Dr. Murray, who had not noticed her particularly before, thought in some surprise that Blythe had a very uncommonlooking wife. That posturing Mrs. Dawson looked positively commonplace beside her.
“Why, Gilbert Blythe, you’re as handsome as ever,” Christine was saying archly . . . Christine arch! . . . “It’s so nice to find you haven’t changed.”
(“She talks with the same old drawl. How I always hated that velvet voice of hers!”)
“When I look at you,” said Gilbert, “time ceases to have any meaning at all.
Where did you learn the secret of immortal youth?”
(“Isn’t her laughter a little tinny?”)
“You could always pay a pretty compliment, Gilbert. You know” . . . with an arch glance around the circle . . . “Dr. Blythe was an old flame of mine in those days he is pretending to think were of yesterday. And Anne Shirley! You haven’t changed as much as I’ve been told . . . though I don’t think I’d have known you if we’d just happened to meet on the street. Your hair is a little darker than it used to253 be, isn’t it? Isn’t it divine to meet again like this? I was so afraid your lumbago wouldn’t let you come.”
“Why, yes; aren’t you subject to it? I thought you were . . .”
“I must have got things twisted,” said Mrs. Fowler apologetically. “Somebody told me you were down with a very severe attack of lumbago. . . .”
“That is Mrs. Dr. Parker of Lowbridge. I have never had lumbago in my life,”
said Anne in a flat voice.
“How very nice that you haven’t got it,” said Christine, with something faintly insolent in her tone. “It’s such a wretched thing. I have an aunt who is a perfect martyr to it.”
Her air seemed to relegate Anne to the generation of aunts. Anne managed a smile with her lips, not her eyes. If she could only think of something clever to say! She knew that at three o’clock that night she would probably think of a brilliant retort she might have made but that did not help her now.
“They tell me you have seven children,” said Christine, speaking to Anne but looking at Gilbert.
“Only six living,” said Anne, wincing. Even yet she could never think of little white Joyce without pain.
“What a family!” said Christine.
Instantly it seemed a disgraceful and absurd thing to have a large family.
“You, I think, have none,” said Anne.
“I never cared for children, you know.” Christine shrugged her remarkably fine shoulders but her voice was a little hard. “I’m afraid I’m not the maternal type. I really never thought that it was woman’s sole mission to bring children into an already overcrowded world.”
They went in to dinner then. Gilbert took Christine, Dr. Murray took Mrs.
Fowler, and Dr. Fowler, a rotund little man, who could not talk to anybody except another doctor, took Anne.254
Anne felt that the room was rather stifling. There was a mysterious sickly scent in it. Probably Mrs. Fowler had been burning incense. The menu was good and Anne went through the motions of eating without any appetite and smiled until she felt she was beginning to look like a Cheshire cat. She could not keep her eyes off Christine, who was smiling at Gilbert continuously. Her teeth were beautiful . . . almost too beautiful. They looked like a toothpaste advertisement.
Christine made very effective play with her hands as she talked. She had lovely hands . . . rather large, though.
She was talking to Gilbert about rhythmic speeds for living. What on earth did she mean? Did she know, herself? Then they switched to the Passion Play.
“Have you ever been to Oberammergau?” Christine asked Anne.
When she knew perfectly well Anne hadn’t! Why did the simplest question sound insolent when Christine asked it?
“Of course a family ties you down terribly,” said Christine. “Oh, whom do you think I saw last month when I was in Halifax? That little friend of yours . . . the one who married the ugly minister . . . what was his name?”
“Jonas Blake,” said Anne. “Philippa Gordon married him. And I never thought he was ugly.”
“Didn’t you? Of course tastes differ. Well, anyway I met them. Poor Philippa!”
Christine’s use of “poor” was very effective.
“Why poor?” asked Anne. “I think she and Jonas have been very happy.”
“Happy! My dear, if you could see the place they live in! A wretched little fishing village where it was an excitement if the pigs broke into the garden! I was told that the Jonas-man had had a good church in Kingsport and had given it up because he thought it his ‘duty’ to go to the fishermen who ‘needed’ him. I have no use for such fanatics. ‘How can you live in such an isolated, out-of-the-way place as this?’ I asked Philippa. Do you know what she said?”
Christine threw out her beringed hands expressively.
“Perhaps what I would say of Glen St. Mary,” said Anne. “That it was the only place in the world to live in.”255
“Fancy you being contented there,” smiled Christine. (“That terrible mouthful of teeth!”) “Do you really never feel that you want a broader life? You used to be quite ambitious, if I remember aright. Didn’t you write some rather clever little things when you were at Redmond? A bit fantastic and whimsical, of course, but still . . .”
“I wrote them for the people who still believe in fairyland. There is a surprising lot of them, you know, and they like to get news from that country.”
“And you’ve quite given it up?”
“Not altogether . . . but I’m writing living epistles now,” said Anne, thinking of Jem and Co.
Christine stared, not recognizing the quotation. What did Anne Shirley mean?
But then, of course, she had been noted at Redmond for her mysterious speeches.
She had kept her looks astonishingly but probably she was one of those women who got married and stopped thinking. Poor Gilbert! She had hooked him before he came to Redmond. He had never had the least chance to escape her.
“Does anybody ever eat philopenas now?” asked Dr. Murray, who had just cracked a twin almond. Christine turned to Gilbert.
“Do you remember that philopena we ate once?” she asked.
(“Did a significant look pass between them?”)
“Do you suppose I could forget it?” asked Gilbert.
They plunged into a spate of “do-you-remembers,” while Anne stared at the picture of fish and oranges hanging over the sideboard. She had never thought that Gilbert and Christine had had so many memories in common. “Do you remember our picnic up the Arm? . . . Do you remember the night we went to the negro church? . . . Do you remember the night we went to the masquerade? . . . you were a Spanish lady in a black velvet dress with a lace mantilla and fan.”
Gilbert apparently remembered them all in detail. But he had forgotten his wedding anniversary!
When they went back to the drawing-room Christine glanced out of the window at an eastern sky that was showing pale silver behind the dark poplars.256 “Gilbert, let us take a stroll in the garden. I want to learn again the meaning of moonrise in September.”
(“Does moonrise mean anything in September that it doesn’t mean in any other month? And what does she mean by ‘again.’ Did she ever learn it before . . . with him?”)
Out they went. Anne felt that she had been very neatly and sweetly brushed aside. She sat down on a chair that commanded a view of the garden . . . though she would not admit even to herself that she selected it for that reason. She could see Christine and Gilbert walking down the path. What were they saying to each other? Christine seemed to be doing most of the talking. Perhaps Gilbert was too dumb with emotion to speak. Was he smiling out there in the moonrise over memories in which she had no share? She recalled nights she and Gilbert had walked in moonlit gardens of Avonlea. Had he forgotten?
Christine was looking up at the sky. Of course she knew she was showing off that fine, full white throat of hers when she lifted her face like that. Did ever a moon take so long in rising?
Other guests were dropping in when they finally came back. There was talk, laughter, music. Christine sang . . . very well. She had always been “musical.”
She sang at Gilbert . . . “the dear dead days beyond recall.” Gilbert leaned back in an easy-chair and was uncommonly silent. Was he looking back wistfully to those dear dead days? Was he picturing what his life would have been if he had married Christine? (“I’ve always known what Gilbert was thinking of before. My head is beginning to ache. If we don’t get away soon I’ll be throwing up my head and howling. Thank heaven our train leaves early.”)
When Anne came downstairs Christine was standing in the porch with Gilbert.
She reached up and picked a leaf from his shoulder; the gesture was like a caress.
“Are you really well, Gilbert? You look frightfully tired. I know you’re overdoing it.”
A wave or horror swept over Annie. Gilbert did look tired . . . frightfully tired . . . and she hadn’t seen it until Christine pointed it out! Never would she forget the humiliation of that moment. (“I’ve been taking Gilbert too much for granted and blaming him for doing the same thing.”)
Christine turned to her.257
“It’s been so nice to meet you again, Anne. Quite like old times.”
“Quite,” said Anne.
“But I’ve just been telling Gilbert he looked a little tired. You ought to take better care of him, Anne. There was a time, you know, when I really had quite a fancy for this husband of yours. I believe he really was the nicest beau I ever had. But you must forgive me since I didn’t take him from you.”
Anne froze up again.
“Perhaps he is pitying himself that you didn’t,” she said, with a certain “queenishness” not unknown to Christine in Redmond days, as she stepped into Dr. Fowler’s carriage for the drive to the station.
“You dear funny thing!” said Christine, with a shrug of her beautiful shoulders.
She was looking after them as if something amused her hugely.258 41
“Had a nice evening?” asked Gilbert, more absently than ever as he helped her on the train.
“Oh, lovely,” said Anne . . . who felt that she had, in Jane Welsh Carlyle’s splendid phrase, “spent the evening under a harrow.”
“What made you do your hair that way?” said Gilbert still absently.
“It’s the new fashion.”
“Well, it doesn’t suit you. It may be all right for some hair but not for yours.”
“Oh, it is too bad my hair is red,” said Anne icily.
Gilbert thought he was wise in dropping a dangerous subject. Anne, he reflected, had always been a bit sensitive about her hair. He was too tired to talk, anyway.
He leaned his head back on the car seat and shut his eyes. For the first time Anne noticed little glints of grey in the hair above his ears. But she hardened her heart.
They walked silently home from the Glen station by the short-cut to Ingleside.
The air was filled with the breath of spruce and spice fern. The moon was shining over dew-wet fields. They passed an old deserted house with sad and broken windows that had once danced with light. “Just like my life,” thought Anne.
Everything seemed to have for her some dreary meaning now. The dim white moth that fluttered past them on the lawn was, she thought sadly, like a ghost of faded love. Then she caught her foot in a croquet hoop and nearly fell headlong into a clump of phlox. What on earth did the children mean by leaving it there?
She would tell them what she thought about it tomorrow!
Gilbert only said, “O-o-o-ps!” and steadied her with a hand. Would he have been so casual about it if it had been Christine who had tripped while they were puzzling out the meaning of moonrises?
Gilbert rushed off to his office the moment they were inside the house and Anne went silently up to their room, where the moonlight was lying on the floor, still and silver and cold. She went to the open window and looked out. It was evidently the Carter Flaggs’ dog’s night to howl and he was putting his heart into it. The lombardy leaves glistened like silver in the moonlight. The house about259 her seemed whispering tonight . . . whispering sinisterly, as if it were no longer her friend.
Anne felt sick and cold and empty. The gold of life had turned to withered leaves. Nothing had any meaning any longer. Everything seemed remote and unreal.
Far down the tide was keeping its world-old tryst with the shore. She could . . . now that Norman Douglas had cut down his spruce bush . . . see her little House of Dreams. How happy they had been there . . . when it was enough just to be together in their own home, with their visions, their caresses, their silences! All the colour of the morning in their lives . . . Gilbert looking at her with that smile in his eyes he kept for her alone . . . finding every day a new way of saying, “I love you” . . . sharing laughter as they shared sorrow.
And now . . . Gilbert had grown tired of her. Men had always been like that . . . always would be. She had thought Gilbert was an exception but now she knew the truth. And how was she going to adjust her life to it?
“There are the children, of course,” she thought dully. “I must go on living for them. And nobody must know . . . nobody. I will not be pitied.”
What was that? Somebody was coming up the stairs, three steps at a time, as Gilbert used to do long ago in the House of Dreams . . . as he had not done for a long time now. It couldn’t be Gilbert . . . it was!
He burst into the room . . . he flung a little packet on the table . . . he caught Anne by the waist and waltzed her round and round the room like a crazy schoolboy, coming to rest at last breathlessly in a silver pool of moonlight.
“I was right, Anne . . . thank God, I was right! Mrs. Garrow is going to be all right . . . the specialist has said so.”
“Mrs. Garrow? Gilbert, have you gone crazy?”
“Didn’t I tell you? Surely I told you . . . well, I suppose it’s been such a sore subject I just couldn’t talk of it. I’ve been worried to death about it for the past two weeks . . . couldn’t think of anything else, waking or sleeping. Mrs. Garrow lives in Lowbridge and was Parker’s patient. He asked me in for a consultation . . . I diagnosed her case differently from him . . . we almost fought . . . I was sure I was right . . . I insisted there was a chance . . . we sent her to Montreal . . . Parker said she’d never come back alive . . . her husband was ready to shoot me on sight.260 When she was gone I went to bits . . . perhaps I was mistaken . . . perhaps I’d tortured her needlessly. I found the letter in my office when I went in . . . I was right . . . they’ve operated . . . she has an excellent chance of living. Anne girl, I could jump over the moon! I’ve shed twenty years.”
Anne had either to laugh or cry . . . so she began to laugh. It was lovely to be able to laugh again . . . lovely to feel like laughing. Everything was suddenly all right.
“I suppose that is why you forgot this was our anniversary?” she taunted him.
Gilbert released her long enough to pounce on the little packet he had dropped on the table.
“I didn’t forget it. Two weeks ago I sent to Toronto for this. And it didn’t come till tonight. I felt so small this morning when I hadn’t a thing to give you that I didn’t mention the day . . . thought you’d forgotten it, too . . . hoped you had.
When I went into the office there was my present along with Parker’s letter. See how you like it.”
It was a little diamond pendant. Even in the moonlight it sparkled like a living thing.
“Gilbert . . . and I . . .”
“Try it on. I wish it had come this morning . . . then you’d have had something to wear to the dinner besides that old enamel heart. Though it did look rather nice snuggling in that pretty white hollow in your throat, darling. Why didn’t you leave on that green dress, Anne? I liked it . . . it reminded me of that dress with the rosebuds on it you used to wear at Redmond.”
(“So he had noticed the dress! So he still remembered the old Redmond one he had admired so much!”)
Anne felt like a released bird . . . she was flying again. Gilbert’s arms were around her . . . his eyes were looking into hers in the moonlight.
“You do love me, Gilbert? I’m not just a habit with you? You haven’t said you loved me for so long.”
“My dear, dear love! I didn’t think you needed words to know that. I couldn’t live without you. Always you give me strength. There’s a verse somewhere in the261 Bible that is meant for you . . . ‘She will do him good and not evil all the days of her life.’”
Life which had seemed so grey and foolish a few moments before was golden and rose and splendidly rainbowed again. The diamond pendant slipped to the floor, unheeded for the moment. It was beautiful . . . but there were so many things lovelier . . . confidence and peace and delightful work . . . laughter and kindness . . . that old safe feeling of a sure love.
“Oh, if we could keep this moment for ever, Gilbert!”
“We’re going to have some moments. It’s time we had a second honeymoon.
Anne, there’s going to be a big medical congress in London next February. We’re going to it . . . and after it we’ll see a bit of the Old World. There’s a holiday coming to us. We’ll be nothing but lovers again . . . it will be just like being married over again. You haven’t been like yourself for a long time. (“So he had noticed.”) You’re tired and overworked . . . you need a change. (“You too, dearest. I’ve been so horribly blind.”) I’m not going to have it cast up to me that doctors’ wives never get a pill. We’ll come back rested and fresh, with our sense of humour completely restored. Well, try your pendant on and let’s get to bed. I’m half dead for sleep . . . haven’t had a decent night’s sleep for weeks, what with twins and worry over Mrs. Garrow.”
“What on earth were you and Christine talking about so long in the garden tonight?” asked Anne, peacocking before the mirror with her diamonds.
“Oh, I don’t know. Christine just gabbled on. But here is one fact she presented me with. A flea can jump two hundred times its own length. Did you know that, Anne?”
(“They were talking of fleas when I was writhing with jealousy. What an idiot I’ve been!”)
“How on earth did you come to be talking of fleas?”
“I can’t remember . . . perhaps it was Dobermann pinschers suggested it.”
“Dobermann pinschers! What are Dobermann pinschers?”262
“A new kind of dog. Christine seems to be a dog connoisseur. I was so obsessed with Mrs. Garrow that I didn’t pay much attention to what she was saying. Now and then I caught a word about complexes and repressions . . . that new psychology that’s coming up . . . and art . . . and gout and politics . . . and frogs.”
“Some experiments a Winnipeg research man is making. Christine was never very entertaining, but she’s a worse bore than ever. And malicious! She never used to be malicious.”
“What did she say that was so malicious?” asked Anne innocently.
“Didn’t you notice? Oh, I suppose you wouldn’t catch on . . . you’re so free from that sort of thing yourself. Well, it doesn’t matter. That laugh of hers got on my nerves a bit. And she’s got fat. Thank goodness, you haven’t got fat, Anne-girl.”
“Oh, I don’t think she is so very fat,” said Anne charitably. “And she certainly is a very handsome woman.”
“So-so. But her face has got hard . . . she’s the same age as you but she looks ten years older.”
“And you talking to her about immortal youth!”
Gilbert grinned guiltily.
“One has to say something civil. Civilization can’t exist without a little hypocrisy.
Oh, well, Christine isn’t a bad old scout, even if she doesn’t belong to the race of Joseph. It’s not her fault that the pinch of salt was left out of her. What’s this?”
“My anniversary remembrance for you. And I want a cent for it . . . I’m not taking any risks. Such tortures as I’ve endured this evening! I was eaten up with jealousy of Christine.”
Gilbert looked genuinely astonished. It had never occurred to him that Anne could be jealous of anybody.
“Why, Anne-girl, I never thought you had it in you.”
“Oh, but I have. Why, years ago I was madly jealous of your correspondence with Ruby Gillis.”263
“Did I ever correspond with Ruby Gillis? I’d forgotten. Poor Ruby! But what about Roy Gardner? The pot mustn’t call the kettle black.”
“Roy Gardner? Philippa wrote me not long ago that she’d seen him and he’d got positively corpulent. Gilbert, Dr. Murray may be a very eminent man in his profession but he looks just like a lath and Dr. Fowler looked like a doughnut.
You looked so handsome . . . and finished . . . beside them.”
“Oh, thanks . . . thanks. That’s something like a wife should say. By way of returning the compliment I thought you looked unusually well tonight, Anne, in spite of that dress. You had a little colour and your eyes were gorgeous. Ah-h-h, that’s good! No place like bed when you’re all in. There’s another verse in the Bible . . . queer how those old verses you learn in Sunday School come back to you through life! . . . ‘I will lay me down in peace and sleep.’ In peace . . . and sleep . . . goo’night.”
Gilbert was asleep almost before he finished the word. Dearest tired Gilbert!
Babies might come and babies might go but none should disturb his rest that night. The telephone might ring its head off.
Anne was not sleepy. She was too happy to sleep just yet. She moved softly about the room, putting things away, braiding her hair, looking like a beloved woman. Finally she slipped on a negligee and went across the hall to the boys’
room. Walter and Jem in their bed and Shirley in his cot were all sound asleep.
The Shrimp, who had outlived generations of pert kittens and become a family habit, was curled up at Shirley’s feet. Jem had fallen asleep while reading “The Life Book of Captain Jim” . . . it was open on the spread. Why, how long Jem looked lying under the bedclothes! He would soon be grown up. What a sturdy reliable little chap he was! Walter was smiling in his sleep as someone who knew a charming secret. The moon was shining on his pillow through the bars of the leaded window . . . casting the shadow of a clearly defined cross on the wall above his head. In long after years Annie was to remember that and wonder if it were an omen of Courcelette . . . of a cross-marked grave “somewhere in France.” But tonight it was only a shadow . . . nothing more. The rash had quite gone from Shirley’s neck. Gilbert had been right. He was always right.
Nan and Diana and Rilla were in the next room . . . Diana with darling little damp red curls all over her head and one little sunburned hand under her cheek, and Nan with long fans of lashes brushing hers. The eyes behind those blue-veined lids were hazel like her father’s. And Rilla was sleeping on her stomach. Anne turned her right side up but her buttoned eyes never opened.264 They were all growing so fast. In just a few short years they would be all young men and women . . . youth tiptoe . . . expectant . . . a-star with its sweet wild dreams . . . little ships sailing out of safe harbour to unknown ports. The boys would go away to their life work and the girls . . . ah, the mist-veiled forms of beautiful brides might be seen coming down the old stairs at Ingleside. But they would be still hers for a few years yet . . . hers to love and guide . . . to sing the songs that so many mothers had sung. Hers . . . and Gilbert’s.
She went out and down the hall to the oriel window. All her suspicions and jealousies and resentments had gone where old moons go. She felt confident and gay and blithe.
“Blythe! I feel Blythe,” she said, laughing at the foolish little pun. “I feel exactly as I did that morning Pacifique told me Gilbert had ‘got de turn.’”
Below her was the mystery and loveliness of a garden at night. The far-away hills, dusted with moonlight, were a poem. Before many months she would be seeing moonlight on the far dim hills of Scotland . . . over Melrose . . . over ruined Kenilworth . . . over the church by the Avon where Shakespeare slept . . . perhaps even over the Colosseum . . . over the Acropolis . . . over sorrowful rivers flowing by dead empires.
The night was cool; soon the sharper, cooler nights of autumn would come; then the deep snow . . . the deep white snow . . . the deep cold snow of winter . . . nights wild with wind and storm. But who would care? There would be the magic of firelight in gracious rooms . . . hadn’t Gilbert spoken not long ago of apple logs he was getting to burn in the fireplace? They would glorify the grey days that were bound to come. What would matter drifted snow and biting wind when love burned clear and bright, with spring beyond? And all the little sweetnesses of life sprinkling the road.
She turned away from the window. In her white gown, with her hair in its two long braids, she looked like the Anne of Green Gables days . . . of Redmond days . . . of the House of Dreams days. That inward glow was still shining through her.
Through the open doorway came the soft sound of children breathing. Gilbert, who seldom snored, was indubitably snoring now. Anne grinned. She thought of something Christine had said. Poor childless Christine, shooting her little arrows of mockery.
“What a family!” Anne repeated exultantly.
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