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“Perhaps you, up to your eyes in a welter of exams in Kingsport, don’t know it.
But I am aware of it from the crown of my head to the tips of my toes.
Summerside is aware of it. Even the most unlovely streets are transfigured by arms of bloom reaching over old board fences and a ribbon of dandelions in the grass that borders the sidewalks. Even the china lady on my shelf is aware of it and I know if I could only wake up suddenly enough some night I’d catch her dancing a pas seul in her pink, gilt-heeled shoes.
“Everything is calling ‘spring’ to me . . . the little laughing brooks, the blue hazes on the Storm King, the maples in the grove when I go to read your letters, the white cherry trees along Spook’s Lane, the sleek and saucy robins hopping defiance to Dusty Miller in the back yard, the creeper hanging greenly down over the half-door to which little Elizabeth comes for milk, the fir trees preening in new tassel tips around the old graveyard . . . even the old graveyard itself, where all sorts of flowers planted at the heads of the graves are budding into leaf and bloom, as if to say, ‘Even here life is triumphant over death.’ I had a really lovely prowl about the graveyard the other night. (I’m sure Rebecca Dew thinks my taste in walks frightfully morbid. ‘I can’t think why you have such a hankering after that unchancy place,’ she says.) I roamed over it in the scented green cat’s light and wondered if Nathan Pringle’s wife really had tried to poison him. Her grave looked so innocent with its new grass and its June lilies that I concluded she had been entirely maligned.
“Just another month and I’ll be home for vacation! I keep thinking of the old orchard at Green Gables with its trees now in full snow . . . the old bridge over the Lake of Shining Waters . . . the murmur of the sea in your ears . . . a summer afternoon in Lover’s Lane . . . and you!
“I have just the right kind of pen tonight, Gilbert, and so . . .71 (Two pages omitted.)
“I was around at the Gibsons’ this evening for a call. Marilla asked me some time ago to look them up because she once knew them when they lived in White Sands. Accordingly I looked them up and have been looking them up weekly ever since because Pauline seems to enjoy my visits and I’m so sorry for her. She is simply a slave to her mother . . . who is a terrible old woman.
“Mrs. Adoniram Gibson is eighty and spends her days in a wheel-chair. They moved to Summerside fifteen years ago. Pauline, who is forty-five, is the youngest of the family, all her brothers and sisters being married and all of them determined not to have Mrs. Adoniram in their homes. She keeps the house and waits on her mother hand and foot. She is a little pale, fawn-eyed thing with golden-brown hair that is still glossy and pretty. They are quite comfortably off and if it were not for her mother Pauline could have a very pleasant easy life. She just loves church work and would be perfectly happy attending Ladies’ Aids and Missionary Societies, planning for church suppers and Welcome socials, not to speak of exulting proudly in being the possessor of the finest wandering-jew in town. But she can hardly ever get away from the house, even to go to church on Sundays. I can’t see any way of escape for her, for old Mrs. Gibson will probably live to be a hundred. And, while she may not have the use of her legs, there is certainly nothing the matter with her tongue. It always fills me with helpless rage to sit there and hear her making poor Pauline the target for her sarcasm. And yet Pauline has told me that her mother ‘thinks quite highly’ of me and is much nicer to her when I am around. If this be so I shiver to think what she must be when I am not around.
“Pauline dares not do anything without asking her mother. She can’t even buy her own clothes . . . not so much as a pair of stockings. Everything has to be sent up for Mrs. Gibson’s approval; everything has to be worn until it has been turned twice. Pauline has worn the same hat for four years.
“Mrs. Gibson can’t bear any noise in the house or a breath of fresh air. It is said she never smiled in her life. . . . I’ve never caught her at it, anyway, and when I look at her I find myself wondering what would happen to her face if she did smile. Pauline can’t even have a room to herself. She has to sleep in the same room with her mother and be up almost every hour of the night rubbing Mrs.
Gibson’s back or giving her a pill or getting a hot-water bottle for her . . . hot, not72 lukewarm! . . . or changing her pillows or seeing what that mysterious noise is in the back yard. Mrs. Gibson does her sleeping in the afternoons and spends her nights devising tasks for Pauline.
“Yet nothing has ever made Pauline bitter. She is sweet and unselfish and patient and I am glad she has a dog to love. The only thing she has ever had her own way about is keeping that dog . . . and then only because there was a burglary somewhere in town and Mrs. Gibson thought it would be a protection. Pauline never dares to let her mother see how much she loves the dog. Mrs. Gibson hates him and complains of his bringing bones in but she never actually says he must go, for her own selfish reason.
“But at last I have a chance to give Pauline something and I’m going to do it. I’m going to give her a day, though it will mean giving up my next week-end at Green Gables.
“Tonight when I went in I could see that Pauline had been crying. Mrs. Gibson did not long leave me in doubt why.
“‘Pauline wants to go and leave me, Miss Shirley,’ she said. ‘Nice, grateful daughter I’ve got, haven’t I?’
“‘Only for a day, Ma,’ said Pauline, swallowing a sob and trying to smile.
“‘Only for a day,’ says she! ‘Well, you know what my days are like, Miss Shirley . . . every one knows what my days are like. But you don’t know . . . yet . . . Miss Shirley, and I hope you never will, how long a day can be when you are suffering.’
“I knew Mrs. Gibson didn’t suffer at all now, so I didn’t try to be sympathetic.
“‘I’d get some one to stay with you, of course, Ma,’ said Pauline. ‘You see,’ she explained to me, ‘my cousin Louisa is going to celebrate her silver wedding at White Sands next Saturday week and she wants me to go. I was her bridesmaid when she was married to Maurice Hilton. I would like to go so much if Ma would give her consent.’
“‘If I must die alone I must,’ said Mrs. Gibson. ‘I leave it to your conscience, Pauline.’
“I knew Pauline’s battle was lost the moment Mrs. Gibson left it to her conscience. Mrs. Gibson has got her way all her life by leaving things to people’s73 consciences. I’ve heard that years ago somebody wanted to marry Pauline and Mrs. Gibson prevented it by leaving it to her conscience.
“Pauline wiped her eyes, summoned up a piteous smile and picked up a dress she was making over . . . a hideous green and black plaid.
“‘Now don’t sulk, Pauline,’ said Mrs. Gibson. ‘I can’t abide people who sulk. And mind you put a collar on that dress. Would you believe it, Miss Shirley, she actually wanted to make the dress without a collar? She’d wear a low-necked dress, that one, if I’d let her.’
“I looked at poor Pauline with her slender little throat . . . which is rather plump and pretty yet . . . enclosed in a high, stiff-boned net collar.
“‘Collarless dresses are coming in,’ I said.
“‘Collarless dresses,’ said Mrs. Gibson, ‘are indecent.’
“(Item:–I was wearing a collarless dress.)
“‘Moreover,’ went on Mrs. Gibson, as if it were all of a piece. ‘I never liked Maurice Hilton. His mother was a Crockett. He never had any sense of decorum . . . always kissing his wife in the most unsuitable places!’
“(Are you sure you kiss me in suitable places, Gilbert? I’m afraid Mrs. Gibson would think the nape of the neck, for instance, most unsuitable.) “‘But, Ma, you know that was the day she nearly escaped being trampled by Harvey Wither’s horse running amuck on the church green. It was only natural Maurice should feel a little excited.’
“‘Pauline, please don’t contradict me. I still think the church steps were an unsuitable place for any one to be kissed. But of course my opinions don’t matter to any one any longer. Of course every one wishes I was dead. Well, there’ll be room for me in the grave. I know what a burden I am to you. I might as well die.
Nobody wants me.’
“‘Don’t say that, Ma,’ begged Pauline.
“‘I will say it. Here you are, determined to go to that silver wedding although you know I’m not willing.’74
“‘Ma dear. I’m not going . . . I’d never think of going if you weren’t willing. Don’t excite yourself so. . . .’
“‘Oh, I can’t even have a little excitement, can’t I, to brighten my dull life? Surely you’re not going so soon, Miss Shirley?’
“I felt that if I stayed any longer I’d either go crazy or slap Mrs. Gibson’s nutcracker face. So I said I had exam papers to correct.
“‘Ah well, I suppose two old women like us are very poor company for a young girl,’ sighed Mrs. Gibson. ‘Pauline isn’t very cheerful . . . are you, Pauline? Not very cheerful. I don’t wonder Miss Shirley doesn’t want to stay long.’
“Pauline came out to the porch with me. The moon was shining down on her little garden and sparkling on the harbor. A soft, delightful wind was talking to a white apple tree. It was spring . . . spring . . . spring! Even Mrs. Gibson can’t stop plum trees from blooming. And Pauline’s soft gray-blue eyes were full of tears.
“‘I would like to go to Louie’s wedding so much,’ she said, with a long sigh of despairing resignation.
“‘You are going,’ I said.
“‘Oh, no, dear, I can’t go. Poor Ma will never consent. I’ll just put it out of my mind. Isn’t the moon beautiful tonight?’ she added, in a loud, cheerful tone.
“‘I’ve never heard of any good that came from moon gazing,’ called out Mrs.
Gibson from the sitting-room. ‘Stop chirruping there, Pauline, and come in and get my red bedroom slippers with the fur round the tops for me. These shoes pinch my feet something terrible. But nobody cares how I suffer.’
“I felt that I didn’t care how much she suffered. Poor darling Pauline! But a day off is certainly coming to Pauline and she is going to have her silver wedding. I, Anne Shirley, have spoken it.
“I told Rebecca Dew and the widows all about it when I came home and we had such fun, thinking up all the lovely, insulting things I might have said to Mrs.
Gibson. Aunt Kate does not think I will succeed in getting Mrs. Gibson to let Pauline go but Rebecca Dew has faith in me. ‘Anyhow, if you can’t, nobody can,’
“I was at supper recently with Mrs. Tom Pringle who wouldn’t take me to board.
(Rebecca says I am the best paying boarder she ever heard of because I am invited out to supper so often.) I’m very glad she didn’t. She’s nice and purry and her pies praise her in the gates, but her home isn’t Windy Poplars and she doesn’t live in Spook’s Lane and she isn’t Aunt Kate and Aunt Chatty and Rebecca Dew.
I love them all three and I’m going to board here next year and the year after. My chair is always called ‘Miss Shirley’s chair’ and Aunt Chatty tells me that when I’m not here Rebecca Dew sets my place at the table just the same, so it won’t seem so lonesome.’ Sometimes Aunt Chatty’s feelings have complicated matters a bit but she says she understands me now and knows I would never hurt her intentionally.
“Little Elizabeth and I go out for a walk twice a week now. Mrs. Campbell has agreed to that, but it must not be oftener and never on Sundays. Things are better for little Elizabeth in spring. Some sunshine gets into even that grim old house and outwardly it is even beautiful because of the dancing shadows of tree tops.
Still, Elizabeth likes to escape from it whenever she can. Once in a while we go up-town so that Elizabeth can see the lighted shop windows. But mostly we go as far as we dare down the Road that Leads to the End of the World, rounding every corner adventurously and expectantly, as if we were going to find Tomorrow behind it, while all the little green evening hills neatly nestle together in the distance. One of the things Elizabeth is going to do in Tomorrow is ‘go to Philadelphia and see the angel in the church.’ I haven’t told her . . . I never will tell her . . . that the Philadelphia St. John was writing about was not Phila., Pa.
We lose our illusions soon enough. And anyhow, if we could get into Tomorrow, who knows what we might find there? Angels everywhere, perhaps.
“Sometimes we watch the ships coming up the harbor before a fair wind, over a glistening pathway, through the transparent spring air, and Elizabeth wonders if her father may be on board one of them. She clings to the hope that he may come some day. I can’t imagine why he doesn’t. I’m sure he would if he knew what a darling little daughter he has here longing for him. I suppose he never realizes she is quite a girl now . . . . I suppose he still thinks of her as the little baby who cost his wife her life.
“I’ll soon have finished my first year in Summerside High. The first term was a nightmare, but the last two have been very pleasant. The Pringles are delightful people. How could I ever have compared them to the Pyes? Sid Pringle brought me a bunch of trilliums today. Jen is going to lead her class and Miss Ellen is reported to have said that I am the only teacher who ever really understood the child! The only fly in my ointment is Katherine Brooke, who continues76 unfriendly and distant. I’m going to give up trying to be friends with her. After all, as Rebecca Dew says, there are limits.
“Oh, I nearly forgot to tell you. . . . Sally Nelson has asked me to be one of her bridesmaids. She is going to be married the last of June at Bonnyview, Dr.
Nelson’s summer home down at the jumping-off place. She is marrying Gordon Hill. Then Nora Nelson will be the only one of Dr. Nelson’s six girls left unmarried. Jim Wilcox has been going with her for years . . . ‘off and on’ as Rebecca Dew says . . . but it never seems to come to anything and nobody thinks it will now. I’m very fond of Sally, but I’ve never made much headway getting acquainted with Nora. She’s a good deal older than I am, of course, and rather reserved and proud. Yet I’d like to be friends with her. She isn’t pretty or clever or charming but somehow she’s got a tang. I’ve a feeling she’d be worth while.
“Speaking of weddings, Esme Taylor was married to her Ph.D. last month. As it was on Wednesday afternoon I couldn’t go to the church to see her, but every one says she looked very beautiful and happy and Lennox looked as if he knew he had done the right thing and had the approval of his conscience. Cyrus Taylor and I are great friends. He often refers to the dinner which he has come to consider a great joke on everybody. ‘I’ve never dared sulk since,’ he told me.
‘Momma might accuse me of sewing patchwork next time.’ And then he tells me to be sure and give his love to ‘the widows.’ Gilbert, people are delicious and life is delicious and I am
“P.S. Our old red cow down at Mr. Hamilton’s has a spotted calf. We’ve been buying our milk for three months from Lew Hunt. Rebecca says we’ll have cream again now . . . and that she has always heard the Hunt well was inexhaustible and now she believes it. Rebecca didn’t want that calf to be born at all. Aunt Kate had to get Mr. Hamilton to tell her that the cow was really too old to have a calf before she would consent.”77
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