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Anne went down to Bonnyview on the Friday night before the wedding. The Nelsons were giving a dinner for some family friends and wedding-guests arriving by the boat train. The big, rambling house which was Dr. Nelson’s “summer home” was built among spruces on a long point with the bay on both sides and a stretch of golden-breasted dunes beyond that knew all there was to be known about winds.
Anne liked it the moment she saw it. An old stone house always looks reposeful and dignified. It fears not what rain or wind or changing fashion can do. And on this June evening it was bubbling over with young life and excitement, the laughter of girls, the greetings of old friends, buggies coming and going, children running everywhere, gifts arriving, every one in the delightful turmoil of a wedding, while Dr. Nelson’s two black cats, who rejoiced in the names of Barnabas and Saul, sat on the railing of the veranda and watched everything like two imperturbable sable sphinxes.
Sally detached herself from a mob and whisked Anne upstairs.
“We’ve saved the north gable room for you. Of course you’ll have to share it with at least three others. There’s a perfect riot here. Father’s having a tent put up for the boys down among the spruces and later on we can have cots in the glassed-in porch at the back. And we can pack most of the children in the hay-loft of course.
Oh, Anne, I’m so excited. It’s really no end of fun getting married. My weddingdress just came from Montreal today. It’s a dream . . . cream corded silk with a lace bertha and pearl embroidery. The loveliest gifts have come. This is your bed.
Mamie Gray and Dot Fraser and Sis Palmer have the others. Mother wanted to put Amy Stewart here but I wouldn’t let her. Amy hates you because she wanted to be my bridesmaid. But I couldn’t have any one so fat and dumpy, could I now?
Besides, she looks like somebody seasick in Nile green. Oh, Anne, Aunt Mouser is here. She came just a few minutes ago and we’re simply horror-stricken. Of course we had to invite her, but we never thought of her coming before tomorrow.”
“Who in the world is Aunt Mouser?”
“Dad’s aunt, Mrs. James Kennedy. Oh, of course she’s really Aunt Grace, but Tommy nicknamed her Aunt Mouser because she’s always mousing round pouncing on things we don’t want her to find out. There’s no escaping her. She93 even gets up early in the morning for fear of missing something and she’s the last to go to bed at night. But that isn’t the worst. If there’s a wrong thing to say she’s certain to say it and she’s never learned that there are questions that mustn’t be asked. Dad calls her speeches ‘Aunt Mouser’s felicities.’ I know she’ll spoil the dinner. Here she comes now.”
The door opened and Aunt Mouser came in . . . a fat, brown, pop-eyed little woman, moving in an atmosphere of moth-balls and wearing a chronically worried expression. Except for the expression she really did look a good deal like a hunting pussy-cat.
“So you’re the Miss Shirley I’ve always heard so much of. You ain’t a bit like a Miss Shirley I once knew. She had such beautiful eyes. Well, Sally, so you’re to be married at last. Poor Nora is the only one left. Well, your mother is lucky to be rid of five of you. Eight years ago I said to her, ‘Jane,’ sez I, ‘do you think you’ll ever get all those girls married off?’ Well, a man is nothing but trouble as I sees it and of all the uncertain things marriage is the uncertainest, but what else is there for a woman in this world? That’s what I’ve just been saying to poor Nora.
‘Mark my words, Nora,’ I said to her, ‘there isn’t much fun in being an old maid.
What’s Jim Wilcox thinking of?’ I said to her.”
“Oh, Aunt Grace, I wish you hadn’t! Jim and Nora had some sort of a quarrel last January and he’s never been round since.”
“I believe in saying what I think. Things is better said. I’d heard of that quarrel.
That’s why I asked her about him. ‘It’s only right,’ I told her, ‘that you should know they say he’s driving Eleanor Pringle.’ She got red and mad and flounced off. What’s Vera Johnson doing here? She ain’t any relation.”
“Vera’s always been a great friend of mine, Aunt Grace. She’s going to play the wedding-march.”
“Oh, she is, is she? Well, all I hope is she won’t make a mistake and play the Dead March like Mrs. Tom Scott did at Dora Best’s wedding. Such a bad omen. I don’t know where you’re going to put the mob you’ve got here for the night.
Some of us will have to sleep on the clothes-line I reckon.”
“Oh, we’ll find a place for every one, Aunt Grace.”
“Well, Sally, all I hope is you won’t change your mind at the last moment like Helen Summers did. It clutters things up so. Your father is in terrible high spirits.94 I never was one to go looking for trouble but all I hope is it ain’t the forerunner of a stroke. I’ve seen it happen that way.”
“Oh, Dad’s fine, Aunt Mouser. He’s just a bit excited.”
“Ah, you’re too young, Sally, to know all that can happen. Your mother tells me the ceremony is at high noon tomorrow. The fashions in weddings are changing like everything else and not for the better. When I was married it was in the evening and my father laid in twenty gallons of liquor for the wedding. Ah, dear me, times ain’t what they used to be. What’s the matter with Mercy Daniels? I met her on the stairs and her complexion has got terrible muddy.”
“‘The quality of mercy is not strained,’” giggled Sally, wriggling into her dinnerdress.
“Don’t quote the Bible flippantly,” rebuked Aunt Mouser. “You must excuse her, Miss Shirley. She just ain’t used to getting married. Well, all I hope is the groom won’t have a hunted look like so many of them do. I s’pose they do feel that way, but they needn’t show it so plain. And I hope he won’t forget the ring. Upton Hardy did. Him and Flora had to be married with a ring off one of the curtain poles. Well, I’ll be taking another look at the wedding-presents. You’ve got a lot of nice things, Sally. All I hope is it won’t be as hard to keep the handles of them spoons polished as I think likely.”
Dinner that night in the big, glassed-in porch was a gay affair. Chinese lanterns had been hung all about it, shedding mellow-tinted lights on the pretty dresses and glossy hair and white, unlined brows of girls. Barnabas and Saul sat like ebony statues on the broad arms of the Doctor’s chair, where he fed them tidbits alternately.
“Just about as bad as Parker Pringle,” said Aunt Mouser. “He has his dog sit at the table with a chair and napkin of his own. Well, sooner or later there’ll be a judgment.”
It was a large party, for all the married Nelson girls and their husbands were there, besides ushers and bridesmaids; and it was a merry one, in spite of Aunt Mouser’s “felicities” . . . or perhaps because of them. Nobody took Aunt Mouser very seriously; she was evidently a joke among the young fry. When she said, on being introduced to Gordon Hill, “Well, well, you ain’t a bit like I expected. I always thought Sally would pick out a tall handsome man,” ripples of laughter ran through the porch. Gordon Hill, who was on the short side and called no more than “pleasant-faced” by his best friends, knew he would never hear the last95 of it. When she said to Dot Fraser, “Well, well, a new dress every time I see you!
All I hope is your father’s purse will be able to stand it for a few years yet,” Dot could, of course, have boiled her in oil, but some of the other girls found it amusing. And when Aunt Mouser mournfully remarked, apropos of the preparations of the wedding-dinner, “All I hope is everybody will get her teaspoons afterwards. Five were missing after Gertie Paul’s wedding. They never turned up,” Mrs. Nelson, who had borrowed three dozen and the sisters-in-law she had borrowed them from all looked harried. But Dr. Nelson haw-hawed cheerfully.
“We’ll make everyone turn out their pockets before they go, Aunt Grace.”
“Ah, you may laugh, Samuel. It is no joking-matter to have anything like that happen in the family. Some one must have those teaspoons. I never go anywhere but I keep my eyes open for them. I’d know them wherever I saw them, though it was twenty-eight years ago. Poor Nora was just a baby then. You remember you had her there, Jane, in a little white embroidered dress? Twenty-eight years! Ah, Nora, you’re getting on, though in this light you don’t show your age so much.”
Nora did not join in the laugh that followed. She looked as if she might flash lightning at any moment. In spite of her daffodil-hued dress and the pearls in her dark hair, she made Anne think of a black moth. In direct contrast with Sally, who was a cool, snowy blonde, Nora Nelson had magnificent black hair, dusky eyes, heavy black brows and velvety red cheeks. Her nose was beginning to look a trifle hawk-like and she had never been accounted pretty, but Anne felt an odd attraction to her in spite of her sulky, smoldering expression. She felt that she would prefer Nora as a friend to the popular Sally.
They had a dance after dinner and music and laughter came tumbling out of the broad low windows of the old stone house in a flood. At ten Nora had disappeared. Anne was a little tired of the noise and merriment. She slipped through the hall to a back door that opened almost on the bay, and flitted down a flight of rocky steps to the shore, past a little grove of pointed firs. How divine the cool salt air was after the sultry evening! How exquisite the silver patterns of moonlight on the bay! How dream-like that ship which had sailed at the rising of the moon and was now approaching the harbor bar! It was a night when you might expect to stray into a dance of mermaids.
Nora was hunched up in the grim black shadow of a rock by the water’s edge, looking more like a thunderstorm than ever.96
“May I sit with you for a while?” asked Anne. “I’m a little tired of dancing and it’s a shame to miss this wonderful night. I envy you with the whole harbor for a back yard like this.”
“What would you feel like at a time like this if you had no beau?” asked Nora abruptly and sullenly. “Or any likelihood of one,” she added still more sullenly.
“I think it must be your own fault if you haven’t,” said Anne, sitting down beside her. Nora found herself telling Anne her troubles. There was always something about Anne that made people tell her their troubles.
“You’re saying that to be polite of course. You needn’t. You know as well as I do that I’m not a girl men are likely to fall in love with . . . I’m ‘the plain Miss Nelson.’ It isn’t my fault that I haven’t anybody. I couldn’t stand it in there any longer. I had to come down here and just let myself be unhappy. I’m tired of smiling and being agreeable to every one and pretending not to care when they give me digs about not being married. I’m not going to pretend any longer.
I do care . . . I care horribly. I’m the only one of the Nelson girls left. Five of us are married or will be tomorrow. You heard Aunt Mouser casting my age up to me at the dinnertable. And I heard her telling Mother before dinner that I had ‘aged quite a bit’ since last summer. Of course I have. I’m twenty-eight. In twelve more years I’ll be forty. How will I endure life at forty, Anne, if I haven’t got any roots of my own by that time?”
“I wouldn’t mind what a foolish old woman said.”
“Oh, wouldn’t you? You haven’t a nose like mine. I’ll be as beaky as Father in ten more years. And I suppose you wouldn’t care, either, if you’d waited years for a man to propose . . . and he just wouldn’t?”
“Oh, yes, I think I would care about that.”
“Well, that’s my predicament exactly. Oh, I know you’ve heard of Jim Wilcox and me. It’s such an old story. He’s been hanging around me for years . . . but he’s never said anything about getting married.”
“Do you care for him?”
“Of course I care. I’ve always pretended I didn’t but, as I’ve told you, I’m through with pretending. And he’s never been near me since last January. We had a fight . . . but we’ve had hundreds of fights. He always came back before . . . but he hasn’t come this time . . . and he never will. He doesn’t want to. Look at his house97 across the bay, shining in the moonlight. I suppose he’s there . . . and I’m here . . . and all the harbor between us. That’s the way it always will be. It . . . it’s terrible!
And I can’t do a thing.”
“If you sent for him, wouldn’t he come back?”
“Send for him! Do you think I’d do that? I’d die first. If he wants to come, there’s nothing to prevent him coming. If he doesn’t, I don’t want him to. Yes, I do . . . I do! I love Jim . . . and I want to get married. I want to have a home of my own and be ‘Mrs.’ and shut Aunt Mouser’s mouth. Oh, I wish I could be Barnabas or Saul for a few moments just to swear at her! If she calls me ‘poor Nora’ again I’ll throw a scuttle at her. But after all, she only says what everybody thinks. Mother has despaired long ago of my ever marrying, so she leaves me alone, but the rest rag me. I hate Sally . . . of course I’m dreadful . . . but I hate her. She’s getting a nice husband and a lovely home. It isn’t fair she should have everything and I nothing. She isn’t better or cleverer or much prettier than me . . . only luckier. I suppose you think I’m awful . . . not that I care what you think.”
“I think you’re very, very tired, after all these weeks of preparation and strain, and that things which were always hard have become too hard all at once.”
“You understand . . . oh, yes, I always knew you would. I’ve wanted to be friends with you, Anne Shirley. I like the way you laugh. I’ve always wished I could laugh like that. I’m not as sulky as I look . . . it’s these eyebrows. I really think they’re what scare the men away. I never had a real girl friend in my life. But of course I always had Jim. We’ve been . . . friends . . . ever since we were kids.
Why, I used to put a light up in that little window in the attic whenever I wanted him over particularly and he’d sail across at once. We went everywhere together.
No other boy ever had a chance . . . not that any one wanted it, I suppose. And now it’s all over. He was just tired of me and was glad of the excuse of a quarrel to get free. Oh, won’t I hate you tomorrow because I’ve told you this!”
“We always hate people who surprise our secrets, I suppose,” said Nora drearily.
“But there’s something gets into you at a wedding . . . and I just don’t care . . . I don’t care for anything. Oh, Anne Shirley, I’m so miserable! Just let me have a good cry on your shoulder. I’ve got to smile and look happy all day tomorrow.
Sally thinks it’s because I’m superstitious that I wouldn’t be her bridesmaid. . . . ‘Three times a bridesmaid, never a bride,’ you know. ‘Tisn’t! I just couldn’t endure to stand there and hear her saying, ‘I will,’ and know I’d never have a chance to say it for Jim. I’d have flung back my head and howled. I want to be a bride . . .98 and have a trousseau . . . and monogrammed linen . . . and lovely presents. Even Aunt Mouser’s silver butter-dish. She always gives a butter-dish to every bride . . . awful things with tops like the dome of St. Peter’s. We could have had it on the breakfast table just for Jim to make fun of. Anne, I think I’m going crazy.”
The dance was over when the girls went back to the house, hand in hand. People were being stowed away for the night. Tommy Nelson was taking Barnabas and Saul to the barn. Aunt Mouser was still sitting on a sofa, thinking of all the dreadful things she hoped wouldn’t happen on the morrow.
“I hope nobody will get up and give a reason why they shouldn’t be joined together. That happened at Tillie Hatfield’s wedding.”
“No such good luck for Gordon as that,” said the groomsman. Aunt Mouser fixed him with a stony brown eye.
“Young man, marriage isn’t exactly a joke.”
“You bet it isn’t,” said the unrepentant. “Hello, Nora, when are we going to have a chance to dance at your wedding?”
Nora did not answer in words. She went closer up to him and deliberately slapped him, first on one side of his face and then on the other. The slaps were not make-believe ones. Then she went upstairs without looking behind her.
“That girl,” said Aunt Mouser, “is overwrought.”
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