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آن شرلی با موهای قرمز

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سال اول - فصل 16

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16

The forenoon of Saturday passed in a whirl of last-minute things. Anne, shrouded in one of Mrs. Nelson’s aprons, spent it in the kitchen helping Nora with the salads. Nora was all prickles, evidently repenting, as she had foretold, her confidences of the night before.

“We’ll be all tired out for a month,” she snapped, “and Father can’t really afford all this splurge. But Sally was set on having what she calls a ‘pretty wedding’ and Father gave in. He’s always spoiled her.”

“Spite and jealousy,” said Aunt Mouser, suddenly popping her head out of the pantry, where she was driving Mrs. Nelson frantic with her hopings against hope.

“She’s right,” said Nora bitterly to Anne. “Quite right. I am spiteful and jealous . . . I hate the very look of happy people. But all the same I’m not sorry I slapped Jud Taylor’s face last night. I’m only sorry I didn’t tweak his nose into the bargain. Well, that finishes the salads. They do look pretty. I love fussing things up when I’m normal. Oh, after all, I hope everything will go off nicely for Sally’s sake. I suppose I do love her underneath everything, though just now I feel as if I hated every one and Jim Wilcox worst of all.”

“Well, all I hope is the groom won’t be missing just before the ceremony,” floated out from the pantry in Aunt Mouser’s lugubrious tones. “Austin Creed was. He just forgot he was to be married that day. The Creeds were always forgetful, but I call that carrying things too far.”

The two girls looked at each other and laughed. Nora’s whole face changed when she laughed . . . lightened . . . glowed . . . rippled. And then some one came out to tell her that Barnabas had been sick on the stairs . . . too many chicken livers probably. Nora rushed off to repair the damage and Aunt Mouser came out of the pantry to hope that the wedding-cake wouldn’t disappear as had happened at Alma Clark’s wedding ten years before.

By noon everything was in immaculate readiness . . . the table laid, the beds beautifully dressed, baskets of flowers everywhere; and in the big north room upstairs Sally and her three bridesmaids were in quivering splendor. Anne, in her Nile green dress and hat, looked at herself in the mirror, and wished that Gilbert could see her.100

“You’re wonderful,” said Nora half enviously.

“You’re looking wonderful yourself, Nora. That smoke-blue chiffon and that picture hat bring out the gloss of your hair and the blue of your eyes.”

“There’s nobody to care how I look,” said Nora bitterly. “Well, watch me grin, Anne. I mustn’t be the death’s head at the feast, I suppose. I have to play the wedding-march after all . . . Vera’s got a terrible headache. I feel more like playing the Dead March, as Aunt Mouser foreboded.”

Aunt Mouser, who had wandered round all the morning, getting in everybody’s way, in a none too clean old kimono and a wilted “boudoir cap,” now appeared resplendent in maroon grosgrain and told Sally one of her sleeves didn’t fit and she hoped nobody’s petticoat would show below her dress as had happened at Annie Crewson’s wedding. Mrs. Nelson came in and cried because Sally looked so lovely in her wedding-dress.

“Now, now, don’t be sentimental, Jane,” soothed Aunt Mouser. “You’ve still got one daughter left . . . and likely to have her by all accounts. Tears ain’t lucky at weddings. Well, all I hope is nobody’ll drop dead like old Uncle Cromwell at Roberta Pringle’s wedding, right in the middle of the ceremony. The bride spent two weeks in bed from shock.”

With this inspiring send-off the bridal party went downstairs, to the strains of Nora’s wedding-march somewhat stormily played, and Sally and Gordon were married without anybody dropping dead or forgetting the ring. It was a pretty wedding group and even Aunt Mouser gave up worrying about the universe for a few moments. “After all,” she told Sally hopefully later on, “even if you ain’t very happy married, it’s likely you’d be more unhappy not.” Nora alone continued to glower from the piano stool, but she went up to Sally and gave her a fierce hug, wedding-veil and all.

“So that’s finished,” said Nora drearily, when the dinner was over and the bridal party and most of the guests had gone. She glanced around at the room which looked as forlorn and disheveled as rooms always do in the aftermath . . . a faded, trampled corsage lying on the floor . . . chairs awry . . . a torn piece of lace . . . two dropped handkerchiefs . . . crumbs the children had scattered . . . a dark stain on the ceiling where the water from a jug Aunt Mouser had overturned in a guest-room had seeped through.

“I must clear up this mess,” went on Nora savagely. “There’s a lot of young fry waiting for the boat train and some staying over Sunday. They’re going to wind101 up with a bonfire on the shore and a moonlit rock dance. You can imagine how much I feel like moonlight dancing. I want to go to bed and cry.”

“A house after a wedding is over does seem a rather forsaken place,” said Anne.

“But I’ll help you clear up and then we’ll have a cup of tea.”

“Anne Shirley, do you think a cup of tea is a panacea for everything? It’s you who ought to be the old maid, not me. Never mind. I don’t want to be horrid, but I suppose it’s my native disposition. I hate the thought of this shore dance more than the wedding. Jim always used to be at our shore dances. Anne, I’ve made up my mind to go and train for a nurse. I know I’ll hate it . . . and heaven help my future patients . . . but I’m not going to hang around Summerside and be teased about being on the shelf any longer. Well, let’s tackle this pile of greasy plates and look as if we liked it.”

“I do like it . . . I’ve always liked washing dishes. It’s fun to make dirty things clean and shining again.”

“Oh, you ought to be in a museum,” snapped Nora.

By moonrise everything was ready for the shore dance. The boys had a huge bonfire of driftwood ablaze on the point, and the waters of the harbor were creaming and shimmering in the moonlight. Anne was expecting to enjoy herself hugely, but a glimpse of Nora’s face, as the latter went down the steps carrying a basket of sandwiches, gave her pause.

“She’s so unhappy. If there was anything I could do!”

An idea popped into Anne’s head. She had always been a prey to impulse.

Darting into the kitchen, she snatched up a little hand-lamp alight there, sped up the back stairs and up another flight to the attic. She set the light in the dormerwindow that looked out across the harbor. The trees hid it from the dancers.

“He may see it and come. I suppose Nora will be furious with me, but that won’t matter if he only comes. And now to wrap up a bit of wedding-cake for Rebecca Dew.”

Jim Wilcox did not come. Anne gave up looking for him after a while and forgot him in the merriment of the evening. Nora had disappeared and Aunt Mouser had for a wonder gone to bed. It was eleven o’clock when the revelry ceased and the tired moonlighters yawned their way upstairs. Anne was so sleepy, she never102 thought of the light in the attic. But at two o’clock Aunt Mouser crept into the room and flashed a candle in the girls’ faces.

“Goodness, what’s the matter?” gasped Dot Fraser, sitting up in bed.

“S-s-s-sh,” warned Aunt Mouser, her eyes nearly popping out of her head, “I think there’s some one in the house . . . I know there is. What is that noise?”

“Sounds like a cat mewing or a dog barking,” giggled Dot.

“Nothing of the sort,” said Aunt Mouser severely. “I know there’s a dog barking in the barn, but that is not what wakened me. It was a bump . . . a loud, distinct bump.”

“‘From ghosties and ghoulies and long-legged beasties and things that go bump in the night, good Lord, deliver us,’” murmured Anne.

“Miss Shirley, this ain’t any laughing-matter. There’s burglars in this house. I’m going to call Samuel.”

Aunt Mouser disappeared and the girls looked at each other.

“Do you suppose . . . all the wedding-presents are down in the library . . .” said Anne.

“I’m going to get up, anyhow,” said Mamie. “Anne, did you ever see anything like Aunt Mouser’s face when she held the candle low and the shadows fell upward . . . and all those wisps of hair hanging about it? Talk of the Witch of Endor!”

Four girls in kimonos slipped out into the hall. Aunt Mouser was coming along it, followed by Dr. Nelson in dressing-gown and slippers. Mrs. Nelson, who couldn’t find her kimono, was sticking a terrified face out of her door.

“Oh, Samuel . . . don’t take any risks . . . if it’s burglars they may shoot. . . .”

“Nonsense! I don’t believe there’s anything,” said the Doctor.

“I tell you I heard a bump,” quavered Aunt Mouser.

A couple of boys joined the party. They crept cautiously down the stairs with the Doctor at the head and Aunt Mouser, candle in one hand and poker in the other, bringing up the rear.103

There were undoubtedly noises in the library. The Doctor opened the door and walked in.

Barnabas, who had contrived to be overlooked in the library when Saul had been taken to the barn, was sitting on the back of the chesterfield, blinking amused eyes. Nora and a young man were standing in the middle of the room, which was dimly lighted by another flickering candle. The young man had his arms around Nora and was holding a large white handkerchief to her face.

“He’s chloroforming her!” shrieked Aunt Mouser, letting the poker fall with a tremendous crash.

The young man turned, dropped the handkerchief and looked foolish. Yet he was a rather nice-looking young man, with crinkly russet eyes and crinkly red-brown hair, not to mention a chin that gave the world assurance of a chin.

Nora snatched the handkerchief up and applied it to her face.

“Jim Wilcox, what does this mean?” said the Doctor, with exceeding sternness.

“I don’t know what it means,” said Jim Wilcox rather sulkily. “All I know is Nora signaled for me. I didn’t see the light till I got home at one from a Masonic banquet in Summerside. And I sailed right over.”

“I didn’t signal for you,” stormed Nora. “For pity’s sake don’t look like that, Father. I wasn’t asleep . . . I was sitting at my window . . . I hadn’t undressed . . . and I saw a man coming up from the shore. When he got near the house I knew it was Jim, so I ran down. And I . . . I ran into the library door and made my nose bleed. He’s just been trying to stop it.”

“I jumped in at the window and knocked over that bench. . . .”

“I told you I heard a bump,” said Aunt Mouser.

”. . . and now Nora says she didn’t signal for me, so I’ll just relieve you of my unwelcome presence, with apologies to all concerned.”

“It’s really too bad to have disturbed your night’s rest and brought you all the way over the bay on a wild-goose chase,” said Nora as icily as possible, consistent with hunting for a bloodless spot on Jim’s handkerchief.

“Wild-goose chase is right,” said the Doctor.104

“You’d better try a door-key down your back,” said Aunt Mouser.

“It was I who put the light in the window,” said Anne shamefacedly, “and then I forgot . . .”

“You dared!” cried Nora, “I’ll never forgive you . . .”

“Have you all gone crazy?” said the Doctor irritably. “What’s all this fuss about, anyhow? For heaven’s sake put that window down, Jim . . . there’s a wind blowing in fit to chill you to the bone. Nora, hang your head back and your nose will be all right.”

Nora was shedding tears of rage and shame. Mingled with the blood on her face they made her a fearsome sight. Jim Wilcox looked as if he wished the floor would open and gently drop him in the cellar.

“Well,” said Aunt Mouser belligerently, “all you can do now is marry her, Jim Wilcox. She’ll never get a husband if it gets round that she was found here with you at two o’clock at night.”

“Marry her!” cried Jim in exasperation. “What have I wanted all my life but to marry her . . . never wanted anything else!”

“Then why didn’t you say so long ago?” demanded Nora, whirling about to face him.

“Say so? You’ve snubbed and frozen and jeered at me for years. You’ve gone out of your way times without number to show me how you despised me. I didn’t think it was the least use to ask you. And last January you said . . .”

“You goaded me into saying it . . .”

“I goaded you! I like that! You picked a quarrel with me just to get rid of me. . . .”

“I didn’t . . . I . . .”

“And yet I was fool enough to tear over here in the dead of night because I thought you’d put our old signal in the window and wanted me! Ask you to marry me! Well, I’ll ask you now and have done with it and you can have the fun of turning me down before all this gang. Nora Edith Nelson, will you marry me?”105 “Oh, won’t I . . . won’t I!” cried Nora so shamelessly that even Barnabas blushed for her.

Jim gave her one incredulous look . . . then sprang at her. Perhaps her nose had stopped bleeding . . . perhaps it hadn’t. It didn’t matter.

“I think you’ve all forgotten that this is the Sabbath morn,” said Aunt Mouser, who had just remembered it herself. “I could do with a cup of tea if any one would make it. I ain’t used to demonstrations like this. All I hope is poor Nora has really landed him at last. At least, she has witnesses.”

They went to the kitchen and Mrs. Nelson came down and made tea for them . . . all except Jim and Nora, who remained closeted in the library with Barnabas for chaperon. Anne did not see Nora until the morning . . . such a different Nora, ten years younger, flushed with happiness.

“I owe this to you, Anne. If you hadn’t set the light . . . though just for two and a half minutes last night I could have chewed your ears off!”

“And to think I slept through it all,” moaned Tommy Nelson heart-brokenly.

But the last word was with Aunt Mouser.

“Well, all I hope is it won’t be a case of marrying in haste and repenting at leisure.”

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