سال اول - فصل 03

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آن شرلی با موهای قرمز

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سال اول - فصل 03

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3 “Windy Poplars,

“Spook’s Lane,


“October 25th.


“What do you think? I’ve been to supper at Maplehurst!

“Miss Ellen herself wrote the invitation. Rebecca Dew was really excited . . . she had never believed they would take any notice of me. And she was quite sure it was not out of friendliness.

“‘They have some sinister motive, that I’m certain of!’ she exclaimed.

“I really had some such feeling in my own mind.

“‘Be sure you put on your best,’ ordered Rebecca Dew.

“So I put on my pretty cream challis dress with the purple violets in it and did my hair the new way with the dip in the forehead. It’s very becoming.

“The ladies of Maplehurst are positively delightful in their own way, Gilbert. I could love them if they’d let me. Maplehurst is a proud, exclusive house which draws its trees around it and won’t associate with common houses. It has a big, white, wooden woman off the bow of old Captain Abraham’s famous ship, the Go and Ask Her, in the orchard and billows of southernwood about the front steps, which was brought out from the old country over a hundred years ago by the first emigrating Pringle. They have another ancestor who fought at the battle of Minden and his sword is hanging on the parlor wall beside Captain Abraham’s portrait. Captain Abraham was their father and they are evidently tremendously proud of him.

“They have stately mirrors over the old, black, fluted mantels, a glass case with wax flowers in it, pictures full of the beauty of the ships of long ago, a hairwreath containing the hair of every known Pringle, big conch shells and a quilt on the spare-room bed quilted in infinitesimal fans.29

“We sat in the parlor on mahogany Sheraton chairs. It was hung with silver-stripe wallpaper. Heavy brocade curtains at the windows. Marble-topped tables, one bearing a beautiful model of a ship with crimson hull and snow-white sailsthe Go and Ask Her. An enormous chandelier, all glass and dingle-dangles, suspended from the ceiling. A round mirror with a clock in the center . . . something Captain Abraham had brought home from ‘foreign parts.’ It was wonderful. I’d like something like it in our house of dreams.

“The very shadows were eloquent and traditional. Miss Ellen showed me millions . . . more or less . . . of Pringle photographs, many of them daguerreotypes in leather cases. A big tortoise-shell cat came in, jumped on my knee and was at once whisked out to the kitchen by Miss Ellen. She apologized to me. But I expect she had previously apologized to the cat in the kitchen.

“Miss Ellen did most of the talking. Miss Sarah, a tiny thing in a black silk dress and starched petticoat, with snow-white hair and eyes as black as her dress, thin, veined hands folded on her lap amid fine lace ruffles, sad, lovely, gentle, looked almost too fragile to talk. And yet I got the impression, Gilbert, that every Pringle of the clan, including Miss Ellen herself, danced to her piping.

“We had a delicious supper. The water was cold, the linen beautiful, the dishes and glassware thin. We were waited on by a maid, quite as aloof and aristocratic as themselves. But Miss Sarah pretended to be a little deaf whenever I spoke to her and I thought every mouthful would choke me. All my courage oozed out of me. I felt just like a poor fly caught on fly-paper. Gilbert, I can never, never conquer or win the Royal Family. I can see myself resigning at New Year’s. I haven’t a chance against a clan like that.

“And yet I couldn’t help feeling a little sorry for the old ladies as I looked around their house. It had once lived . . . people had been born there . . . died there . . . exulted there . . . known sleep, despair, fear, joy, love, hope, hate. And now it has nothing but the memories by which they live . . . and their pride in them.

“Aunt Chatty is much upset because when she unfolded clean sheets for my bed today she found a diamond-shaped crease in the center. She is sure it foretells a death in the household. Aunt Kate is very much disgusted with such superstition.

But I believe I rather like superstitious people. They lend color to life. Wouldn’t it be a rather drab world if everybody was wise and sensible . . . and good? What would we find to talk about?

“We had a catastrophe here two nights ago. Dusty Miller stayed out all night, in spite of Rebecca Dew’s stentorian shouts of ‘Puss’ in the back yard. And when he30 turned up in the morning . . . oh, such a looking cat! One eye was closed completely and there was a lump as big as an egg on his jaw. His fur was stiff with mud and one paw was bitten through. But what a triumphant, unrepentant look he had in his one good eye! The widows were horrified but Rebecca Dew said exultantly, ‘That Cat has never had a good fight in his life before. And I’ll bet the other cat looks far worse than he does!’

“A fog is creeping up the harbor tonight, blotting out the red road that little Elizabeth wants to explore. Weeds and leaves are burning in all the town gardens and the combination of smoke and fog is making Spook’s Lane an eerie, fascinating, enchanted place. It is growing late and my bed says, ‘I have sleep for you.’ I’ve grown used to climbing a flight of steps into bed . . . and climbing down them. Oh, Gilbert, I’ve never told any one this, but it’s too funny to keep any longer. The first morning I woke up in Windy Poplars I forgot all about the steps and made a blithe morning-spring out of bed. I came down like a thousand of brick, as Rebecca Dew would say. Luckily I didn’t break any bones, but I was black and blue for a week.

“Little Elizabeth and I are very good friends by now. She comes every evening for her milk because the Woman is laid up with what Rebecca Dew calls ‘brownkites.’ I always find her at the wall gate, waiting for me, her big eyes full of twilight. We talk with the gate, which has never been opened for years, between us. Elizabeth sips the glass of milk as slowly as possible in order to spin our conversation out. Always, when the last drop is drained, comes the tap-tap on the window.

“I have found that one of the things that is going to happen in Tomorrow is that she will get a letter from her father. She had never got one. I wonder what the man can be thinking of.

“‘You know, he couldn’t bear the sight of me, Miss Shirley,’ she told me, ‘but he mightn’t mind writing to me.’

“‘Who told you he couldn’t bear the sight of you?’ I asked indignantly.

“‘The Woman.’ (Always when Elizabeth says ‘the Woman,’ I can see her like a great big forbidding ‘W,’ all angles and corners.) ‘And it must be true or he would come to see me sometimes.’

“She was Beth that night . . . it is only when she is Beth that she will talk of her father. When she is Betty she makes faces at her grandmother and the Woman behind their backs; but when she turns into Elsie she is sorry for it and thinks she31 ought to confess, but is scared to. Very rarely she is Elizabeth and then she has the face of one who listens to fairy music and knows what roses and clovers talk about. She’s the quaintest thing, Gilbert . . . as sensitive as one of the leaves of the windy poplars, and I love her. It infuriates me to know that those two terrible old women make her go to bed in the dark.

“‘The Woman said I was big enough to sleep without a light. But I feel so small, Miss Shirley, because the night is so big and awful. And there is a stuffed crow in my room and I am afraid of it. The Woman told me it would pick my eyes out if I cried. Of course, Miss Shirley, I don’t believe that, but still I’m scared.

Things whisper so to each other at night. But in Tomorrow I’ll never be scared of anything . . . not even of being kidnaped!’

“‘But there is no danger of your being kidnaped, Elizabeth.’

“‘The Woman said there was if I went anywhere alone or talked to strange persons. But you’re not a strange person, are you, Miss Shirley?’

“‘No, darling. We’ve always known each other in Tomorrow,’ I said.”

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