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5 Anne, sitting at her tower window one late November evening, with her pen at her lip and dreams in her eyes, looked out on a twilight world and suddenly thought she would like a walk to the old graveyard. She had never visited it yet, preferring the birch and maple grove or the harbor road for her evening rambles.
But there is always a November space after the leaves have fallen when she felt it was almost indecent to intrude on the woods . . . for their glory terrestrial had departed and their glory celestial of spirit and purity and whiteness had not yet come upon them. So Anne betook herself to the graveyard instead. She was feeling for the time so dispirited and hopeless that she thought a graveyard would be a comparatively cheerful place. Besides, it was full of Pringles, so Rebecca Dew said. They had buried there for generations, keeping it up in preference to the new graveyard until “no more of them could be squeezed in.” Anne felt that it would be positively encouraging to see how many Pringles were where they couldn’t annoy anybody any more.
In regard to the Pringles Anne felt that she was at the end of her tether. More and more the whole situation was coming to seem like a nightmare. The subtle campaign of insubordination and disrespect which Jen Pringle had organized had at last come to a head. One day, a week previously, she had asked the Seniors to write a composition on “The Most Important Happenings of the Week.” Jen Pringle had written a brilliant one . . . the little imp was clever . . . and had inserted in it a sly insult to her teacher . . . one so pointed that it was impossible to ignore it. Anne had sent her home, telling her that she would have to apologize before she would be allowed to come back. The fat was fairly in the fire. It was open warfare now between her and the Pringles. And poor Anne had no doubt on whose banner victory would perch. The school board would back the Pringles up and she would be given her choice between letting Jen come back or being asked to resign.
She felt very bitter. She had done her best and she knew she could have succeeded if she had had even a fighting chance.
“It’s not my fault,” she thought miserably. “Who could succeed against such a phalanx and such tactics?”
But to go home to Green Gables defeated! To endure Mrs. Lynde’s indignation and the Pyes’ exultation! Even the sympathy of friends would be an anguish. And35 with her Summerside failure bruited abroad she would never be able to get another school.
But at least they had not got the better of her in the matter of the play. Anne laughed a little wickedly and her eyes filled with mischievous delight over the memory.
She had organized a High School Dramatic Club and directed it in a little play hurriedly gotten up to provide some funds for one of her pet schemes . . . buying some good engravings for the rooms. She had made herself ask Katherine Brooke to help her because Katherine always seemed so left out of everything. She could not help regretting it many times, for Katherine was even more brusk and sarcastic than usual. She seldom let a practice pass without some corrosive remark and she overworked her eyebrows. Worse still, it was Katherine who had insisted on having Jen Pringle take the part of Mary Queen of Scots.
“There’s no one else in the school who can play it,” she said impatiently. “No one who has the necessary personality.”
Anne was not so sure of this. She rather thought that Sophy Sinclair, who was tall and had hazel eyes and rich chestnut hair, would make a far better Queen Mary than Jen. But Sophy was not even a member of the club and had never taken part in a play.
“We don’t want absolute greenhorns in this. I’m not going to be associated with anything that is not successful,” Katherine had said disagreeably, and Anne had yielded. She could not deny that Jen was very good in the part. She had a natural flair for acting and she apparently threw herself into it wholeheartedly. They practiced four evenings a week and on the surface things went along very smoothly. Jen seemed to be so interested in her part that she behaved herself as far as the play was concerned. Anne did not meddle with her but left her to Katherine’s coaching. Once or twice, though, she surprised a certain look of sly triumph on Jen’s face that puzzled her. She could not guess just what it meant.
One afternoon, soon after the practices had begun, Anne found Sophy Sinclair in tears in a corner of the girls’ coatroom. At first she had blinked her hazel eyes vigorously and denied it . . . then broke down.
“I did so want to be in the play . . . to be Queen Mary,” she sobbed. “I’ve never had a chance . . . father wouldn’t let me join the club because there are dues to pay and every cent counts so much. And of course I haven’t had any experience.
I’ve always loved Queen Mary . . . her very name just thrills me to my finger tips.36 I don’t believe . . . I never will believe she had anything to do with murdering Darnley. It would have been wonderful to fancy I was she for a little while!”
Afterwards Anne concluded that it was her guardian angel who prompted her reply.
“I’ll write the part out for you, Sophy, and coach you in it. It will be good training for you. And, as we plan to give the play in other places if it goes well here, it will be just as well to have an understudy in case Jen shouldn’t always be able to go. But we’ll say nothing about it to any one.”
Sophy had the part memorized by the next day. She went home to Windy Poplars with Anne every afternoon when school came out and rehearsed it in the tower.
They had a lot of fun together, for Sophy was full of quiet vivacity. The play was to be put on the last Friday in November in the town hall; it was widely advertised and the reserved seats were sold to the last one. Anne and Katherine spent two evenings decorating the hall, the band was hired, and a noted soprano was coming up from Charlottetown to sing between the acts. The dress rehearsal was a success. Jen was really excellent and the whole cast played up to her.
Friday morning Jen was not in school; and in the afternoon her mother sent word that Jen was ill with a very sore throat . . . they were afraid it was tonsillitis.
Everybody concerned was very sorry, but it was out of the question that she should take part in the play that night.
Katherine and Anne stared at each other, drawn together for once in their common dismay.
“We’ll have to put it off,” said Katherine slowly. “And that means failure. Once we’re into December there’s so much going on. Well, I always thought it was foolish to try to get up a play this time of the year.”
“We are not going to postpone it,” said Anne, her eyes as green as Jen’s own. She was not going to say it to Katherine Brooke, but she knew as well as she had ever known anything in her life that Jen Pringle was in no more danger of tonsillitis than she was. It was a deliberate device, whether any of the other Pringles were a party to it or not, to ruin the play because she, Anne Shirley, had sponsored it.
“Oh, if you feel that way about it!” said Katherine with a nasty shrug. “But what do you intend to do? Get some one to read the part? That would ruin it . . . Mary is the whole play.”37
“Sophy Sinclair can play the part as well as Jen. The costume will fit her and, thanks be, you made it and have it, not Jen.”
The play was put on that night before a packed audience. A delighted Sophy played Mary . . . was Mary, as Jen Pringle could never have been . . . looked Mary in her velvet robes and ruff and jewels. Students of Summerside High, who had never seen Sophy in anything but her plain, dowdy, dark serge dresses, shapeless coat and shabby hats, stared at her in amazement. It was insisted on the spot that she become a permanent member of the Dramatic ClubAnne herself paid the membership fee–and from then on she was one of the pupils who “counted” in Summerside High. But nobody knew or dreamed, Sophy herself least of all, that she had taken the first step that night on a pathway that was to lead to the stars. Twenty years later Sophy Sinclair was to be one of the leading actresses in America. But probably no plaudits ever sounded so sweet in her ears as the wild applause amid which the curtain fell that night in Summerside town hall.
Mrs. James Pringle took a tale home to her daughter Jen which would have turned that damsel’s eyes green if they had not been already so. For once, as Rebecca Dew said feelingly, Jen had got her come-uppance. And the eventual result was the insult in the composition on Important Happenings.
Anne went down to the old graveyard along a deep-rutted lane between high, mossy stone dykes, tasseled with frosted ferns. Slim, pointed lombardies, from which November winds had not yet stripped all the leaves, grew along it at intervals, coming out darkly against the amethyst of the far hills; but the old graveyard, with half its tombstones leaning at a drunken slant, was surrounded by a four-square row of tall, somber fir trees. Anne had not expected to find any one there and was a little taken aback when she met Miss Valentine Courtaloe, with her long delicate nose, her thin delicate mouth, her sloping delicate shoulders and her general air of invincible lady-likeness, just inside the gate. She knew Miss Valentine, of course, as did everyone in Summerside. She was “the” local dressmaker and what she didn’t know about people, living or dead, was not worth taking into account. Anne had wanted to wander about by herself, read the odd old epitaphs and puzzle out the names of forgotten lovers under the lichens that were growing over them. But she could not escape when Miss Valentine slipped an arm through hers and proceeded to do the honors of the graveyard, where there were evidently as many Courtaloes buried as Pringles. Miss Valentine had not a drop of Pringle blood in her and one of Anne’s favorite pupils was her nephew. So it was no great mental strain to be nice to her, except that one must be very careful never to hint that she “sewed for a living.” Miss Valentine was said to be very sensitive on that point.38
“I’m glad I happened to be here this evening,” said Miss Valentine. “I can tell you all about everybody buried here. I always say you have to know the ins and outs of the corpses to find a graveyard real enjoyable. I like a walk here better than in the new. It’s only the old families that are buried here but every Tom, Dick and Harry is being buried in the new. The Courtaloes are buried in this corner. My, we’ve had a terrible lot of funerals in our family.”
“I suppose every old family has,” said Anne, because Miss Valentine evidently expected her to say something.
“Don’t tell me any family has ever had as many as ours,” said Miss Valentine jealously. “We’re very consumptive. Most of us died of a cough. This is my Aunt Bessie’s grave. She was a saint if ever there was one. But there’s no doubt her sister, Aunt Cecilia, was the more interesting to talk to. The last time I ever saw her she said to me, ‘Sit down, my dear, sit down. I’m going to die tonight at ten minutes past eleven but that’s no reason why we shouldn’t have a real good gossip for the last.’ The strange thing, Miss Shirley, is that she did die that night at ten minutes past eleven. Can you tell me how she knew it?”
“My Great-great-grandfather Courtaloe is buried here. He came out in 1760 and he made spinning-wheels for a living. I’ve heard he made fourteen hundred in the course of his life. When he died the minister preached from the text, ‘Their works do follow them,’ and old Myrom Pringle said in that case the road to heaven behind my great-great-grandfather would be choked with spinning-wheels. Do you think such a remark was in good taste, Miss Shirley?”
Had any one but a Pringle said it, Anne might not have remarked so decidedly, “I certainly do not,” looking at a gravestone adorned with a skull and cross-bones as if she questioned the good taste of that also.
“My cousin Dora is buried here. She had three husbands but they all died very rapidly. Poor Dora didn’t seem to have any luck picking a healthy man. Her last one was Benjamin Banning . . . not buried here . . . buried in Lowvale beside his first wife . . . and he wasn’t reconciled to dying. Dora told him he was going to a better world. ‘Mebbe, mebbe,’ says poor Ben, ‘but I’m sorter used to the imperfections of this one.’ He took sixty-one different kinds of medicine but in spite of that he lingered for a good while. All Uncle David Courtaloe’s family are here. There’s a cabbage rose planted at the foot of every grave and, my, don’t they bloom! I come here every summer and gather them for my rose-jar. It would be a pity to let them go to waste, don’t you think?”39
“I . . . I suppose so.”
“My poor young sister Harriet lies here,” sighed Miss Valentine. “She had magnificent hair . . . about the color of yours . . . not so red perhaps. It reached to her knees. She was engaged when she died. They tell me you’re engaged. I never much wanted to be married but I think it would have been nice to be engaged.
Oh, I’ve had some chances of course . . . perhaps I was too fastidious . . . but a Courtaloe couldn’t marry everybody, could she?”
It did not seem likely she could.
“Frank Digby . . . over in that corner under the sumacs . . . wanted me. I did feel a little regretful over refusing him . . . but a Digby, my dear! He married Georgina Troop. She always went to church a little late to show off her clothes. My, she was fond of clothes. She was buried in such a pretty blue dress . . . I made it for her to wear to a wedding but in the end she wore it to her own funeral. She had three darling little children. They used to sit in front of me at church and I always gave them candy. Do you think it wrong to give children candy in church, Miss Shirley? Not peppermints . . . that would be all right . . . there’s something religious about peppermints, don’t you think? But the poor things don’t like them.”
When the Courtaloe’s plots were exhausted Miss Valentine’s reminiscences became a bit spicier. It did not make so much difference if you weren’t a Courtaloe.
“Old Mrs. Russell Pringle is here. I often wonder if she’s in heaven or not.”
“But why?” gasped a rather shocked Anne.
“Well, she always hated her sister, Mary Ann, who had died a few months before.
‘If Mary Ann is in heaven I won’t stay there,’ says she. And she was a woman who always kept her word, my dear . . . Pringle-like. She was born a Pringle and married her cousin Russell. This is Mrs. Dan Pringle . . . Janetta Bird. Seventy to a day when she died. Folks say she would have thought it wrong to die a day older than three-score and ten because that is the Bible limit. People do say such funny things, don’t they? I’ve heard that dying was the only thing she ever dared do without asking her husband. Do you know, my dear, what he did once when she bought a hat he didn’t like?”
“I can’t imagine.”40
“He et it,” said Miss Valentine solemnly. “Of course it was only a small hat . . . lace and flowers . . . no feathers. Still, it must have been rather indigestible. I understand he had gnawing pains in his stomach for quite a time. Of course I didn’t see him eat it, but I’ve always been assured the story was true. Do you suppose it was?”
“I’d believe anything of a Pringle,” said Anne bitterly.
Miss Valentine pressed her arm sympathetically.
“I feel for you . . . indeed I do. It’s terrible the way they’re treating you. But Summerside isn’t all Pringle, Miss Shirley.”
“Sometimes I think it is,” said Anne with a rueful smile.
“No, it isn’t. And there are plenty of people would like to see you get the better of them. Don’t you give in to them no matter what they do. It’s just the old Satan that’s got into them. But they hang together so and Miss Sarah did want that cousin of theirs to get the school.
“The Nathan Pringles are here. Nathan always believed his wife was trying to poison him but he didn’t seem to mind. He said it made life kind of exciting.
Once he kind of suspected she’d put arsenic in his porridge. He went out and fed it to a pig. The pig died three weeks afterwards. But he said maybe it was only a coincidence and anyway he couldn’t be sure it was the same pig. In the end she died before him and he said she’d always been a real good wife to him except for that one thing. I think it would be charitable to believe that he was mistaken about it.”
“‘Sacred to the memory of Miss Kinsey,’” read Anne in amazement. “What an extraordinary inscription! Had she no other name?”
“If she had, nobody ever knew it,” said Miss Valentine. “She came from Nova Scotia and worked for the George Pringles for forty years. She gave her name as Miss Kinsey and everybody called her that. She died suddenly and then it was discovered that nobody knew her first name and she had no relations that anybody could find. So they put that on her stone . . . the George Pringles buried her very nicely and paid for the monument. She was a faithful, hard-working creature but if you’d ever seen her you’d have thought she wasborn Miss Kinsey.
The James Morleys are here. I was at their golden wedding. Such a to-do . . . gifts and speeches and flowers . . . and their children all home and them smiling and bowing and just hating each other as hard as they could.”41 “Hating each other?”
“Bitterly, my dear. Every one knew it. They had for years and years . . . almost all their married life in fact. They quarreled on the way home from church after the wedding. I often wonder how they manage to lie here so peaceably side by side.”
Again Anne shivered. How terrible . . . sitting opposite each other at table . . . lying down beside each other at night . . . going to church with their babies to be christened . . . and hating each other through it all! Yet they must have loved to begin with. Was it possible she and Gilbert could ever . . . nonsense! The Pringles were getting on her nerves.
“Handsome John MacTabb is buried here. He was always suspected of being the reason why Annetta Kennedy drowned herself. The MacTabbs were all handsome but you could never believe a word they said. There used to be a stone here for his Uncle Samuel, who was reported drowned at sea fifty years ago.
When he turned up alive the family took the stone down. The man they bought it from wouldn’t take it back so Mrs. Samuel used it for a baking-board. Talk about a marble slab for mixing on! That old tombstone was just fine, she said. The MacTabb children were always bringing cookies to school with raised letters and figures on them . . . scraps of the epitaph. They gave them away real generous, but I never could bring myself to eat one. I’m peculiar that way. Mr. Harley Pringle is here. He had to wheel Peter MacTabb down Main Street once, in a wheelbarrow, wearing a bonnet, for an election bet. All Summerside turned out to see it . . . except the Pringles, of course. They nearly died of shame. Milly Pringle is here. I was very fond of Milly, even if she was a Pringle. She was so pretty and as light-footed as a fairy. Sometimes I think, my dear, on nights like this she must slip out of her grave and dance like she used to do. But I suppose a Christian shouldn’t be harboring such thoughts. This is Herb Pringle’s grave. He was one of the jolly Pringles. He always made you laugh. He laughed right out in church once . . . when the mouse dropped out of the flowers on Meta Pringle’s hat when she bowed in prayer. I didn’t feel much like laughing. I didn’t know where the mouse had gone. I pulled my skirts tight about my ankles and held them there till church was out, but it spoiled the sermon for me. Herb sat behind me and such a shout as he gave. People who couldn’t see the mouse thought he’d gone crazy. It seemed to me that laugh of his couldn’t die. If he was alive he’d stand up for you, Sarah or no Sarah. This, of course, is Captain Abraham Pringle’s monument.”42
It dominated the whole graveyard. Four receding platforms of stone formed a square pedestal on which rose a huge pillar of marble topped with a ridiculous draped urn beneath which a fat cherub was blowing a horn.
“How ugly!” said Anne candidly.
“Oh, do you think so?” Miss Valentine seemed rather shocked. “It was thought very handsome when it was erected. That is supposed to be Gabriel blowing his trumpet. I think it gives quite a touch of elegance to the graveyard. It cost nine hundred dollars. Captain Abraham was a very fine old man. It is a great pity he is dead. If he was living they wouldn’t be persecuting you the way they are. I don’t wonder Sarah and Ellen are proud of him, though I think they carry it a bit too far.”
At the graveyard gate Anne turned and looked back. A strange, peaceful hush lay over the windless land. Long fingers of moonlight were beginning to pierce the darkling firs, touching a gravestone here and there, and making strange shadows among them. But the graveyard wasn’t a sad place after all. Really, the people in it seemed alive after Miss Valentine’s tales.
“I’ve heard you write,” said Miss Valentine anxiously, as they went down the lane. “You won’t put the things I’ve told you in your stories, will you?”
“You may be sure I won’t,” promised Anne.
“Do you think it is really wrong . . . or dangerous . . . to speak ill of the dead?”
whispered Miss Valentine a bit anxiously.
“I don’t suppose it’s exactly either,” said Anne. “Only . . . rather unfair . . . like hitting those who can’t defend themselves. But you didn’t say anything very dreadful of anybody, Miss Courtaloe.”
“I told you Nathan Pringle thought his wife was trying to poison him . . .”
“But you give her the benefit of the doubt . . .” and Miss Valentine went her way reassured.
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