سال دوم - فصل 02

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سال دوم - فصل 02

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2 The Dawlish Road was a meandering sort of road, and the afternoon was made for wanderers . . . or so Anne and Lewis thought as they prowled along it, now and then pausing to enjoy a sudden sapphire glimpse of the strait through the trees or to snap a particularly lovely bit of scenery or picturesque little house in a leafy hollow. It was not, perhaps, quite so pleasant to call at the houses themselves and ask for subscriptions for the benefit of the Dramatic Club, but Anne and Lewis took turns doing the talking . . . he taking on the women while Anne manipulated the men.

“Take the men if you’re going in that dress and hat,” Rebecca Dew had advised.

“I’ve had a good bit of experience in canvassing in my day and it all went to show that the better-dressed and better-looking you are the more money . . . or promise of it . . . you’ll get, if it’s the men you have to tackle. But if it’s the women, put on the oldest and ugliest things you have.”

“Isn’t a road an interesting thing, Lewis?” said Anne dreamily. “Not a straight road, but one with ends and kinks around which anything of beauty and surprise may be lurking. I’ve always loved bends in roads.”

“Where does this Dawlish Road go to?” asked Lewis practically . . . though at the same moment he was reflecting that Miss Shirley’s voice always made him think of spring.

“I might be horrid and school-teacherish, Lewis, and say that it doesn’t go anywhere . . . it stays right here. But I won’t. As to where it goes or where it leads to . . . who cares? To the end of the world and back, perhaps. Remember what Emerson says . . . ‘Oh, what have I to do with time?’ That’s our motto for today. I expect the universe will muddle on if we let it alone for a while. Look at those cloud shadows . . . and that tranquillity of green valleys . . . and that house with an apple tree at each of its corners. Imagine it in spring. This is one of the days people feel alive and every wind of the world is a sister. I’m glad there are so many clumps of spice ferns along this road . . . spice ferns with gossamer webs on them. It brings back the days when I pretended . . . or believed . . . I think I really did believe . . . that gossamer webs were fairies’ tablecloths.”

They found a wayside spring in a golden hollow and sat down on a moss that seemed made of tiny ferns, to drink from a cup that Lewis twisted out of birch bark.112

“You never know the real joy of drinking till you’re dry with thirst and find water,” he said. “That summer I worked out west on the railroad they were building, I got lost on the prairie one hot day and wandered for hours. I thought I’d die of thirst and then I came to a settler’s shack, and he had a little spring like this in a clump of willows. How I drank! I’ve understood the Bible and its love of good water better ever since.”

“We’re going to get some water from another quarter,” said Anne rather anxiously. “There’s a shower coming up and . . . Lewis, I love showers, but I’ve got on my best hat and my second-best dress. And there isn’t a house within half a mile.”

“There’s an old deserted blacksmith’s forge over there,” said Lewis, “but we’ll have to run for it.”

Run they did and from its shelter enjoyed the shower as they had enjoyed everything else on that carefree, gypsying afternoon. A veiled hush had fallen over the world. All the young breezes that had been whispering and rustling so importantly along the Dawlish Road had folded their wings and become motionless and soundless. Not a leaf stirred, not a shadow flickered. The maple leaves at the bend of the road turned wrong side out until the trees looked as if they were turning pale from fear. A huge cool shadow seemed to engulf them like a green wave . . . the cloud had reached them. Then the rain, with a rush and sweep of wind. The shower pattered sharply down on the leaves, danced along the smoking red road and pelted the roof of the old forge right merrily.

“If this lasts . . .” said Lewis.

But it didn’t. As suddenly as it had come up, it was over and the sun was shining on the wet, glistening trees. Dazzling glimpses of blue sky appeared between the torn white clouds. Far away they could see a hill still dim with rain, but below them the cup of the valley seemed to brim over with peach-tinted mists. The woods around were pranked out with a sparkle and glitter as of springtime, and a bird began to sing in the big maple over the forge as if he were cheated into believing it really was springtime, so amazingly fresh and sweet did the world seem all at once.

“Let’s explore this,” said Anne, when they resumed their tramp, looking along a little side road running between old rail fences smothered in goldenrod.

“I don’t think there’s anybody living along that road,” said Lewis doubtfully. “I think it’s only a road running down to the harbor.”113

“Never mind . . . let’s go along it. I’ve always had a weakness for side roads . . . something off the beaten track, lost and green and lonely. Smell the wet grass, Lewis. Besides, I feel in my bones that there is a house on it . . . a certain kind of house . . . a very snappable house.”

Anne’s bones did not deceive her. Soon there was a house . . . and a snappable house to boot. It was a quaint, old-fashioned one, low in the eaves, with square, small-paned windows. Big willows stretched patriarchal arms over it and an apparent wilderness of perennials and shrubs crowded all about it. It was weather-gray and shabby, but the big barns beyond it were snug and prosperouslooking, up-to-date in every respect. “I’ve always heard, Miss Shirley, that when a man’s barns are better than his house, it’s a sign that his income exceeds his expenditure,” said Lewis, as they sauntered up the deep-rutted grassy lane.

“I should think it was a sign that he thought more of his horses than of his family,” laughed Anne. “I’m not expecting a subscription to our club here, but that’s the most likely house for a prize contest we’ve encountered yet. It’s grayness won’t matter in a photograph.”

“This lane doesn’t look as if it were much traveled,” said Lewis with a shrug.

“Evidently the folks who live here aren’t strongly sociable. I’m afraid we’ll find they don’t even know what a dramatic club is. Anyhow, I’m going to secure my picture before we rouse any of them from their lair.”

The house seemed deserted, but after the picture was taken they opened a little white gate, crossed the yard and knocked on a faded blue kitchen door, the front door evidently being like that of Windy Poplars, more for show than for use . . . if a door literally hidden in Virginia creeper could be said to be for show.

They expected at least the civility which they had hitherto met in their calls, whether backed up with generosity or not. Consequently they were decidedly taken aback when the door was jerked open and on the threshold appeared, not the smiling farmer’s wife or daughter they had expected to see, but a tall, broadshouldered man of fifty, with grizzled hair and bushy eyebrows, who demanded unceremoniously,

“What do you want?”

“We have called, hoping to interest you in our High School Dramatic Club,”

began Anne, rather lamely. But she was spared further effort.114 “Never heard of it. Don’t want to hear about it. Nothing to do with it,” was the uncompromising interruption, and the door was promptly shut in their faces.

“I believe we’ve been snubbed,” said Anne as they walked away.

“Nice amiable gentleman, that,” grinned Lewis. “I’m sorry for his wife, if he has one.”

“I don’t think he can have, or she would civilize him a trifle,” said Anne, trying to recover her shattered poise. “I wish Rebecca Dew had the handling of him. But we’ve got his house, at least, and I’ve a premonition that it’s going to win the prize. Bother! I’ve just got a pebble in my shoe and I’m going to sit down on my gentleman’s stone dyke, with or without his permission, and remove it.”

“Luckily it’s out of sight of the house,” said Lewis.

Anne had just retied her shoe-lace when they heard something pushing softly through the jungle of shrubbery on their right. Then a small boy about eight years of age came into view and stood surveying them bashfully, with a big apple turnover clasped tightly in his chubby hands. He was a pretty child, with glossy brown curls, big trustful brown eyes and delicately modeled features. There was an air of refinement about him, in spite of the fact that he was bare-headed and bare-legged, with only a faded blue cotton shirt and a pair of threadbare velvet knickerbockers between head and legs. But he looked like a small prince in disguise.

Just behind him was a big black Newfoundland dog whose head was almost on a level with the lad’s shoulder.

Anne looked at him with a smile that always won children’s hearts.

“Hello, sonny,” said Lewis. “Who belongs to you?”

The boy came forward with an answering smile, holding out his turnover.

“This is for you to eat,” he said shyly. “Dad made it for me, but I’d rather give it to you. I’ve lots to eat.”

Lewis, rather tactlessly, was on the point of refusing to take the little chap’s snack, but Anne gave him a quick nudge. Taking the hint, he accepted it gravely and handed it to Anne, who, quite as gravely, broke it in two and gave half of it back to him. They knew they must eat it and they had painful doubts as to115 “Dad’s” ability in the cooking line, but the first mouthful reassured them. “Dad”

might not be strong on courtesy but he could certainly make turnovers.

“This is delicious,” said Anne. “What is your name, dear?”

“Teddy Armstrong,” said the small benefactor. “But Dad always calls me Little Fellow. I’m all he has, you know. Dad is awful fond of me and I’m awful fond of Dad. I’m afraid you think my dad is impolite ‘cause he shut that door so quick, but he doesn’t mean to be. I heard you asking for something to eat.” (“We didn’t but it doesn’t matter,” thought Anne.)

“I was in the garden behind the hollyhocks, so I just thought I’d bring you my turnover ‘cause I’m always so sorry for poor people who haven’t plenty to eat. I have, always. My dad is a splendid cook. You ought to see the rice puddings he can make.”

“Does he put raisins in them?” asked Lewis with a twinkle.

“Lots and lots. There’s nothing mean about my dad.”

“Haven’t you any mother, darling?” asked Anne.

“No. My mother is dead. Mrs. Merrill told me once she’d gone to heaven, but my dad says there’s no such place and I guess he ought to know. My dad is an awful wise man. He’s read thousands of books. I mean to be just ‘zackly like him when I grow up . . . only I’ll always give people things to eat when they want them. My dad isn’t very fond of people, you know, but he’s awful good to me.”

“Do you go to school?” asked Lewis.

“No. My dad teaches me at home. The trustees told him I’d have to go next year, though. I think I’d like to go to school and have some other boys to play with.

‘Course I’ve got Carlo and Dad himself is splendid to play with when he has time.

My dad is pretty busy, you know. He has to run the farm and keep the house clean, too. That’s why he can’t be bothered having people around, you see. When I get bigger I’ll be able to help him lots and then he’ll have more time to be polite to folks.”

“That turnover was just about right, Little Fellow,” said Lewis, swallowing the last crumb.

The Little Fellow’s eyes beamed.

“I’m so glad you liked it,” he said.

“Would you like to have your picture taken?” said Anne, feeling that it would never do to offer this generous small soul money. “If you would, Lewis will take it.”

“Oh, wouldn’t I!” said the Little Fellow eagerly. “Carlo, too?”

“Certainly Carlo, too.”

Anne posed the two prettily before a background of shrubs, the little lad standing with his arm about his big, curly playmate’s neck, both dog and boy seeming equally well pleased, and Lewis took the picture with his last remaining plate.

“If it comes out well I’ll send you one by mail,” he promised. “How shall I address it?”

“Teddy Armstrong, care of Mr. James Armstrong, Glencove Road,” said the Little Fellow. “Oh, won’t it be fun to have something coming to me mineself through the post-office! I tell you I’ll feel awful proud. I won’t say a word to Dad about it so that it’ll be a splendid surprise for him.”

“Well, look out for your parcel in two or three weeks,” said Lewis, as they bade him good-by. But Anne suddenly stooped and kissed the little sunburned face.

There was something about it that tugged at her heart. He was so sweet . . . so gallant . . . so motherless!

They looked back at him before a curve in the lane and saw him standing on the dyke, with his dog, waving his hand to them.

Of course Rebecca Dew knew all about the Armstrongs.

“James Armstrong has never got over his wife’s death five years ago,” she said.

“He wasn’t so bad before that . . . agreeable enough, though a bit of a hermit.

Kind of built that way. He was just wrapped up in his bit of a wife . . . she was twenty years younger than he was. Her death was an awful shock to him I’ve heard . . . just seemed to change his nature completely. He got sour and cranky.

Wouldn’t even get a housekeeper . . . looked after his house and child himself. He kept bachelor’s hall for years before he was married, so he ain’t a bad hand at it.”

“But it’s no life for the child,” said Aunt Chatty. “His father never takes him to church or anywhere he’d see people.”

“He worships the boy, I’ve heard,” said Aunt Kate.

“‘Thou shalt have no other gods before me,’” quoted Rebecca Dew suddenly.

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