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4 “The old porch thermometer says it’s zero and the new side-door one says it’s ten above,” remarked Anne, one frosty December night. “So I don’t know whether to take my muff or not.”
“Better go by the old thermometer,” said Rebecca Dew cautiously. “It’s probably more used to our climate. Where are you going this cold night, anyway?”
“I’m going round to Temple Street to ask Katherine Brooke to spend the Christmas holidays with me at Green Gables.”
“You’ll spoil your holidays, then,” said Rebecca Dew solemnly. “She’d go about snubbing the angels, that one . . . that is, if she ever condescended to enter heaven. And the worst of it is, she’s proud of her bad manners . . . thinks it shows her strength of mind no doubt!”
“My brain agrees with every word you say but my heart simply won’t,” said Anne. “I feel, in spite of everything, that Katherine Brooke is only a shy, unhappy girl under her disagreeable rind. I can never make any headway with her in Summerside, but if I can get her to Green Gables I believe it will thaw her out.”
“You won’t get her. She won’t go,” predicted Rebecca Dew. “Probably she’ll take it as an insult to be asked . . . think you’re offering her charity. We asked her here once to Christmas dinner . . . the year afore you came . . . you remember, Mrs.
MacComber, the year we had two turkeys give us and didn’t know how we was to get ‘em et . . . and all she said was, ‘No, thank you. If there’s anything I hate, it’s the word Christmas!’”
“But that is so dreadful . . . hating Christmas! Something has to be done, Rebecca Dew. I’m going to ask her and I’ve a queer feeling in my thumbs that tells me she will come.”
“Somehow,” said Rebecca Dew reluctantly, “when you say a thing is going to happen, a body believes it will. You haven’t got a second sight, have you?
Captain MacComber’s mother had it. Useter give me the creeps.”
“I don’t think I have anything that need give you creeps. It’s only just . . . I’ve had a feeling for some time that Katherine Brooke is almost crazy with loneliness125 under her bitter outside and that my invitation will come pat to the psychological moment, Rebecca Dew.”
“I am not a B.A.,” said Rebecca with awful humility, “and I do not deny your right to use words I cannot always understand. Neither do I deny that you can wind people round your little finger. Look how you managed the Pringles. But I do say I pity you if you take that iceberg and nutmeg grater combined home with you for Christmas.”
Anne was by no means as confident as she pretended to be during her walk to Temple Street. Katherine Brooke had really been unbearable of late. Again and again Anne, rebuffed, had said, as grimly as Poe’s raven, “Nevermore.” Only yesterday Katherine had been positively insulting at a staff meeting. But in an unguarded moment Anne had seen something looking out of the older girl’s eyes . . . a passionate, half-frantic something like a caged creature mad with discontent.
Anne spent the first half of the night trying to decide whether to invite Katherine Brooke to Green Gables or not. Finally she fell asleep with her mind irrevocably made up.
Katherine’s landlady showed Anne into the parlor and shrugged a fat shoulder when she asked for Miss Brooke.
“I’ll tell her you’re here but I dunno if she’ll come down. She’s sulking. I told her at dinner tonight that Mrs. Rawlins says its scandalous the way she dresses, for a teacher in Summerside High, and she took it high and mighty as usual.”
“I don’t think you should have told Miss Brooke that,” said Anne reproachfully.
“But I thought she ought to know,” said Mrs. Dennis somewhat waspishly.
“Did you also think she ought to know that the Inspector said she was one of the best teachers in the Maritimes?” asked Anne. “Or didn’t you know it?”
“Oh, I heard it. But she’s stuck-up enough now without making her any worse.
Proud’s no name for it . . . though what she’s got to be proud of, I dunno. Of course she was mad anyhow tonight because I’d said she couldn’t have a dog.
She’s took a notion into her head she’d like to have a dog. Said she’d pay for his rations and see he was no bother. But what’d I do with him when she was in school? I put my foot down. ‘I’m boarding no dogs,’ sez I.”126 “Oh, Mrs. Dennis, won’t you let her have a dog? He wouldn’t bother you . . . much. You could keep him in the basement while she was in school. And a dog really is such a protection at night. I wish you would . . . please.”
There was always something about Anne Shirley’s eyes when she said “please”
that people found hard to resist. Mrs. Dennis, in spite of fat shoulders and a meddlesome tongue, was not unkind at heart. Katherine Brooke simply got under her skin at times with her ungracious ways.
“I dunno why you should worry as to her having a dog or not. I didn’t know you were such friends. She hasn’t any friends. I never had such an unsociable boarder.”
“I think that is why she wants a dog, Mrs. Dennis. None of us can live without some kind of companionship.”
“Well, it’s the first human thing I’ve noticed about her,” said Mrs. Dennis. “I dunno’s I have any awful objection to a dog, but she sort of vexed me with her sarcastic way of asking . . . ‘I s’pose you wouldn’t consent if I asked you if I might have a dog, Mrs. Dennis,’ she sez, haughty like. Set her up with it! ‘You’re s’posing right,’ sez I, as haughty as herself. I don’t like eating my words any more than most people, but you can tell her she can have a dog if she’ll guarantee he won’t misbehave in the parlor.”
Anne did not think the parlor could be much worse if the dog did misbehave. She eyed the dingy lace curtains and the hideous purple roses on the carpet with a shiver.
“I’m sorry for any one who has to spend Christmas in a boarding-house like this,”
she thought. “I don’t wonder Katherine hates the word. I’d like to give this place a good airing . . . it smells of a thousand meals. Why does Katherine go on boarding here when she has a good salary?”
“She says you can come up,” was the message Mrs. Dennis brought back, rather dubiously, for Miss Brooke had run true to form.
The narrow, steep stair was repellent. It didn’t want you. Nobody would go up who didn’t have to. The linoleum in the hall was worn to shreds. The little back hall-bedroom where Anne presently found herself was even more cheerless than the parlor. It was lighted by one glaring unshaded gas jet. There was an iron bed with a valley in the middle of it and a narrow, sparsely draped window looking out on a backyard garden where a large crop of tin cans flourished. But beyond it127 was a marvelous sky and a row of lombardies standing out against long, purple, distant hills.
“Oh, Miss Brooke, look at that sunset,” said Anne rapturously from the squeaky, cushionless rocker to which Katherine had ungraciously pointed her.
“I’ve seen a good many sunsets,” said the latter coldly, without moving.
(“Condescending to me with your sunsets!” she thought bitterly.) “You haven’t seen this one. No two sunsets are alike. Just sit down here and let us let it sink into our souls,” said Anne. Thought Anne, “Do you ever say anything pleasant?”
“Don’t be ridiculous, please.”
The most insulting words in the world! With an added edge of insult in Katherine’s contemptuous tones. Anne turned from her sunset and looked at Katherine, much more than half inclined to get up and walk out. But Katherine’s eyes looked a trifle strange. Had she been crying? Surely not . . . you couldn’t imagine Katherine Brooke crying.
“You don’t make me feel very welcome,” Anne said slowly.
“I can’t pretend things. I haven’t your notable gift for doing the queen act . . . saying exactly the right thing to every one. You’re not welcome. What sort of room is this to welcome any one to?”
Katherine made a scornful gesture at the faded walls, the shabby bare chairs and the wobbly dressing-table with its petticoat of limp muslin.
“It isn’t a nice room, but why do you stay here if you don’t like it?”
“Oh . . . why . . . Why? You wouldn’t understand. It doesn’t matter. I don’t care what anybody thinks. What brought you here tonight? I don’t suppose you came just to soak in the sunset.”
“I came to ask if you would spend the Christmas holidays with me at Green Gables.”
(“Now,” thought Anne, “for another broadside of sarcasm! I do wish she’d sit down at least. She just stands there as if waiting for me to go.”) But there was silence for a moment. Then Katherine said slowly,128 “Why do you ask me? It isn’t because you like me . . . even you couldn’t pretend that.”
“It’s because I can’t bear to think of any human being spending Christmas in a place like this,” said Anne candidly.
The sarcasm came then.
“Oh, I see. A seasonable outburst of charity. I’m hardly a candidate for that yet, Miss Shirley.”
Anne got up. She was out of patience with this strange, aloof creature. She walked across the room and looked Katherine squarely in the eye. “Katherine Brooke, whether you know it or not, what you want is a good spanking.”
They gazed at each other for a moment.
“It must have relieved you to say that,” said Katherine. But somehow the insulting tone had gone out of her voice. There was even a faint twitch at the corner of her mouth.
“It has,” said Anne. “I’ve been wanting to tell you just that for some time. I didn’t ask you to Green Gables out of charity . . . you know that perfectly well. I told you my true reason.Nobody ought to spend Christmas here . . . the very idea is indecent.”
“You asked me to Green Gables just because you are sorry for me.”
“I am sorry for you. Because you’ve shut out life . . . and now life is shutting you out. Stop, it, Katherine. Open your doors to life . . . and life will come in.”
“The Anne Shirley version of the old bromide, ‘If you bring a smiling visage to the glass you meet a smile,’” said Katherine with a shrug.
“Like all bromides, that’s absolutely true. Now, are you coming to Green Gables or are you not?”
“What would you say if I accepted . . . to yourself, not to me?”
“I’d say you were showing the first faint glimmer of common sense I’d ever detected in you,” retorted Anne.129
Katherine laughed . . . surprisingly. She walked across to the window, scowled at the fiery streak which was all that was left of the scorned sunset and then turned.
“Very well . . . I’ll go. Now you can go through the motions of telling me you’re delighted and that we’ll have a jolly time.”
“I am delighted. But I don’t know if you’ll have a jolly time or not. That will depend a good deal on yourself, Miss Brooke.”
“Oh, I’ll behave myself decently. You’ll be surprised. You won’t find me a very exhilarating guest, I suppose, but I promise you I won’t eat with my knife or insult people when they tell me it’s a fine day. I tell you frankly that the only reason I’m going is because even I can’t stick the thought of spending the holidays here alone. Mrs. Dennis is going to spend Christmas week with her daughter in Charlottetown. It’s a bore to think of getting my own meals. I’m a rotten cook. So much for the triumph of matter over mind. But will you give me your word of honor that you won’t wish me a merry Christmas? I just don’t want to be merry at Christmas.”
“I won’t. But I can’t answer for the twins.”
“I’m not going to ask you to sit down here . . . you’d freeze . . . but I see that there’s a very fine moon in place of your sunset and I’ll walk home with you and help you to admire it if you like.”
“I do like,” said Anne, “but I want to impress on your mind that we have much finer moons in Avonlea.”
“So she’s going?” said Rebecca Dew as she filled Anne’s hot-water bottle. “Well, Miss Shirley, I hope you’ll never try to induce me to turn Mohammedan . . . because you’d likely succeed. Where is That Cat? Out frisking round Summerside and the weather at zero.”
“Not by the new thermometer. And Dusty Miller is curled up on the rockingchair by my stove in the tower, snoring with happiness.”
“Ah well,” said Rebecca Dew with a little shiver as she shut the kitchen door, “I wish every one in the world was as warm and sheltered as we are tonight.”
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