سال سوم - فصل 11

مجموعه: آن شرلی با موهای قرمز / : آن در ویندی پاپلز / فصل 40

آن شرلی با موهای قرمز

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سال سوم - فصل 11

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11

The dining-room was in keeping with the rest of the house. There was another ornate chandelier, an equally ornate, gilt-framed mirror over the mantelpiece, and a table beautifully set with silver and crystal and old Crown Derby. The supper, served by a rather grim and ancient maid, was bountiful and exceedingly good, and Anne’s healthy young appetite did full justice to it. Miss Minerva kept silence for a time and Anne dared say nothing for fear of starting another avalanche of tragedies. Once a large, sleek black cat came into the room and sat down by Miss Minerva with a hoarse meow. Miss Minerva poured a saucer of cream and set it down before him. She seemed so much more human after this that Anne lost a good deal of her awe of the last of the Tomgallons.

“Do have some more of the peaches, my dear. You’ve eaten nothing . . . positively nothing.”

“Oh, Miss Tomgallon, I’ve enjoyed . . .”

“The Tomgallons always set a good table,” said Miss Minerva complacently.

“My Aunt Sophia made the best sponge-cake I ever tasted. I think the only person my father ever really hated to see come to our house was his sister Mary, because she had such a poor appetite. She just minced and tasted. He took it as a personal insult. Father was a very unrelenting man. He never forgave my brother Richard for marrying against his will. He ordered him out of the house and he was never allowed to enter it again. Father always repeated the Lord’s Prayer at family worship every morning, but after Richard flouted him he always left out the sentence, ‘Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.’ I can see him,” said Miss Minerva dreamily, “kneeling there leaving it out.”

After supper they went to the smallest of the three drawing-rooms . . . which was still rather big and grim . . . and spent the evening before the huge fire . . . a pleasant, friendly enough fire. Anne crocheted at a set of intricate doilies and Miss Minerva knitted away at an afghan and kept up what was practically a monologue composed in great part of colorful and gruesome Tomgallon history.

“This is a house of tragical memories, my dear.”

“Miss Tomgallon, didn’t any pleasant thing ever happen in this house?” asked Anne, achieving a complete sentence by a mere fluke. Miss Minerva had had to stop talking long enough to blow her nose.218

“Oh, I suppose so,” said Miss Minerva, as if she hated to admit it. “Yes, of course, we used to have gay times here when I was a girl. They tell me you’re writing a book about every one in Summerside, my dear.”

“I’m not . . . there isn’t a word of truth . . .”

“Oh!” Miss Minerva was plainly a little disappointed. “Well, if ever you do you are at liberty to use any of our stories you like, perhaps with the names disguised.

And now what do you say to a game of parchesi?”

“I’m afraid it is time I was going. . . .”

“Oh, my dear, you can’t go home tonight. It’s pouring cats and dogs . . . and listen to the wind. I don’t keep a carriage now . . . I have so little use for one . . . and you can’t walk half a mile in that deluge. You must be my guest for the night.”

Anne was not sure she wanted to spend a night in Tomgallon House. But neither did she want to walk to Windy Poplars in a March tempest. So they had their game of parchesi . . . in which Miss Minerva was so interested that she forgot to talk about horrors . . . and then a “bedtime snack.” They ate cinnamon toast and drank cocoa out of old Tomgallon cups of marvelous thinness and beauty.

Finally Miss Minerva took her up to a guest-room which Anne at first was glad to see was not the one where Miss Minerva’s sister had died of a stroke.

“This is Aunt Annabella’s room,” said Miss Minerva, lighting the candles in the silver candlesticks on a rather pretty green dressing-table and turning out the gas.

Matthew Tomgallon had blown out the gas one night . . . whereupon exit Matthew Tomgallon. “She was the handsomest of all the Tomgallons. That’s her picture above the mirror. Do you notice what a proud mouth she had? She made that crazy quilt on the bed. I hope you’ll be comfortable, my dear. Mary has aired the bed and put two hot bricks in it. And she has aired this night-dress for you . . .” pointing to an ample flannel garment hanging over a chair and smelling strongly of moth balls. “I hope it will fit you. It hasn’t been worn since poor Mother died in it. Oh, I nearly forgot to tell you . . .” Miss Minerva turned back at the door . . . “this is the room Oscar Tomgallon came back to life in–after being thought dead for two days. They didn’t want him to, you know–that was the tragedy. I hope you’ll sleep well, my dear.”

Anne did not know if she could sleep at all or not. Suddenly there seemed something strange and alien in the room . . . something a little hostile. But is there not something strange about any room that has been occupied through219 generations? Death has lurked in it . . . love has been rosy red in it . . . births have been here . . . all the passions . . . all the hopes. It is full of wraths.

But this was really rather a terrible old house, full of the ghosts of dead hatreds and heart-breaks, crowded with dark deeds that had never been dragged into light and were still festering in its corners and hidy-holes. Too many women must have wept here. The wind wailed very eerily in the spruces by the window. For a moment Anne felt like running out, storm or no storm.

Then she took herself resolutely in hand and commanded common sense. If tragic and dreadful things had happened here, many shadowy years agone, amusing and lovely things must have happened, too. Gay and pretty girls had danced here and talked over their charming secrets; dimpled babies had been born here; there had been weddings and balls and music and laughter. The sponge-cake lady must have been a comfortable creature and the unforgiven Richard a gallant lover.

“I’ll think on these things and go to bed. What a quilt to sleep under! I wonder if I’ll be as crazy as it by morning. And this is a spare room! I’ve never forgotten what a thrill it used to give me to sleep in any one’s spare room.”

Anne uncoiled and brushed her hair under the very nose of Annabella Tomgallon, who stared down at her with a face in which there were pride and vanity, and something of the insolence of great beauty. Anne felt a little creepy as she looked in the mirror. Who knew what faces might look out of it at her? All the tragic and haunted ladies who had ever looked into it, perhaps. She bravely opened the closet door, half expecting any number of skeletons to tumble out, and hung up her dress. She sat down calmly on a rigid chair, which looked as if it would be insulted if anybody sat on it, and took off her shoes. Then she put on the flannel nightgown, blew out the candles and got into the bed, pleasantly warm from Mary’s bricks. For a little while the rain streaming on the panes and the shriek of the wind around the old eaves prevented her from sleeping. Then she forgot all the Tomgallon tragedies in dreamless slumber until she found herself looking at dark fir boughs against a red sunrise.

“I’ve enjoyed having you so much, my dear,” said Miss Minerva when Anne left after breakfast. “We’ve had a real cheerful visit, haven’t we? Though I’ve lived so long alone I’ve almost forgotten how to talk. And I need not say what a delight it is to meet a really charming and unspoiled young girl in this frivolous age. I didn’t tell you yesterday but it was my birthday, and it was very pleasant to have a bit of youth in the house. There is nobody to remember my birthday now . . .”

Miss Minerva gave a faint sigh . . . “and once there were so many.”220 “Well, I suppose you heard a pretty grim chronicle,” said Aunt Chatty that night.

“Did all those things Miss Minerva told me really happen, Aunt Chatty?”

“Well, the queer thing is, they did,” said Aunt Chatty. “It’s a curious thing, Miss Shirley, but a lot of awful things did happen to the Tomgallons.”

“I don’t know that there were many more than happen in any large family in the course of six generations,” said Aunt Kate.

“Oh, I think there were. They really did seem under a curse. So many of them died sudden or violent deaths. Of course there is a streak of insanity in them . . . every one knows that. That was curse enough . . . but I’ve heard an old story . . . I can’t recall the details . . . of the carpenter who built the house cursing it.

Something about the contract . . . old Paul Tomgallon held him to it and it ruined him, it cost so much more than he had figured.”

“Miss Minerva seems rather proud of the curse,” said Anne.

“Poor old thing, it’s all she has,” said Rebecca Dew.

Anne smiled to think of the stately Miss Minerva being referred to as a poor old thing. But she went to the tower room and wrote to Gilbert:

“I thought Tomgallon House was a sleepy old place where nothing ever happened. Well, perhaps things don’t happen now but evidently they did. Little Elizabeth is always talking of Tomorrow. But the old Tomgallon house is Yesterday. I’m glad I don’t live in Yesterday . . . that Tomorrow is still a friend.

“Of course I think Miss Minerva has all the Tomgallon liking for the spotlight and gets no end of satisfaction out of her tragedies. They are to her what husband and children are to other women. But, oh, Gilbert, no matter how old we get in years to come, don’t let’s ever see life as all tragedy and revel in it. I think I’d hate a house one hundred and twenty years old. I hope when we get our house of dreams it will either be new, ghostless and traditionless, or, if that can’t be, at least have been occupied by reasonably happy people. I shall never forget my night at Tomgallon House. And for once in my life I’ve met a person who could talk me down.”221

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