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Little Elizabeth Grayson had been born expecting things to happen. That they seldom happened under the watchful eyes of Grandmother and the Woman never brighted her expectations in the least. Things were just bound to happen some time . . . if not today, then tomorrow.
When Miss Shirley came to live at Windy Poplars Elizabeth felt that Tomorrow must be very close at hand and her visit to Green Gables was like a foretaste of it.
But now in the June of Miss Shirley’s third and last year in Summerside High, little Elizabeth’s heart had descended into the nice buttoned boots Grandmother always got for her to wear. Many children at the school where she went envied little Elizabeth those beautiful buttoned kid boots. But little Elizabeth cared nothing about buttoned boots when she could not tread the way to freedom in them. And now her adored Miss Shirley was going away from her forever. At the end of June she would be leaving Summerside and going back to that beautiful Green Gables. Little Elizabeth simply could not bear the thought of it. It was of no use for Miss Shirley to promise that she would have her down to Green Gables in the summer before she was married. Little Elizabeth knew somehow that Grandmother would not let her go again. Little Elizabeth knew Grandmother had never really approved of her intimacy with Miss Shirley.
“It will be the end of everything, Miss Shirley,” she sobbed.
“Let’s hope, darling, that it is only a new beginning,” said Anne cheerfully. But she felt downcast herself. No word had ever come from little Elizabeth’s father.
Either her letter had never reached him or he did not care. And, if he did not care, what was to become of Elizabeth? It was bad enough now in her childhood, but what would it be later on?
“Those two old dames will boss her to death,” Rebecca Dew had said. Anne felt that there was more truth than elegance in her remark.
Elizabeth knew that she was “bossed.” And she especially resented being bossed by the Woman. She did not like it in Grandmother, of course, but one conceded reluctantly that perhaps a grandmother had a certain right to boss you. But what right had the Woman? Elizabeth always wanted to ask her that right out.
She would do it some time . . . when Tomorrow came. And oh, how she would enjoy the look on the Woman’s face! 222
Grandmother would never let little Elizabeth go out walking by herself . . . for fear, she said, that she might be kidnaped by gypsies. A child had been once, forty years before. It was very seldom gypsies came to the Island now, and little Elizabeth felt that it was only an excuse. But why should Grandmother care whether she were kidnaped or not? Elizabeth knew that Grandmother and the Woman didn’t love her at all. Why, they never even spoke of her by her name if they could help it. It was always “the child.” How Elizabeth hated to be called “the child” just as they might have spoken of “the dog” or “the cat” if there had been one. But when Elizabeth had ventured a protest, Grandmother’s face had grown dark and angry and little Elizabeth had been punished for impertinence, while the Woman looked on, well content. Little Elizabeth often wondered just why the Woman hated her. Why should any one hate you when you were so small? Could you be worth hating? Little Elizabeth did not know that the mother whose life she had cost had been that bitter old woman’s darling and, if she had known, could not have understood what perverted shapes thwarted love can take.
Little Elizabeth hated the gloomy, splendid Evergreens, where everything seemed unacquainted with her although she had lived in it all her life. But after Miss Shirley had come to Windy Poplars everything had changed magically.
Little Elizabeth lived in a world of romance after Miss Shirley’s coming. There was beauty wherever you looked. Fortunately Grandmother and the Woman couldn’t prevent you from looking, though Elizabeth had no doubt they would if they could. The short walks along the red magic of the harbor road, which she was all too rarely permitted to share with Miss Shirley, were the high lights in her shadowy life. She loved everything she saw . . . the far-away lighthouse painted in odd red and white rings . . . the far, dim blue shores . . . the little silvery blue waves . . . the range lights that gleamed through the violet dusks . . . all gave her so much delight that it hurt. And the harbor with its smoky islands and glowing sunsets! Elizabeth always went up to a window in the mansard roof to watch them through the treetops . . . and the ships that sailed at the rising of the moon.
Ships that came back . . . ships that never came back. Elizabeth longed to go in one of them . . . on a voyage to the Island of Happiness. The ships that never came back stayed there, where it was always Tomorrow.
That mysterious red road ran on and on and her feet itched to follow it. Where did it lead to? Sometimes Elizabeth thought she would burst if she didn’t find out.
When Tomorrow really came she would fare forth on it and perhaps find an island all her own where she and Miss Shirley could live alone and Grandmother and the Woman could never come. They both hated water and would not put foot in a boat for anything. Little Elizabeth liked to picture herself standing on her island and mocking them, as they stood vainly glowering on the mainland shore.223 “This is Tomorrow,” she would taunt them. “You can’t catch me any more.
You’re only in Today.”
What fun it would be! How she would enjoy the look on the Woman’s face!
Then one evening in late June an amazing thing happened. Miss Shirley had told Mrs. Campbell that she had an errand next day at Flying Cloud, to see a certain Mrs. Thompson, who was convener of the refreshment committee of the Ladies’
Aid, and might she take Elizabeth with her. Grandmother had agreed with her usual dourness . . . Elizabeth could never understand why she agreed at all, being completely ignorant of the Pringle horror of a certain bit of information Miss Shirley possessed . . . but she had agreed.
“We’ll go right down to the harbor mouth,” whispered Anne, “after I’ve done my errand at Flying Cloud.”
Little Elizabeth went to bed in such excitement that she didn’t expect to sleep a wink. At last she was going to answer the lure of the road that had called so long.
In spite of her excitement, she conscientiously went through her little ritual of retiring. She folded her clothes and cleaned her teeth and brushed her golden hair. She thought she had rather pretty hair, though of course it wasn’t like Miss Shirley’s lovely red-gold with the ripples in it and the little love-locks that curled around her ears. Little Elizabeth would have given anything to have had hair like Miss Shirley’s.
Before she got into bed little Elizabeth opened one of the drawers in the high, black, polished old bureau and took a carefully hidden picture from under a pile of hankies . . . a picture of Miss Shirley which she had cut out of a special edition of the Weekly Courier that had reproduced a photograph of the High School staff.
“Good night, dearest Miss Shirley.” She kissed the picture and returned it to its hiding-place. Then she climbed into bed and cuddled down under the blankets . . . for the June night was cool and the breeze of the harbor searching. Indeed, it was more than a breeze tonight. It whistled and banged and shook and thumped, and Elizabeth knew the harbor would be a tossing expanse of waves under the moonlight. What fun it would be to steal down close to it under the moon! But it was only in Tomorrow one could do that.
Where was Flying Cloud? What a name! Out of Tomorrow again. It was maddening to be so near Tomorrow and not be able to get into it. But suppose the wind blew up rain for tomorrow! Elizabeth knew she would never be allowed to go anywhere in rain.224
She sat up in bed and clasped her hands.
“Dear God,” she said, “I don’t like to meddle, but could You see that it is fine tomorrow? Please, dear God.”
The next afternoon was glorious. Little Elizabeth felt as if she had slipped from some invisible shackles when she and Miss Shirley walked away from that house of gloom. She took a huge gulp of freedom, even if the Woman was scowling after them through the red glass of the big front door. How heavenly to be walking through the lovely world with Miss Shirley! It was always so wonderful to be alone with Miss Shirley. What would she do when Miss Shirley had gone?
But little Elizabeth put the thought firmly away. She wouldn’t spoil the day by thinking it. Perhaps . . . a great perhaps . . . she and Miss Shirley would get into Tomorrow this afternoon and then they would never be separated. Little Elizabeth just wanted to walk quietly on towards that blueness at the end of the world, drinking in the beauty around her. Every turn and kink of the road revealed new lovelinesses . . . and it turned and kinked interminably, following the windings of a tiny river that seemed to have appeared from nowhere.
On every side were fields of buttercups and clover where bees buzzed. Now and then they walked through a milky way of daisies. Far out the strait laughed at them in silver-tipped waves. The harbor was like watered silk. Little Elizabeth liked it better that way than when it was like pale blue satin. They drank the wind in. It was a very gentle wind. It purred about them and seemed to coax them on.
“Isn’t it nice, walking with the wind like this?” said little Elizabeth.
“A nice, friendly, perfumed wind,” said Anne, more to herself than Elizabeth.
“Such a wind as I used to think a mistral was. Mistral sounds like that. What a disappointment when I found out it was a rough, disagreeable wind!”
Elizabeth didn’t quite understand . . . she had never heard of the mistral . . . but the music of her beloved’s voice was enough for her. The very sky was glad. A sailor with gold rings in his ears . . . the very kind of person one would meet in Tomorrow . . . smiled as he passed them. Elizabeth thought of a verse she had learned in Sunday-school . . . “The little hills rejoice on every side.” Had the man who wrote that ever seen hills like those blue ones over the harbor?
“I think this road leads right to God,” she said dreamily.
“Perhaps,” said Anne. “Perhaps all roads do, little Elizabeth. We turn off here just now. We must go over to that island . . . that’s Flying Cloud.”225 Flying Cloud was a long, slender islet, lying about a quarter of a mile from the shore. There were trees on it and a house. Little Elizabeth had always wished she might have an island of her own, with a little bay of silver sand in it.
“How do we get to it?”
“We’ll row out in this flat,” said Miss Shirley, picking up the oars in a small boat tied to a leaning tree.
Miss Shirley could row. Was there anything Miss Shirley couldn’t do? When they reached the island, it proved to be a fascinating place where anything might happen. Of course it was in Tomorrow. Islands like this didn’t happen except in Tomorrow. They had no part or lot in humdrum Today.
A little maid who met them at the door of the house told Anne she would find Mrs. Thompson on the far end of the island, picking wild strawberries. Fancy an island where wild strawberries grew!
Anne went to hunt Mrs. Thompson up, but first she asked if little Elizabeth might wait in the living-room. Anne was thinking that little Elizabeth looked rather tired after her unaccustomedly long walk and needed a rest. Little Elizabeth didn’t think she did, but Miss Shirley’s lightest wish was law.
It was a beautiful room, with flowers everywhere and wild sea-breezes blowing in. Elizabeth liked the mirror over the mantel which reflected the room so beautifully and, through the open window, a glimpse of harbor and hill and strait.
All at once a man came through the door. Elizabeth felt a moment of dismay and terror. Was he a gypsy? He didn’t look like her idea of a gypsy but of course she had never seen one. He might be one . . . and then in a swift flash of intuition Elizabeth decided she didn’t care if he did kidnap her. She liked his crinkly hazel eyes and his crinkly brown hair and his square chin and his smile. For he was smiling.
“Now, who are you?” he asked.
“I’m . . . I’m me,” faltered Elizabeth, still a little flustered.
“Oh, to be sure . . . you. Popped out of the sea, I suppose . . . come up from the dunes . . . no name known among mortals.”226
Elizabeth felt that she was being made fun of a little. But she didn’t mind. In fact she rather liked it. But she answered a bit primly.
“My name is Elizabeth Grayson.”
There was a silence . . . a very queer silence. The man looked at her for a moment without saying anything. Then he politely asked her to sit down.
“I’m waiting for Miss Shirley,” she explained. “She’s gone to see Mrs. Thompson about the Ladies’ Aid Supper. When she comes back we are going down to the end of the world.”
Now, if you have any notion of kidnaping me, Mr. Man!
“Of course. But meanwhile you might as well be comfortable. And I must do the honors. What would you like in the way of light refreshment? Mrs. Thompson’s cat has probably brought something in.”
Elizabeth sat down. She felt oddly happy and at home.
“Can I have just what I like?”
“Then,” said Elizabeth triumphantly, “I’d like some ice-cream with strawberry jam on it.”
The man rang a bell and gave an order. Yes, this must be Tomorrow . . . no doubt about it. Ice-cream and strawberry jam didn’t appear in this magical manner in Today, cats or no cats.
“We’ll set a share aside for your Miss Shirley,” said the man.
They were good friends right away. The man didn’t talk a great deal, but he looked at Elizabeth very often. There was a tenderness in his face . . . a tenderness she had never seen before in anybody’s face, not even Miss Shirley’s.
She felt that he liked her. And she knew that she liked him.
Finally he glanced out of the window and stood up.
“I think I must go now,” he said. “I see your Miss Shirley coming up the walk, so you’ll not be alone.”227
“Won’t you wait and see Miss Shirley?” asked Elizabeth, licking her spoon to get the last vestige of the jam. Grandmother and the Woman would have died of horror had they seen her.
“Not this time,” said the man.
Elizabeth knew he hadn’t the slightest notion of kidnaping her, and she felt the strangest, most unaccountable sensation of disappointment.
“Good-by and thank you,” she said politely. “It is very nice here in Tomorrow.”
“This is Tomorrow,” explained Elizabeth. “I’ve always wanted to get into Tomorrow and now I have.”
“Oh, I see. Well, I’m sorry to say I don’t care much about Tomorrow. I would like to get back into Yesterday.”
Little Elizabeth was sorry for him. But how could he be unhappy? How could any one living in Tomorrow be unhappy?
Elizabeth looked longingly back to Flying Cloud as they rowed away. Just as they pushed through the scrub spruces that fringed the shore to the road, she turned for another farewell look at it. A flying team of horses attached to a truck wagon whirled around the bend, evidently quite beyond their driver’s control.
Elizabeth heard Miss Shirley shriek. . . .
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