سال سوم - فصل 02

مجموعه: آن شرلی با موهای قرمز / : آن در ویندی پاپلز / فصل 31

آن شرلی با موهای قرمز

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سال سوم - فصل 02

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2 Saturday forenoon Anne betook herself to the pretty, old-fashioned cottage on a street that straggled out into the country, where Mrs. Raymond and her famous twins lived. Mrs. Raymond was all ready to depart . . . rather gayly dressed for a funeral, perhaps . . . especially with regard to the beflowered hat perched on top of the smooth brown waves of hair that flowed around her head . . . but looking very beautiful. The eight-year-old twins, who had inherited her beauty, were sitting on the stairs, their delicate faces wreathed with a quite cherubic expression. They had complexions of pink and white, large China-blue eyes and aureoles of fine, fluffy, pale yellow hair.

They smiled with engaging sweetness when their mother introduced them to Anne and told them that dear Miss Shirley had been so kind as to come and take care of them while Mother was away at dear Aunty Ella’s funeral, and of course they would be good and not give her one teeny-weeny bit of trouble, wouldn’t they, darlings?

The darlings nodded gravely and contrived, though it hadn’t seemed possible, to look more angelic than ever.

Mrs. Raymond took Anne down the walk to the gate with her.

“They’re all I’ve got . . . now,” she said pathetically. “Perhaps I may have spoiled them a little . . . I know people say I have . . . people always know so much better how you ought to bring up your children than you know yourself, haven’t you noticed, Miss Shirley? But I think loving is better than spanking any day, don’t you, Miss Shirley? I’m sure you will have no trouble with them. Children always know whom they can play on and whom they can’t, don’t you think? That poor old Miss Prouty up the street . . . I had her to stay with them one day, but the poor darlings couldn’t bear her. So of course they teased her a good bit . . . you know what children are. She has revenged herself by telling the most ridiculous tales about them all over town. But they’ll just love you and I know they’ll be angels. Of course, they have high spirits . . . but children should have, don’t you think? It’s so pitiful to see children with a cowed appearance, isn’t it? I like them to be natural, don’t you? Too good children don’t seem natural, do they? Don’t let them sail their boats in the bathtub or go wading in the pond, will you? I’m so afraid of them catching cold . . . their father died of pneumonia.”178

Mrs. Raymond’s large blue eyes looked as if they were going to overflow, but she gallantly blinked the tears away.

“Don’t worry if they quarrel a little–children always do quarrel, don’t you think?

But if any outsider attacks them . . . my dear!! They really just worship each other, you know. I could have taken one of them to the funeral, but they simply wouldn’t hear of it. They’ve never been separated a day in their lives. And I couldn’t look after twins at a funeral, could I now?”

“Don’t worry, Mrs. Raymond,” said Anne kindly. “I’m sure Gerald and Geraldine and I will have a beautiful day together. I love children.”

“I know it. I felt sure the minute I saw you that you loved children. One can always tell, don’t you think? There’s something about a person who loves children. Poor old Miss Prouty detests them. She looks for the worst in children and so of course she finds it. You can’t conceive what a comfort it is to me to reflect that my darlings are under the care of one who loves and understands children. I’m sure I’ll quite enjoy the day.”

“You might take us to the funeral,” shrieked Gerald, suddenly sticking his head out of an upstairs window. “We never have any fun like that.”

“Oh, they’re in the bathroom!” exclaimed Mrs. Raymond tragically. “Dear Miss Shirley, please go and take them out. Gerald darling, you know mother couldn’t take you both to the funeral. Oh, Miss Shirley, he’s got that coyote skin from the parlor floor tied round his neck by the paws again. He’ll ruin it. Please make him take it off at once. I must hurry or I’ll miss the train.”

Mrs. Raymond sailed elegantly away and Anne ran upstairs to find that the angelic Geraldine had grasped her brother by the legs and was apparently trying to hurl him bodily out of the window.

“Miss Shirley, make Gerald stop putting out his tongue at me,” she demanded fiercely.

“Does it hurt you?” asked Anne smilingly.

“Well, he’s not going to put out his tongue at me,” retorted Geraldine, darting a baleful look at Gerald, who returned it with interest.

“My tongue’s my own and you can’t stop me from putting it out when I like . . . can she, Miss Shirley?”179

Anne ignored the question.

“Twins dear, it’s just an hour till lunch-time. Shall we go and sit in the garden and play games and tell stories? And, Gerald, won’t you put that coyote skin back on the floor?”

“But I want to play wolf,” said Gerald.

“He wants to play wolf,” cried Geraldine, suddenly aligning herself on her brother’s side.

“We want to play wolf,” they both cried together.

A peal from the door-bell cut the knot of Anne’s dilemma.

“Come on and see who it is,” cried Geraldine. They flew to the stairs and by reason of sliding down the banisters, got to the front door much quicker than Anne, the coyote skin coming unloosed and drifting away in the process.

“We never buy anything from peddlers,” Gerald told the lady standing on the door-stone.

“Can I see your mother?” asked the caller.

“No, you can’t. Mother’s gone to Aunt Ella’s funeral. Miss Shirley’s looking after us. That’s her coming down the stairs. She’ll make you scat.”

Anne did feel rather like making the caller “scat” when she saw who it was. Miss Pamela Drake was not a popular caller in Summerside. She was always “canvassing” for something and it was generally quite impossible to get rid of her unless you bought it, since she was utterly impervious to snubs and hints and had apparently all the time in the world at her command.

This time she was “taking orders” for an encyclopedia . . . something no schoolteacher could afford to be without. Vainly Anne protested that she did not need an encyclopedia . . . the High School already possessed a very good one.

“Ten years out of date,” said Miss Pamela firmly. “We’ll just sit down here on this rustic bench, Miss Shirley, and I’ll show you my prospectus.”

“I’m afraid I haven’t time, Miss Drake. I have the children to look after.”180 “It won’t take but a few minutes. I’ve been meaning to call on you, Miss Shirley, and I call it real fortunate to find you here. Run away and play, children, while Miss Shirley and I skim over this beautiful prospectus.”

“Mother’s hired Miss Shirley to look after us,” said Geraldine, with a toss of her aerial curls. But Gerald had tugged her backward and they slammed the door shut.

“You see, Miss Shirley, what this encyclopedia means. Look at the beautiful paper . . . feel it . . . the splendid engravings . . . no other encyclopedia on the market has half the number of engravings . . . the wonderful print–a blind man could read it–and all for eighty dollars . . . eight dollars down and eight dollars a month till it’s all paid. You’ll never have such another chance . . . we’re just doing this to introduce it . . . next year it will be a hundred and twenty.”

“But I don’t want an encyclopedia, Miss Drake,” said Anne desperately.

“Of course you want an encyclopedia . . . every one wants an encyclopedia . . . a National encyclopedia. I don’t know how I lived before I became acquainted with the Nationalencyclopedia. Live! I didn’t live . . . I merely existed. Look at that engraving of the cassowary, Miss Shirley. Did you ever really see a cassowary before?”

“But, Miss Drake, I . . .”

“If you think the terms a little too onerous I feel sure I can make a special arrangement for you, being a school-teacher . . . six a month instead of eight. You simply can’t refuse an offer like that, Miss Shirley.”

Anne almost felt she couldn’t. Wouldn’t it be worth six dollars a month to get rid of this terrible woman who had so evidently made up her mind not to go until she had got an order? Besides, what were the twins doing? They were alarmingly quiet. Suppose they were sailing their boats in the bathtub. Or had sneaked out of the back door and gone wading in the pond.

She made one more pitiful effort to escape.

“I’ll think this over, Miss Drake, and let you know . . .”

“There’s no time like the present,” said Miss Drake, briskly getting out her fountain-pen. “You know you’re going to take the National, so you might just as well sign for it now as any other time. Nothing is ever gained by putting things181 off. The price may go up any moment and then you’d have to pay a hundred and twenty. Sign here, Miss Shirley.”

Anne felt the fountain-pen being forced into her hand . . . another moment . . . and then there was such a blood-curdling shriek from Miss Drake that Anne dropped the fountain-pen under the clump of golden glow that flanked the rustic seat, and gazed in amazed horror at her companion.

Was that Miss Drake . . . that indescribable object, hatless, spectacleless, almost hairless? Hat, spectacles, false front were floating in the air above her head halfway up to the bathroom window, out of which two golden heads were hanging.

Gerald was grasping a fishing-rod to which were tied two cords ending in fishhooks. By what magic he had contrived to make a triple catch, only he could have told. Probably it was sheer luck.

Anne flew into the house and upstairs. By the time she reached the bathroom the twins had fled. Gerald had dropped the fishing-rod and a peep from the window revealed a furious Miss Drake retrieving her belongings, including the fountainpen, and marching to the gate. For once in her life Miss Pamela Drake had failed to land her order.

Anne discovered the twins seraphically eating apples on the back porch. It was hard to know what to do. Certainly, such behavior could not be allowed to pass without a rebuke . . . but Gerald had undoubtedly rescued her from a difficult position and Miss Drake was an odious creature who needed a lesson. Still . . . “You’ve et a great big worm!” shrieked Gerald. “I saw it disappear down your throat.”

Geraldine laid down her apple and promptly turned sick . . . very sick. Anne had her hands full for some time. And when Geraldine was better, it was lunch-hour and Anne suddenly decided to let Gerald off with a very mild reproof. After all, no lasting harm had been done Miss Drake, who would probably hold her tongue religiously about the incident for her own sake.

“Do you think, Gerald,” she said gently, “that what you did was a gentlemanly action?”

“Nope,” said Gerald, “but it was good fun. Gee, I’m some fisherman, ain’t I?”

The lunch was excellent. Mrs. Raymond had prepared it before she left and whatever her shortcomings as a disciplinarian might be, she was a good cook.

Gerald and Geraldine, being occupied with gorging, did not quarrel or display worse table manners than the general run of children. After lunch Anne washed the dishes, getting Geraldine to help dry them and Gerald to put them carefully away in the cupboard. They were both quite knacky at it and Anne reflected complacently that all they needed was wise training and a little firmness.

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