سال سوم - فصل 08
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8 Anne betook herself to Elmcroft the next evening, walking through the dreamlike landscape of a November fog with a rather sinking sensation pervading her being. It was not exactly a delightful errand. As Dovie had said, of course Franklin Westcott wouldn’t kill her. Anne did not fear physical violence . . . though if all the tales told of him were true, he might throw something at her.
Would he gibber with rage? Anne had never seen a man gibbering with rage and she imagined it must be a rather unpleasant sight. But he would probably exercise his noted gift for unpleasant sarcasm, and sarcasm, in man or woman, was the one weapon Anne dreaded. It always hurt her . . . raised blisters on her soul that smarted for months.
“Aunt Jamesina used to say, ‘Never, if you can help it, be the bringer of ill news,’” reflected Anne. “She was as wise in that as in everything else. Well, here I am.”
Elmcroft was an old-fashioned house with towers at every corner and a bulbous cupola on the roof. And at the top of the flight of front steps sat the dog.
“‘If they take hold they never let go,’” remembered Anne. Should she try going round to the side door? Then the thought that Franklin Westcott might be watching her from the window braced her up. Never would she give him the satisfaction of seeing that she was afraid of his dog. Resolutely, her head held high, she marched up the steps, past the dog and rang the bell. The dog had not stirred. When Anne glanced at him over her shoulder he was apparently asleep.
Franklin Westcott, it transpired, was not at home but was expected every minute, as the Charlottetown train was due. Aunt Maggie convoyed Anne into what she called the “liberry” and left her there. The dog had got up and followed them in.
He came and arranged himself at Anne’s feet.
Anne found herself liking the “liberry.” It was a cheerful, shabby room, with a fire glowing cozily in the grate, and bearskin rugs on the worn red carpet of the floor. Franklin Westcott evidently did himself well in regard to books and pipes.
Presently she heard him come in. He hung up his hat and coat in the hall: he stood in the library doorway with a very decided scowl on his brow. Anne recalled that her impression of him the first time she had seen him was that of a rather gentlemanly pirate, and she felt a repetition of it.204 “Oh, it’s you, is it?” he said rather gruffly. “Well, and what do you want?”
He had not even offered to shake hands with her. Of the two, Anne thought the dog had decidedly the better manners.
“Mr. Westcott, please hear me through patiently before . . .”
“I am patient . . . very patient. Proceed!”
Anne decided that there was no use beating about the bush with a man like Franklin Westcott.
“I have come to tell you,” she said steadily, “that Dovie has married Jarvis Morrow.”
Then she waited for the earthquake. None came. Not a muscle of Franklin Westcott’s lean brown face changed. He came in and sat down in the bandylegged leather chair opposite Anne.
“When?” he said.
“Last night . . . at his sister’s,” said Anne.
Franklin Westcott looked at her for a moment out of yellowish brown eyes deeply set under penthouses of grizzled eyebrow. Anne had a moment of wondering what he had looked like when he was a baby. Then he threw back his head and went into one of his spasms of soundless laughter.
“You mustn’t blame Dovie, Mr. Westcott,” said Anne earnestly, recovering her powers of speech now that the awful revelation was over. “It wasn’t her fault. . . .”
“I’ll bet it wasn’t,” said Franklin Westcott.
Was he trying to be sarcastic?
“No, it was all mine,” said Anne, simply and bravely. “I advised her to elo . . . to be married . . . I made her do it. So please forgive her, Mr. Westcott.”
Franklin Westcott coolly picked up a pipe and began to fill it.
“If you’ve managed to make Sibyl elope with Jarvis Morrow, Miss Shirley, you’ve accomplished more than I ever thought anybody could. I was beginning to205 be afraid she’d never have backbone enough to do it. And then I’d have had to back down . . . and Lord, how we Westcotts hate backing down! You’ve saved my face, Miss Shirley, and I’m profoundly grateful to you.”
There was a very loud silence while Franklin Westcott tamped his tobacco down and looked with an amused twinkle at Anne’s face. Anne was so much at sea she didn’t know what to say.
“I suppose,” he said, “that you came here in fear and trembling to break the terrible news to me?”
“Yes,” said Anne, a trifle shortly.
Franklin Westcott chuckled soundlessly.
“You needn’t have. You couldn’t have brought me more welcome news. Why, I picked Jarvis Morrow out for Sibyl when they were kids. Soon as the other boys began taking notice of her, I shooed them off. That gave Jarvis his first notion of her. He’d show the old man! But he was so popular with the girls that I could hardly believe the incredible luck when he did really take a genuine fancy to her.
Then I laid out my plan of campaign. I knew the Morrows root and branch. You don’t. They’re a good family, but the men don’t want things they can get easily.
And they’re determined to get a thing when they’re told they can’t. They always go by contraries. Jarvis’ father broke three girls’ hearts because their families threw them at his head. In Jarvis’ case I knew exactly what would happen. Sibyl would fall head over heels in love with him . . . and he’d be tired of her in no time. I knew he wouldn’t keep on wanting her if she was too easy to get. So I forbade him to come near the place and forbade Sibyl to have a word to say to him and generally played the heavy parent to perfection. Talk about the charm of the uncaught! It’s nothing to the charm of the uncatchable. It all worked out according to schedule, but I struck a snag in Sibyl’s spinelessness. She’s a nice child but she is spineless. I’ve been thinking she’d never have the pluck to marry him in my teeth. Now, if you’ve got your breath back, my dear young lady, unbosom yourself of the whole story.”
Anne’s sense of humor had again come to her rescue. She could never refuse an opportunity for a good laugh, even when it was on herself. And she suddenly felt very well acquainted with Franklin Westcott.
He listened to the tale, taking quiet, enjoyable whiffs of his pipe. When Anne had finished he nodded comfortably.206
“I see I’m more in your debt even than I thought. She’d never have got up the courage to do it if it hadn’t been for you. And Jarvis Morrow wouldn’t have risked being made a fool of twice . . . not if I know the breed. Gosh, but I’ve had a narrow escape! I’m yours to command for life. You’re a real brick to come here as you did, believing all the yarns gossip told you. You’ve been told a-plenty, haven’t you now?”
Anne nodded. The bulldog had got his head on her lap and was snoring blissfully.
“Every one agreed that you were cranky, crabbed and crusty,” she said candidly.
“And I suppose they told you I was a tyrant and made my poor wife’s life miserable and ruled my family with a rod of iron?”
“Yes; but I really did take all that with a grain of salt, Mr. Westcott. I felt that Dovie couldn’t be as fond of you as she was if you were as dreadful as gossip painted you.”
“Sensible gal! My wife was a happy woman, Miss Shirley. And when Mrs.
Captain MacComber tells you I bullied her to death, tick her off for me. Excuse my common way. Mollie was pretty . . . prettier than Sibyl. Such a pink-andwhite skin . . . such golden-brown hair . . . such dewy blue eyes! She was the prettiest woman in Summerside. Had to be. I couldn’t have stood it if a man had walked into church with a handsomer wife than me. I ruled my household as a man should but not tyrannically. Oh, of course, I had a spell of temper now and then, but Mollie didn’t mind them after she got used to them. A man has a right to have a row with his wife now and then, hasn’t he? Women get tired of monotonous husbands. Besides, I always gave her a ring or a necklace or some such gaud after I calmed down. There wasn’t a woman in Summerside had more nice jewelry. I must get it out and give it to Sibyl.”
Anne went wicked.
“What about Milton’s poems?”
“Milton’s poems? Oh, that! It wasn’t Milton’s poems . . . it was Tennyson’s. I reverence Milton but I can’t abide Alfred. He’s too sickly sweet. Those last two lines of Enoch Ardenmade me so mad one night, I did fire the book through the window. But I picked it up the next day for the sake of the Bugle Song. I’d forgive anybody anything for that. It didn’t go into George Clarke’s lily pondthat was old Prouty’s embroidery. You’re not going? Stay and have a bite of supper with a lonely old fellow robbed of his only whelp.”207 “I’m really sorry I can’t, Mr. Westcott, but I have to attend a meeting of the staff tonight.”
“Well, I’ll be seeing you when Sibyl comes back. I’ll have to fling a party for them, no doubt. Good gosh, what a relief this has been to my mind. You’ve no idea how I’d have hated to have to back down and say, ‘Take her.’ Now all I have to do is to pretend to be heart-broken and resigned and forgive her sadly for the sake of her poor mother. I’ll do it beautifully . . . Jarvis must never suspect.
Don’t you give the show away.”
“I won’t,” promised Anne.
Franklin Westcott saw her courteously to the door. The bulldog sat up on his haunches and cried after her.
Franklin Westcott took his pipe out of his mouth at the door and tapped her on the shoulder with it..
“Always remember,” he said solemnly, “there’s more than one way to skin a cat.
It can be done so that the animal’ll never know he’s lost his hide. Give my love to Rebecca Dew. A nice old puss, if you stroke her the right way. And thank you . . . thank you.”
Anne betook herself home, through the soft, calm evening. The fog had cleared, the wind had shifted and there was a look of frost in the pale green sky.
“People told me I didn’t know Franklin Westcott,” reflected Anne. “They were right . . . I didn’t. And neither did they.”
“How did he take it?” Rebecca Dew was keen to know. She had been on tenterhooks during Anne’s absence.
“Not so badly after all,” said Anne confidentially . “I think he’ll forgive Dovie in time.”
“I never did see the beat of you, Miss Shirley, for talking people round,” said Rebecca Dew admiringly. “You have certainly got a way with you.”
“‘Something attempted, something done has earned a night’s repose,’” quoted Anne wearily as she climbed the three steps into her bed that night. “But just wait till the next person asks my advice about eloping!”208
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