سال سوم - فصل 09
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9 (Extract from letter to Gilbert.)
“I am invited to have supper tomorrow night with a lady of Summerside. I know you won’t believe me, Gilbert, when I tell you her name is Tomgallon . . . Miss Minerva Tomgallon. You’ll say I’ve been reading Dickens too long and too late.
“Dearest, aren’t you glad your name is Blythe? I am sure I could never marry you if it were Tomgallon. Fancy . . . Anne Tomgallon! No, you can’t fancy it.
“This is the ultimate honor Summerside has to bestow . . . an invitation to Tomgallon House. It has no other name. No nonsense about Elms or Chestnuts or Crofts for the Tomgallons.
“I understand they were the ‘Royal Family’ in old days. The Pringles are mushrooms compared to them. And now there is left of them all only Miss Minerva, the sole survivor of six generations of Tomgallons. She lives alone in a huge house on Queen Street . . . a house with great chimneys, green shutters and the only stained-glass window in a private house in town. It is big enough for four families and is occupied only by Miss Minerva, a cook and a maid. It is very well kept up, but somehow whenever I walk past it I feel that it is a place which life has forgotten.
“Miss Minerva goes out very little, excepting to the Anglican church, and I had never met her until a few weeks ago, when she came to a meeting of staff and trustees to make a formal gift of her father’s valuable library to the school. She looks exactly as you would expect a Minerva Tomgallon to look . . . tall and thin, with a long, narrow white face, a long thin nose and a long thin mouth. That doesn’t sound very attractive, yet Miss Minerva is quite handsome in a stately, aristocratic style and is always dressed with great, though somewhat oldfashioned, elegance. She was quite a beauty when she was young, Rebecca Dew tells me, and her large black eyes are still full of fire and dark luster. She suffers from no lack of words, and I don’t think I ever heard any one enjoy making a presentation speech more.
“Miss Minerva was especially nice to me, and yesterday I received a formal little note inviting me to have supper with her. When I told Rebecca Dew, she opened her eyes as widely as if I had been invited to Buckingham Palace.209 “‘It’s a great honor to be asked to Tomgallon House,’ she said in a rather awed tone. I never heard of Miss Minerva asking any of the principals there before. To be sure, they were all men, so I suppose it would hardly have been proper. Well, I hope she won’t talk you to death, Miss Shirley. The Tomgallons could all talk the hind leg off a cat. And they liked to be in the front of things. Some folks think the reason Miss Minerva lives so retired is because now that she’s old she can’t take the lead as she used to do and she won’t play second fiddle to any one. What are you going to wear, Miss Shirley? I’d like to see you wear your cream silk gauze with your black velvet bows. It’s so dressy.’
“‘I’m afraid it would be rather too “dressy” for a quiet evening out,’ I said.
“‘Miss Minerva would like it, I think. The Tomgallons all liked their company to be nicely arrayed. They say Miss Minerva’s grandfather once shut the door in the face of a woman who had been asked there to a ball, because she came in her second-best dress. He told her her best was none too good for the Tomgallons.’
“Nevertheless, I think I’ll wear my green voile, and the ghosts of the Tomgallons must make the best of it.
“I’m going to confess something I did last week, Gilbert. I suppose you’ll think I’m meddling again in other folks’ business. But I had to do something. I’ll not be in Summerside next year and I can’t bear the thought of leaving little Elizabeth to the mercy of those two unloving old women who are growing bitterer and narrower every year. What kind of a girlhood will she have with them in that gloomy old place?
“‘I wonder,’ she said to me wistfully, not long ago, ‘what it would be like to have a grandmother you weren’t afraid of.’
“This is what I did: I wrote to her father. He lives in Paris and I didn’t know his address, but Rebecca Dew had heard and remembered the name of the firm whose branch he runs there, so I took a chance and addressed him in care of it. I wrote as diplomatic a letter as I could, but I told him plainly that he ought to take Elizabeth. I told him how she longs for and dreams about him and that Mrs.
Campbell was really too severe and strict with her. Perhaps nothing will come of it, but if I hadn’t written I would be forever haunted by the conviction that I ought to have done it.
“What made me think of it was Elizabeth telling me very seriously one day that she had ‘written a letter to God,’ asking Him to bring her father back to her and make him love her. She said she had stopped on the way home from school, in the middle of a vacant lot, and read it, looking up at the sky. I knew she had done something odd, because Miss Prouty had seen the performance and told me about it when she came to sew for the widows next day. She thought Elizabeth was getting ‘queer’ . . . ‘talking to the sky like that.’
“I asked Elizabeth about it and she told me.
“‘I thought God might pay more attention to a letter than a prayer,’ she said. ‘I’ve prayed so long. He must get so many prayers.’
“That night I wrote to her father.
“Before I close I must tell you about Dusty Miller. Some time ago Aunt Kate told me that she felt she must find another home for him because Rebecca Dew kept complaining about him so that she felt she really could not endure it any longer.
One evening last week when I came home from school there was no Dusty Miller. Aunt Chatty said they had given him to Mrs. Edmonds, who lives on the other side of Summerside from Windy Poplars. I felt sorry, for Dusty Miller and I have been excellent friends. ‘But, at least,’ I thought, ‘Rebecca Dew will be a happy woman.’
“Rebecca was away for the day, having gone to the country to help a relative hook rugs. When she returned at dusk nothing was said, but at bedtime when she was calling Dusty Miller from the back porch Aunt Kate said quietly: “‘You needn’t call Dusty Miller, Rebecca. He is not here. We have found a home for him elsewhere. You will not be bothered with him any more.’
“If Rebecca Dew could have turned pale she would have done so.
“‘Not here? Found a home for him? Good grief! Isn’t this his home?’
“‘We have given him to Mrs. Edmonds. She has been very lonely since her daughter married and thought a nice cat would be company.’
“Rebecca Dew came in and shut the door. She looked very wild.
“‘This is the last straw,’ she said. And indeed it seemed to be. I’ve never seen Rebecca Dew’s eyes emit such sparkles of rage. ‘I’ll be leaving at the end of the month, Mrs. MacComber, and sooner if you can be suited.’
“‘But, Rebecca,’ said Aunt Kate in bewilderment, ‘I don’t understand. You’ve always disliked Dusty Miller. Only last week you said . . .’211 “‘That’s right,’ said Rebecca bitterly. ‘Cast things up to me! Don’t have any regard for my feelings! That poor dear Cat! I’ve waited on him and pampered him and got up nights to let him in. And now he’s been spirited away behind my back without so much as a by-your-leave. And to Sarah Edmonds, who wouldn’t buy a bit of liver for the poor creature if he was dying for it! The only company I had in the kitchen!’
“‘But, Rebecca, you’ve always . . .’
“‘Oh, keep on . . . keep on! Don’t let me get a word in edgewise, Mrs.
MacComber. I’ve raised that cat from a kitten . . . I’ve looked after his health and his morals . . . and what for? That Jane Edmonds should have a well-trained cat for company. Well, I hope she’ll stand out in the frost at nights, as I’ve done, calling that cat for hours rather than leave him out to freeze, but I doubt it . . . I seriously doubt it. Well, Mrs. MacComber, all I hope is that your conscience won’t trouble you the next time it’s ten below zero. I won’t sleep a wink when it happens, but of course that doesn’t matter an old shoe to any one.’
“‘Rebecca, if you would only . . .’
“‘Mrs. MacComber, I am not a worm, neither am I a doormat. Well, this has been a lesson for me . . . a valuable lesson! Never again will I allow my affections to twine themselves around an animal of any kind or description. And if you’d done it open and aboveboard . . . but behind my back . . . taking advantage of me like that! I never heard of anything so dirt mean! But who am I that I should expect my feelings to be considered!’
“‘Rebecca,’ said Aunt Kate desperately, ‘if you want Dusty Miller back we can get him back.’
“‘Why didn’t you say so before then?’ demanded Rebecca Dew. ‘And I doubt it.
Jane Edmonds has got her claws in him. Is it likely she’ll give him up?’
“‘I think she will,’ said Aunt Kate, who had apparently reverted to jelly. ‘And if he comes back you won’t leave us, will you, Rebecca?’
“‘I may think it over,’ said Rebecca, with the air of one making a tremendous concession.
“Next day, Aunt Chatty brought Dusty Miller home in a covered basket. I caught a glance exchanged between her and Aunt Kate after Rebecca had carried Dusty212 Miller out to the kitchen and shut the door. I wonder! Was it all a deep-laid plot on the part of the widows, aided and abetted by Jane Edmonds?
“Rebecca has never uttered a word of complaint about Dusty Miller since and there is a veritable clang of victory in her voice when she shouts for him at bedtime. It sounds as if she wanted all Summerside to know that Dusty Miller is back where he belongs and that she has once more got the better of the widows!”
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