my former teacher
HATTIE GORDON SMITH
in grateful remembrance of her sympathy and encouragement
I An Irate Neighbor
II Selling in Haste and Repenting at Leisure III Mr. Harrison at Home
IV Different Opinions47
V A Full-fledged Schoolma’am
VI All Sorts and Conditions of Men. . .and women VII The Pointing of Duty
VIII Marilla Adopts Twins
IX A Question of Color
X Davy in Search of a Sensation XI Facts and Fancies
XII A Jonah Day
XIII A Golden Picnic
XIV A Danger Averted
XV The Beginning of Vacation
XVI The Substance of Things Hoped For XVII A Chapter of Accidents
XVIII An Adventure on the Tory Road XIX Just a Happy Day
XX The Way It Often Happens
XXI Sweet Miss Lavendar
XXII Odds and Ends
XXIII Miss Lavendar’s Romance
XXIV A Prophet in His Own Country XXV An Avonlea Scandal
XXVI Around the Bend
XXVII An Afternoon at the Stone House XXVIII The Prince Comes Back to the Enchanted Palace XXIX Poetry and Prose
XXX A Wedding at the Stone House
A tall, slim girl, “half-past sixteen,” with serious gray eyes and hair which her friends called auburn, had sat down on the broad red sandstone doorstep of a Prince Edward Island farmhouse one ripe afternoon in August, firmly resolved to construe so many lines of Virgil.
But an August afternoon, with blue hazes scarfing the harvest slopes, little winds whispering elfishly in the poplars, and a dancing slendor of red poppies outflaming against the dark coppice of young firs in a corner of the cherry orchard, was fitter for dreams than dead languages. The Virgil soon slipped unheeded to the ground, and Anne, her chin propped on her clasped hands, and her eyes on the splendid mass of fluffy clouds that were heaping up just over Mr. J. A. Harrison’s house like a great white mountain, was far away in a delicious world where a certain schoolteacher was doing a wonderful work, shaping the destinies of future statesmen, and inspiring youthful minds and hearts with high and lofty ambitions.
To be sure, if you came down to harsh facts. . .which, it must be confessed, Anne seldom did until she had to. . .it did not seem likely that there was much promising material for celebrities in Avonlea school; but you could never tell what might happen if a teacher used her influence for good. Anne had certain rose-tinted ideals of what a teacher might accomplish if she only went the right way about it; and she was in the midst of a delightful scene, forty years hence, with a famous personage. . .just exactly what he was to be famous for was left in convenient haziness, but Anne thought it would be rather nice to have him a college president or a Canadian premier. . .bowing low over her wrinkled hand and assuring her that it was she who had first kindled his ambition, and that all his success in life was due to the lessons she had instilled so long ago in Avonlea school. This pleasant vision was shattered by a most unpleasant interruption.
He bounced over the fence without waiting to open the gate, and angrily confronted astonished Anne, who had risen to her feet and stood looking at him in some bewilderment. Mr. Harrison was their new righthand neighbor and she had never met him before, although she had seen him once or twice.
In early April, before Anne had come home from Queen’s, Mr. Robert Bell, whose farm adjoined the Cuthbert place on the west, had sold out and moved to Charlottetown. His farm had been bought by a certain Mr. J. A. Harrison, whose name, and the fact that he was a New Brunswick man, were all that was known about him. But before he had been a month in Avonlea he had won the reputation of being an odd person. . .”a crank,” Mrs. Rachel Lynde said. Mrs. Rachel was an outspoken lady, as those of you who may have already made her acquaintance will remember. Mr. Harrison was certainly different from other people. . .and that is the essential characteristic of a crank, as everybody knows.
In the first place he kept house for himself and had publicly stated that he wanted no fools of women around his diggings. Feminine Avonlea took its revenge by the gruesome tales it related about his house-keeping and cooking. He had hired little John Henry Carter of White Sands and John Henry started the stories. For one thing, there was never any stated time for meals in the Harrison establishment. Mr. Harrison “got a bite” when he felt hungry, and if John Henry were around at the time, he came in for a share, but if he were not, he had to wait until Mr. Harrison’s next hungry spell. John Henry mournfully averred that he would have starved to death if it wasn’t that he got home on Sundays and got a good filling up, and that his mother always gave him a basket of “grub” to take back with him on Monday mornings.
As for washing dishes, Mr. Harrison never made any pretence of doing it unless a rainy Sunday came. Then he went to work and washed them all at once in the rainwater hogshead, and left them to drain dry.
Again, Mr. Harrison was “close.” When he was asked to subscribe to the Rev. Mr. Allan’s salary he said he’d wait and see how many dollars’ worth of good he got out of his preaching first. . .he didn’t believe in buying a pig in a poke. And when Mrs. Lynde went to ask for a contribution to missions. . .and incidentally to see the inside of the house. . .he told her there were more heathens among the old woman gossips in Avonlea than anywhere else he knew of, and he’d cheerfully contribute to a mission for Christianizing them if she’d undertake it. Mrs. Rachel got herself away and said it was a mercy poor Mrs. Robert Bell was safe in her grave, for it would have broken her heart to see the state of her house in which she used to take so much pride.
Finally, Mr. Harrison kept a parrot called Ginger. Nobody in Avonlea had ever kept a parrot before; consequently that proceeding was considered barely respectable. And such a parrot! If you took John Henry Carter’s word for it, never was such an unholy bird. It swore terribly. Mrs. Carter would have taken John Henry away at once if she had been sure she could get another place for him. Besides, Ginger had bitten a piece right out of the back of John Henry’s neck one day when he had stooped down too near the cage. Mrs. Carter showed everybody the mark when the luckless John Henry went home on Sundays.
All these things flashed through Anne’s mind as Mr. Harrison stood, quite speechless with wrath apparently, before her. In his most amiable mood Mr. Harrison could not have been considered a handsome man; he was short and fat and bald; and now, with his round face purple with rage and his prominent blue eyes almost sticking out of his head, Anne thought he was really the ugliest person she had ever seen.
“I’m not going to put up with this,” he spluttered, “not a day longer, do you hear, miss. Bless my soul, this is the third time, miss. . . the third time! Patience has ceased to be a virtue, miss. I warned your aunt the last time not to let it occur again. . . and she’s let it. . .she’s done it. . .what does she mean by it, that is what I want to know. That is what I’m here about, miss.”
“Will you explain what the trouble is?” asked Anne, in her most dignified manner. She had been practicing it considerably of late to have it in good working order when school began; but it had no apparent effect on the irate J. A. Harrison.
“Trouble, is it? Bless my soul, trouble enough, I should think. The trouble is, miss, that I found that Jersey cow of your aunt’s in my oats again, not half an hour ago. The third time, mark you. I found her in last Tuesday and I found her in yesterday. I came here and told your aunt not to let it occur again. She has let it occur again. Where’s your aunt, miss? I just want to see her for a minute and give her a piece of my mind. . .a piece of J. A. Harrison’s mind, miss.”
“If you mean Miss Marilla Cuthbert, she is not my aunt, and she has gone down to East Grafton to see a distant relative of hers who is very ill,” said Anne, with due increase of dignity at every word. “I am very sorry that my cow should have broken into your oats. . . she is my cow and not Miss Cuthbert’s. . .Matthew gave her to me three years ago when she was a little calf and he bought her from Mr. Bell.”
“I am very sorry,” repeated Anne firmly, “but perhaps if you kept your fences in better repair Dolly might not have broken in. It is your part of the line fence that separates your oatfield from our pasture and I noticed the other day that it was not in very good condition.”
“My fence is all right,” snapped Mr. Harrison, angrier than ever at this carrying of the war into the enemy’s country. “The jail fence couldn’t keep a demon of a cow like that out. And I can tell you, you redheaded snippet, that if the cow is yours, as you say, you’d be better employed in watching her out of other people’s grain than in sitting round reading yellowcovered novels,”. . .with a scathing glance at the innocent tan-colored Virgil by Anne’s feet.
The shot told, for Mr. Harrison was really very sensitive about his bald head. His anger choked him up again and he could only glare speechlessly at Anne, who recovered her temper and followed up her advantage.
“I can make allowance for you, Mr. Harrison, because I have an imagination. I can easily imagine how very trying it must be to find a cow in your oats and I shall not cherish any hard feelings against you for the things you’ve said. I promise you that Dolly shall never break into your oats again. I give you my word of honor on THAT point.”
“She can’t possibly get out of that unless she tears the fence down,” she reflected. “She looks pretty quiet now. I daresay she has sickened herself on those oats. I wish I’d sold her to Mr. Shearer when he wanted her last week, but I thought it was just as well to wait until we had the auction of the stock and let them all go together. I believe it is true about Mr. Harrison being a crank. Certainly there’s nothing of the kindred spirit about HIM.”
“I’ll be glad when the auction is over,” said Marilla. “It is too much responsibility having so much stock about the place and nobody but that unreliable Martin to look after them. He has never come back yet and he promised that he would certainly be back last night if I’d give him the day off to go to his aunt’s funeral. I don’t know how many aunts he has got, I am sure. That’s the fourth that’s died since he hired here a year ago. I’ll be more than thankful when the crop is in and Mr. Barry takes over the farm. We’ll have to keep Dolly shut up in the pen till Martin comes, for she must be put in the back pasture and the fences there have to be fixed. I declare, it is a world of trouble, as Rachel says. Here’s poor Mary Keith dying and what is to become of those two children of hers is more than I know. She has a brother in British Columbia and she has written to him about them, but she hasn’t heard from him yet.”
“Goodness, you couldn’t tell. . .they were too dirty. Davy had been out making mud pies and Dora went out to call him in. Davy pushed her headfirst into the biggest pie and then, because she cried, he got into it himself and wallowed in it to show her it was nothing to cry about. Mary said Dora was really a very good child but that Davy was full of mischief. He has never had any bringing up you might say. His father died when he was a baby and Mary has been sick almost ever since.”
“I’m always sorry for children that have no bringing up,” said Anne soberly. “You know _I_ hadn’t any till you took me in hand. I hope their uncle will look after them. Just what relation is Mrs. Keith to you?”
“You never said a truer word,” said Mrs. Rachel solemnly. “I knew there’d be trouble when Robert Bell sold his place to a New Brunswick man, that’s what. I don’t know what Avonlea is coming to, with so many strange people rushing into it. It’ll soon not be safe to go to sleep in our beds.”
“Haven’t you heard? Well, there’s a family of Donnells, for one thing. They’ve rented Peter Sloane’s old house. Peter has hired the man to run his mill. They belong down east and nobody knows anything about them. Then that shiftless Timothy Cotton family are going to move up from White Sands and they’ll simply be a burden on the public. He is in consumption. . .when he isn’t stealing. . . and his wife is a slack-twisted creature that can’t turn her hand to a thing. She washes her dishes SITTING DOWN. Mrs. George Pye has taken her husband’s orphan nephew, Anthony Pye. He’ll be going to school to you, Anne, so you may expect trouble, that’s what. And you’ll have another strange pupil, too. Paul Irving is coming from the States to live with his grandmother. You remember his father, Marilla. . .Stephen Irving, him that jilted Lavendar Lewis over at Grafton?”
“Well, anyway, he didn’t marry her, and she’s been as queer as possible ever since, they say. . .living all by herself in that little stone house she calls Echo Lodge. Stephen went off to the States and went into business with his uncle and married a Yankee. He’s never been home since, though his mother has been up to see him once or twice. His wife died two years ago and he’s sending the boy home to his mother for a spell. He’s ten years old and I don’t know if he’ll be a very desirable pupil. You can never tell about those Yankees.”
Mrs Lynde looked upon all people who had the misfortune to be born or brought up elsewhere than in Prince Edward Island with a decided can-any-good-thing-come-out-of-Nazareth air. They MIGHT be good people, of course; but you were on the safe side in doubting it. She had a special prejudice against “Yankees.” Her husband had been cheated out of ten dollars by an employer for whom he had once worked in Boston and neither angels nor principalities nor powers could have convinced Mrs. Rachel that the whole United States was not responsible for it.
“Avonlea school won’t be the worse for a little new blood,” said Marilla drily, “and if this boy is anything like his father he’ll be all right. Steve Irving was the nicest boy that was ever raised in these parts, though some people did call him proud. I should think Mrs. Irving would be very glad to have the child. She has been very lonesome since her husband died.”
“Oh, the boy may be well enough, but he’ll be different from Avonlea children,” said Mrs. Rachel, as if that clinched the matter. Mrs. Rachel’s opinions concerning any person, place, or thing, were always warranted to wear. “What’s this I hear about your going to start up a Village Improvement Society, Anne?”
“I was just talking it over with some of the girls and boys at the last Debating Club,” said Anne, flushing. “They thought it would be rather nice. . .and so do Mr. and Mrs. Allan. Lots of villages have them now.”
“Oh, we are not going to try to improve the PEOPLE. It is Avonlea itself. There are lots of things which might be done to make it prettier. For instance, if we could coax Mr. Levi Boulter to pull down that dreadful old house on his upper farm wouldn’t that be an improvement?”
“It certainly would,” admitted Mrs. Rachel. “That old ruin has been an eyesore to the settlement for years. But if you Improvers can coax Levi Boulter to do anything for the public that he isn’t to be paid for doing, may I be there to see and hear the process, that’s what. I don’t want to discourage you, Anne, for there may be something in your idea, though I suppose you did get it out of some rubbishy Yankee magazine; but you’ll have your hands full with your school and I advise you as a friend not to bother with your improvements, that’s what. But there, I know you’ll go ahead with it if you’ve set your mind on it. You were always one to carry a thing through somehow.”
Something about the firm outlines of Anne’s lips told that Mrs. Rachel was not far astray in this estimate. Anne’s heart was bent on forming the Improvement Society. Gilbert Blythe, who was to teach in White Sands but would always be home from Friday night to Monday morning, was enthusiastic about it; and most of the other folks were willing to go in for anything that meant occasional meetings and consequently some “fun.” As for what the “improvements” were to be, nobody had any very clear idea except Anne and Gilbert. They had talked them over and planned them out until an ideal Avonlea existed in their minds, if nowhere else.
“Yes, indeed. Priscilla to teach at Carmody! How perfectly lovely!” exclaimed Anne, her gray eyes lighting up until they looked like evening stars, causing Mrs. Lynde to wonder anew if she would ever get it settled to her satisfaction whether Anne Shirley were really a pretty girl or not.
Anne drove over to Carmody on a shopping expedition the next afternoon and took Diana Barry with her. Diana was, of course, a pledged member of the Improvement Society, and the two girls talked about little else all the way to Carmody and back.
“The very first thing we ought to do when we get started is to have that hall painted,” said Diana, as they drove past the Avonlea hall, a rather shabby building set down in a wooded hollow, with spruce trees hooding it about on all sides. “It’s a disgraceful looking place and we must attend to it even before we try to get Mr. Levi Boulder to pull his house down. Father says we’ll never succeed in DOING that. Levi Boulter is too mean to spend the time it would take.”
“Perhaps he’ll let the boys take it down if they promise to haul the boards and split them up for him for kindling wood,” said Anne hopefully. “We must do our best and be content to go slowly at first. We can’t expect to improve everything all at once. We’ll have to educate public sentiment first, of course.”
“I thought of something last night that we could do, Anne. You know that three-cornered piece of ground where the roads from Carmody and Newbridge and White Sands meet? It’s all grown over with young spruce; but wouldn’t it be nice to have them all cleared out, and just leave the two or three birch trees that are on it?”
“Yes; only we’ll have to devise some way of getting old Mrs. Hiram Sloane to keep her cow off the road, or she’ll eat our geraniums up,” laughed Diana. “I begin to see what you mean by educating public sentiment, Anne. There’s the old Boulter house now. Did you ever see such a rookery? And perched right close to the road too. An old house with its windows gone always makes me think of something dead with its eyes picked out.”
“I think an old, deserted house is such a sad sight,” said Anne dreamily. “It always seems to me to be thinking about its past and mourning for its old-time joys. Marilla says that a large family was raised in that old house long ago, and that it was a real pretty place, with a lovely garden and roses climbing all over it. It was full of little children and laughter and songs; and now it is empty, and nothing ever wanders through it but the wind. How lonely and sorrowful it must feel! Perhaps they all come back on moonlit nights. . .the ghosts of the little children of long ago and the roses and the songs. . .and for a little while the old house can dream it is young and joyous again.”
“I never imagine things like that about places now, Anne. Don’t you remember how cross mother and Marilla were when we imagined ghosts into the Haunted Wood? To this day I can’t go through that bush comfortably after dark; and if I began imagining such things about the old Boulter house I’d be frightened to pass it too. Besides, those children aren’t dead. They’re all grown up and doing well. . .and one of them is a butcher. And flowers and songs couldn’t have ghosts anyhow.”
Anne smothered a little sigh. She loved Diana dearly and they had always been good comrades. But she had long ago learned that when she wandered into the realm of fancy she must go alone. The way to it was by an enchanted path where not even her dearest might follow her.
A thunder-shower came up while the girls were at Carmody; it did not last long, however, and the drive home, through lanes where the raindrops sparkled on the boughs and little leafy valleys where the drenched ferns gave out spicy odors, was delightful. But just as they turned into the Cuthbert lane Anne saw something that spoiled the beauty of the landscape for her.
Before them on the right extended Mr. Harrison’s broad, gray-green field of late oats, wet and luxuriant; and there, standing squarely in the middle of it, up to her sleek sides in the lush growth, and blinking at them calmly over the intervening tassels, was a Jersey cow!
Anne dropped the reins and stood up with a tightening of the lips that boded no good to the predatory quadruped. Not a word said she, but she climbed nimbly down over the wheels, and whisked across the fence before Diana understood what had happened.
“Anne, come back,” shrieked the latter, as soon as she found her voice. “You’ll ruin your dress in that wet grain. . .ruin it. She doesn’t hear me! Well, she’ll never get that cow out by herself. I must go and help her, of course.”
Anne was charging through the grain like a mad thing. Diana hopped briskly down, tied the horse securely to a post, turned the skirt of her pretty gingham dress over her shoulders, mounted the fence, and started in pursuit of her frantic friend. She could run faster than Anne, who was hampered by her clinging and drenched skirt, and soon overtook her. Behind them they left a trail that would break Mr. Harrison’s heart when he should see it.
But the Jersey cow appeared to see no good reason for being hustled out of her luscious browsing ground. No sooner had the two breathless girls got near her than she turned and bolted squarely for the opposite corner of the field.
Diana did run. Anne tried to, and the wicked Jersey went around the field as if she were possessed. Privately, Diana thought she was. It was fully ten minutes before they headed her off and drove her through the corner gap into the Cuthbert lane.
There is no denying that Anne was in anything but an angelic temper at that precise moment. Nor did it soothe her in the least to behold a buggy halted just outside the lane, wherein sat Mr. Shearer of Carmody and his son, both of whom wore a broad smile.
“Done. I’ll give you twenty for her as I offered before, and Jim here can drive her right over to Carmody. She’ll go to town with the rest of the shipment this evening. Mr. Reed of Brighton wants a Jersey cow.”
“Oh, she won’t care. Dolly was my own cow and it isn’t likely she’d bring more than twenty dollars at the auction. But oh dear, if Mr. Harrison sees that grain he will know she has been in again, and after my giving him my word of honor that I’d never let it happen! Well, it has taught me a lesson not to give my word of honor about cows. A cow that could jump over or break through our milk-pen fence couldn’t be trusted anywhere.”
“I didn’t think of looking,” said Anne, “but I’ll go and see now. Martin has never come back yet. Perhaps some more of his aunts have died. I think it’s something like Mr. Peter Sloane and the octogenarians. The other evening Mrs. Sloane was reading a newspaper and she said to Mr. Sloane, `I see here that another octogenarian has just died. What is an octogenarian, Peter?’ And Mr. Sloane said he didn’t know, but they must be very sickly creatures, for you never heard tell of them but they were dying. That’s the way with Martin’s aunts.”
“Martin’s just like all the rest of those French,” said Marilla in disgust. “You can’t depend on them for a day.” Marilla was looking over Anne’s Carmody purchases when she heard a shrill shriek in the barnyard. A minute later Anne dashed into the kitchen, wringing her hands.
“Oh, Marilla, whatever shall I do? This is terrible. And it’s all my fault. Oh, will I EVER learn to stop and reflect a little before doing reckless things? Mrs. Lynde always told me I would do something dreadful some day, and now I’ve done it!”
“I only wish I were. There’s no dream about it, though it’s very like a nightmare. And Mr. Harrison’s cow is in Charlottetown by this time. Oh, Marilla, I thought I’d finished getting into scrapes, and here I am in the very worst one I ever was in in my life. What can I do?”
“No, indeed, I’m not as mean as that,” exclaimed Anne. “This is all my fault and I’m certainly not going to let you take my punishment. I’ll go myself and I’ll go at once. The sooner it’s over the better, for it will be terribly humiliating.”
Poor Anne got her hat and her twenty dollars and was passing out when she happened to glance through the open pantry door. On the table reposed a nut cake which she had baked that morning. . .a particularly toothsome concoction iced with pink icing and adorned with walnuts. Anne had intended it for Friday evening, when the youth of Avonlea were to meet at Green Gables to organize the Improvement Society. But what were they compared to the justly offended Mr. Harrison? Anne thought that cake ought to soften the heart of any man, especially one who had to do his own cooking, and she promptly popped it into a box. She would take it to Mr. Harrison as a peace offering.
“That is, if he gives me a chance to say anything at all,” she thought ruefully, as she climbed the lane fence and started on a short cut across the fields, golden in the light of the dreamy August evening. “I know now just how people feel who are being led to execution.”
Mr. Harrison himself was sitting on his vineshaded veranda, in his shirt sleeves, enjoying his evening pipe. When he realized who was coming up the path he sprang suddenly to his feet, bolted into the house, and shut the door. This was merely the uncomfortable result of his surprise, mingled with a good deal of shame over his outburst of temper the day before. But it nearly swept the remnant of her courage from Anne’s heart.
But Mr. Harrison opened it, smiling sheepishly, and invited her to enter in a tone quite mild and friendly, if somewhat nervous. He had laid aside his pipe and donned his coat; he offered Anne a very dusty chair very politely, and her reception would have passed off pleasantly enough if it had not been for the telltale of a parrot who was peering through the bars of his cage with wicked golden eyes. No sooner had Anne seated herself than Ginger exclaimed,
“Don’t you mind that parrot,” said Mr. Harrison, casting a furious glance at Ginger. “He’s. . .he’s always talking nonsense. I got him from my brother who was a sailor. Sailors don’t always use the choicest language, and parrots are very imitative birds.”
“So I should think,” said poor Anne, the remembrance of her errand quelling her resentment. She couldn’t afford to snub Mr. Harrison under the circumstances, that was certain. When you had just sold a man’s Jersey cow offhand, without his knowledge or consent you must not mind if his parrot repeated uncomplimentary things. Nevertheless, the “redheaded snippet” was not quite so meek as she might otherwise have been.
“Bless my soul,” exclaimed Mr. Harrison nervously, “has she gone and broken into my oats again? Well, never mind. . .never mind if she has. It’s no difference. . .none at all. I. . .I was too hasty yesterday, that’s a fact. Never mind if she has.”
“It’s NOT the cabbages, Mr. Harrison. I’ll tell you everything. . . that is what I came for — but please don’t interrupt me. It makes me so nervous. Just let me tell my story and don’t say anything till I get through — and then no doubt you’ll say plenty,” Anne concluded, but in thought only.
“I shut my Jersey cow up in our pen yesterday. This morning I went to Carmody and when I came back I saw a Jersey cow in your oats. Diana and I chased her out and you can’t imagine what a hard time we had. I was so dreadfully wet and tired and vexed — and Mr. Shearer came by that very minute and offered to buy the cow. I sold her to him on the spot for twenty dollars. It was wrong of me. I should have waited and consulted Marilla, of course. But I’m dreadfully given to doing things without thinking — everybody who knows me will tell you that. Mr. Shearer took the cow right away to ship her on the afternoon train.”
At this point Mr. Harrison arose and, with an expression that would have struck terror into any bird but a parrot, carried Ginger’s cage into an adjoining room and shut the door. Ginger shrieked, swore, and otherwise conducted himself in keeping with his reputation, but finding himself left alone, relapsed into sulky silence.
“I went home and after tea I went out to the milking pen. Mr. Harrison,”. . .Anne leaned forward, clasping her hands with her old childish gesture, while her big gray eyes gazed imploringly into Mr. Harrison’s embarrassed face. . .”I found my cow still shut up in the pen. It was YOUR cow I had sold to Mr. Shearer.”
“Oh, it isn’t in the least extraordinary that I should be getting myself and other people into scrapes,” said Anne mournfully. “I’m noted for that. You might suppose I’d have grown out of it by this time. . .I’ll be seventeen next March. . .but it seems that I haven’t. Mr. Harrison, is it too much to hope that you’ll forgive me? I’m afraid it’s too late to get your cow back, but here is the money for her. . .or you can have mine in exchange if you’d rather. She’s a very good cow. And I can’t express how sorry I am for it all.”
“Tut, tut,” said Mr. Harrison briskly, “don’t say another word about it, miss. It’s of no consequence. . .no consequence whatever. Accidents will happen. I’m too hasty myself sometimes, miss. . . far too hasty. But I can’t help speaking out just what I think and folks must take me as they find me. If that cow had been in my cabbages now. . .but never mind, she wasn’t, so it’s all right. I think I’d rather have your cow in exchange, since you want to be rid of her.”
“And I suppose you were scared to death to come here and tell me, after the fuss I made yesterday, hey? But you mustn’t mind me, I’m a terrible outspoken old fellow, that’s all. . .awful apt to tell the truth, no matter if it is a bit plain.”
“A cake,” said Anne archly. In her relief at Mr. Harrison’s unexpected amiability her spirits soared upward feather-light. “I brought it over for you. . .I thought perhaps you didn’t have cake very often.”
“It is,” said Anne, gaily confident. “I have made cakes in my time that were NOT, as Mrs. Allan could tell you, but this one is all right. I made it for the Improvement Society, but I can make another for them.”
“I see you haven’t much confidence in my ability to make tea. You’re wrong. . .I can brew up as good a jorum of tea as you ever drank. But go ahead yourself. Fortunately it rained last Sunday, so there’s plenty of clean dishes.”
Anne hopped briskly up and went to work. She washed the teapot in several waters before she put the tea to steep. Then she swept the stove and set the table, bringing the dishes out of the pantry. The state of that pantry horrified Anne, but she wisely said nothing. Mr. Harrison told her where to find the bread and butter and a can of peaches. Anne adorned the table with a bouquet from the garden and shut her eyes to the stains on the tablecloth. Soon the tea was ready and Anne found herself sitting opposite Mr. Harrison at his own table, pouring his tea for him, and chatting freely to him about her school and friends and plans. She could hardly believe the evidence of her senses.
Mr. Harrison had brought Ginger back, averring that the poor bird would be lonesome; and Anne, feeling that she could forgive everybody and everything, offered him a walnut. But Ginger’s feelings had been grievously hurt and he rejected all overtures of friendship. He sat moodily on his perch and ruffled his feathers up until he looked like a mere ball of green and gold.
“My brother the sailor named him. Maybe it had some reference to his temper. I think a lot of that bird though. . .you’d be surprised if you knew how much. He has his faults of course. That bird has cost me a good deal one way and another. Some people object to his swearing habits but he can’t be broken of them. I’ve tried. . .other people have tried. Some folks have prejudices against parrots. Silly, ain’t it? I like them myself. Ginger’s a lot of company to me. Nothing would induce me to give that bird up. . .nothing in the world, miss.”
Mr. Harrison flung the last sentence at Anne as explosively as if he suspected her of some latent design of persuading him to give Ginger up. Anne, however, was beginning to like the queer, fussy, fidgety little man, and before the meal was over they were quite good friends. Mr. Harrison found out about the Improvement Society and was disposed to approve of it.
“Oh, I don’t know,” flashed Anne. To herself, or to her particular cronies, she might admit that there were some small imperfections, easily removable, in Avonlea and its inhabitants. But to hear a practical outsider like Mr. Harrison saying it was an entirely different thing. “I think Avonlea is a lovely place; and the people in it are very nice, too.”
“I guess you’ve got a spice of temper,” commented Mr. Harrison, surveying the flushed cheeks and indignant eyes opposite him. “It goes with hair like yours, I reckon. Avonlea is a pretty decent place or I wouldn’t have located here; but I suppose even you will admit that it has SOME faults?”
“I like it all the better for them,” said loyal Anne. “I don’t like places or people either that haven’t any faults. I think a truly perfect person would be very uninteresting. Mrs. Milton White says she never met a perfect person, but she’s heard enough about one . . .her husband’s first wife. Don’t you think it must be very uncomfortable to be married to a man whose first wife was perfect?”
When tea was over Anne insisted on washing the dishes, although Mr. Harrison assured her that there were enough in the house to do for weeks yet. She would dearly have loved to sweep the floor also, but no broom was visible and she did not like to ask where it was for fear there wasn’t one at all.
“You might run across and talk to me once in a while,” suggested Mr. Harrison when she was leaving. “‘Tisn’t far and folks ought to be neighborly. I’m kind of interested in that society of yours. Seems to me there’ll be some fun in it. Who are you going to tackle first?”
“I’m a crusty, lonesome, crabbed old chap,” he said aloud, “but there’s something about that little girl makes me feel young again. . .and it’s such a pleasant sensation I’d like to have it repeated once in a while.”
“It’s a pretty good world, after all, isn’t it, Marilla?” concluded Anne happily. “Mrs. Lynde was complaining the other day that it wasn’t much of a world. She said whenever you looked forward to anything pleasant you were sure to be more or less disappointed . . .perhaps that is true. But there is a good side to it too. The bad things don’t always come up to your expectations either . . .they nearly always turn out ever so much better than you think. I looked forward to a dreadfully unpleasant experience when I went over to Mr. Harrison’s tonight; and instead he was quite kind and I had almost a nice time. I think we’re going to be real good friends if we make plenty of allowances for each other, and everything has turned out for the best. But all the same, Marilla, I shall certainly never again sell a cow before making sure to whom she belongs. And I do NOT like parrots!”
One evening at sunset, Jane Andrews, Gilbert Blythe, and Anne Shirley were lingering by a fence in the shadow of gently swaying spruce boughs, where a wood cut known as the Birch Path joined the main road. Jane had been up to spend the afternoon with Anne, who walked part of the way home with her; at the fence they met Gilbert, and all three were now talking about the fateful morrow; for that morrow was the first of September and the schools would open. Jane would go to Newbridge and Gilbert to White Sands.
“You both have the advantage of me,” sighed Anne. “You’re going to teach children who don’t know you, but I have to teach my own old schoolmates, and Mrs. Lynde says she’s afraid they won’t respect me as they would a stranger unless I’m very cross from the first. But I don’t believe a teacher should be cross. Oh, it seems to me such a responsibility!”
“I guess we’ll get on all right,” said Jane comfortably. Jane was not troubled by any aspirations to be an influence for good. She meant to earn her salary fairly, please the trustees, and get her name on the School Inspector’s roll of honor. Further ambitions Jane had none. “The main thing will be to keep order and a teacher has to be a little cross to do that. If my pupils won’t do as I tell them I shall punish them.”
“I could NEVER whip a child,” said Anne with equal decision. “I don’t believe in it AT ALL. Miss Stacy never whipped any of us and she had perfect order; and Mr. Phillips was always whipping and he had no order at all. No, if I can’t get along without whipping I shall not try to teach school. There are better ways of managing. I shall try to win my pupils’ affections and then they will WANT to do what I tell them.”
“Well,” said Gilbert slowly, torn between his real convictions and his wish to measure up to Anne’s ideal, “there’s something to be said on both sides. I don’t believe in whipping children MUCH. I think, as you say, Anne, that there are better ways of managing as a rule, and that corporal punishment should be a last resort. But on the other hand, as Jane says, I believe there is an occasional child who can’t be influenced in any other way and who, in short, needs a whipping and would be improved by it. Corporal punishment as a last resort is to be my rule.”
“I’d keep him in after school and talk kindly and firmly to him,” said Anne. “There is some good in every person if you can find it. It is a teacher’s duty to find and develop it. That is what our School Management professor at Queen’s told us, you know. Do you suppose you could find any good in a child by whipping him? It’s far more important to influence the children aright than it is even to teach them the three R’s, Professor Rennie says.”
Anne went back to Green Gables by way of Birch Path, shadowy, rustling, fern-scented, through Violet Vale and past Willowmere, where dark and light kissed each other under the firs, and down through Lover’s Lane. . .spots she and Diana had so named long ago. She walked slowly, enjoying the sweetness of wood and field and the starry summer twilight, and thinking soberly about the new duties she was to take up on the morrow. When she reached the yard at Green Gables Mrs. Lynde’s loud, decided tones floated out through the open kitchen window.
“Mrs. Lynde has come up to give me good advice about tomorrow,” thought Anne with a grimace, “but I don’t believe I’ll go in. Her advice is much like pepper, I think. . .excellent in small quantities but rather scorching in her doses. I’ll run over and have a chat with Mr. Harrison instead.”
This was not the first time Anne had run over and chatted with Mr. Harrison since the notable affair of the Jersey cow. She had been there several evenings and Mr. Harrison and she were very good friends, although there were times and seasons when Anne found the outspokenness on which he prided himself rather trying. Ginger still continued to regard her with suspicion, and never failed to greet her sarcastically as “redheaded snippet.” Mr. Harrison had tried vainly to break him of the habit by jumping excitedly up whenever he saw Anne coming and exclaiming,
“Bless my soul, here’s that pretty little girl again,” or something equally flattering. But Ginger saw through the scheme and scorned it. Anne was never to know how many compliments Mr. Harrison paid her behind her back. He certainly never paid her any to her face.
“No, indeed,” said Anne indignantly. She was an excellent target for teasing because she always took things so seriously. “I shall never have a switch in my school, Mr. Harrison. Of course, I shall have to have a pointer, but I shall use it for pointing ONLY.”
“It won’t do,” said Mr. Harrison, “won’t do at all, Anne. `Spare the rod and spoil the child.’ When I went to school the master whipped me regular every day because he said if I wasn’t in mischief just then I was plotting it.”
“You’re pretty stubborn, I reckon,” was Mr. Harrison’s way of putting it. “Well, well, we’ll see. Someday when you get riled up. . .and people with hair like yours are desperate apt to get riled. . .you’ll forget all your pretty little notions and give some of them a whaling. You’re too young to be teaching anyhow . . .far too young and childish.”
Altogether, Anne went to bed that night in a rather pessimistic mood. She slept poorly and was so pale and tragic at breakfast next morning that Marilla was alarmed and insisted on making her take a cup of scorching ginger tea. Anne sipped it patiently, although she could not imagine what good ginger tea would do. Had it been some magic brew, potent to confer age and experience, Anne would have swallowed a quart of it without flinching.
“You’ll hardly fail completely in one day and there’s plenty more days coming,” said Marilla. “The trouble with you, Anne, is that you’ll expect to teach those children everything and reform all their faults right off, and if you can’t you’ll think you’ve failed.”
When Anne reached the school that morning. . .for the first time in her life she had traversed the Birch Path deaf and blind to its beauties. . .all was quiet and still. The preceding teacher had trained the children to be in their places at her arrival, and when Anne entered the schoolroom she was confronted by prim rows of “shining morning faces” and bright, inquisitive eyes. She hung up her hat and faced her pupils, hoping that she did not look as frightened and foolish as she felt and that they would not perceive how she was trembling.
She had sat up until nearly twelve the preceding night composing a speech she meant to make to her pupils upon opening the school. She had revised and improved it painstakingly, and then she had learned it off by heart. It was a very good speech and had some very fine ideas in it, especially about mutual help and earnest striving after knowledge. The only trouble was that she could not now remember a word of it.
After what seemed to her a year. . .about ten seconds in reality . . .she said faintly, “Take your Testaments, please,” and sank breathlessly into her chair under cover of the rustle and clatter of desk lids that followed. While the children read their verses Anne marshalled her shaky wits into order and looked over the array of little pilgrims to the Grownup Land.
Most of them were, of course, quite well known to her. Her own classmates had passed out in the preceding year but the rest had all gone to school with her, excepting the primer class and ten newcomers to Avonlea. Anne secretly felt more interest in these ten than in those whose possibilities were already fairly well mapped out to her. To be sure, they might be just as commonplace as the rest; but on the other hand there MIGHT be a genius among them. It was a thrilling idea.
Sitting by himself at a corner desk was Anthony Pye. He had a dark, sullen little face, and was staring at Anne with a hostile expression in his black eyes. Anne instantly made up her mind that she would win that boy’s affection and discomfit the Pyes utterly.
In the other corner another strange boy was sitting with Arty Sloane. . .a jolly looking little chap, with a snub nose, freckled face, and big, light blue eyes, fringed with whitish lashes. . . probably the DonNELL boy; and if resemblance went for anything, his sister was sitting across the aisle with Mary Bell. Anne wondered what sort of mother the child had, to send her to school dressed as she was. She wore a faded pink silk dress, trimmed with a great deal of cotton lace, soiled white kid slippers, and silk stockings. Her sandy hair was tortured into innumerable kinky and unnatural curls, surmounted by a flamboyant bow of pink ribbon bigger than her head. Judging from her expression she was very well satisfied with herself.
A pale little thing, with smooth ripples of fine, silky, fawn-colored hair flowing over her shoulders, must, Anne thought, be Annetta Bell, whose parents had formerly lived in the Newbridge school district, but, by reason of hauling their house fifty yards north of its old site were now in Avonlea. Three pallid little girls crowded into one seat were certainly Cottons; and there was no doubt that the small beauty with the long brown curls and hazel eyes, who was casting coquettish looks at Jack Gills over the edge of her Testament, was Prillie Rogerson, whose father had recently married a second wife and brought Prillie home from her grandmother’s in Grafton. A tall, awkward girl in a back seat, who seemed to have too many feet and hands, Anne could not place at all, but later on discovered that her name was Barbara Shaw and that she had come to live with an Avonlea aunt. She was also to find that if Barbara ever managed to walk down the aisle without falling over her own or somebody else’s feet the Avonlea scholars wrote the unusual fact up on the porch wall to commemorate it.
But when Anne’s eyes met those of the boy at the front desk facing her own, a queer little thrill went over her, as if she had found her genius. She knew this must be Paul Irving and that Mrs. Rachel Lynde had been right for once when she prophesied that he would be unlike the Avonlea children. More than that, Anne realized that he was unlike other children anywhere, and that there was a soul subtly akin to her own gazing at her out of the very dark blue eyes that were watching her so intently.
She knew Paul was ten but he looked no more than eight. He had the most beautiful little face she had ever seen in a child. . . features of exquisite delicacy and refinement, framed in a halo of chestnut curls. His mouth was delicious, being full without pouting, the crimson lips just softly touching and curving into finely finished little corners that narrowly escaped being dimpled. He had a sober, grave, meditative expression, as if his spirit was much older than his body; but when Anne smiled softly at him it vanished in a sudden answering smile, which seemed an illumination of his whole being, as if some lamp had suddenly kindled into flame inside of him, irradiating him from top to toe. Best of all, it was involuntary, born of no external effort or motive, but simply the outflashing of a hidden personality, rare and fine and sweet. With a quick interchange of smiles Anne and Paul were fast friends forever before a word had passed between them.
The day went by like a dream. Anne could never clearly recall it afterwards. It almost seemed as if it were not she who was teaching but somebody else. She heard classes and worked sums and set copies mechanically. The children behaved quite well; only two cases of discipline occurred. Morley Andrews was caught driving a pair of trained crickets in the aisle. Anne stood Morley on the platform for an hour and. . .which Morley felt much more keenly. . . confiscated his crickets. She put them in a box and on the way from school set them free in Violet Vale; but Morley believed, then and ever afterwards, that she took them home and kept them for her own amusement.
The other culprit was Anthony Pye, who poured the last drops of water from his slate bottle down the back of Aurelia Clay’s neck. Anne kept Anthony in at recess and talked to him about what was expected of gentlemen, admonishing him that they never poured water down ladies’ necks. She wanted all her boys to be gentlemen, she said. Her little lecture was quite kind and touching; but unfortunately Anthony remained absolutely untouched. He listened to her in silence, with the same sullen expression, and whistled scornfully as he went out. Anne sighed; and then cheered herself up by remembering that winning a Pye’s affections, like the building of Rome, wasn’t the work of a day. In fact, it was doubtful whether some of the Pyes had any affections to win; but Anne hoped better things of Anthony, who looked as if he might be a rather nice boy if one ever got behind his sullenness.
When school was dismissed and the children had gone Anne dropped wearily into her chair. Her head ached and she felt woefully discouraged. There was no real reason for discouragement, since nothing very dreadful had occurred; but Anne was very tired and inclined to believe that she would never learn to like teaching. And how terrible it would be to be doing something you didn’t like every day for. . .well, say forty years. Anne was of two minds whether to have her cry out then and there, or wait till she was safely in her own white room at home. Before she could decide there was a click of heels and a silken swish on the porch floor, and Anne found herself confronted by a lady whose appearance made her recall a recent criticism of Mr. Harrison’s on an overdressed female he had seen in a Charlottetown store. “She looked like a head-on collision between a fashion plate and a nightmare.”
The newcomer was gorgeously arrayed in a pale blue summer silk, puffed, frilled, and shirred wherever puff, frill, or shirring could possibly be placed. Her head was surmounted by a huge white chiffon hat, bedecked with three long but rather stringy ostrich feathers. A veil of pink chiffon, lavishly sprinkled with huge black dots, hung like a flounce from the hat brim to her shoulders and floated off in two airy streamers behind her. She wore all the jewelry that could be crowded on one small woman, and a very strong odor of perfume attended her.
“I am Mrs. DonNELL. . .Mrs. H. B. DonNELL,” announced this vision, “and I have come in to see you about something Clarice Almira told me when she came home to dinner today. It annoyed me EXCESSIVELY.”
“Clarice Almira told me that you pronounced our name DONnell. Now, Miss Shirley, the correct pronunciation of our name is DonNELL. . . accent on the last syllable. I hope you’ll remember this in future.”
“I’ll try to,” gasped Anne, choking back a wild desire to laugh. “I know by experience that it’s very unpleasant to have one’s name SPELLED wrong and I suppose it must be even worse to have it pronounced wrong.”
“I might well have expected that,” said Mrs. H. B. Donnell, in a tone which implied that gratitude in children was not to be looked for in this degenerate age. “That boy has such plebeian tastes, Miss Shirley. When he was born I wanted to call him St. Clair . . .it sounds SO aristocratic, doesn’t it? But his father insisted he should be called Jacob after his uncle. I yielded, because Uncle Jacob was a rich old bachelor. And what do you think, Miss Shirley? When our innocent boy was five years old Uncle Jacob actually went and got married and now he has three boys of his own. Did you ever hear of such ingratitude? The moment the invitation to the wedding. . .for he had the impertinence to send us an invitation, Miss Shirley. . .came to the house I said, `No more Jacobs for me, thank you.’ From that day I called my son St. Clair and St. Clair I am determined he shall be called. His father obstinately continues to call him Jacob, and the boy himself has a perfectly unaccountable preference for the vulgar name. But St. Clair he is and St. Clair he shall remain. You will kindly remember this, Miss Shirley, will you not? THANK you. I told Clarice Almira that I was sure it was only a misunderstanding and that a word would set it right. Donnell. . .accent on the last syllable. . .and St. Clair. . .on no account Jacob. You’ll remember? THANK you.”
When Mrs. H. B. DonNELL had skimmed away Anne locked the school door and went home. At the foot of the hill she found Paul Irving by the Birch Path. He held out to her a cluster of the dainty little wild orchids which Avonlea children called “rice lillies.”
“Please, teacher, I found these in Mr. Wright’s field,” he said shyly, “and I came back to give them to you because I thought you were the kind of lady that would like them, and because. . .” he lifted his big beautiful eyes. . .”I like you, teacher.”
“You darling,” said Anne, taking the fragrant spikes. As if Paul’s words had been a spell of magic, discouragement and weariness passed from her spirit, and hope upwelled in her heart like a dancing fountain. She went through the Birch Path light-footedly, attended by the sweetness of her orchids as by a benediction.
“Ask me that a month later and I may be able to tell you. I can’t now . . .I don’t know myself. . .I’m too near it. My thoughts feel as if they had been all stirred up until they were thick and muddy. The only thing I feel really sure of having accomplished today is that I taught Cliffie Wright that A is A. He never knew it before. Isn’t it something to have started a soul along a path that may end in Shakespeare and Paradise Lost?”
“And every one of them said they liked you splendid, Anne, except Anthony Pye. I must admit he didn’t. He said you `weren’t any good, just like all girl teachers.’ There’s the Pye leaven for you. But never mind.”
“Well, you can never tell about a Pye,” said Mrs. Rachel cautiously. “They go by contraries, like dreams, often as not. As for that DonNELL woman, she’ll get no DonNELLing from me, I can assure you. The name is DONnell and always has been. The woman is crazy, that’s what. She has a pug dog she calls Queenie and it has its meals at the table along with the family, eating off a china plate. I’d be afraid of a judgment if I was her. Thomas says Donnell himself is a sensible, hard-working man, but he hadn’t much gumption when he picked out a wife, that’s what.”
A September day on Prince Edward Island hills; a crisp wind blowing up over the sand dunes from the sea; a long red road, winding through fields and woods, now looping itself about a corner of thick set spruces, now threading a plantation of young maples with great feathery sheets of ferns beneath them, now dipping down into a hollow where a brook flashed out of the woods and into them again, now basking in open sunshine between ribbons of golden-rod and smoke-blue asters; air athrill with the pipings of myriads of crickets, those glad little pensioners of the summer hills; a plump brown pony ambling along the road; two girls behind him, full to the lips with the simple, priceless joy of youth and life.
“Oh, this is a day left over from Eden, isn’t it, Diana?”. . .and Anne sighed for sheer happiness. “The air has magic in it. Look at the purple in the cup of the harvest valley, Diana. And oh, do smell the dying fir! It’s coming up from that little sunny hollow where Mr. Eben Wright has been cutting fence poles. Bliss is it on such a day to be alive; but to smell dying fir is very heaven. That’s two thirds Wordsworth and one third Anne Shirley. It doesn’t seem possible that there should be dying fir in heaven, does it? And yet it doesn’t seem to me that heaven would be quite perfect if you couldn’t get a whiff of dead fir as you went through its woods. Perhaps we’ll have the odor there without the death. Yes, I think that will be the way. That delicious aroma must be the souls of the firs. . .and of course it will be just souls in heaven.”
“I think I shall. . .and use it for my naps. I’d be certain to dream I was a dryad or a woodnymph then. But just this minute I’m well content to be Anne Shirley, Avonlea schoolma’am, driving over a road like this on such a sweet, friendly day.”
“It’s a lovely day but we have anything but a lovely task before us,” sighed Diana. “Why on earth did you offer to canvass this road, Anne? Almost all the cranks in Avonlea live along it, and we’ll probably be treated as if we were begging for ourselves. It’s the very worst road of all.”
“That is why I chose it. Of course Gilbert and Fred would have taken this road if we had asked them. But you see, Diana, I feel myself responsible for the A.V.I.S., since I was the first to suggest it, and it seems to me that I ought to do the most disagreeable things. I’m sorry on your account; but you needn’t say a word at the cranky places. I’ll do all the talking. . . Mrs. Lynde would say I was well able to. Mrs. Lynde doesn’t know whether to approve of our enterprise or not. She inclines to, when she remembers that Mr. and Mrs. Allan are in favor of it; but the fact that village improvement societies first originated in the States is a count against it. So she is halting between two opinions and only success will justify us in Mrs. Lynde’s eyes. Priscilla is going to write a paper for our next Improvement meeting, and I expect it will be good, for her aunt is such a clever writer and no doubt it runs in the family. I shall never forget the thrill it gave me when I found out that Mrs. Charlotte E. Morgan was Priscilla’s aunt. It seemed so wonderful that I was a friend of the girl whose aunt wrote `Edgewood Days’ and `The Rosebud Garden.'”
“In Toronto. And Priscilla says she is coming to the Island for a visit next summer, and if it is possible Priscilla is going to arrange to have us meet her. That seems almost too good to be true –but it’s something pleasant to imagine after you go to bed.”
The Avonlea Village Improvement Society was an organized fact. Gilbert Blythe was president, Fred Wright vice-president, Anne Shirley secretary, and Diana Barry treasurer. The “Improvers,” as they were promptly christened, were to meet once a fortnight at the homes of the members. It was admitted that they could not expect to affect many improvements so late in the season; but they meant to plan the next summer’s campaign, collect and discuss ideas, write and read papers, and, as Anne said, educate the public sentiment generally.
There was some disapproval, of course, and. . .which the Improvers felt much more keenly. . .a good deal of ridicule. Mr. Elisha Wright was reported to have said that a more appropriate name for the organization would be Courting Club. Mrs. Hiram Sloane declared she had heard the Improvers meant to plough up all the roadsides and set them out with geraniums. Mr. Levi Boulter warned his neighbors that the Improvers would insist that everybody pull down his house and rebuild it after plans approved by the society. Mr. James Spencer sent them word that he wished they would kindly shovel down the church hill. Eben Wright told Anne that he wished the Improvers could induce old Josiah Sloane to keep his whiskers trimmed. Mr. Lawrence Bell said he would whitewash his barns if nothing else would please them but he would NOT hang lace curtains in the cowstable windows. Mr. Major Spencer asked Clifton Sloane, an Improver who drove the milk to the Carmody cheese factory, if it was true that everybody would have to have his milk-stand hand-painted next summer and keep an embroidered centerpiece on it.
In spite of. . .or perhaps, human nature being what it is, because of. . .this, the Society went gamely to work at the only improvement they could hope to bring about that fall. At the second meeting, in the Barry parlor, Oliver Sloane moved that they tart a subscription to re-shingle and paint the hall; Julia Bell seconded it, with an uneasy feeling that she was doing something not exactly ladylike. Gilbert put the motion, it was carried unanimously, and Anne gravely recorded it in her minutes. The next thing was to appoint a committee, and Gertie Pye, determined not to let Julia Bell carry off all the laurels, boldly moved that Miss Jane Andrews be chairman of said committee. This motion being also duly seconded and carried, Jane returned the compliment by appointing Gertie on the committee, along with Gilbert, Anne, Diana, and Fred Wright. The committee chose their routes in private conclave. Anne and Diana were told off for the Newbridge road, Gilbert and Fred for the White Sands road, and Jane and Gertie for the Carmody road.
Eliza was there. . .very much so. . .and looked even grimmer than usual. Miss Eliza was one of those people who give you the impression that life is indeed a vale of tears, and that a smile, never to speak of a laugh, is a waste of nervous energy truly reprehensible. The Andrew girls had been “girls” for fifty odd years and seemed likely to remain girls to the end of their earthly pilgrimage. Catherine, it was said, had not entirely given up hope, but Eliza, who was born a pessimist, had never had any. They lived in a little brown house built in a sunny corner scooped out of Mark Andrew’s beech woods. Eliza complained that it was terrible hot in summer, but Catherine was wont to say it was lovely and warm in winter.
Eliza was sewing patchwork, not because it was needed but simply as a protest against the frivolous lace Catherine was crocheting. Eliza listened with a frown and Catherine with a smile, as the girls explained their errand. To be sure, whenever Catherine caught Eliza’s eye she discarded the smile in guilty confusion; but it crept back the next moment.
“If I had money to waste,” said Eliza grimly, “I’d burn it up and have the fun of seeing a blaze maybe; but I wouldn’t give it to that hall, not a cent. It’s no benefit to the settlement. . .just a place for young folks to meet and carry on when they’s better be home in their beds.”
“You won’t have such a high opinion of it when you’ve lived as long in it as I have,” retorted Miss Eliza sourly, “and you won’t be so enthusiastic about improving it either. How is your mother, Diana? Dear me, but she has failed of late. She looks terrible run down. And how long is it before Marilla expects to be stone blind, Anne?”
“Not in my experience, and I’ve fifty-seven years to set against your sixteen,” retorted Eliza. “Going, are you? Well, I hope this new society of yours will be able to keep Avonlea from running any further down hill but I haven’t much hope of it.”
Anne and Diana got themselves thankfully out, and drove away as fast as the fat pony could go. As they rounded the curve below the beech wood a plump figure came speeding over Mr. Andrews’ pasture, waving to them excitedly. It was Catherine Andrews and she was so out of breath that she could hardly speak, but she thrust a couple of quarters into Anne’s hand.
“That’s my contribution to painting the hall,” she gasped. “I’d like to give you a dollar but I don’t dare take more from my egg money for Eliza would find it out if I did. I’m real interested in your society and I believe you’re going to do a lot of good. I’m an optimist. I HAVE to be, living with Eliza. I must hurry back before she misses me. . .she thinks I’m feeding the hens. I hope you’ll have good luck canvassing, and don’t be cast down over what Eliza said. The world IS getting better. . .it certainly is.”
“Now, it all depends on whether his wife is home or not,” said Diana, as they jolted along a deep-rutted lane. “If she is we won’t get a cent. Everybody says Dan Blair doesn’t dare have his hair cut without asking her permission; and it’s certain she’s very close, to state it moderately. She says she has to be just before she’s generous. But Mrs. Lynde says she’s so much `before’ that generosity never catches up with her at all.”
“We tied the horse and then rapped at the kitchen door. Nobody came but the door was open and we could hear somebody in the pantry, going on dreadfully. We couldn’t make out the words but Diana says she knows they were swearing by the sound of them. I can’t believe that of Mr. Blair, for he is always so quiet and meek; but at least he had great provocation, for Marilla, when that poor man came to the door, red as a beet, with perspiration streaming down his face, he had on one of his wife’s big gingham aprons. `I can’t get this durned thing off,’ he said, `for the strings are tied in a hard knot and I can’t bust ’em, so you’ll have to excuse me, ladies.’ We begged him not to mention it and went in and sat down. Mr. Blair sat down too; he twisted the apron around to his back and rolled it up, but he did look so ashamed and worried that I felt sorry for him, and Diana said she feared we had called at an inconvenient time. `Oh, not at all,’ said Mr. Blair, trying to smile. . .you know he is always very polite. . .’I’m a little busy. . .getting ready to bake a cake as it were. My wife got a telegram today that her sister from Montreal is coming tonight and she’s gone to the train to meet her and left orders for me to make a cake for tea. She writ out the recipe and told me what to do but I’ve clean forgot half the directions already. And it says, “flavor according to taste.” What does that mean? How can you tell? And what if my taste doesn’t happen to be other people’s taste? Would a tablespoon of vanilla be enough for a small layer cake?”
“I felt sorrier than ever for the poor man. He didn’t seem to be in his proper sphere at all. I had heard of henpecked husbands and now I felt that I saw one. It was on my lips to say, `Mr. Blair, if you’ll give us a subscription for the hall I’ll mix up your cake for you.’ But I suddenly thought it wouldn’t be neighborly to drive too sharp a bargain with a fellow creature in distress. So I offered to mix the cake for him without any conditions at all. He just jumped at my offer. He said he’d been used to making his own bread before he was married but he feared cake was beyond him, and yet he hated to disappoint his wife. He got me another apron, and Diana beat the eggs and I mixed the cake. Mr. Blair ran about and got us the materials. He had forgotten all about his apron and when he ran it streamed out behind him and Diana said she thought she would die to see it. He said he could bake the cake all right. . .he was used to that. . .and then he asked for our list and he put down four dollars. So you see we were rewarded. But even if he hadn’t given a cent I’d always feel that we had done a truly Christian act in helping him.”
Theodore White’s was the next stopping place. Neither Anne nor Diana had ever been there before, and they had only a very slight acquaintance with Mrs. Theodore, who was not given to hospitality. Should they go to the back or front door? While they held a whispered consultation Mrs. Theodore appeared at the front door with an armful of newspapers. Deliberately she laid them down one by one on the porch floor and the porch steps, and then down the path to the very feet of her mystified callers.
“Will you please wipe your feet carefully on the grass and then walk on these papers?” she said anxiously. “I’ve just swept the house all over and I can’t have any more dust tracked in. The path’s been real muddy since the rain yesterday.”
“Don’t you dare laugh,” warned Anne in a whisper, as they marched along the newspapers. “And I implore you, Diana, not to look at me, no matter what she says, or I shall not be able to keep a sober face.”
The papers extended across the hall and into a prim, fleckless parlor. Anne and Diana sat down gingerly on the nearest chairs and explained their errand. Mrs. White heard them politely, interrupting only twice, once to chase out an adventurous fly, and once to pick up a tiny wisp of grass that had fallen on the carpet from Anne’s dress. Anne felt wretchedly guilty; but Mrs. White subscribed two dollars and paid the money down. . .”to prevent us from having to go back for it,” Diana said when they got away. Mrs. White had the newspapers gathered up before they had their horse untied and as they drove out of the yard they saw her busily wielding a broom in the hall.
At the Spencers’ Mrs. Isabella Spencer made them miserable by saying something ill-natured about everyone in Avonlea. Mr. Thomas Boulter refused to give anything because the hall, when it had been built, twenty years before, hadn’t been built on the site he recommended. Mrs. Esther Bell, who was the picture of health, took half an hour to detail all her aches and pains, and sadly put down fifty cents because she wouldn’t be there that time next year to do it. . .no, she would be in her grave.
Their worst reception, however, was at Simon Fletcher’s. When they drove into the yard they saw two faces peering at them through the porch window. But although they rapped and waited patiently and persistently nobody came to the door. Two decidedly ruffled and indignant girls drove away from Simon Fletcher’s. Even Anne admitted that she was beginning to feel discouraged. But the tide turned after that. Several Sloane homesteads came next, where they got liberal subscriptions, and from that to the end they fared well, with only an occasional snub. Their last place of call was at Robert Dickson’s by the pond bridge. They stayed to tea here, although they were nearly home, rather than risk offending Mrs. Dickson, who had the reputation of being a very “touchy” woman.
“I’ve just been down to Lorenzo’s,” she announced. “He’s the proudest man in Avonlea this minute. What do you think? There’s a brand new boy there. . .and after seven girls that’s quite an event, I can tell you.” Anne pricked up her ears, and when they drove away she said.
“They are not going around until next Saturday and it will be too late by then,” said Anne firmly. “The novelty will be worn off. Lorenzo White is dreadfully mean but he will subscribe to ANYTHING just now. We mustn’t let such a golden opportunity slip, Diana.” The result justified Anne’s foresight. Mr. White met them in the yard, beaming like the sun upon an Easter day. When Anne asked for a subscription he agreed enthusiastically.
“Five it is. . .and here’s the money on the spot. Now, I want you to come into the house. There’s something in there worth seeing. . . something very few people have seen as yet. Just come in and pass YOUR opinion.”
The baby WAS pretty, however, and Mr. White felt that he got his five dollars’ worth of the girls’ honest delight over the plump little newcomer. But that was the first, last, and only time that Lorenzo White ever subscribed to anything.
Anne, tired as she was, made one more effort for the public weal that night, slipping over the fields to interview Mr. Harrison, who was as usual smoking his pipe on the veranda with Ginger beside him. Strickly speaking he was on the Carmody road; but Jane and Gertie, who were not acquainted with him save by doubtful report, had nervously begged Anne to canvass him.
Anne leaned back in her chair one mild October evening and sighed. She was sitting at a table covered with text books and exercises, but the closely written sheets of paper before her had no apparent connection with studies or school work.
“Nothing very dreadful. I was just trying to write out some of my thoughts, as Professor Hamilton advised me, but I couldn’t get them to please me. They seem so still and foolish directly they’re written down on white paper with black ink. Fancies are like shadows. . . you can’t cage them, they’re such wayward, dancing things. But perhaps I’ll learn the secret some day if I keep on trying. I haven’t a great many spare moments, you know. By the time I finish correcting school exercises and compositions, I don’t always feel like writing any of my own.”
“No, not all. Anthony Pye doesn’t and WON’T like me. What is worse, he doesn’t respect me. . .no, he doesn’t. He simply holds me in contempt and I don’t mind confessing to you that it worries me miserably. It isn’t that he is so very bad. . .he is only rather mischievous, but no worse than some of the others. He seldom disobeys me; but he obeys with a scornful air of toleration as if it wasn’t worthwhile disputing the point or he would. . .and it has a bad effect on the others. I’ve tried every way to win him but I’m beginning to fear I never shall. I want to, for he’s rather a cute little lad, if he IS a Pye, and I could like him if he’d let me.”
“Not altogether. Anthony is an independent little chap and makes up his own mind about things. He has always gone to men before and he says girl teachers are no good. Well, we’ll see what patience and kindness will do. I like overcoming difficulties and teaching is really very interesting work. Paul Irving makes up for all that is lacking in the others. That child is a perfect darling, Gilbert, and a genius into the bargain. I’m persuaded the world will hear of him some day,” concluded Anne in a tone of conviction.
“I like teaching, too,” said Gilbert. “It’s good training, for one thing. Why, Anne, I’ve learned more in the weeks I’ve been teaching the young the ideas of White Sands than I learned in all the years I went to school myself. We all seem to be getting on pretty well. The Newbridge people like Jane, I hear; and I think White Sands is tolerably satisfied with your humble servant. . .all except Mr. Andrew Spencer. I met Mrs. Peter Blewett on my way home last night and she told me she thought it her duty to inform me that Mr. Spencer didn’t approve of my methods.”
“Have you ever noticed,” asked Anne reflectively, “that when people say it is their duty to tell you a certain thing you may prepare for something disagreeable? Why is it that they never seem to think it a duty to tell you the pleasant things they hear about you? Mrs. H. B. DonNELL called at the school again yesterday and told me she thought it HER duty to inform me that Mrs. Harmon Andrew didn’t approve of my reading fairy tales to the children, and that Mr. Rogerson thought Prillie wasn’t coming on fast enough in arithmetic. If Prillie would spend less time making eyes at the boys over her slate she might do better. I feel quite sure that Jack Gillis works her class sums for her, though I’ve never been able to catch him red-handed.”
“Yes,” laughed Anne, “but it was really a difficult task. At first, when I called him `St. Clair’ he would not take the least notice until I’d spoken two or three times; and then, when the other boys nudged him, he would look up with such an aggrieved air, as if I’d called him John or Charlie and he couldn’t be expected to know I meant him. So I kept him in after school one night and talked kindly to him. I told him his mother wished me to call him St. Clair and I couldn’t go against her wishes. He saw it when it was all explained out. . .he’s really a very reasonable little fellow. . .and he said _I_ could call him St. Clair but that he’d `lick the stuffing’ out of any of the boys that tried it. Of course, I had to rebuke him again for using such shocking language. Since then _I_ call him St. Clair and the boys call him Jake and all goes smoothly. He informs me that he means to be a carpenter, but Mrs. DonNELL says I am to make a college professor out of him.”
The mention of college gave a new direction to Gilbert’s thoughts, and they talked for a time of their plans and wishes. . .gravely, earnestly, hopefully, as youth loves to talk, while the future is yet an untrodden path full of wonderful possibilities.
“It’s a splendid profession,” he said enthusiastically. “A fellow has to fight something all through life. . .didn’t somebody once define man as a fighting animal?. . .and I want to fight disease and pain and ignorance. . .which are all members one of another. I want to do my share of honest, real work in the world, Anne. . . add a little to the sum of human knowledge that all the good men have been accumulating since it began. The folks who lived before me have done so much for me that I want to show my gratitude by doing something for the folks who will live after me. It seems to me that is the only way a fellow can get square with his obligations to the race.”
“I’d like to add some beauty to life,” said Anne dreamily. “I don’t exactly want to make people KNOW more. . .though I know that IS the noblest ambition. . .but I’d love to make them have a pleasanter time because of me. . .to have some little joy or happy thought that would never have existed if I hadn’t been born.”
And he was right. Anne was one of the children of light by birthright. After she had passed through a life with a smile or a word thrown across it like a gleam of sunshine the owner of that life saw it, for the time being at least, as hopeful and lovely and of good report.
Anne had tea ready when Marilla came home; the fire was crackling cheerily, a vase of frost-bleached ferns and ruby-red maple leaves adorned the table, and delectable odors of ham and toast pervaded the air. But Marilla sank into her chair with a deep sigh.
“Yes, Mary had a letter from him. He’s working in a lumber camp and `shacking it,’ whatever that means. Anyway, he says he can’t possibly take the children till the spring. He expects to be married then and will have a home to take them to; but he says she must get some of the neighbors to keep them for the winter. She says she can’t bear to ask any of them. Mary never got on any too well with the East Grafton people and that’s a fact. And the long and short of it is, Anne, that I’m sure Mary wants me to take those children. . .she didn’t say so but she LOOKED it.”
“I haven’t made up my mind,” said Marilla rather tartly. “I don’t rush into things in your headlong way, Anne. Third cousinship is a pretty slim claim. And it will be a fearful responsibility to have two children of six years to look after. . .twins, at that.”
“Twins are very interesting. . .at least one pair of them,” said Anne. “It’s only when there are two or three pairs that it gets monotonous. And I think it would be real nice for you to have something to amuse you when I’m away in school.”
“I don’t reckon there’d be much amusement in it. . .more worry and bother than anything else, I should say. It wouldn’t be so risky if they were even as old as you were when I took you. I wouldn’t mind Dora so much. . .she seems good and quiet. But that Davy is a limb.”
Anne was fond of children and her heart yearned over the Keith twins. The remembrance of her own neglected childhood was very vivid with her still. She knew that Marilla’s only vulnerable point was her stern devotion to what she believed to be her duty, and Anne skillfully marshalled her arguments along this line.
“If Davy is naughty it’s all the more reason why he should have good training, isn’t it, Marilla? If we don’t take them we don’t know who will, nor what kind of influences may surround them. Suppose Mrs. Keith’s next door neighbors, the Sprotts, were to take them. Mrs. Lynde says Henry Sprott is the most profane man that ever lived and you can’t believe a word his children say. Wouldn’t it be dreadful to have the twins learn anything like that? Or suppose they went to the Wiggins’. Mrs. Lynde says that Mr. Wiggins sells everything off the place that can be sold and brings his family up on skim milk. You wouldn’t like your relations to be starved, even if they were only third cousins, would you? It seems to me, Marilla, that it is our duty to take them.”
“I suppose it is,” assented Marilla gloomily. “I daresay I’ll tell Mary I’ll take them. You needn’t look so delighted, Anne. It will mean a good deal of extra work for you. I can’t sew a stitch on account of my eyes, so you’ll have to see to the making and mending of their clothes. And you don’t like sewing.”
“I hate it,” said Anne calmly, “but if you are willing to take those children from a sense of duty surely I can do their sewing from a sense of duty. It does people good to have to do things they don’t like. . .in moderation.”