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Anne – Part 44

We continue our serialisation of Anne by Constance Fenimore Woolson

“Early in September William Douglas failed suddenly.”

The event of the summer, the comet of that season’s sky, was an invitation to a small party in the town, where it was understood that young Pronando, with five or six of his companions, would be present. Miss Haws accepted occasional invitations for her pupils, marshalling them in a bevy, herself robed in pea-green silk, like an ancient mermaid: she said that it gave them dignity. It did. The stern dignity and silence almost solemn displayed by Rast’s three worshippers when they found themselves actually in the same room with him were something preternatural.  They moved stiffly, as if their elbows and ankles were out of joint; they spoke to each other cautiously in the lowest whispers, with their under jaws rigid, and a difficulty with their labials; they moved their eyes carefully everywhere save toward the point where he was standing, yet knew exactly where he was every moment of the time.  When he approached the quadrille, which was formed in one corner by Miss Haws’s young ladies, dancing virginally by

Themselves, they squeezed each other’s hands convulsively when they passed in “ladies’ chain,” in token of the great fact that he was looking on. When, after the dance, they walked up and down in the hall, arm in arm, they trod upon each other’s slippers as sympathetic perception of the intensity of his presence on the stairs. What an evening! How crowded full of emotions!  Yet the outward appearance was simply that of three shy, awkward girls in white muslin, keeping close together, and as far as possible from a handsome, gay-hearted, fast-talking   youth   who   never   once   noticed   them.  O the imaginative, happy, shy fancies of foolish schoolgirls! It is a question whether the real love which comes later ever yields that wild, fairy-like romance, which these early attachments exhale; the very element of reality weights it down, and makes it less heavenly fair.

At the end of the summer Rast had acquired a deep experience in life (so he thought), a downy little golden mustache, and a better opinion of himself than ever. The world is very kind to a handsome boy of frank and spirited bearing, one who looks as though he intended to mount and ride to victory. The proud vigor of such a youth is pleasant to tired eyes; he is so sure he will succeed! And most persons older, although knowing the world better and not so sure, give him as he passes a smile and friendly word, and wish him Godspeed. It is not quite fair, perhaps, to other youths of equal merit but another bearing, yet Nature orders it so. The handsome, strong, confident boy who looks her in the face with daring courage wins from her always a fine starting-place in the race of life, which seems to advance him far beyond his companions. Seems; but the end is far away.

East did not return to the island during the summer vacation; Dr. Gaston wished him to continue his studies with a tutor, and as the little college town was now radiant with a mild summer gayety, the young man was willing to remain.  He wrote to Anne frequently, giving abstracts of his life, lists of little events like statistics in a report. He did this regularly, and omitted nothing, for the letters were his conscience. When they were once written and sent, however, off he went to new pleasures. It must be added as well that he always sought the post-office eagerly for Anne’s replies, and placed them in his pocket with satisfaction.  They were sometimes unread, or half read, for days, waiting a convenient season, but they were there.

Anne’s letters were long, they were pleasant, they were never exciting—the very kind to keep; like friends who last a lifetime, but who never give us one quickened pulse. Alone in his room, or stretched on the grass under a tree, reading them, Rast felt himself strongly carried back to his old life on the island, and he did not resist the feeling. His plans for the future were as yet vague, but Anne was always a part of his dream.

But this youth lived so vigorously and fully and happily in the present that there was not much time for the future and for dreams.  He seldom thought. What other people thought, he felt.

Early in September William Douglas failed suddenly.  From taciturnity he sank into silence, from quiet into lethargy. He rose in the morning, but after that effort he became like a breathing statue, and sat all day in his armchair without stirring or noticing anything.  If they brought him food he ate it, but he did not speak or answer their questions by motion or gesture.  The fort surgeon was puzzled; it was evidently not paralysis. He was a newcomer on the island, and he asked many questions as to the past. Anne sincerely, Miss Lois resolutely, denied that there had ever been any trouble with the brain.






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