October 22, 2020

Anne – Part 68

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We continue our serialisation of Anne by Constance Fenimore Woolson

“He detested her because her father was a Spaniard”

While the pupils were filing into their places, Tante remained in the aisle fanning her majestically, and surveying them with a benignant smile.  When all were seated, with a graceful little bend she glided into her place at the end, the motion of sitting down and the bend fused into one in a manner known only to her.

Anne’s   strong   idealism, shown   in   her   vivid   although   mistaken   conceptions of Shakspeare’s women, was now turned into the channel of opera music. After hearing several operas, she threw herself into her Italian songs with so much fervor that Belzini sat aghast; this was not the manner in which demoiselles of private life should sing. Tante, passing one day  (by the merest chance, of course) through the drawing room while Anne was singing, paused a moment to listen. “Ma fille,” she said, when the song was ended, tapping Anne’s shoulder affably,  “give no more expression to the Italian words you sing than to the syllables of your scales. Interpretations are not required.” The old Frenchwoman always put down with iron hand what she called the predominant tendency toward too great freedom—sensationalism—in young girls. She spent her life in a constant struggle with the American “jeune fille.”

During this time Rast wrote regularly; but his letters, not being authorized by Miss

Vanhorn, Anne’s guardian, passed first through the hands of one of the teachers, and the knowledge of this inspection naturally dulled the youth’s pen. But Anne’s letters to him passed the same ordeal without change in word or in spirit. Miss Lois and Dr. Gaston wrote once a week; Père Michaux contented himself with postscripts added to the long, badly spelled, but elaborately worded epistles with which Mademoiselle Tita favored her elder sister. It was evident to Anne that Miss Lois was having a severe winter.

The second event in Anne’s school life was the gaining of a friend.

At first it was but a musical companion.  Helen Lorrington lived not far from the school; she was one of Tante’s old scholars, and this Napoleon of teachers especially liked this pupil, who was modelled after her own heart. Helen held what may be called a woman’s most untrammelled position in life, namely, that of a young widow, protected but not controlled, rich, beautiful, and without children. She was also heir to the estate of an eccentric grandfather, who detested her, yet would not allow his money to go to any collateral branch. He detested her because her father was a Spaniard, whose dark eyes had so reprehensibly fascinated his little Dutch daughter that she had unexpectedly plucked up courage to marry in spite of the paternal prohibition, and not only that, but to be very happy also during the short portion of life allotted to her afterward. The young Spanish husband, with an unaccountable indifference to the wealth for which he was supposed to have plotted so perseveringly, was pusillanimous enough to die soon afterward, leaving only one little pale-faced child, a puny girl, to inherit the money. The baby Helen had never possessed the dimples and rose tints that make the beauty of childhood; the girl Helen had not the rounded curves and peach-like bloom that make the beauty of youth. At seventeen she was what she was now; therefore at seventeen she was old. At twenty-seven she was what she was then; therefore at twenty-seven she was young.

She was tall, and extremely, marvellously slender; yet her bones were so small that there were no angles visible in all her graceful length. She was a long woman; her arms were long, her throat was long, her eyes and face were long. Her form, slight enough for a spirit, was as natural as the swaying grasses on a hillside. She was as flexible as a ribbon.  Her beauties were a regally poised little head, a delicately cut profile, and a remarkable length of hair; her peculiarities, the color of this hair, the color of her skin, and the narrowness of her eyes. The hue of her hair was called flaxen; but it was more than that—it was the color of bleached straw. There was not a trace of gold in it, nor did it ever shine, but hung, when unbound, a soft even mass straight down below the knee. It was very thick, but so fine that it was manageable; it was never rough, because there were no short locks. The complexion, which accompanied this hair, was white, with an under-tint of ivory. There are skins with under-tints of pink, of blue, and of brown; but this was different in that it shaded off into cream, without any indication of these hues. This soft ivory-color gave a shade of fuller richness to the slender straw-haired woman —An effect increased by the hue of the eyes, when visible under the long light lashes. For Helen’s eyes were of a bright dark unexpected brown. The eyes were so long and narrow, however, that generally only a line of bright brown looked at you when you met their gaze. Small features, narrow cheeks, delicate lips, and little milk-white teeth, like a child’s, completed this face which never had a red tint, even the lips being but faintly colored.

 

 

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