September 25, 2020

Anne – Part 34

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We continue our serialisation of Anne by Constance Fenimore Woolson

“The busy priest gave little attention to the scene”

“Will you have some more, then?” said Anne.

Tita shook her head, and waved away her sister impatiently.

“She is as thorough an epicure as I am,” said the priest, smiling; “it takes away from the poetry of a dish to be asked to eat more.”

It was now time to start homeward, and Père Michaux’s sledge made its appearance, coming from a little islet near by. Old Pierre would not have dogs upon his shores; yet he went over to the other island himself every morning, at the expense of much time and trouble, to see that the half-breed in charge had not neglected them. The result was that Père Michaux’s dogs were known as far as they could be seen by their fat sides, the only rotundities in dog-flesh within a circle of five hundred miles. Père Michaux wished to take Tita with him in his sledge, in order that Anne might ride also; but the young girl declined with a smile, saying that she liked the walk.

“Do not wait for us, sir,” she said; “your dogs can go much faster than ours.”

But the priest preferred to make the journey in company with them; and they all started together from the house door, where Pierre stood in his red skullcap, bowing farewell. The sledges glided down the little slope to the beach, and shot out on the white ice, the two drivers keeping by the side of their teams, the boys racing along in advance, and Anne walking with her quick elastic step by the side of Père Michaux’s conveyance, talking to him with the animation which always came to her in the open air. The color mounted in her cheeks; with her head held erect she seemed to breathe with delight, and to rejoice in the clear sky, the cold, the crisp sound of her own footsteps, while her eyes followed the cliffs of the shore-line crowned with evergreens—savage cliffs which the short summer could hardly soften. The sun sank toward the west, the air grew colder; Tita drew the furs over her head, and vanished from sight, riding along in her nest half asleep, listening to the bells. The boys still ran and pranced, but more, perhaps, from a sense of honor than from natural hilarity. They were more exact in taking their turns in the sledge now, and more slowly in coming out from the furs upon call; still, they kept on. As the track turned little by little, following the line of the shore, they came nearer to the mail-train advancing rapidly from the east in a straight line.

“Denis is determined to have a good supper and sleep to-night,” said Père Michaux; “no camp to make in the snow this evening.” Some minutes later the mail-train passed, the gaunt old dogs which drew the sledge never even turning their heads to gaze at the party, but keeping straight on, having come in a direct line, without a break, from the point, ten miles distant.  The young dogs in Antoine’s team pricked up their ears, and betrayed a disposition to rush after the mail-train; then René and Lebeau, after looking round once or twice, after turning in their great paws more than usual as they walked, and holding back resolutely, at length sat deliberately down on their haunches, and stopped the sledge.

“And thou art entirely right, René, and thou too, Lebeau,” said old Antoine. “To waste breath following a mail-train at a gallop is worthy only of young-dog silliness.”

So saying he administered to the recreant members of the team enough chastisement to make them forget the very existence of mail-trains, while René and Lebeau waited composedly to see justice done; they then rose in a dignified manner and started on, the younger dogs following now with abject humility.  As they came nearer the village the western pass opened out before them, a long narrow vista of ice, with the dark shore- line on each side, and the glow of the red sunset shining strangely through, as though it came from a tropical country beyond.  A sledge was crossing down in the west—a moving speck; the scene was as wild and arctic as if they had been travelling on Baffin’s Bay. The busy priest gave little attention to the scene, and the others in all the winters of their lives had seen nothing else: to the Bedouins the great desert is nothing. Anne noted every feature and hue of the picture, but unconsciously.  She saw it all, but without a comment. Still, she saw it. She was to see it again many times in after-years—see it in cities, in lighted drawing-rooms, in gladness and in sorrow, and more than once through a mist of tears.

Later in the evening, when the moon was shining brightly, and she was on her way home from the church-house with Rast, she saw a sledge moving toward the northern point. “There is Père Michaux, on his way home,” she said. Then, after a moment, “Do you know, Rast, he thinks me dull.”

 

 

 

 

 

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