September 19, 2020

Anne – Part 37

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We continue our serialisation of Anne by Constance Fenimore Woolson

“he must go away and live his life”

Rast’s spirits rose, and he began to laugh, and to drag his companion along at a rapid pace. They reached the edge of the hill, and the steep descent opened before them; the girl’s remonstrances were in vain, and it ended in their racing down together at a break-neck pace, reaching the bottom, laughing and breathless, like two school children.  They were now on the second plateau, the level proper of the island above the cliffs, which, high and precipitous on three sides, sank down gradually to the southwestern shore, so that one might land there, and drag a cannon up to the old earth work on the summit—a feat once performed by British soldiers in the days when the powers of the Old World were still fighting with each other for the New.  How quaint they now seem, those ancient proclamations and documents with which a Spanish king grandly meted out this country from Maine to Florida, an English queen divided the same with sweeping patents from East to West, and a French monarch, following after, regranted the whole virgin soil on which the banners of France were to be planted with solemn Christian ceremony!  They all took possession; they all planted banners. Some of the brass plates they buried are turned up occasionally at the present day by the farmer’s plough, and, wiping his forehead, he stops to spell out their high-sounding words, while his sunburned boys look curiously over his shoulder. A place in the county museum is all they are worth now.

Anne Douglas and Rast went through the fort grounds and down the hill path, instead of going round by the road. The fort ladies, sitting by their low windows, saw them, and commented.

“That girl does not appreciate young Pronando,” said Mrs. Cromer. “I doubt if she even sees his beauty.”

“Perhaps it is just as well that she does not,” replied Mrs. Rankin, “for he must go away and live his life, of course; have his adventures.”

“Why not she also?” said Mrs. Bryden, smiling.

“In the first place, she has no choice; she is tied down here. In the second, she is a good sort of girl, without imagination or enthusiasm. Her idea of life is to marry, have meat three times a week, fish three times, lights out at ten o’clock, and, by way of literature, Miss Edgeworth’s novels and Macaulay’s History of England.”

“And a very good idea,” said Mrs. Bryden. “Certainly, only one can not call that adventures.”

“But even such girls come upon adventures sometimes,” said Mrs. Cromer.

“Yes, when they have beauty.  Their beauty seems often to have an extraordinary power over the most poetical and imaginative men, too, strange as it may appear. But Anne Douglas has none of it.”

“How you all misunderstand her!” said a voice from the little dining-room opening into the parlor, its doorway screened by a curtain.

“Ah, doctor, are you there?” said Mrs. Bryden. “We should not have said a word if we had known it.”

“Yes, madam, I am here—with the colonel; but it is only this moment that I have lifted my head to listen to your conversation, and I remain filled with astonishment, as usual, at the obtuseness manifested by your sex regarding each other.”

“Hear! Hear!” said the colonel.

“Anne Douglas,” continued the chaplain, clearing his throat, and beginning in a high chanting voice, which they all knew well, having heard it declaiming on various subjects during long snow-bound winter evenings “is a most unusual girl.”

“Oh, come in here, doctor, and take a seat; it will be hard work to say it all through that doorway,” called Mrs. Bryden.

“No, madam, I will not sit down,” said the chaplain, appearing under the curtain, his brown wig awry, his finger impressively pointed. “I will simply say this, namely, that as to Anne Douglas, you are all mistaken.”

“And who is to be the judge between us?”

“The future, madam.”

“Very well; we will leave it to the future, then,” said Mrs. Bryden, skillfully evading the expected oration.

“We may safely do that, madam—safely indeed; the only difficulty is that we may not live to see it.”

“Oh, a woman’s future is always near at hand, doctor. Besides, we are not so very old ourselves.”

“True, madam—happily true for all the eyes that rest upon you. Nevertheless, the other side, I opine, is likewise true, namely, that Anne Douglas is very young.”

“She is sixteen; and I myself am only twenty,” said Mrs. Rankin.

“With due respect, ladies, I must mention that not one of you was ever in her life so young as Anne Douglas at the present moment.”

“What in the world do you mean, doctor?”

“What I say. I can see you all as children in my mind’s eye,” continued the chaplain, unflinchingly;  “pretty, bright, precocious little creatures, finely finished, finely dressed, quick-witted, graceful, and bewitching. But at that age Anne Douglas was a—”

“Well, what?”

“A mollusk,” said the chaplain, bringing out the word emphatically. “And what is she now, doctor?”

 

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