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Anne – Part 40

We continue our serialisation of Anne by Constance Fenimore Woolson

“the crying evil of the country to-day is that the boys are not trained”

But as he grows old he notices that Jane is always quiet when the peach-trees are in bloom, and that gray-haired sister Catherine always bends down her head and weeps silently whenever the choir sings “Rockingham”; and then he remembers who it was that died when the peach-trees showed their blossoms, and who it was who went about humming “Rockingham,” and understands.  Yet always with a slow surprise, and a wonder at women’s ways, since both the men were, to his idea, failures in the world and their generation.

Any other woman of Miss Lois’s age and strict prudence, having general charge of the Douglas household, would have required from Anne long ago that she should ask her father plainly what were his resources and his income. To a cent were all the affairs of the church-house regulated and balanced; Miss Lois would have been unhappy at the end of the week if a penny remained unaccounted for.  Yet she said nothing to the daughter, nothing to the father, although noticing all the time that the small provision was no larger, while the boys grew like reeds, and the time was at hand when more must be done for them. William Douglas’s way was to give Anne at the beginning of each week a certain sum. This he had done as far back as his daughter could remember, and she had spent it under the direction of Miss Lois.  Now, being older, she laid it out without much advice from her mentor, but began to feel troubled because it did not go as far. “It goes as far,” said Miss Lois, “but the boys have gone farther.”

“Poor little fellows! They must eat.”

“And they must work.”

“But what can they do at their age, Miss Lois?”

“Form habits,” replied the New England woman, sternly.  “In my opinion the crying evil of the country to-day is that the boys are not trained; educated, I grant you, but not trained—trained as they were when times were simpler, and the rod in use. Parents are too ambitious; the mechanic wishes to make his sons merchants, the merchant wishes to make his gentlemen; but, while educating them and pushing them forward, the parents forget the homely habits of patient labor, strict veracity in thought and action, and stern self-denials which have given them their measure of success, and so between the two stools the poor boys fall to the ground. It is my opinion,” added Miss Lois, decisively, “that, whether you want to build the Capitol at Washington or a red barn, you must first have a firm foundation.”

“Yes, I know,” replied Anne. “And I do try to control them.”

“Oh, General Putnam! You try!” said Miss Lois. “Why, you spoil them like babies.” Anne   always gave up   the   point   when   Miss Lois reverted to Putnam.  This Revolutionary hero, now principally known, like Romulus, by a wolf story, was the old maid’s glory and remote ancestor, and helped her over occasional necessities for strong expressions with ancestral kindness. She felt like reverting to him more than once that summer, because, Rast having gone, there was less of a whirlwind of out-door life, of pleasure in the woods and on the water, and the plain bare state of things stood clearly revealed.  Anne fell behind every month with the household expenses in spite of all her efforts, and every month Miss Lois herself made up the deficiency. The boys were larger, and careless. The old house yawned itself apart. Of necessity the gap between the income and the expenditure must grow wider and wider. Anne did not realize this, but Miss Lois did. The young girl thought each month that she must have been unusually extravagant; she counted in some item as an extra expense, which would not occur again, gave up something for her, and began anew with fresh hope. On almost all subjects Miss Lois had the smallest amount of patience for what she called blindness, but on this she was silent. Now and then her eyes would follow Anne’s father with a troubled gaze; but if he looked toward her or spoke, she at once assumed her usual brisk manner, and was even more cheerful than usual. Thus, the mentor being silent, the family drifted on. The short Northern summer, with its intense sunshine and its cool nights, was now upon them.  Fire crackled upon the hearth of the Agency sitting -room in the early morning, but it died out about ten o’clock, and from that time until five in the afternoon the heat and the brightness were peculiarly brilliant and intense. It seemed as though the white cliffs must take fire and smoulder in places where they were without trees to cover them; to climb up and sit there was to feel the earth burning under you, and to be penetrated with a sun-bath of rays beating straight down through the clear air like white shafts.


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