September 21, 2020

Anne – Part 42

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We continue our serialisation of Anne by Constance Fenimore Woolson

“…..but for a girl like Anne? No.”

She bore the fault-findings cheerfully, promising to do better another time. For they all found fault with her, the boys loudly, Tita quietly, but with a calm pertinacity that always gained its little point.  Even Miss Lois thought sometimes that Anne was careless, and told her so.  For Miss Lois never concealed her light under a bushel.  The New England woman believed that household labor held the first place among a woman’s duties and privileges; and if the housekeeper spent fourteen hours out of the twenty-four in her task, she was but fulfilling her destiny as her Creator had intended. Anne was careless in the matter of piece-bags, having only two, whereas four, for linen and cotton, colors and black materials, were, as every one knew, absolutely necessary. There was also the systematic halving of sheets and re-sewing them at the first signs of wear somewhat neglected, and also a particularity as to the saving of string. Even the vaguely lost, thought-wandering father, too, finding   that his comforts diminished, spoke of it, not with complaint so much as surprise; and then the daughter restored what he had missed at any sacrifice. All this was done without the recognition by anybody that it was much to do. Anne did not think of it in that way, and no one thought for her. For they were all so accustomed to her strong, cheerful spirit that they took what she did as a matter of course. Dr. Gaston understood something of the life led at the Agency; but he too had fallen into a way of resting upon the girl. She took a rapid survey of his small housekeeping whenever she came up to his cottage for a lesson, which was not as often now as formerly, owing to her manifold home duties. But Père Michaux shook his head. He believed that all should live their lives, and that one should not be a slave to others; that the young should be young, and that some natural simple pleasure should be put into each twenty-four hours.  To all his flock he preached this doctrine. They might be poor, but children should be made happy; they might be poor, but youth should not be overwhelmed with the elders’ cares; they might be poor, but they could have family love round the poorest hearthstone; and there was always time for a little pleasure, if they would seek it simply and moderately. The fine robust old man lived in an atmosphere above the subtleties of his leaner brethren in cities farther southward, and he was left untrammelled in his water diocese. Privileges are allowed to scouts preceding the army in an Indian country, because it is not every man who can be a scout. Not but that the old priest understood the mysteries, the introverted gaze, and indwelling thoughts that belong to one side of his religion; they were a part of his experience, and he knew their beauty and their dangers.  They were good for some minds, he said; but it was a strange fact, which he had proved more than once during the long course of his ministry, that the minds which needed them the least loved them the most dearly, revelled in them, and clung to them with pertinacity, in spite of his efforts to turn them into more practical channels.

In all his broad parish he had no penitent so long-winded, exhaustive, and self-centred as little Tita.  He took excellent care of the child, was very patient with her small ceremonies and solemnities, tried gently to lead her aright, and, with rare wisdom, in her own way, not his. But through it all, in his frequent visits to the Agency, and in the visits of the Douglas family to the hermitage, his real interest was centred in the Protestant sister, the tall unconscious young girl who had not yet, as he said to himself, begun to live. He shook his head often as he thought of her.  “In France, even in England, she would be guarded,” he said to himself; “but here! It is an excellent country, this America of theirs, for the pioneer, the New Englander, the adventurer, and the farmer; but for a girl like Anne? No.” And then, if Anne was present, and happened to meet his eye, she smiled back so frankly that he forgot his fears. “After all, I suppose there are hundreds of such girls in this country of theirs,” he admitted, in a grumbling way, to his French mind, “coming up like flowers everywhere, without any guardianship at all. But it is all wrong, all wrong.”

The priest generally placed America as a nation in the hands of possessive pronouns of the third person plural; it was a safe way of avoiding responsibility, and of being as scornful, without offending any one, as he pleased. One must have some outlet.

The summer wore on. Rast wrote frequently, and Anne, writing the first letters of her life in reply, found that she liked to write.

 

 

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