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Anne – Part 43

We continue our serialisation of Anne by Constance Fenimore Woolson

  “the three girls were interested in one and the same person”

Anne saved in her memory all kinds of things to tell him: about their favorite trees, about the birds that had nests in the garden that season, about the fishermen and their luck, about the unusual quantity of raspberries on the mainland, about the boys, about Tita. Something, too, about Bacon and Sir Thomas Browne, selections from whose volumes she was now reading under the direction of the chaplain. But she never put down any of her own thoughts, opinions, or feelings: her letters were curious examples of purely impersonal objective writing. Egotism, the under-current of most long letters as of most long conversations also, the telling of how this or that was due to us, affected us, was regarded by us, was prophesied, was commended, was objected to, was feared, was thoroughly understood, was held in restraint, was despised or scorned by us, and all our opinions on the subject, which, however important in itself, we present always surrounded by a large indefinite aureole of our own personality—this  was entirely wanting in Anne Douglas’s letters and conversation. Perhaps if she had had a girl friend of her own age she might have exchanged with her those little confidences, speculations, and fancies which are the first steps toward independent thought, those mazy whispered discussions in which girls delight, the beginnings of poetry and romance, the beginnings, in fact, of their own personal individual consciousness and life. But she had only Rast, and that was not the same thing. Rast always took the lead; and he had so many opinions of his own that there was no time to discuss, or even inquire about, hers.

In the mean time young Pronando was growing into manhood at the rate of a year in a month. His handsome face, fine bearing, generous ways, and incessant activity both of limb and brain gave him a leader’s place among the Western students, who studied well, were careless in dress and manner, spent their money, according to the Western fashion, like princes, and had a peculiar dry humor of their own, delivered with lantern-jawed solemnity.

Young Pronando’s preparation for college had been far better than that of most of his companions, owing to Dr. Gaston’s care. The boy apprehended with great rapidity— apprehended  perhaps  more  than  he  comprehended: he  did  not  take  the time to comprehend. He floated lightly down the stream of college life. His comrades liked him; the young Western professors, quick, unceremonious, practical men, were constantly running against little rocks which showed a better training than their own, and were therefore shy about finding fault with him; and the old president, an Eastern man, listened furtively to his Oxford pronunciation of Greek, and sighed in spite of himself and his large salary, hating the new bare white-painted flourishing institution over which he presided with a fresher hatred—the hatred of an exile. For there was not a tree on the college grounds: Young America always cuts down all his trees as a first step toward civilization; then, after an interregnum, when all the kings of the forest have been laid low, he sets out small saplings in whitewashed tree-boxes, and watches and tends them with fervor.

Rast learned rapidly—more things than one. The school for girls, which, singularly enough, in American towns, is always found flourishing close under the walls of a college, on the excellent and heroic principle, perhaps, of resisting temptation rather than fleeing from it, was situated here at convenient distance for a variety of strict rules on both sides, which gave interest and excitement to the day. Every morning Miss Corinna Haws and her sister girded themselves for the contest with fresh-rubbed spectacles and vigilance, and every morning the girls eluded them; that is, some of the girls, namely, Louise Ray and Kate and Fanny Meadows, cousins, rivals, and beauties of the Western river-country type, where the full life and languor of the South have fused somewhat the old inherited New England delicacy and fragile contours. These three young girls were all interested in handsome Rast in their fanciful, innocent, sentimental way. They glanced at him furtively in church on Sunday; they took walks of miles to catch a distant glimpse of him; but they would have run away like frightened fawns if he had approached nearer. They wrote notes which they never sent, but carried in their pockets for days; they had deep secrets to tell each other about how they had heard that somebody had told somebody else that the Juniors were going to play ball that afternoon in Payne’s meadow, and that if they could only persuade Miss Miriam to go round by the hill, they could see them, and not so very far off either, only two wheat fields and the river between. Miss Miriam was the second Miss Haws, good-tempered and— near- sighted.

That the three girls were interested in one and the same person was part of the pleasure of the affair; each would have considered it a very dreary amusement to be interested all alone.


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