September 20, 2020

Anne – Part 45

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We continue our serialisation of Anne by Constance Fenimore Woolson

“The sword of sorrow, … had entered Anne Douglas’s breast.”

Dr. Gaston drummed on the table, and answered sharply that all men of intellect were more or less mad.  But the towns-people   smiled, and tapped their foreheads significantly; and the new surgeon had noticed in the course of his experience that, with time for observation, the towns-people are generally right. So he gave a few medicines, ordered a generous diet, and looking about him for some friend of the family, who could be trusted, selected at last Père Michaux. For Miss Lois would not treat him even civilly, bristling when he approached like a hedgehog; and with her frank eyes meeting his, he found it impossible to speak to Anne. But he told Père Michaux the true state of his patient, and asked him to break the tidings to the family.

“He can not live long,” he said.

“Is it so?” said Père Michaux. “God’s will be done. Poor Anne!”

“An odd lot of children he has in that ramshackle old house of his,” continued the surgeon. “Two sets, I should say.”

“Yes; the second wife was a French girl.” “With Indian blood?”

“Yes.”

“I thought so.  Who is to have charge of them?  The boys will take to the woods, I suppose, but that little Tita is an odd specimen.  She would make quite a sensation in New York a few years later.”

“May she never reach there!” said the old priest, fervently. “Well, perhaps you are right.

But who is to have the child?”

“Her sister will take charge of her.”

“Miss Anne? Yes, she will do her best, of course; she is a fine, frank young Saxon. But I doubt if she understands that elfish little creature.”

“She understands her better than we do,” said the priest, with
some heat.

“Ah?  You know best, of course; I speak merely as an outsider,” answered the new surgeon, going off about his business.

Père Michaux decided that he would tell Anne herself. He went to the house for the purpose, and called her out on the old piazza. But when she stood before him, her violet eyes meeting his without a suspicion of the tidings he brought, his heart failed him suddenly. He comprehended for the first time what it would be to her, and, making some chance inquiry, he asked to see Miss Lois, and turned away. Anne went in, and Miss Lois came out. The contrast between the priest and the New England woman was more marked than usual as they stood there facing each other on the old piazza, he less composed than he ordinarily was on account of what he had to tell.  But it never occurred to him for a moment that Miss Lois would falter. Why should she? He told her. She sank down at his feet as though she had fallen there and died.

Alarmed, he bent over her, and in the twilight saw that she was not dead; her features were working strangely; her hands were clinched over her breast; her faded eyes stared at him behind the spectacles as though he were miles away. He tried to raise her. She struck at him almost fiercely. “Let me alone,” she said, in a muffled voice. Then, still lying where she fell, she threw up her arms and wailed once or twice, not loudly, but with a struggling, inarticulate sound, as a person cries out in sleep. Poor old Lois! It was the last wail of her love. But even then she did not recognize it. Nor did the priest. Pale, with uncertain steps and shaking hands, yet tearless, the stricken woman raised herself by the aid of the bench, crossed the piazza, and went down the path and into the street, Père Michaux’s eyes following her in bewilderment.  She was evidently going home, and her prim, angular shape looked strangely bare and uncovered in the lack of bonnet and shawl, for through all the years she had lived on the island she had never once been seen in the open air without them.  The precision of her bonnet strings was a matter of conscience.  The priest went away also. And thus it happened that Anne was not told at all.

When, late in the evening, Miss Lois returned, grayly pale, but quiet, as she entered the hall a cry met her ears and rang through the house. It had come sooner than any one expected. The sword of sorrow, which sooner or later must pierce all loving hearts, had entered Anne Douglas’s breast. Her father was dead.

He had died suddenly, peacefully and without pain, passing away in sleep. Anne was with him, and Tita, jealously watchful to the last. No one else was in the room at the moment. Père Michaux, coming in, had been the first to perceive the change.

Tita drew away quickly to a distant corner, and kneeling down where she could still see everything that went on, began repeating prayers; but Anne, with a wild cry, threw herself down beside her dead, sobbing, holding his hand, and calling his name again and again.

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