September 23, 2020

Anne – Part 49

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We continue our serialisation of Anne by Constance Fenimore Woolson

“The old wretch has money, and no near heirs”

“I have not one word to say against it,” she remarked at last, breaking the silence; and then she walked out of the house and went homeward.

It was a hard battle for her. She was to be left with the four brown-skinned children, for whom she had always felt unconquerable aversion, while the one child whom she loved—Anne—was to go far away.  It was a revival of the bitter old feeling against Angélique Lafontaine, the artful minx who had entrapped William Douglas to his ruin. In truth, however, there had been very little art about Angelique; nor was Douglas by any means a rich prey. But women always attribute wonderful powers of strategy to a successful rival, even although by the same ratio they reduce the bridegroom to a condition approaching idiocy; for anything is better than the supposition that he was a free agent, and sought his fate from the love of it.

The thought of Anne’s going was dreadful to Miss Lois; yet her long-headed New England thrift and calculation saw chances in that future which Anne did not see. “The old wretch has money, and no near heirs,” she said to herself, “why should she not take a fancy to this grandniece?  Anne has no such idea, but her friends should, therefore, have it for her.” Still, the tears would rise and dim her spectacles as she thought of the parting. She took off the gold-rimmed glasses and rubbed them vigorously. “One thing is certain,” she added, to herself, as a sort of comfort,  “Tita will have to do her mummeries in the garden after this.”

Poor old Lois!  In these petty annoyances and heavy cures her great grief was to be pressed down into a subdued under-current, no longer to be indulged or made much of even by herself.

Anne knew but little of her grandaunt. William Douglas would not speak of what was the bitterest memory of his life.  The address in the old notebook, in her mother’s unformed girlish handwriting, was her only guide.  She knew that Miss Vanhorn was obstinate and ill tempered; she knew that she had discarded her mother on account of her disobedient marriage, and had remained harsh and unforgiving to the last. And this was all she knew. But she had no choice. Hoping, praying for the best, she wrote her letter, and sent it on its way. Then they all waited. For Père Michaux had been taken into the conference also, and had given hearty approval to Anne’s idea—so hearty, indeed, that both the chaplain and Miss Lois looked upon him with disfavor. What did he mean? He did not say what he meant, but returned to his hermitage cheerfully. Dr. Gaston, not so cheerfully, brought out his hardest chess problems, and tried to pass away the time in mathematical combinations of the deepest kind. Miss Lois, however, had combinations at hand of another sort. No sooner was the letter gone than she advanced a series of conjectures, which did honor even to her New England origin.

The first was that Miss Vanhorn had gone abroad:  those old New-Yorkers were “capable of wishing to ride on camels, even”; she added, from habit, “through the eye of a needle.” The next day she decided that paralysis would be the trouble: those old New- Yorkers were “often stricken down in that way, owing to their high living and desperate wine-bibbing.” Anne need give no more thought to her letter; Miss Vanhorn would not be able even to read it. The third day, Miss Vanhorn would read the letter, but would immediately throw it on the floor and stamp on it: those old New-Yorkers “had terrible tempers,” and were “known to swear like troopers even on the slightest provocation.” The fourth day, Miss Vanhorn was mad; the fifth day, she was married; the sixth, she was dead:  those old New-Yorkers having tendencies toward insanity, matrimony, and death which, Miss Lois averred, were known to all the world, and indisputable. That she herself had never been in New York in her life made no difference in her certainties: women like Miss Lois are always sure they know all about New York.

Anne, weary and anxious, and forced to hear all these probabilities, began at last to picture her grandaunt as a sort of human kaleidoscope, falling into new and more fantastic combinations at a moment’s notice.

They had allowed two weeks for the letter to reach the island, always supposing that Miss Vanhorn was not on a camel, paralyzed, obstinate, mad, married, or dead. But on the tenth day the letter came. Anne took it with a hand that trembled. Dr. Gaston was present, and Miss Lois, but neither of them comprehended her feelings. She felt that she was now to be confronted by an assent which would strain her heart-strings almost to snapping, yet be ultimately for the best, or by a refusal which would fill her poor heart with joy, although at the same time pressing down upon her shoulders a heavy, almost hopeless, weight of care.

 

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