September 22, 2020

Anne – Part 50

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We continue our serialisation of Anne by Constance Fenimore Woolson

“Let the proud, cold-hearted old woman go.”

The two could not enter into her feelings, because in the depths of their hearts they both resented her willingness to leave them. They never said this to each other; they never said it to themselves; yet they both felt it with the unconscious selfishness of those who are growing old, especially when their world is narrowed down to one or two loving young hearts. They did not realize that it was as hard for her to go as it was for them to let her go; they did not realize what a supreme effort of courage it required to make this young girl go out alone into the wide world, and face its vastness and its strangeness; they did not realize how she loved them, and how every tree, every rock of the island, also, was dear to her strongly loving, concentrated heart.

After her father’s death Anne had been for a time passive, swept away by grief as a dead leaf on the wind. But cold necessity came and stood by her bedside silently and stonily, and looked at her until, recalling her promise, she rose, choked back her sorrow, and returned to common life and duty with an aching but resolute heart. In the effort she made to speak at all it was no wonder that she spoke quietly, almost coldly; having, after sleepless nights of sorrow, nerved her to bear the great change in her lot, should it come to her, could she trust herself to say that she was sorry to go? Sorry! —when her whole heart was one pain!

The letter was as follows:

“GRANDNIECE  ANNE, —I did not know that you were in existence. I have read your letter, and have now to say the following.  Your mother willfully disobeyed me, and died. I, meanwhile, an old woman, remain as strong as ever.

“While I recognize no legal claim upon me (I having long since attended to the future disposal of all my property according to my own wishes), I am willing to help you to a certain extent, as I would help any industrious young girl asking for assistance. If what you   say   of   your   education   is   true, you   need   only   what   are   called modern accomplishments  (of which I personally have small opinion, a grimacing in French and a squalling in Italian being not to my taste) to make you a fairly well qualified teacher in an average country boarding-school, which is all you can expect. You may, therefore, come to New York at my expense, and enter Madame Moreau’s establishment, where, as I understand, the extreme of everything called ‘accomplishment’ is taught, and much nonsense learned in the latest style. You may remain one year; not longer. And I advise you to improve the time, as nothing more will be done for you by me. You will bring your own clothes, but I will pay for your books. I send no money now, but will refund your travelling expenses  (of which you will keep strict account, without extras) upon your arrival in the city, which must not be later than the last of October. Go directly to Madame Moreau’s  (the address is enclosed), and remember that you are simply Anne Douglas, and not a relative of your obedient servant,

KATHARINE  VANHORN .”

Anne read the letter aloud in a low voice, now laid it down, and looked palely at her two old friends.

“A hard letter,” said the chaplain, indignantly.  “My child, remain with us. We will think of some other plan for you. Let the proud, cold-hearted old woman go.”

“I told you how it would be,” said Miss Lois, a bright spot of red on each cheekbone. “She was cruel to your mother before you, and she will be cruel to you. You must give it up.”

“No,” said Anne, slowly, raising the letter and replacing it in its envelope;  “it is a matter in which I have no choice. She gives me the year at school, as you see, and — there are the children. I promised father, and I must keep the promise. Do not make me falter, dear friends, for—I must go.”  And unable longer to keep back the tears, she hurriedly left the room.

Dr. Gaston, without a word, took his old felt hat and went home. Miss Lois sat staring vaguely at the windowpane, until she became conscious that some one was coming up the path, and that “some one” Père Michaux. She too then went hurriedly homeward, by the back way, in order to avoid him. The old priest, coming in, found the house deserted. Anne was on her knees in her own room, sobbing as if her heart would break; but the walls were thick, and he could not hear her.

 

 

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