July 31, 2021

Anne – Part 52

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We continue our serialisation of Anne by Constance Fenimore Woolson

“I could not help coming, sir, because Annet is going away”

As the last words were spoken it was Rast who had tear-dimmed eyes; it was Rast’s voice that faltered. Anne was calm, and her calmness annoyed him. He would have liked a more demonstrative sorrow. But as he went down the long path on his way to the pier where the steamboat was waiting, the first whistle having already sounded, he forgot everything save his affection for her and the loneliness in store for him after her departure.  While she was on their island she seemed near, but New York was another world.

Down in the shadow of the great gate there was an ancient little cherry-tree, low and gnarled, which thrust one crooked arm across the path above the heads of the passers- by. As Rast approached he saw in the dusky twilight a small figure perched upon this bough, and recognized Tita.

“Is that you, child?” he said, pausing and looking up. She answered by dropping into his arms like a kitten, and clinging to him mutely, with her face hidden on his shoulder.

“What an affectionate little creature she is, after all!” he thought, stroking her dark hair. Then, after saying good-by, and giving her a kiss, he disengaged himself without much ceremony, and telling her to be a good girl and mind Miss Lois during the winter, he hurried down to the pier, the second whistle summoning all loiterers on board with shrill harshness.  Tita, left alone, looked at her arms, reddened by the force with which she had resisted his efforts to unclasp them. They had been pressed so closely against the rough woollen cloth of his coat that the brown flesh showed the mark of the diagonal pattern.

“It is a hurt,” she said, passionately—”it is a hurt.” Her eyes flashed, and she shook her small fist at the retreating figure.  Then, as the whistle sounded a third time, she climbed quickly to the top of the great gates, and sat there high in the air while the steamer backed out from the piers, turned round, and started westward through the Straits, nothing now save a moving line of lights, the short Northern twilight having faded into night.

When the long sad day of parting was at last over, and everything done that her hands could find to do in that amount of time, Anne, in her own room alone, let her feelings come forth; she was the only watcher in the old house, every other eye was closed in sleep. These moments alone at night, when she allowed herself to weep and think, were like breathing times; then her sorrows came forth. According to her nature, she did not fear or brood upon her own future so much as upon the future of the children; the love in her heart made it seem to her a bitter fate to be forced to leave them and the island. The prospect of the long journey, the city school, the harsh aunt, did not dishearten her; they were but parts of her duty, the duty of her life. It was after midnight; still she sat there. The old shutters, which had been rattling for some time, broke their fastenings, and came violently against the panes with a sound like the report of a pistol.

“The wind is rising,” she thought, vaguely, as she rose to fasten them, opening one of the windows for the purpose. In rushed the blast, blowing out the candle, driving books and papers across the floor, and whirling the girl’s long loosened hair over her face and round her arms like the coils of a boa-constrictor.  Blinded, breathless, she hastily let down the sash again, and peered through the small wrinkled panes. A few stars were visible between the light clouds which drove rapidly from north to south in long regular lines like bars, giving a singular appearance to the sky, which the girl recognized at once, and in the recognition came back to present life. “The equinoctial,” she said to herself; “and one of the worst. Where can the Huron be? Has she had time to reach the shelter of the islands?”

The Huron was the steamer, which had carried Rast away at twilight. She was a good boat and stanch.  But Anne knew that craft as stanch had been wrecked and driven ashore during these fierce autumn gales which sweep over the chain of lakes suddenly, and strew their coasts with fragments of vessels, and steamers also, from the head of Superior to the foot of Ontario.  If there was more sea room, vessels might escape; if there were better harbours, steamers might seek port; in a gale, an ocean captain has twenty chances for his vessel where the lake captain has one. Anne stood with her face pressed against the window for a long time; the force of the wind increased. She took her candle and went across to a side room whose windows commanded the western pass: she hoped that she might see the lights of the steamer coming back, seeking the shelter of the island before the worst came. But all was dark.



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