October 28, 2020

Anne – Part 63

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We continue our serialisation of Anne by Constance Fenimore Woolson

“What is that red light over the shore-line?”

And now Anne was gone, it was astonishing to see what a void was left. No one had especially valued or praised her while she was there; she was a matter of course. But now that she was absent, the whole life of the village seemed changed. There was no one to lead the music on Sundays, standing by the organ and singing clearly, and Miss Lois’s playing seemed now doubly dull and mechanical. There was no one going up to the fort at a certain hour every morning, passing the windows where the fort ladies sat, with books under her arm. There was no one working in the Agency garden; no one coming with a quick step into the butcher’s little shop to see what he had, and consult him, not without hidden anxiety, as to the possibility of a rise in prices. There was no one sewing on the piazza, or going out to find the boys, or sailing over to the hermitage with   the   four   black-eyed   children, who   plainly   enough   needed   even more holy instruction than they obtained. They all knew everything she did, and all her ways. And as it was a small community, they missed her sadly. The old Agency, too, seemed to become suddenly dilapidated, almost ruinous; the boys were undeniably rascals, and Tita “a little minx.” Miss Lois was without doubt a dogmatic old maid, and the chaplain not what he used to be, poor old man—fast breaking up. Only Père Michaux bore the test unaltered. But then he had not leaned upon this young girl as the others had leaned

—The house and garden, the chaplain as well as the children: the strong young nature had in one way supported them all.

 

Meanwhile the girl herself was journeying down the lake.  She stood at the stern, watching the island grow distant, grow purple, grow lower and lower on the surface of the water, until at last it disappeared; then she covered her face and wept. After this, like one who leaves the vanished past behind him, and resolutely faces the future, she went forward to the bow and took her seat there.  Night came on; she remained on deck through the evening: it seemed less lonely there than among the passengers in the cabin. She knew the captain; and she had been especially placed in his charge, also, by Père Michaux, as far as one of the lower-lake ports, where she was to be met by a priest and taken to the eastern-bound train. The captain, a weather-beaten man, past middle age, came after a while and sat down near her.

“What is that red light over the shore-line?” said Anne to her taciturn companion, who sat and smoked near by, protecting her paternally by his presence, but having apparently few words, and those husky, at his command

“Fire in the woods.”

“Is it not rather late in the season for a forest fire?”

“Well, there it is,” answered the captain, declining discussion of the point in face of obvious fact.

Anne had already questioned him on the subject of lighthouses. Would he like to live in a lighthouse?

No, he would not.

But they might be pleasant places in summer, with the blue water all round them: she had often thought she would like to live in one.

Well, he wouldn’t. But why? Resky places sometimes when the wind blew: give him a good stiddy boat, now.

After a time they came nearer to the burning forest. Anne could see the great columns of flame shoot up into the sky; the woods were on fire for miles. She knew that the birds were flying, dizzy and blinded, before the terrible conqueror, that the wild-cats were crying like children, that the small wolves were howling, and that the more timid wood creatures were cowering behind fallen trunks, their eyes dilated and ears laid flat in terror. She knew all this because she had often heard it described, fires miles long in the pine forests being frequent occurrences in the late summer and early autumn; but she had never before seen with her own eyes the lurid splendor, as there was no unbroken stretch of pineries on the Straits. She sat silently watching the great clouds of red light roll up into the dark sky, and the shower of sparks higher still. The advance-guard was of lapping tongues that caught at and curled through the green wood far in front; then came a wall of clear orange-colored roaring fire, then the steady incandescence that was consuming the hearts of the great trees, and behind, the long range of dying fires like coals, only each coal was a tree. It grew late; she went to her stateroom in order that the captain might be relieved from his duty of guard. But for several hours longer she sat by her small window, watching the flames, which turned to a long red line as the steamer’s course carried her farther from the shore. She was thinking of those she had left behind, and of the island; of Rast, and her own betrothal.

 

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