October 23, 2020

Anne – Part 71


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We continue our serialisation of Anne by Constance Fenimore Woolson

“I trust we would all prefer to suffer rather than be guilty of such irreverence.”

“Never fear; it will. I feel it instinctively. You will either save my life or take it—one or the other; but I am not sure which.” Helen said.

Monday came; and after her lonely Christmas, Anne was glad to step into Miss Teller’s carriage, and be taken to the home on the Avenue. The cordial welcome she received there was delightful to her, the luxury novel.  She enjoyed everything simply and sincerely, from the late breakfast in the small warm breakfast-room, from which the raw light of the winter morning was carefully excluded, to the chat with Helen over the dressing-room fire late at night, when the entire house was still. Helen’s aunt, Miss Teller, was a thin, light-eyed person of fifty-five years of age. Richly dressed, very tall, with a back as immovable and erect as though made of steel, and a tower of blonde lace on her head, she was a personage of imposing aspect, but in reality as mild as a sheep.

“Yes, my dear,” she said, when Anne noticed the tinted light in the breakfast-room; “I take great care about light, which I consider an influence in our households too much neglected. The hideous white glare in most American breakfast-rooms on snowy winter mornings has often made me shudder when I have been visiting my friends; only the extremely vigorous can enjoy this sharp contact with the new day. Then the æsthetic effect: children are always homely when the teeth are changing and the shoulder blades prominent; and who wishes to see, besides, each freckle and imperfection upon the countenances of those he loves? I have observed, too, that even Morning Prayer, as a family observance, fails to counter-act the influence of this painful light. For if as you kneel you cover your face with your hands, the glare will be doubly unbearable when you remove them; and if you do not cover your brow, you will inevitably blink. Those who do not close their eyes at all are the most comfortable, but I trust we would all prefer to suffer rather than be guilty of such irreverence.”

“Now that is Aunt Gretta exactly,” said Helen, as Miss Teller left the room. “When you are once accustomed to her height and blonde caps, you will find her soft as a down coverlet.”

Here Miss Teller returned.  “My dear,” she said, anxiously, addressing Anne, “as to soap for the hands—what kind do you prefer?”

“Anne’s hands are beautiful, and she will have the white soap in the second box on the first shelf of the store-room—the rose; not the heliotrope, which is mine,” said Helen, taking one of the young girl’s hands, and spreading out the firm taper fingers. “See her wrists! Now my wrists are small too, but then there is nothing but wrist all the way up.”

“My dear, your arms have been much admired,” said Miss Margaretta, with a shade of bewilderment in her voice.”

“Yes, because I choose they shall be.  But when I spoke of Anne’s hands, I spoke artistically, aunt.”

“Do you expect Mr. Blum to-day?” said Miss Teller.

“Oh no,” said Helen, smiling. “Mr. Blum, Anne, is a poor artist whom Aunt Gretta is cruel enough to dislike.”

“Not on account of his poverty,” said Miss Margaretta, “but on account of my having half-brothers, with large families, all with weak lungs, taking cold, I may say, at a breath

—A mere breath; and Mr. Blum insists upon coming here without overshoes when there has been a thaw, and sitting all the evening in wet boots, which naturally makes me think of my brothers’ weak families, to say nothing of the danger to himself.”

“Well, Mr. Blum is not coming. But Mr. Heathcote is.” “Ah.”

“And Mr. Dexter may.”

“I am always glad to see Mr. Dexter,” said Aunt Margaretta.

Mr. Heathcote did not come; Mr. Dexter did. But Anne was driving with Miss Teller, and missed the visit.

“A remarkable man,” said the elder lady, as they sat at the dinner table in the soft radiance of wax lights.

“You mean Mr. Blum?”  Said Helen.  “This straw-colored jelly exactly matches me, Anne.”

“I mean Mr. Dexter,” said Miss Teller, nodding her head impressively. “Sent through college by the bounty of a relative  (who died immediately afterward, in the most reprehensible way, leaving him absolutely nothing), Gregory Dexter, at thirty-eight, is to-day a man of modern and distinct importance. Handsome—you do not contradict me there, Helen?”

“No, aunt.”

“Handsome,” repeated Miss Teller, triumphantly, “successful, moral, kind-hearted, and rich—what would you have more?  I ask you, Miss Douglas, what would you have more?”

“Nothing,” said Helen.  “Anne has confided to me—nothing.   Long lives Gregory Dexter! And I feel sure, too, that he will outlive us all. I shall go first. You will see. I always wanted to be first in everything—even the grave.”

“My dear!” said Miss Margaretta.

“Well, aunt, now would you like to be last? Think how lonely you would be. Besides, all the best places would be taken,” said Helen, in business-like tones, taking a spray of heliotrope from the vase before her.





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