October 19, 2020

Anne – Part 72

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We continue our serialisation of Anne by Constance Fenimore Woolson

  And now Anne discovered Gregory Dexter

New-Year’s Day was, in the eyes of Margaretta Teller, a solemn festival; thought was given to it in June, preparation for it began in September. Many a call was made at the house on that day which neither Miss Margaretta, nor her niece, Mrs. Lorrington, attracted, but rather the old-time dishes and the old-time punch on their dining-room table.  Old men with gouty feet, amateur antiquarians of mild but obstinate aspect, to whom Helen was “a slip of a girl,” and Miss Margaretta still too youthful a person to be of much interest, called regularly on the old Dutch holiday, and tasted this New-Year’s punch. They cherished the idea that they were thus maintaining the “solid old customs,” and they spoke to each other in moist, husky under-tones when they met in the hall, as much as to say, “Ah, ah! You here? That’s right—that’s right. A barrier, sir—a barrier against modern innovation!”

Helen had several friends besides Anne to assist her in receiving, and the young island girl remained, therefore, more or less unnoticed, owing to her lack of the ready, graceful smiles and phrases which are the current coin of New-Year’s Day. She passed rapidly through the different phases of timidity, bewilderment, and fatigue; and then, when more accustomed to the scene, she regained her composure, and even began to feel amused. She ceased hiding behind the others; she learned to repeat the same answers to the same questions without caring for their inanity; she gave up trying to distinguish names, and (like the others) massed all callers into a constantly arriving repetition of the same person, who was to be treated with a cordiality as impersonal as it was glittering. She tried to select Mr. Dexter, and at length decided that he was a certain person standing near Helen—a man with brown hair and eyes; but she was not sure, and Helen’s manner betrayed nothing.

The fatiguing day was over at last, and then followed an hour or two of comparative quiet; the few familiar guests who remained were glad to sink down in easy-chairs, and enjoy connected sentences again.  The faces of the ladies showed fine lines extending from the nostril to the chin; the muscles that had smiled so much were weary.

And now Anne discovered Gregory Dexter; and he was not the person she had selected. Mr. Dexter was a tall, broad-shouldered man, with an appearance of persistent vigor in his bearing, and a look of determination in his strong, squarely cut jaw and chin. His face was rather short, with good features and clear gray eyes, which met the gazer calmly; and there was about him that air of self-reliance, which does not irritate in a large strong man, any more than imperiousness in a beautiful woman.

The person with brown eyes proved to be Mr. Heathcote.  He seemed indolent, and contributed but few words to the general treasury of conversation.

Mr. Blum was present also; but on this occasion he wore the peculiarly new, shining, patent-leather boots dear to the hearts of his countrymen on festal occasions, and Miss Teller’s anxieties were quiescent.  Helen liked artists; she said that their ways were a “proud assertion that a ray of beauty out valued all the mere utilities of the world.”

“Are bad boots rays of beauty?” inquired Miss Margaretta.

“Yes. That is, a man whose soul is uplifted by art may not always remember his boots; to himself, no doubt, his feet seem winged.”

“Very far from winged are Blum’s feet,” responded Miss Margaretta, shaking her head gravely. “Very, very far.”

Late in the evening, when almost all the guests had departed, Helen seemed seized with a sudden determination to bring Anne into prominence.  Mr. Dexter still lingered, and the artist. Also Ward Heathcote.

“Anne, will you sing now? First with me, then alone?” she said, going to the piano.

A bright flush rose in Anne’s face; the prominent blue eyes of the German artist were fixed upon her; Gregory Dexter had turned toward her with his usual prompt attention. Even the indolent Heathcote looked up as Helen spoke. But having once decided to do a thing, Anne knew no way save to do it; having accepted Helen’s generous kindness, she must now do what Helen asked in return. She rose in silence, and crossed the brightly lighted room on her way to the piano.  Few women walk well; by well, is meant naturally.  Helen was graceful; she had the lithe shape and long step, which give a peculiar swaying grace, like that of elm branches.  Yet Helen’s walk belonged to the drawing room, or at best the city pavement; one could not imagine her on a country road. Anne’s gait was different. As she crossed the room alone, it drew upon her for the first time the full attention of the three gentlemen who were present.  Blum stared gravely.  Dexter’s eyes moved up to her face, as if he saw it now with new interest. Heathcote leaned back on the sofa with an amused expression, glancing from Anne to Helen, as if saying, “I understand.”

 

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