October 26, 2020

Anne – Part 74


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We continue our serialisation of Anne by Constance Fenimore Woolson

The instant it was over, her timidity came back with double force

Helen was much surprised—the only surprise she had shown. “I should never have dreamed it, Crystal!” she exclaimed. “Never!” (Crystal was her name for Anne.)

“Why not?”

“Because you are so—young.”

“But it often happens at my age. The fort ladies were married at eighteen and nineteen, and my own dear mother was only twenty.”

“You adore this Rast, I suppose?” “Yes, I like him.”

“Nonsense! You mean that you adore him.”

“Perhaps I do,” said Anne, smiling. “I have noticed that our use of words is different.” “And how long have you adored him?”

“All my life.”

The little sentence came forth gravely and sincerely. Helen surveyed the speaker with a quizzical expression in her narrow brown eyes.  “No one ‘adores’ all one’s life,” she answered. Then, as Anne did not take up the challenge, she paused, and, after surveying her companion in silence for a moment, added, “There is no time fixed as yet for this marriage?”

“No; Rast has his position to make first. And I myself should be better pleased to have four or five years to give to the children before we are married. I am anxious to educate the boys.”

“Bon!”  Said Helen. “All will yet end well, Virginie. My compliments to Paul. It is a pretty island pastoral, this little romance of yours; you have my good wishes.”

The island pastoral was simple indeed compared with the network of fancies and manœuvres disclosed by Helen.  Her life seemed to be a drama. Her personages were masked under fictitious names; the Poet, the Haunted Man, the Knight-errant, the Chanting Tenor, and the Bishop, all figured in her recitals, to which Anne listened with intense interest. Helen was a brilliant storyteller. She could give the salient points of a conversation, and these only. She colored everything, of course, according to her own fancy; but one could forgive her that for her skillful avoidance of dull details, whose stupid repetition, simply because they are true, is a habit with which many good people are afflicted.

The narrations, of course, were of love and lovers: it is always so in the midnight talks of women over the dying fire.  Even the most secluded country girl will on such occasions unroll a list as long as Leporello’s. The listener may know it is fictitious, and the narrator may know that she knows it. But there seems to be a fascination in the telling and the hearing all the same.

Helen amused herself greatly over the deep interest Anne took in her stories; to do her justice, they were generally true, the conversations only being more dramatic than the reality had been. This was not Helen’s fault; she performed her own part brilliantly, and even went over, on occasion, and helped on the other side. But the American man is not distinguished   for conversational   skill.  This comes, not from dullness or lack of appreciation, but   rather   from   over appreciation.   Without   the   rock-like   slow self- confidence of the Englishman, the Frenchman’s never-failing wish to please, or the idealizing powers of the German, the American, with a quicker apprehension, does not appear so well in conversation as any one of these compeers.  He takes in an idea so quickly that elaborate comment seems to him hardly worth while; and thus he only has a word or two where an Englishman has several well-intentioned sentences, a Frenchman an epigram, and a German a whole cloud of philosophical quotations and comments. But it is, more than all else, the enormous strength which ridicule as an influence possesses   in America   that makes him what he is; he shrinks from the slightest appearance of “fine talking,” lest the ever-present harpies of mirth should swoop down and feed upon his vitals.

Helen’s friends, therefore, might not always have recognized   themselves   in her sparkling narratives, as far as their words were concerned; but it is only justice to them to add that she was never obliged to embellish their actions. She related to Anne apart, during their music lessons, the latest events in a whisper, while Belzini gave two minutes to cream candy and rest; the stories became the fairy tales of the schoolgirl’s quiet life. Through all, she found her interest more and more attracted by “the Bishop,” who seemed, however, to be anything but an ecclesiastical personage.

Miss Vanhorn had been filled with profound astonishment and annoyance by Helen’s note. She knew Helen, and she knew Miss Teller: what could they want

Of Anne? After due delay, she came in her carriage to find out.

Tante, comprehending her motive, sent Anne up stairs to attire herself in the second dress given by Helen—a   plain black costume, simply but becomingly made, and employed the delay in talking to her visitor mellifluously on every conceivable subject save the desired one. She treated her to a dissertation on intaglii, to an argument or two on architecture, and was fervently asking her opinion of certain recently exhibited relics said to be by Benvenuto Cellini, when the door opened and Anne appeared.



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