October 24, 2020

Anne – Part 79

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We continue our serialisation of Anne by Constance Fenimore Woolson

“it held, instead of the ordinary pepper and mustard, various liquids and spices of mysterious nature….”

Early in June, accompanied by “monsieur,” Anne started on her little journey. The German music master said farewell with hearty regret. He was leaving also; he should not be with Madame Moreau another winter, he said. The Italian atmosphere stifled him, and the very sight of Belzini made him “dremble vit a er-righteous er-rage.” He gave Anne his address, and begged that she would send to him when she wanted new music; “music vort someding.”  Monsieur Laurent, Anne’s escort, was a nephew of Tante’s, a fine-looking middle-aged Frenchman, who taught the verbs with a military air. But it was not so much his air as his dining room, which gave him importance in the eyes of the school. The “salle à manger de monsieur” was a small half-dark apartment, where he took his meals by himself. It was a mysterious place; monsieur was never seen there; it was not known even at what hour he dined.  But there were stories in whispered circulation of soups, sauces, salads, and wines served there in secret, which made the listeners hungry even in the mere recital. They peered into the dim little room as they passed, but never saw anything save a brown linen tablecloth, an old caster, and one chair. It was stated, however, that this caster was not a common caster, but that it held, instead of the ordinary pepper and mustard, various liquids and spices of mysterious nature, delightfully and wickedly French.

In less than an hour the travellers reached Lancaster. Here monsieur placed Anne in a red wagon, which was in waiting, said good-by hastily  (being, perhaps, in a hurry to return to his dining-room), and caught the down train back to the city. He had lived in America so long that he could hurry like a native.

The old horse attached to the red wagon walked slowly over a level winding road, switching his tail to and fro, and stopping now and then to cough, with the profundity, which only a horse’s cough possesses.  At last, turning into a field, he stopped before what appeared to be a fragment of a house.

“Is this the place?” said Anne, surprised.

“It’s Miss Peter’s,” replied the boy driver.

The appearance of Mademoiselle Pitre in person at the door now removed all doubt as to her abode. “I am glad to see you,” she said, extending a long yellow hand. “Enter.”

The house, which had never been finished, was old; the sides and back were of brick, and the front of wood, temporarily boarded across. The kitchen and one room made all the depth; above, there were three small chambers.  After a while, apparently, windows and a front door had been set in the temporary boarding, and a flight of steps added. Mademoiselle had bought the house in its unfinished condition, and had gradually become an object of great unpopularity in the neighborhood because, as season after season rolled by, she did nothing more to her purchase.  What did she mean, then? Simple comment swelled into suspicion; the penny-saving old maid was now considered a dark and mysterious person at Lancaster.  Opinions varied as to whether she had committed a crime in her youth, or intended to commit one in her age. At any rate, she was not like other people—in the country a heinous crime.

The interior of this half-house was not uncomfortable, although arranged with the strictest economy. The chief room had been painted a brilliant blue by the skillful hands of mademoiselle herself; there was no carpet, but in summer one can spare a carpet; and Anne thought the bright color, the growing plants and flowers, the gaily colored crockery, the four white cats, the sunshine, and the cool open space unfilled by furniture, quaintly foreign and attractive.

The mistress of the house was tall and yellow. She was attired in a black velvet bodice, and a muslin skirt whereon a waving design, like an endless procession of spindling beet roots, or fat leeches going round and round, was depicted in dark crimson. This muslin was secretly admired in the neighborhood; but as mademoiselle never went to church, and, what was worse, made no change in her dress on the Sabbath-day, it was considered a step toward rationalism to express the liking.

Anne slept peacefully on her narrow bed, and went down to a savory breakfast the next morning. The old Irish servant, Nora, who came out from the city every summer to live with mademoiselle, prepared with skill the few dishes the careful mistress ordered. But when the meal was over, Anne soon discovered that the careful mistress was also an expert in teaching.  Her French, Italian, music, and drawing were all reviewed and criticised, and then Jeanne-Armande put on her bonnet, and told her pupil to make ready for her first lesson in botany.

“Am I to study botany?” said Anne, surprised.

“All study botany who come to me,” replied Jeanne-Armande.

 

 

 

 

 

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