December 6, 2021

Anne – Part 80

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We continue our serialisation of Anne by Constance Fenimore Woolson

“It did not occur to her that Tante was the Fate.”

And with her tin flower case slung from her shoulder, Anne started down the road toward the country store at the corners; here she bought a Shaker bonnet for her pupil, selecting one that was bent, and demanding a reduction in price in consequence of the “irreparable injury to the fibre of the fabric.” The shopkeeper, an anxious little man with a large family, did his best to keep on good terms with “the foreigner” privately, and to preserve on other occasions that appearance of virtuous disapproval, which the neighborhood required of him. He lived haunted by a fear lest the Frenchwoman and her chief detractors should meet face to face in the narrow confines of his domain; and he had long determined that in case of such event he would be down in the cellar drawing molasses—an operation universally known to consume time. But the sword of Damocles does not fall; in this instance, as in others, mademoiselle departed in safety, bearing Anne away to the woods, her face hidden in the depths of the Shaker.

Wild flowers, that seem so fresh and young, are, singularly enough, the especial prey of   old   maids.   Young   girls   love   the   garden   flowers; beautiful   women surround themselves with hothouse hues and perfumes. But who goes into the woods, explores the rocky glens, braves the swamps?  Always the ardent-hearted old maid, who, in her plain garb and thick shoes, is searching for the delicate little wild blossoms, the world over.

Jeanne-Armande had an absorbing love for flowers, a glowing enthusiasm for botany. She now taught Anne the flower study with what Tante would have called “a rage.” More than once the pupil thought how strange it was that fate should have forced into her hands at this late hour the talisman that might once have been the key to her grandaunt’s favor. It did not occur to her that Tante was the Fate.

Letters had come from all on the island, and from Rast. Regarding her course in telling Miss Vanhorn of her engagement, Miss Lois wrote that it was “quite unnecessary,” and Dr. Gaston that it was “imprudent.”  Even Rast  (this was hardest to bear) had written, “While I am proud, dearest, to have your name linked with mine, still, I like better to think of the time when I can come and claim you in person, in the face of all the grandaunts in the world, who, if they knew nothing, could not in the mean time harass and annoy you.”

Père Michaux made no comment.  Anne looked through Tita’s letters for some time expectantly, but no message in his small, clear handwriting appeared.

The weeks passed.  The pupil learned the real kindness of the teacher, and never thought of laughing at her oddities, until—Helen came.

For Helen came:  on her way home from her grandfather’s bedside, whither she had been summoned (as usual two or three times each year) “to see him die.”

“Grandpapa always recovers as soon as I enter the door,” she said. “I should think he would insist upon my living there as a safeguard! This time I did not even see him—he did not wish me in the room; and so, having half a day to spare, I decided to send my maid on, and stop over and see you, Crystal.”

Anne, delighted and excited, sat looking at her friend with happy eyes. “I am so glad, glad, to see you!” she said.

“Then present me to your hostess and jailer.  For I intend to remain overnight, and corrupt the household.”

Jeanne-Armande was charmed with their visitor; she said she was “a lady decidedly as it should be.” Helen accompanied them on their botany walk, observed the velvet bodice and beet-root muslin, complimented the ceremonious courses of the meagre little dinner, and did not laugh until they were safely ensconced in Anne’s cell for the night.

“But, Crystal,” she said, when she had imitated Jeanne-Armande, and Anne herself as pupil, with such quick and ridiculous fidelity that Anne was obliged to bury her face in the pillow to stifle her laughter, “I have a purpose in coming here. The old dragon has appeared at Carly’s, where Aunt Gretta and I spent last summer, and where we intend to spend the remainder of this; she is even there to-night, caraway seeds, malice, and all. Now I want you to go back with me, as my guest for a week or two, and together we will annihilate her.”

“Do not call her by that name, Helen.”

“Not respectful enough? Grand Llama, then; the double l scintillates with respect. The Grand Llama being present, I want to bring you on the scene as a charming, botanizing, singing niece whom she has strangely neglected. Will you go?”

“Of course I cannot.”

“You have too many principles; and, mind you, principles are often shockingly egotistical and selfish. I would rather have a mountain of sins piled up against me on the judgment-day, and a crowd of friends whom I had helped and made happy, than the most snowy empty pious record in the world, and no such following.”


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