November 25, 2020

Anne – Part 81

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We continue our serialisation of Anne by Constance Fenimore Woolson

“might not her very ignorance of the world and crude simplicity attract the attention of some of the loungers?”

“One does not necessitate the other,” said Anne, after her usual pause when with Helen:  she was always a little behind Helen’s fluent phrases.  “One can have friends without sins.”

“Wait and see,” said Helen.

In the morning the brilliant visitor took her departure, and the half-house fell back into its usual quietude.  Anne did not go with Helen; but Helen avowed her purpose of bringing her to Carly’s yet, in spite of fate. “I am not easily defeated,” she said. “When I wish a thing, it always happens. But, like the magicians, nobody notices how hard I have worked to have it happen.”

She departed.  And within a week she filled Carly’s with descriptions of Jeanne- Armande, the velvet bodice, the beetroot skirt, the blue room, the white cats, and the dinner, together with the solitary pupil, whose knowledge of botany was something unparalleled in the history of the science. Carly’s was amused with the descriptions, and cared nothing for the reality. But when Miss Vanhorn heard the tale, it was the reality that menaced her. No one knew as yet the name of neither the solitary pupil, nor the relationship to herself; but of course Mrs. Lorrington was merely biding her time.  What was her purpose?  In her heart she pondered over this new knowledge of botany, expressly paraded by Helen; her own eyes and hands were not as sure and deft as formerly. Sometimes now when she stooped to gather a flower, it was only a leaf with the sun shining on it, or a growth of fungus, yellowy white. “Of course it is all a plan of old Moreau’s,” she said to herself. “Anne would never have thought of studying botany to gain my favor; she hasn’t wit enough. It is old Moreau and the Lorrington together. Let us see what will be their next step.”

But Helen merely decorated her stories, and told nothing new.  One day some one asked: “But who is this girl? All this while you have not told us; or the place where this remarkable half-house is.”

“I am not at liberty to tell,” replied Helen’s clear even voice. “That is not permitted—at present.”

Miss Vanhorn fidgeted in her corner, and put up her glass to catch any wandering expressions that might be turning in her direction; but there were none. “She is giving me a chance of having Anne here peaceably,” she thought. “If, after a reasonable time, I do not accept it, she will declare war, and the house will ring with my hard-heartedness. Fortunately I do not care for hard-heartedness.”

She went off on her solitary drive; mistook two flowers; stumbled and hurt her ankle; lost her magnifying glass.  On her way home she sat and meditated.  It would be comfortable to have young eyes and hands to assist her. Also, if Anne were really there in person, then, when all the duets were sung, and the novelty (as well as difficulty) over, Mrs. Lorrington would be the first to weary of her protégée, and would let her fall like a faded leaf. And that would be the end of that. Here a sudden and new idea came to her: might not this very life at Carly’s break up, of itself, the engagement which was so obnoxious? If she should bring Anne here and introduce her as her niece, might not her very ignorance of the world and crude simplicity attract the attention of some of the loungers at Carly’s, who, if they exerted themselves, would have little difficulty in effacing the memory of that boy on the island? They would not, of course, be in earnest, but the result would be accomplished all the same.  Anne was impressionable, and truthfulness itself. Yes, it could be done.

Accompanied by her elderly maid, she went back to New York; and then out to the half-house.

“I have changed my mind,” she announced, abruptly, taking her seat upon Jeanne- Armande’s hard sofa. “You are to come with me. This is the blue room, I suppose; and there are the four cats. Where is the bodiced woman? Send her to me; and go pack your clothes immediately.”

“Am I to go to Carly’s—where Helen is?” said Anne, in excited surprise.

“Yes; you will see your Helen. You understand, I presume, that she is at the bottom of all this.”

“But—do you like Helen, grandaunt?”

“I am extremely fond of her,” replied Miss Vanhorn, dryly. “Run and make ready; and send the bodiced woman to me. I give you half an hour; no longer.”

Jeanne-Armande came in with her gliding step. In her youth a lady’s footfall was never heard. She wore long narrow cloth gaiters without heels, met at the ankles by two modest ruffles, whose edges were visible when the wind blew. The exposure of even a hair’s- breadth rim of ankle would have seemed to her an unpardonable impropriety. However, there was no danger; the ruffles swept the ground.

 

 

 

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