November 26, 2020

Anne – Part 83

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We continue our serialisation of Anne by Constance Fenimore Woolson

 “I am surprised that you remembered me, Mr. Dexter”

Miss Vanhorn was not naturally brilliant, but she was one of those society women who, in the course of years of fashionable life, have selected and retained for their own use excellent bits of phrasing not original with themselves, idiomatic epithets, a way of neatly describing a person in a word or two as though you had ticketed him, until the listener really takes for brilliancy what is no more than a thread-and-needle shop of other people’s wares.

“Any man,” she said, as they sat in the transformed bowling-alley—”any man, no matter how insignificant and unattractive, can be made to believe that any woman, no matter how beautiful or brilliant, is in love with him, at the expense of two looks and one sigh.”

“But who cares to make him believe?”  Said Anne, with the unaffected, cheerful indifference which belonged to her, and which had already quieted Miss Vanhorn’s fears as to any awkward self-consciousness.

“Most women.” “Why?”

“To swell their trains,” replied the old woman.  “Isabel Varce, over there in blue, and

Rachel Bannert, the one in black, care for nothing else.”

“Mrs. Bannert is very ugly,” said Anne, with the calm certainty of girlhood.

“Oh, is she?” said Miss Vanhorn, laughing shortly. “You will change your mind, my

Phyllis; you will learn that a dark skin and half-open eyes are superb.”

“If Helen was here, people would see real beauty,” answered Anne, with some scorn.

“They are a contrast, I admit; opposite types. But we must not be narrow, Phyllis; you will find that people continue to look at Mrs. Bannert, no matter who is by. Here is some one who seems to know you.”

“Mr. Dexter,” said Anne, as the tall form drew near. “He is a friend of Helen’s.”

“Helen has a great many friends. However, I happen to have heard of this Mr. Dexter. You may present him to me—I hope you know how.”

All Madame Moreau’s pupils knew how.  Anne performed her task properly, and Dexter, bringing forward one of the old broken-backed chairs (which formed part of the “woody and uncloying flavor” of Carly’s), sat down beside them.

“I am surprised that you remembered me, Mr. Dexter,” said the girl. “You saw me but once, and on New-Year’s Day too, among so many.”

“But you remembered me, Miss Douglas.”

“That is different. You were kind to me—about the singing. It is natural that I should remember.”

“And why not as natural that I should remember the singing?”

“Because it was not good enough to have made any especial impression,” replied

Anne, looking at him calmly with her clear violet eyes.

“It was at least new—I mean the simplicity of the little ballad,” said Dexter, ceasing to compliment, and speaking only the truth.

“Simplicity!” said Miss Vanhorn: “I am tired of it. I hope, Anne, you will not sing any simplicity songs here; those ridiculous things about bringing an ivy leaf, only an ivy leaf, and that it was but a little faded flower. They show an extremely miserly spirit, I think. If you can not give your friends a whole blossom or a fresh one, you had better not give them any at all.”

“Who was it who said that he was sated with poetry about flowers, and that if the Muses   must   come   in   everywhere, he   wished   they   would   not   always   come as green-grocers?”  Said Dexter, who knew perfectly the home of this as of every other quotation, but always placed it in that way to give people an opportunity of saying, “Charles Lamb, wasn’t it?” or “Sheridan?” It made conversation flowing.

“The flowers do not need the Muses,” said Miss Vanhorn—”slatternly creatures, with no fit to their gowns. And that reminds me of what Anne was saying as you came up, Mr. Dexter; she was calmly and decisively observing that Mrs. Bannert was very ugly.”

A smile crossed Dexter’s face in answer to the old woman’s short dry laugh.

“I added that if Mrs. Lorrington was here, people would see real beauty,” said Anne, distressed by this betrayal, but standing by her guns.

Miss Vanhorn laughed again. “Mr. Dexter particularly admires Mrs. Bannert, child,” she said, cheerfully, having had the unexpected amusement of two good laughs in an evening.

But Anne, instead of showing embarrassment, turned her eyes toward Dexter, as if in honest inquiry.

“Mrs. Bannert represents the Oriental type of beauty,” he answered, smiling, as he perceived her frank want of agreement.

“Say creole,” said Miss Vanhorn. “It is a novelty, child, which has made its appearance lately; a reaction after the narrow-chested type which has so long in America held undisputed sway.  We absolutely take a quadroon to get away from the consumptive, blue-eyed saint, of whom we are all desperately tired.”

“New York city is now developing a type of its own, I think,” said Dexter. “You can tell a New York girl at a glance when you meet her in the West or the South. Women walk more in the city than they do elsewhere.



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