December 2, 2020

Anne Part 84 “The place is a prison”

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We continue our serialisation of Anne by Constance Fenimore Woolson

“To think of comparisons between different parts of this raw land of ours, as though they had especial characteristics of their own!” said Miss Vanhorn, looking for a seed.

“You have not traveled much in this country, I presume,” said Dexter. “No, man, no. When I travel, I go abroad.”

“I have never been abroad,” answered Dexter, quietly.  “But I can see a difference between the people of Massachusetts and the people of South Carolina, the people of Philadelphia and the people of San Francisco, which is marked and of the soil. I even think that I can tell a Baltimore, Buffalo, Chicago, Louisville, or St. Louis family at sight.”

“You go to all those places?” said Miss Vanhorn, half closing her eyes, and speaking in a languid voice, as if the subject was too remote for close attention.

“Yes. You are not aware that I am a business man.”

“Ah?  What is it you do?”  Said the old woman, who knew perfectly Dexter’s entire history, but wanted to hear his own account of himself.

“I am interested in iron; that is, I have iron mills, and—other things.”

“Exactly; as you say—other things. Does that mean politics?”

“Partly,” said Dexter, smiling.

“And oil?”

“No. I have never had any opportunity to coin gold with the Aladdin’s lamp found in Pennsylvania.  There is no magic in any of my occupations; they are all regular and commonplace.”

“Are you in Congress now?”

“No; I was only there one term.”

“A bore, isn’t it?”

“Not to me.”

“Congress is always a riot,” said Miss Vanhorn, still with her eyes closed.

“I cannot agree with you,” said Dexter, his face taking on one of its resolute expressions.  “I have small patience with those Americans who affect to be above any interest in the government of the country in which they live. It is their country, and they can no more alter that fact than they can change their plain grandfathers into foreign noblemen.”

“Dear me! Dear me!” said Miss Vanborn, carelessly.  “You talk to me as if I were a mass-meeting.”

“I beg your pardon,” said Dexter, his former manner returning.  “I forgot for the moment that no one is in earnest at Carly’s.”

“By-the-way, how did you ever get in here?”  Said Miss Vanhorn, with frank impertinence.

“I came because I like to see all sides of society,” he replied, smiling down upon her with amused eyes.

“Give me your arm. You amount to something,” said the old woman, rising. “We will walk up and down for a few moments; and, Anne, you can come too.”

“I am almost sure that he is Helen’s Knight-errant,” thought Anne. “And I like him very much.”

A niece of Miss Vanhorn’s could not of course be slighted. The next day Isabel Varce came up and talked a while; later, Mrs. Bannert and the others followed. Gregory Dexter was with aunt and niece frequently; and Miss Vanhorn was pleased to be very gracious. She talked to him herself most of the time, while Anne watched the current of the new life round her. Other men had been presented to her; and among them she thought she recognized the Chanting Tenor and the Poet of Helen’s narratives. She could not write to Helen; the eccentric grandfather objected to letters. “Fools and women clog the mails,” was one of his favorite assertions.  But although Anne could not write, Helen could smuggle letters occasionally into the outgoing mailbags, and when she learned that Anne was at Carly’s, she wrote immediately. “Have you seen Isabel Varce yet?” ran the letter.  “And Rachel Bannert?  The former is my dearest rival, the latter my deadliest friend.  Use your eyes, I beg.  What amusement I shall have hearing your descriptions when I come! For of course you will make the blindest mistakes. However, a blind man has been known to see sometimes what other people have never discovered. How is the Grand Llama? I conquered her at last, as I told you I should. With a high pressure of magnanimity. But it was all for my own sake; and now, behold, I am here! But you can study the Bishop, the Poet, the Tenor, and the Knight-errant in the flesh; how do you like the Knight?”

“This place is a prison,” wrote Helen, again; “and I am in the mean time consumed with curiosity to know what is going on at Carly’s. Please answer my letters, and put the answers away until I come; it is the only method I can think of by which I can get the aroma of each day. Or, rather, not the aroma, but the facts; you do not know much of aromas. If facts were ‘a divine thing’ to Frederick the Great (Mr. Dexter told me that, of course), they are certainly extremely solemn to you. Tell me, then, what everybody is doing. And particularly the Bishop and the Knight-errant.”

And Anne answered the letters faithfully, telling everything she noticed, especially as to Dexter. Who the Bishop was she had not been able to decide.

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