December 2, 2020

Anne: Part 85 National reputations are nothing, politics nothing

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We continue our serialisation of Anne by Constance Fenimore Woolson

 In addition to the others, Ward Heathcote had now arrived at Carly’s, also Mr. Blum.

In the mean time Miss Vanhorn had tested without delay her niece’s new knowledge of botany. Her face was flushed and her hand fairly trembled with eagerness as she gave Anne her first wild flower, and ordered her to analyze it. Would she blunder, or show herself dull and incompetent?  One thing was certain: no pretended zeal could deceive old Katharine—she knew the reality too well.

But there was no pretense.  Anne, honest as usual, analyzed the flower with some mistakes, but with real interest; and the keen black eyes recognized the genuine hue of the feeling, as far as it went.  After that initiation, every morning they drove to the woods, and Anne searched in all directions, coming back loaded down with spoil. Every afternoon there followed analyzing, pressing, drying, and labelling, for hours.

“Pray leave the foundations of our bridge intact,” called Isabel Varce, passing on horseback, accompanied by Ward Heathcote, and looking down at Anne digging up something on the bank below, while at a little distance Miss Vanhorn’s coupé was waiting, with the old lady’s hard face looking out through the closed window.

Anne laughed, and turned her face, glowing with rose-color, upward to look at them.

“Do you like that sort of thing?” said Isabel, pausing, having noted at a glance that the young girl was attired in old clothes, and appeared in every way at a disadvantage. She had no especial malice toward Anne in this; she merely acted on general principles as applied to all of her own sex. But even the most acute feminine minds make mistakes on one subject; namely, they forget that to a man dress is not the woman. Anne, in her faded gown, down on the muddy bank, with her hat off, her boots begrimed, and her zeal for the root she was digging up, seemed to Ward Heathcote a new and striking creature.  The wind ruffled her thick brown hair and blew it into little rings and curls about her face, her eyes, unflinching in the brilliant sunshine, laughed back at them as they looked over the railing; the lines of her shoulder and extended arms were of noble beauty. To a woman’s eyes a perfect sleeve is of the highest importance; it did not occur to Isabel that through the ugly, baggy, out-of-date sleeve down there on the bank, the wind, sturdily blowing, was revealing an arm whose outline silk and lace could never rival. Satisfied with her manœuvre, she rode on: Anne certainly looked what all women would have called “a fright.”

Yet that very evening Heathcote approached, recalled himself to Miss Vanhorn’s short memory, and, after a few moments of conversation, sat down beside Anne, who received him with the same frank predisposition to be pleased which she gave to all alike. Heathcote was not a talker like Dexter; he seemed to have little to say at any time. He was one of a small and unimportant class in the United States, which would be very offensive to citizens at large if it came in contact with them; but it seldom does. To this class there is no city in America save New York, and New York itself is only partially endurable.  National reputations are nothing, politics nothing. Money is necessary, and ought to be provided in some way; and generally it is, since without it this class could not exist in a purely democratic land. But it is inherited, not made. It may be said that simply the large landed estates acquired at an early date in the vicinity of the city, and immensely increased in value by the growth of the metropolis, have produced this class, which, however, having no barriers, can never be permanent, or make to it laws. Heathcote’s great-grandfather was a landed proprietor in Westchester County; he had lived well, and died at a good old age, to be succeeded by his son, who also lived well, and died not so well, and poorer than his father. The grandson increased the ratio in both cases, leaving to his little boy, Ward, but a small portion of the original fortune, and departing from the custom of the house in that he died early. The boy, without father, mother, brother, or sister, grew up under the care of guardians, and, upon coming of age, took possession of the remnant left to him. A good portion of this he himself had lost, not so much from extravagance, however, as carelessness.  He had been abroad, of course, and had adopted English ways, but not with any violence. He left that to others. He passed for good-natured in the main; he was not restless. He was quite willing that other men should have more luxuries than he had—a yacht, for instance, or fine horses; he felt no irritation on the subject.

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