Leslie came over to the house of dreams one frosty October night, when moonlit mists were hanging over the harbor and curling like silver ribbons along the seaward glens. She looked as if she repented coming when Gilbert answered her knock; but Anne flew past him, pounced on her, and drew her in.
“I’m so glad you picked tonight for a call,” she said gaily. “I made up a lot of extra good fudge this afternoon and we want someone to help us eat it—before the fire—while we tell stories. Perhaps Captain Jim will drop in, too. This is his night.”
“No. Captain Jim is over home,” said Leslie. “He—he made me come here,” she added, half defiantly.
“I’ll say a thank-you to him for that when I see him,” said Anne, pulling easy chairs before the fire.
“Oh, I don’t mean that I didn’t want to come,” protested Leslie, flushing a little. “I—I’ve been thinking of coming—but it isn’t always easy for me to get away.”
“Of course it must be hard for you to leave Mr. Moore,” said Anne, in a matter-of-fact tone. She had decided that it would be best to mention Dick Moore occasionally as an accepted fact, and not give undue morbidness to the subject by avoiding it. She was right, for Leslie’s air of constraint suddenly vanished. Evidently she had been wondering how much Anne knew of the conditions of her life and was relieved that no explanations were needed. She allowed her cap and jacket to be taken, and sat down with a girlish snuggle in the big armchair by Magog. She was dressed prettily and carefully, with the customary touch of color in the scarlet geranium at her white throat. Her beautiful hair gleamed like molten gold in the warm firelight. Her sea-blue eyes were full of soft laughter and allurement. For the moment, under the influence of the little house of dreams, she was a girl again—a girl forgetful of the past and its bitterness. The atmosphere of the many loves that had sanctified the little house was all about her; the companionship of two healthy, happy, young folks of her own generation encircled her; she felt and yielded to the magic of her surroundings—Miss Cornelia and Captain Jim would scarcely have recognized her; Anne found it hard to believe that this was the cold, unresponsive woman she had met on the shore—this animated girl who talked and listened with the eagerness of a starved soul. And how hungrily Leslie’s eyes looked at the bookcases between the windows!
“Our library isn’t very extensive,” said Anne, “but every book in it is a FRIEND. We’ve picked our books up through the years, here and there, never buying one until we had first read it and knew that it belonged to the race of Joseph.”
Leslie laughed—beautiful laughter that seemed akin to all the mirth that had echoed through the little house in the vanished years.
“I have a few books of father’s—not many,” she said. “I’ve read them until I know them almost by heart. I don’t get many books. There’s a circulating library at the Glen store—but I don’t think the committee who pick the books for Mr. Parker know what books are of Joseph’s race—or perhaps they don’t care. It was so seldom I got one I really liked that I gave up getting any.”
“I hope you’ll look on our bookshelves as your own,” said Anne.
“You are entirely and wholeheartedly welcome to the loan of any book on them.”
“You are setting a feast of fat things before me,” said Leslie, joyously. Then, as the clock struck ten, she rose, half unwillingly.
“I must go. I didn’t realise it was so late. Captain Jim is always saying it doesn’t take long to stay an hour. But I’ve stayed two—and oh, but I’ve enjoyed them,” she added frankly.
“Come often,” said Anne and Gilbert. They had risen and stood together in the firelight’s glow. Leslie looked at them—youthful, hopeful, happy, typifying all she had missed and must forever miss. The light went out of her face and eyes; the girl vanished; it was the sorrowful, cheated woman who answered the invitation almost coldly and got herself away with a pitiful haste.
Anne watched her until she was lost in the shadows of the chill and misty night. Then she turned slowly back to the glow of her own radiant hearthstone.
“Isn’t she lovely, Gilbert? Her hair fascinates me. Miss Cornelia says it reaches to her feet. Ruby Gillis had beautiful hair—but Leslie’s is ALIVE—every thread of it is living gold.”
“She is very beautiful,” agreed Gilbert, so heartily that Anne almost wished he were a LITTLE less enthusiastic.
“Gilbert, would you like my hair better if it were like Leslie’s?” she asked wistfully.
“I wouldn’t have your hair any color but just what it is for the world,” said Gilbert, with one or two convincing accompaniments.
You wouldn’t be ANNE if you had golden hair—or hair of any color but”—
“Red,” said Anne, with gloomy satisfaction.
“Yes, red—to give warmth to that milk-white skin and those shining gray-green eyes of yours. Golden hair wouldn’t suit you at all Queen Anne—MY Queen Anne—queen of my heart and life and home.”
“Then you may admire Leslie’s all you like,” said Anne magnanimously.