“I’ve been reading obituary notices,” said Miss Cornelia, laying down the Daily Enterprise and taking up her sewing.
The harbor was lying black and sullen under a dour November sky; the wet, dead leaves clung drenched and sodden to the window sills; but the little house was gay with firelight and spring-like with Anne’s ferns and geraniums.
“It’s always summer here, Anne,” Leslie had said one day; and all who were the guests of that house of dreams felt the same.
“The Enterprise seems to run to obituaries these days,” quoth Miss Cornelia. “It always has a couple of columns of them, and I read every line. It’s one of my forms of recreation, especially when there’s some original poetry attached to them. Here’s a choice sample for you:
She’s gone to be with her Maker,
Never more to roam.
She used to play and sing with joy
The song of Home, Sweet Home.
Who says we haven’t any poetical talent on the Island! Have you ever noticed what heaps of good people die, Anne, dearie? It’s kind of pitiful. Here’s ten obituaries, and every one of them saints and models, even the men. Here’s old Peter Stimson, who has ‘left a large circle of friends to mourn his untimely loss.’ Lord, Anne, dearie, that man was eighty, and everybody who knew him had been wishing him dead these thirty years. Read obituaries when you’re blue, Anne, dearie—especially the ones of folks you know. If you’ve any sense of humor at all they’ll cheer you up, believe ME. I just wish I had the writing of the obituaries of some people. Isn’t ‘obituary’ an awful ugly word? This very Peter I’ve been speaking of had a face exactly like one. I never saw it but I thought of the word OBITUARY then and there. There’s only one uglier word that I know of, and that’s RELICT. Lord, Anne, dearie, I may be an old maid, but there’s this comfort in it—I’ll never be any man’s ‘relict.'”
“It IS an ugly word,” said Anne, laughing. “Avonlea graveyard was full of old tombstones ‘sacred to the memory of So-and-So, RELICT of the late So-and-So.’ It always made me think of something worn out and moth eaten. Why is it that so many of the words connected with death are so disagreeable? I do wish that the custom of calling a dead body ‘the remains’ could be abolished. I positively shiver when I hear the undertaker say at a funeral, ‘All who wish to see the remains please step this way.’ It always gives me the horrible impression that I am about to view the scene of a cannibal feast.”
“Well, all I hope,” said Miss Cornelia calmly, “is that when I’m dead nobody will call me ‘our departed sister.’ I took a scunner at this sister-and-brothering business five years ago when there was a travelling evangelist holding meetings at the Glen. I hadn’t any use for him from the start. I felt in my bones that there was something wrong with him. And there was. Mind you, he was pretending to be a Presbyterian—PresbyTARian, HE called it—and all the time he was a Methodist. He brothered and sistered everybody. He had a large circle of relations, that man had. He clutched my hand fervently one night, and said imploringly, ‘My DEAR sister Bryant, are you a Christian?’ I just looked him over a bit, and then I said calmly, ‘The only brother I ever had, MR. Fiske, was buried fifteen years ago, and I haven’t adopted any since. As for being a Christian, I was that, I hope and believe, when you were crawling about the floor in petticoats.’ THAT squelched him, believe ME. Mind you, Anne dearie, I’m not down on all evangelists. We’ve had some real fine, earnest men, who did a lot of good and made the old sinners squirm. But this Fiske-man wasn’t one of them. I had a good laugh all to myself one evening. Fiske had asked all who were Christians to stand up. I didn’t, believe me! I never had any use for that sort of thing. But most of them did, and then he asked all who wanted to be Christians to stand up. Nobody stirred for a spell, so Fiske started up a hymn at the top of his voice. Just in front of me poor little Ikey Baker was sitting in the Millison pew. He was a home boy, ten years old, and Millison just about worked him to death. The poor little creature was always so tired he fell asleep right off whenever he went to church or anywhere he could sit still for a few minutes. He’d been sleeping all through the meeting, and I was thankful to see the poor child getting a rest, believe ME. Well, when Fiske’s voice went soaring skyward and the rest joined in, poor Ikey wakened with a start. He thought it was just an ordinary singing and that everybody ought to stand up, so he scrambled to his feet mighty quick, knowing he’d get a combing down from Maria Millison for sleeping in meeting. Fiske saw him, stopped and shouted, ‘Another soul saved! Glory Hallelujah!’ And there was poor, frightened Ikey, only half awake and yawning, never thinking about his soul at all. Poor child, he never had time to think of anything but his tired, overworked little body.
“Leslie went one night and the Fiske-man got right after her—oh, he was especially anxious about the souls of the nice-looking girls, believe me!—and he hurt her feelings so she never went again. And then he prayed every night after that, right in public, that the Lord would soften her hard heart. Finally I went to Mr. Leavitt, our minister then, and told him if he didn’t make Fiske stop that I’d just rise up the next night and throw my hymn book at him when he mentioned that ‘beautiful but unrepentant young woman.’ I’d have done it too, believe ME. Mr. Leavitt did put a stop to it, but Fiske kept on with his meetings until Charley Douglas put an end to his career in the Glen. Mrs. Charley had been out in California all winter. She’d been real melancholy in the fall—religious melancholy—it ran in her family. Her father worried so much over believing that he had committed the unpardonable sin that he died in the asylum. So when Rose Douglas got that way Charley packed her off to visit her sister in Los Angeles. She got perfectly well and came home just when the Fiske revival was in full swing. She stepped off the train at the Glen, real smiling and chipper, and the first thing she saw staring her in the face on the black, gable-end of the freight shed, was the question, in big white letters, two feet high, ‘Whither goest thou—to heaven or hell?’ That had been one of Fiske’s ideas, and he had got Henry Hammond to paint it. Rose just gave a shriek and fainted; and when they got her home she was worse than ever. Charley Douglas went to Mr. Leavitt and told him that every Douglas would leave the church if Fiske was kept there any longer. Mr. Leavitt had to give in, for the Douglases paid half his salary, so Fiske departed, and we had to depend on our Bibles once more for instructions on how to get to heaven. After he was gone Mr. Leavitt found out he was just a masquerading Methodist, and he felt pretty sick, believe ME. Mr. Leavitt fell short in some ways, but he was a good, sound Presbyterian.”
“By the way, I had a letter from Mr. Ford yesterday,” said Anne. “He asked me to remember him kindly to you.”
“I don’t want his remembrances,” said Miss Cornelia, curtly.
“Why?” said Anne, in astonishment. “I thought you liked him.”
“Well, so I did, in a kind of way. But I’ll never forgive him for what he done to Leslie. There’s that poor child eating her heart out about him—as if she hadn’t had trouble enough—and him ranting round Toronto, I’ve no doubt, enjoying himself same as ever. Just like a man.”
“Oh, Miss Cornelia, how did you find out?”
“Lord, Anne, dearie, I’ve got eyes, haven’t I? And I’ve known Leslie since she was a baby. There’s been a new kind of heartbreak in her eyes all the fall, and I know that writer-man was behind it somehow. I’ll never forgive myself for being the means of bringing him here. But I never expected he’d be like he was. I thought he’d just be like the other men Leslie had boarded—conceited young asses, every one of them, that she never had any use for. One of them did try to flirt with her once and she froze him out—so bad, I feel sure he’s never got himself thawed since. So I never thought of any danger.”
“Don’t let Leslie suspect you know her secret,” said Anne hurriedly. “I think it would hurt her.”
“Trust me, Anne, dearie. I wasn’t born yesterday. Oh, a plague on all the men! One of them ruined Leslie’s life to begin with, and now another of the tribe comes and makes her still more wretched. Anne, this world is an awful place, believe me.”
“There’s something in the world amiss
Will be unriddled by and by,”
quoted Anne dreamily.
“If it is, it’ll be in a world where there aren’t any men,” said Miss Cornelia gloomily.
“What have the men been doing now?” asked Gilbert, entering.
“Mischief—mischief! What else did they ever do?”
“It was Eve ate the apple, Miss Cornelia.”
“‘Twas a he-creature tempted her,” retorted Miss Cornelia triumphantly.
Leslie, after her first anguish was over, found it possible to go on with life after all, as most of us do, no matter what our particular form of torment has been. It is even possible that she enjoyed moments of it, when she was one of the gay circle in the little house of dreams. But if Anne ever hoped that she was forgetting Owen Ford she would have been undeceived by the furtive hunger in Leslie’s eyes whenever his name was mentioned. Pitiful to that hunger, Anne always contrived to tell Captain Jim or Gilbert bits of news from Owen’s letters when Leslie was with them. The girl’s flush and pallor at such moments spoke all too eloquently of the emotion that filled her being. But she never spoke of him to Anne, or mentioned that night on the sand-bar.
One day her old dog died and she grieved bitterly over him.
“He’s been my friend so long,” she said sorrowfully to Anne. “He was Dick’s old dog, you know—Dick had him for a year or so before we were married. He left him with me when he sailed on the Four Sisters. Carlo got very fond of me—and his dog-love helped me through that first dreadful year after mother died, when I was alone. When I heard that Dick was coming back I was afraid Carlo wouldn’t be so much mine. But he never seemed to care for Dick, though he had been so fond of him once. He would snap and growl at him as if he were a stranger. I was glad. It was nice to have one thing whose love was all mine. That old dog has been such a comfort to me, Anne. He got so feeble in the fall that I was afraid he couldn’t live long—but I hoped I could nurse him through the winter. He seemed pretty well this morning. He was lying on the rug before the fire; then, all at once, he got up and crept over to me; he put his head on my lap and gave me one loving look out of his big, soft, dog eyes—and then he just shivered and died. I shall miss him so.”
“Let me give you another dog, Leslie,” said Anne . “I’m getting a lovely Gordon setter for a Christmas present for Gilbert. Let me give you one too.”
Leslie shook her head.
“Not just now, thank you, Anne. I don’t feel like having another dog yet. I don’t seem to have any affection left for another. Perhaps—in time—I’ll let you give me one. I really need one as a kind of protection. But there was something almost human about Carlo—it wouldn’t be DECENT to fill his place too hurriedly, dear old fellow .”
Anne went to Avonlea a week before Christmas and stayed until after the holidays. Gilbert came up for her, and there was a glad New Year celebration at Green Gables, when Barrys and Blythes and Wrights assembled to devour a dinner which had cost Mrs. Rachel and Marilla much careful thought and preparation. When they went back to Four Winds the little house was almost drifted over, for the third storm of a winter that was to prove phenomenally stormy had whirled up the harbor and heaped huge snow mountains about everything it encountered. But Captain Jim had shovelled out doors and paths, and Miss Cornelia had come down and kindled the hearth-fire.
“It’s good to see you back, Anne, dearie! But did you ever see such drifts? You can’t see the Moore place at all unless you go upstairs. Leslie’ll be so glad you’re back. She’s almost buried alive over there. Fortunately Dick can shovel snow, and thinks it’s great fun. Susan sent me word to tell you she would be on hand tomorrow. Where are you off to now, Captain?”
“I reckon I’ll plough up to the Glen and sit a bit with old Martin Strong. He’s not far from his end and he’s lonesome. He hasn’t many friends—been too busy all his life to make any. He’s made heaps of money, though.”
“Well, he thought that since he couldn’t serve God and Mammon he’d better stick to Mammon,” said Miss Cornelia crisply. “So he shouldn’t complain if he doesn’t find Mammon very good company now.”
Captain Jim went out, but remembered something in the yard and turned back for a moment.
“I’d a letter from Mr. Ford, Mistress Blythe, and he says the life-book is accepted and is going to be published next fall. I felt fair uplifted when I got the news. To think that I’m to see it in print at last.”
“That man is clean crazy on the subject of his life-book,” said Miss Cornelia compassionately. “For my part, I think there’s far too many books in the world now.”