Chronicles of Avonlea
Lucy Maud Montgomery
Part 3 out of 5
heart-breaking limpness the ruined voile. The remembrance of
all her wrongs that night rushed over her soul, and her eyes
blazed in the moonlight. Lucinda Penhallow had never been so
angry in her life.
"YOU D--D IDIOT!" she said, in a voice that literally shook
Romney meekly scrambled up the bank after her.
"I'm awfully sorry, Lucinda," he said, striving with uncertain
success to keep a suspicious quiver of laughter out of his
tone. "It was wretchedly clumsy of me, but that pebble turned
right under my foot. Please forgive me--for that--and for
Lucinda deigned no answer. She stood on a flat stone and wrung
the water from the poor green voile. Romney surveyed her
"Hurry, Lucinda," he entreated. "You will catch your death of
"I never take cold," answered Lucinda, with chattering teeth.
"And it is my dress I am thinking of--was thinking of. You
have more need to hurry. You are sopping wet yourself and you
know you are subject to colds. There--come."
Lucinda picked up the stringy train, which had been so brave
and buoyant five minutes before, and started up the field at a
brisk rate. Romney came up to her and slipped his arm through
hers in the old way. For a time they walked along in silence.
Then Lucinda began to shake with inward laughter. She laughed
silently for the whole length of the field; and at the line
fence between Peter Penhallow's land and the Grange acres she
paused, threw back the fascinator from her face, and looked at
"You are thinking of--THAT," she cried, "and I am thinking
of it. And we will go on, thinking of it at intervals for the
rest of our lives. But if you ever mention it to me I'll never
forgive you, Romney Penhallow!"
"I never will," Romney promised. There was more than a
suspicion of laughter in his voice this time, but Lucinda did
not choose to resent it. She did not speak again until they
reached the Grange gate. Then she faced him solemnly.
"It was a case of atavism," she said. "Old Grandfather Gordon
was to blame for it."
At the Grange almost everybody was in bed. What with the
guests straggling home at intervals and hurrying sleepily off
to their rooms, nobody had missed Lucinda, each set supposing
she was with some other set. Mrs. Frederick, Mrs. Nathaniel
and Mrs. George alone were up. The perennially chilly Mrs.
Nathaniel had kindled a fire of chips in the blue room grate
to warm her feet before retiring, and the three women were
discussing the wedding in subdued tones when the door opened
and the stately form of Lucinda, stately even in the dragged
voile, appeared, with the damp Romney behind her.
"Lucinda Penhallow!" gasped they, one and all.
"I was left to walk home," said Lucinda coolly. "So Romney and
I came across the fields. There was no bridge over the brook,
and when he was carrying me over he slipped and we fell in.
That is all. No, Cecilia, I never take cold, so don't worry.
Yes, my dress is ruined, but that is of no consequence. No,
thank you, Cecilia, I do not care for a hot drink. Romney, do
go and take off those wet clothes of yours immediately. No,
Cecilia, I will NOT take a hot footbath. I am going straight
to bed. Good night."
When the door closed on the pair the three sisters-in-law
stared at each other. Mrs. Frederick, feeling herself
incapable of expressing her sensations originally, took refuge
in a quotation:
"'Do I sleep, do I dream, do I wonder and doubt?
Is things what they seem, or is visions about?'"
"There will be another Penhallow wedding soon," said Mrs.
Nathaniel, with a long breath. "Lucinda has spoken to Romney
"Oh, WHAT do you suppose she said to him?" cried Mrs. George.
"My dear Cecilia," said Mrs. Frederick, "we shall never know."
They never did know.
VI. Old Man Shaw's Girl
"Day after to-morrow--day after to-morrow," said Old Man Shaw,
rubbing his long slender hands together gleefully. "I have to
keep saying it over and over, so as to really believe it. It
seems far too good to be true that I'm to have Blossom again.
And everything is ready. Yes, I think everything is ready,
except a bit of cooking. And won't this orchard be a surprise
to her! I'm just going to bring her out here as soon as I can,
never saying a word. I'll fetch her through the spruce lane,
and when we come to the end of the path I'll step back casual-
like, and let her go out from under the trees alone, never
suspecting. It'll be worth ten times the trouble to see her
big, brown eyes open wide and hear her say, 'Oh, daddy! Why,
He rubbed his hands again and laughed softly to himself. He
was a tall, bent old man, whose hair was snow white, but whose
face was fresh and rosy. His eyes were a boy's eyes, large,
blue and merry, and his mouth had never got over a youthful
trick of smiling at any provocation--and, oft-times, at no
provocation at all.
To be sure, White Sands people would not have given you the
most favourable opinion in the world of Old Man Shaw. First
and foremost, they would have told you that he was
"shiftless," and had let his bit of a farm run out while he
pottered with flowers and bugs, or rambled aimlessly about in
the woods, or read books along the shore. Perhaps it was true;
but the old farm yielded him a living, and further than that
Old Man Shaw had no ambition. He was as blithe as a pilgrim on
a pathway climbing to the west. He had learned the rare secret
that you must take happiness when you find it--that there is
no use in marking the place and coming back to it at a more
convenient season, because it will not be there then. And it
is very easy to be happy if you know, as Old Man Shaw most
thoroughly knew, how to find pleasure in little things. He
enjoyed life, he had always enjoyed life and helped others to
enjoy it; consequently his life was a success, whatever White
Sands people might think of it. What if he had not "improved"
his farm? There are some people to whom life will never be
anything more than a kitchen garden; and there are others to
whom it will always be a royal palace with domes and minarets
of rainbow fancy.
The orchard of which he was so proud was as yet little more
than the substance of things hoped for--a flourishing
plantation of young trees which would amount to something
later on. Old Man Shaw's house was on the crest of a bare,
sunny hill, with a few staunch old firs and spruces behind it-
-the only trees that could resist the full sweep of the winds
that blew bitterly up from the sea at times. Fruit trees would
never grow near it, and this had been a great grief to Sara.
"Oh, daddy, if we could just have an orchard!" she had been
wont to say wistfully, when other farmhouses in White Sands
were smothered whitely in apple bloom. And when she had gone
away, and her father had nothing to look forward to save her
return, he was determined she should find an orchard when she
Over the southward hill, warmly sheltered by spruce woods and
sloping to the sunshine, was a little field, so fertile that
all the slack management of a life-time had not availed to
exhaust it. Here Old Man Shaw set out his orchard and saw it
flourish, watching and tending it until he came to know each
tree as a child and loved it. His neighbours laughed at him,
and said that the fruit of an orchard so far away from the
house would all be stolen. But as yet there was no fruit, and
when the time came for bearing there would be enough and to
"Blossom and me'll get all we want, and the boys can have the
rest, if they want 'em worse'n they want a good conscience,"
said that unworldly, unbusinesslike Old Man Shaw.
On his way back home from his darling orchard he found a rare
fern in the woods and dug it up for Sara--she had loved ferns.
He planted it at the shady, sheltered side of the house and
then sat down on the old bench by the garden gate to read her
last letter--the letter that was only a note, because she was
coming home soon. He knew every word of it by heart, but that
did not spoil the pleasure of re-reading it every half-hour.
Old Man Shaw had not married until late in life, and had, so
White Sands people said, selected a wife with his usual
judgment--which, being interpreted, meant no judgment at all;
otherwise, he would never have married Sara Glover, a mere
slip of a girl, with big brown eyes like a frightened wood
creature's, and the delicate, fleeting bloom of a spring
"The last woman in the world for a farmer's wife--no strength
or get-up about her."
Neither could White Sands folk understand what on earth Sara
Glover had married him for.
"Well, the fool crop was the only one that never failed."
Old Man Shaw--he was Old Man Shaw even then, although he was
only forty--and his girl bride had troubled themselves not at
all about White Sands opinions. They had one year of perfect
happiness, which is always worth living for, even if the rest
of life be a dreary pilgrimage, and then Old Man Shaw found
himself alone again, except for little Blossom. She was
christened Sara, after her dead mother, but she was always
Blossom to her father--the precious little blossom whose
plucking had cost the mother her life.
Sara Glover's people, especially a wealthy aunt in Montreal,
had wanted to take the child, but Old Man Shaw grew almost
fierce over the suggestion. He would give his baby to no one.
A woman was hired to look after the house, but it was the
father who cared for the baby in the main. He was as tender
and faithful and deft as a woman. Sara never missed a mother's
care, and she grew up into a creature of life and light and
beauty, a constant delight to all who knew her. She had a way
of embroidering life with stars. She was dowered with all the
charming characteristics of both parents, with a resilient
vitality and activity which had pertained to neither of them.
When she was ten years old she had packed all hirelings off,
and kept house for her father for six delightful years--years
in which they were father and daughter, brother and sister,
and "chums." Sara never went to school, but her father saw to
her education after a fashion of his own. When their work was
done they lived in the woods and fields, in the little garden
they had made on the sheltered side of the house, or on the
shore, where sunshine and storm were to them equally lovely
and beloved. Never was comradeship more perfect or more wholly
"Just wrapped up in each other," said White Sands folk, half-
When Sara was sixteen Mrs. Adair, the wealthy aunt aforesaid,
pounced down on White Sands in a glamour of fashion and
culture and outer worldliness. She bombarded Old Man Shaw with
such arguments that he had to succumb. It was a shame that a
girl like Sara should grow up in a place like White Sands,
"with no advantages and no education," said Mrs. Adair
scornfully, not understanding that wisdom and knowledge are
two entirely different things.
"At least let me give my dear sister's child what I would have
given my own daughter if I had had one," she pleaded
tearfully. "Let me take her with me and send her to a good
school for a few years. Then, if she wishes, she may come back
to you, of course."
Privately, Mrs. Adair did not for a moment believe that Sara
would want to come back to White Sands, and her queer old
father, after three years of the life she would give her.
Old Man Shaw yielded, influenced thereto not at all by Mrs.
Adair's readily flowing tears, but greatly by his conviction
that justice to Sara demanded it. Sara herself did not want to
go; she protested and pleaded; but her father, having become
convinced that it was best for her to go, was inexorable.
Everything, even her own feelings, must give way to that. But
she was to come back to him without let or hindrance when her
"schooling" was done. It was only on having this most clearly
understood that Sara would consent to go at all. Her last
words, called back to her father through her tears as she and
her aunt drove down the lane, were,
"I'll be back, daddy. In three years I'll be back. Don't cry,
but just look forward to that."
He had looked forward to it through the three long, lonely
years that followed, in all of which he never saw his darling.
Half a continent was between them and Mrs. Adair had vetoed
vacation visits, under some specious pretense. But every week
brought its letter from Sara. Old Man Shaw had every one of
them, tied up with one of her old blue hair ribbons, and kept
in her mother's little rose-wood work-box in the parlour. He
spent every Sunday afternoon re-reading them, with her
photograph before him. He lived alone, refusing to be pestered
with kind help, but he kept the house in beautiful order.
"A better housekeeper than farmer," said White Sands people.
He would have nothing altered. When Sara came back she was not
to be hurt by changes. It never occurred to him that she might
be changed herself.
And now those three interminable years were gone, and Sara was
coming home. She wrote him nothing of her aunt's pleadings and
reproaches and ready, futile tears; she wrote only that she
would graduate in June and start for home a week later.
Thenceforth Old Man Shaw went about in a state of beatitude,
making ready for her homecoming. As he sat on the bench in the
sunshine, with the blue sea sparkling and crinkling down at
the foot of the green slope, he reflected with satisfaction
that all was in perfect order. There was nothing left to do
save count the hours until that beautiful, longed-for day
after to-morrow. He gave himself over to a reverie, as sweet
as a day-dream in a haunted valley.
The red roses were out in bloom. Sara had always loved those
red roses--they were as vivid as herself, with all her own
fullness of life and joy of living. And, besides these, a
miracle had happened in Old Man Shaw's garden. In one corner
was a rose-bush which had never bloomed, despite all the
coaxing they had given it--"the sulky rose-bush," Sara had
been wont to call it. Lo! this summer had flung the hoarded
sweetness of years into plentiful white blossoms, like shallow
ivory cups with a haunting, spicy fragrance. It was in honour
of Sara's home-coming--so Old Man Shaw liked to fancy. All
things, even the sulky rose-bush, knew she was coming back,
and were making glad because of it.
He was gloating over Sara's letter when Mrs. Peter Blewett
came. She told him she had run up to see how he was getting
on, and if he wanted anything seen to before Sara came.
"No'm, thank you, ma'am. Everything is attended to. I couldn't
let anyone else prepare for Blossom. Only to think, ma'am,
she'll be home the day after to-morrow. I'm just filled clear
through, body, soul, and spirit, with joy to think of having
my little Blossom at home again."
Mrs. Blewett smiled sourly. When Mrs. Blewett smiled it
foretokened trouble, and wise people had learned to have
sudden business elsewhere before the smile could be translated
into words. But Old Man Shaw had never learned to be wise
where Mrs. Blewett was concerned, although she had been his
nearest neighbour for years, and had pestered his life out
with advice and "neighbourly turns."
Mrs. Blewett was one with whom life had gone awry. The effect
on her was to render happiness to other people a personal
insult. She resented Old Man Shaw's beaming delight in his
daughter's return, and she "considered it her duty" to rub the
bloom off straightway.
"Do you think Sary'll be contented in White Sands now?" she
Old Man Shaw looked slightly bewildered.
"Of course she'll be contented," he said slowly. "Isn't it her
home? And ain't I here?"
Mrs. Blewett smiled again, with double distilled contempt for
"Well, it's a good thing you're so sure of it, I suppose. If
'twas my daughter that was coming back to White Sands, after
three years of fashionable life among rich, stylish folks, and
at a swell school, I wouldn't have a minute's peace of mind.
I'd know perfectly well that she'd look down on everything
here, and be discontented and miserable."
"YOUR daughter might," said Old Man Shaw, with more sarcasm
than he had supposed he had possessed, "but Blossom won't."
Mrs. Blewett shrugged her sharp shoulders.
"Maybe not. It's to be hoped not, for both your sakes, I'm
sure. But I'd be worried if 'twas me. Sary's been living among
fine folks, and having a gay, exciting time, and it stands to
reason she'll think White Sands fearful lonesome and dull.
Look at Lauretta Bradley. She was up in Boston for just a
month last winter and she's never been able to endure White
"Lauretta Bradley and Sara Shaw are two different people,"
said Sara's father, trying to smile.
"And your house, too," pursued Mrs. Blewett ruthlessly. "It's
such a queer, little, old place. What'll she think of it after
her aunt's? I've heard tell Mrs. Adair lives in a perfect
palace. I'll just warn you kindly that Sary'll probably look
down on you, and you might as well be prepared for it. Of
course, I suppose she kind of thinks she has to come back,
seeing she promised you so solemn she would. But I'm certain
she doesn't want to, and I don't blame her either."
Even Mrs. Blewett had to stop for breath, and Old Man Shaw
found his opportunity. He had listened, dazed and shrinking,
as if she were dealing him physical blows, but now a swift
change swept over him. His blue eyes flashed ominously,
straight into Mrs. Blewett's straggling, ferrety gray orbs.
"If you're said your say, Martha Blewett, you can go," he said
passionately. "I'm not going to listen to another such word.
Take yourself out of my sight, and your malicious tongue out
of my hearing!"
Mrs. Blewett went, too dumfounded by such an unheard-of
outburst in mild Old Man Shaw to say a word of defence or
attack. When she had gone Old Man Shaw, the fire all faded
from his eyes, sank back on his bench. His delight was dead;
his heart was full of pain and bitterness. Martha Blewett was
a warped and ill-natured woman, but he feared there was
altogether too much truth in what she said. Why had he never
thought of it before? Of course White Sands would seem dull
and lonely to Blossom; of course the little gray house where
she was born would seem a poor abode after the splendours of
her aunt's home. Old Man Shaw walked through his garden and
looked at everything with new eyes. How poor and simple
everything was! How sagging and weather-beaten the old house!
He went in, and up-stairs to Sara's room. It was neat and
clean, just as she had left it three years ago. But it was
small and dark; the ceiling was discoloured, the furniture
old-fashioned and shabby; she would think it a poor, mean
place. Even the orchard over the hill brought him no comfort
now. Blossom would not care for orchards. She would be ashamed
of her stupid old father and the barren farm. She would hate
White Sands, and chafe at the dull existence, and look down on
everything that went to make up his uneventful life.
Old Man Shaw was unhappy enough that night to have satisfied
even Mrs. Blewett had she known. He saw himself as he thought
White Sands folk must see him--a poor, shiftless, foolish old
man, who had only one thing in the world worthwhile, his
little girl, and had not been of enough account to keep her.
"Oh, Blossom, Blossom!" he said, and when he spoke her name it
sounded as if he spoke the name of one dead.
After a little the worst sting passed away. He refused to
believe long that Blossom would be ashamed of him; he knew she
would not. Three years could not so alter her loyal nature--
no, nor ten times three years. But she would be changed--she
would have grown away from him in those three busy, brilliant
years. His companionship could no longer satisfy her. How
simple and childish he had been to expect it! She would be
sweet and kind--Blossom could never be anything else. She
would not show open discontent or dissatisfaction; she would
not be like Lauretta Bradley; but it would be there, and he
would divine it, and it would break his heart. Mrs. Blewett
was right. When he had given Blossom up he should not have
made a half-hearted thing of his sacrifice--he should not have
bound her to come back to him.
He walked about in his little garden until late at night,
under the stars, with the sea crooning and calling to him down
the slope. When he finally went to bed he did not sleep, but
lay until morning with tear-wet eyes and despair in his heart.
All the forenoon he went about his usual daily work absently.
Frequently he fell into long reveries, standing motionless
wherever he happened to be, and looking dully before him. Only
once did he show any animation. When he saw Mrs. Blewett
coming up the lane he darted into the house, locked the door,
and listened to her knocking in grim silence. After she had
gone he went out, and found a plate of fresh doughnuts,
covered with a napkin, placed on the bench at the door. Mrs.
Blewett meant to indicate thus that she bore him no malice for
her curt dismissal the day before; possibly her conscience
gave her some twinges also. But her doughnuts could not
minister to the mind she had diseased. Old Man Shaw took them
up; carried them to the pig-pen, and fed them to the pigs. It
was the first spiteful thing he had done in his life, and he
felt a most immoral satisfaction in it.
In mid-afternoon he went out to the garden, finding the new
loneliness of the little house unbearable. The old bench was
warm in the sunshine. Old Man Shaw sat down with a long sigh,
and dropped his white head wearily on his breast. He had
decided what he must do. He would tell Blossom that she might
go back to her aunt and never mind about him--he would do very
well by himself and he did not blame her in the least.
He was still sitting broodingly there when a girl came up the
lane. She was tall and straight, and walked with a kind of
uplift in her motion, as if it would be rather easier to fly
than not. She was dark, with a rich dusky sort of darkness,
suggestive of the bloom on purple plums, or the glow of deep
red apples among bronze leaves. Her big brown eyes lingered on
everything in sight, and little gurgles of sound now and again
came through her parted lips, as if inarticulate joy were thus
At the garden gate she saw the bent figure on the old bench,
and the next minute she was flying along the rose walk.
"Daddy!" she called, "daddy!"
Old Man Shaw stood up in hasty bewilderment; then a pair of
girlish arms were about his neck, and a pair of warm red lips
were on his; girlish eyes, full of love, were looking up into
his, and a never-forgotten voice, tingling with laughter and
tears blended into one delicious chord, was crying,
"Oh, daddy, is it really you? Oh, I can't tell you how good it
is to see you again!"
Old Man Shaw held her tightly in a silence of amazement and
joy too deep for wonder. Why, this was his Blossom--the very
Blossom who had gone away three years ago! A little taller, a
little more womanly, but his own dear Blossom, and no
stranger. There was a new heaven and a new earth for him in
"Oh, Baby Blossom!" he murmured, "Little Baby Blossom!"
Sara rubbed her cheek against the faded coat sleeve.
"Daddy darling, this moment makes up for everything, doesn't
"But--but--where did you come from?" he asked, his senses
beginning to struggle out of their bewilderment of surprise.
"I didn't expect you till to-morrow. You didn't have to walk
from the station, did you? And your old daddy not there to
Sara laughed, swung herself back by the tips of her fingers
and danced around him in the childish fashion of long ago.
"I found I could make an earlier connection with the C.P.A.
yesterday and get to the Island last night. I was in such a
fever to get home that I jumped at the chance. Of course I
walked from the station--it's only two miles and every step
was a benediction. My trunks are over there. We'll go after
them to-morrow, daddy, but just now I want to go straight to
every one of the dear old nooks and spots at once."
"You must get something to eat first," he urged fondly. "And
there ain't much in the house, I'm afraid. I was going to bake
to-morrow morning. But I guess I can forage you out something,
He was sorely repenting having given Mrs. Blewett's doughnuts
to the pigs, but Sara brushed all such considerations aside
with a wave of her hand.
"I don't want anything to eat just now. By and by we'll have a
snack; just as we used to get up for ourselves whenever we
felt hungry. Don't you remember how scandalized White Sands
folks used to be at our irregular hours? I'm hungry; but it's
soul hunger, for a glimpse of all the dear old rooms and
places. Come--there are four hours yet before sunset, and I
want to cram into them all I've missed out of these three
years. Let us begin right here with the garden. Oh, daddy, by
what witchcraft have you coaxed that sulky rose-bush into
"No witchcraft at all--it just bloomed because you were coming
home, baby," said her father.
They had a glorious afternoon of it, those two children. They
explored the garden and then the house. Sara danced through
every room, and then up to her own, holding fast to her
"Oh, it's lovely to see my little room again, daddy. I'm sure
all my old hopes and dreams are waiting here for me."
She ran to the window and threw it open, leaning out.
"Daddy, there's no view in the world so beautiful as that
curve of sea between the headlands. I've looked at magnificent
scenery--and then I'd shut my eyes and conjure up that
picture. Oh, listen to the wind keening in the trees! How I've
longed for that music!"
He took her to the orchard and followed out his crafty plan of
surprise perfectly. She rewarded him by doing exactly what he
had dreamed of her doing, clapping her hands and crying out:
"Oh, daddy! Why, daddy!"
They finished up with the shore, and then at sunset they came
back and sat down on the old garden bench. Before them a sea
of splendour, burning like a great jewel, stretched to the
gateways of the west. The long headlands on either side were
darkly purple, and the sun left behind him a vast, cloudless
arc of fiery daffodil and elusive rose. Back over the orchard
in a cool, green sky glimmered a crystal planet, and the night
poured over them a clear wine of dew from her airy chalice.
The spruces were rejoicing in the wind, and even the battered
firs were singing of the sea. Old memories trooped into their
hearts like shining spirits.
"Baby Blossom," said Old Man Shaw falteringly, "are you quite
sure you'll be contented here? Out there"--with a vague sweep
of his hand towards horizons that shut out a world far removed
from White Sands--"there's pleasure and excitement and all
that. Won't you miss it? Won't you get tired of your old
father and White Sands?"
Sara patted his hand gently.
"The world out there is a good place," she said thoughtfully,
"I've had three splendid years and I hope they'll enrich my
whole life. There are wonderful things out there to see and
learn, fine, noble people to meet, beautiful deeds to admire;
but," she wound her arm about his neck and laid her cheek
against his--"there is no daddy!"
And Old Man Shaw looked silently at the sunset--or, rather,
through the sunset to still grander and more radiant
splendours beyond, of which the things seen were only the pale
reflections, not worthy of attention from those who had the
gift of further sight.
VII. Aunt Olivia's Beau
Aunt Olivia told Peggy and me about him on the afternoon we
went over to help her gather her late roses for pot-pourri. We
found her strangely quiet and preoccupied. As a rule she was
fond of mild fun, alert to hear East Grafton gossip, and given
to sudden little trills of almost girlish laughter, which for
the time being dispelled the atmosphere of gentle old-
maidishness which seemed to hang about her as a garment. At
such moments we did not find it hard to believe--as we did at
other times--that Aunt Olivia had once been a girl herself.
This day she picked the roses absently, and shook the fairy
petals into her little sweet-grass basket with the air of a
woman whose thoughts were far away. We said nothing, knowing
that Aunt Olivia's secrets always came our way in time. When
the rose-leaves were picked, we carried them in and upstairs
in single file, Aunt Olivia bringing up the rear to pick up
any stray rose-leaf we might drop. In the south-west room,
where there was no carpet to fade, we spread them on
newspapers on the floor. Then we put our sweet-grass baskets
back in the proper place in the proper closet in the proper
room. What would have happened to us, or to the sweet-grass
baskets, if this had not been done I do not know. Nothing was
ever permitted to remain an instant out of place in Aunt
When we went downstairs, Aunt Olivia asked us to go into the
parlour. She had something to tell us, she said, and as she
opened the door a delicate pink flush spread over her face. I
noted it, with surprise, but no inkling of the truth came to
me--for nobody ever connected the idea of possible lovers or
marriage with this prim little old maid, Olivia Sterling.
Aunt Olivia's parlour was much like herself--painfully neat.
Every article of furniture stood in exactly the same place it
had always stood. Nothing was ever suffered to be disturbed.
The tassels of the crazy cushion lay just so over the arm of
the sofa, and the crochet antimacassar was always spread at
precisely the same angel over the horsehair rocking chair. No
speck of dust was ever visible; no fly ever invaded that
Aunt Olivia pulled up a blind, to let in what light could sift
finely through the vine leaves, and sat down in a high-backed
old chair that had appertained to her great-grandmother. She
folded her hands in her lap, and looked at us with shy appeal
in her blue-gray eyes. Plainly she found it hard to tell us
her secret, yet all the time there was an air of pride and
exultation about her; somewhat, also, of a new dignity. Aunt
Olivia could never be self-assertive, but if it had been
possible that would have been her time for it.
"Have you ever heard me speak of Mr. Malcolm MacPherson?"
asked Aunt Olivia.
We had never heard her, or anybody else, speak of Mr. Malcolm
MacPherson; but volumes of explanation could not have told us
more about him than did Aunt Olivia's voice when she
pronounced his name. We knew, as if it had been proclaimed to
us in trumpet tones, that Mr. Malcolm MacPherson must be Aunt
Olivia's beau, and the knowledge took away our breath. We even
forgot to be curious, so astonished were we.
And there sat Aunt Olivia, proud and shy and exulting and
shamefaced, all at once!
"He is a brother of Mrs. John Seaman's across the bridge,"
explained Aunt Olivia with a little simper. "Of course you
don't remember him. He went out to British Columbia twenty
years ago. But he is coming home now--and--and--tell your
father, won't you--I--I--don't like to tell him--Mr. Malcolm
MacPherson and I are going to be married."
"Married!" gasped Peggy. And "married!" I echoed stupidly.
Aunt Olivia bridled a little.
"There is nothing unsuitable in that, is there?" she asked,
"Oh, no, no," I hastened to assure her, giving Peggy a
surreptitious kick to divert her thoughts from laughter. "Only
you must realize, Aunt Olivia, that this is a very great
surprise to us."
"I thought it would be so," said Aunt Olivia complacently.
"But your father will know--he will remember. I do hope he
won't think me foolish. He did not think Mr. Malcolm
MacPherson was a fit person for me to marry once. But that was
long ago, when Mr. Malcolm MacPherson was very poor. He is in
very comfortable circumstances now."
"Tell us about it, Aunt Olivia," said Peggy. She did not look
at me, which was my salvation. Had I caught Peggy's eye when
Aunt Olivia said "Mr. Malcolm MacPherson" in that tone I must
have laughed, willy-nilly.
"When I was a girl the MacPhersons used to live across the
road from here. Mr. Malcolm MacPherson was my beau then. But
my family--and your father especially--dear me, I do hope he
won't be very cross--were opposed to his attentions and were
very cool to him. I think that was why he never said anything
to me about getting married then. And after a time he went
away, as I have said, and I never heard anything from him
directly for many a year. Of course, his sister sometimes gave
me news of him. But last June I had a letter from him. He said
he was coming home to settle down for good on the old Island,
and he asked me if I would marry him. I wrote back and said I
would. Perhaps I ought to have consulted your father, but I
was afraid he would think I ought to refuse Mr. Malcolm
"Oh, I don't think father will mind," said Peggy reassuringly.
"I hope not, because, of course, I would consider it my duty
in any case to fulfil the promise I have given to Mr. Malcolm
MacPherson. He will be in Grafton next week, the guest of his
sister, Mrs. John Seaman, across the bridge."
Aunt Olivia said that exactly as if she were reading it from
the personal column of the Daily Enterprise.
"When is the wedding to be?" I asked.
"Oh!" Aunt Olivia blushed distressfully. "I do not know the
exact date. Nothing can be definitely settled until Mr.
Malcolm MacPherson comes. But it will not be before September,
at the earliest. There will be so much to do. You will tell
your father, won't you?"
We promised that we would, and Aunt Olivia arose with an air
of relief. Peggy and I hurried over home, stopping, when we
were safely out of earshot, to laugh. The romances of the
middle-aged may be to them as tender and sweet as those of
youth, but they are apt to possess a good deal of humour for
onlookers. Only youth can be sentimental without being mirth-
provoking. We loved Aunt Olivia and were glad for her late,
new-blossoming happiness; but we felt amused over it also. The
recollection of her "Mr. Malcolm MacPherson" was too much for
us every time we thought of it.
Father pooh-poohed incredulously at first, and, when we had
convinced him, guffawed with laughter. Aunt Olivia need not
have dreaded any more opposition from her cruel family.
"MacPherson was a good fellow enough, but horribly poor," said
father. "I hear he has done very well out west, and if he and
Olivia have a notion of each other they are welcome to marry
as far as I am concerned. Tell Olivia she mustn't take a spasm
if he tracks some mud into her house once in a while."
Thus it was all arranged, and, before we realized it at all,
Aunt Olivia was mid-deep in marriage preparations, in all of
which Peggy and I were quite indispensable. She consulted us
in regard to everything, and we almost lived at her place in
those days preceding the arrival of Mr. Malcolm MacPherson.
Aunt Olivia plainly felt very happy and important. She had
always wished to be married; she was not in the least strong-
minded and her old-maidenhood had always been a sore point
with her. I think she looked upon it as somewhat of a
disgrace. And yet she was a born old maid; looking at her, and
taking all her primness and little set ways into
consideration, it was quite impossible to picture her as the
wife of Mr. Malcolm MacPherson, or anybody else.
We soon discovered that, to Aunt Olivia, Mr. Malcolm
MacPherson represented a merely abstract proposition--the man
who was to confer on her the long-withheld dignity of
matronhood. Her romance began and ended there, although she
was quite unconscious of this herself, and believed that she
was deeply in love with him.
"What will be the result, Mary, when he arrives in the flesh
and she is compelled to deal with 'Mr. Malcolm MacPherson' as
a real, live man, instead of a nebulous 'party of the second
part' in the marriage ceremony?" queried Peggy, as she hemmed
table-napkins for Aunt Olivia, sitting on her well-scoured
sandstone steps, and carefully putting all thread-clippings
and ravellings into the little basket which Aunt Olivia had
placed there for that purpose.
"It may transform her from a self-centered old maid into a
woman for whom marriage does not seem such an incongruous
thing," I said.
The day on which Mr. Malcolm MacPherson was expected Peggy and
I went over. We had planned to remain away, thinking that the
lovers would prefer their first meeting to be unwitnessed, but
Aunt Olivia insisted on our being present. She was plainly
nervous; the abstract was becoming concrete. Her little house
was in spotless, speckless order from top to bottom. Aunt
Olivia had herself scrubbed the garret floor and swept the
cellar steps that very morning with as much painstaking care
as if she expected that Mr. Malcolm MacPherson would hasten to
inspect each at once and she must stand or fall by his opinion
Peggy and I helped her to dress. She insisted on wearing her
best black silk, in which she looked unnaturally fine. Her
soft muslin became her much better, but we could not induce
her to wear it. Anything more prim and bandboxy than Aunt
Olivia when her toilet was finished it has never been my lot
to see. Peggy and I watched her as she went downstairs, her
skirt held stiffly up all around her that it might not brush
"'Mr. Malcolm MacPherson' will be inspired with such awe that
he will only be able to sit back and gaze at her," whispered
Peggy. "I wish he would come and have it over. This is getting
on my nerves."
Aunt Olivia went into the parlour, settled herself in the old
carved chair, and folded her hands. Peggy and I sat down on
the stairs to await his coming in a crisping suspense. Aunt
Olivia's kitten, a fat, bewhiskered creature, looking as if it
were cut out of black velvet, shared our vigil and purred in
maddening peace of mind.
We could see the garden path and gate through the hall window,
and therefore supposed we should have full warning of the
approach of Mr. Malcolm MacPherson. It was no wonder,
therefore, that we positively jumped when a thunderous knock
crashed against the front door and re-echoed through the
house. Had Mr. Malcolm MacPherson dropped from the skies?
We afterwards discovered that he had come across lots and
around the house from the back, but just then his sudden
advent was almost uncanny. I ran downstairs and opened the
door. On the step stood a man about six feet two in height,
and proportionately broad and sinewy. He had splendid
shoulders, a great crop of curly black hair, big, twinkling
blue eyes, and a tremendous crinkly black beard that fell over
his breast in shining waves. In brief, Mr. Malcolm MacPherson
was what one would call instinctively, if somewhat tritely, "a
magnificent specimen of manhood."
In one hand he carried a bunch of early goldenrod and smoke-
"Good afternoon," he said in a resonant voice which seemed to
take possession of the drowsy summer afternoon. "Is Miss
Olivia Sterling in? And will you please tell her that Malcolm
MacPherson is here?"
I showed him into the parlour. Then Peggy and I peeped through
the crack of the door. Anyone would have done it. We would
have scorned to excuse ourselves. And, indeed, what we saw
would have been worth several conscience spasms if we had felt
Aunt Olivia arose and advanced primly, with outstretched hand.
"Mr. MacPherson, I am very glad to see you," she said
"It's yourself, Nillie!" Mr. Malcolm MacPherson gave two
He dropped his flowers on the floor, knocked over a small
table, and sent the ottoman spinning against the wall. Then he
caught Aunt Olivia in his arms and--smack, smack, smack! Peggy
sank back upon the stair-step with her handkerchief stuffed in
her mouth. Aunt Olivia was being kissed!
Presently, Mr. Malcolm MacPherson held her back at arm's
length in his big paws and looked her over. I saw Aunt
Olivia's eyes roam over his arm to the inverted table and the
litter of asters and goldenrod. Her sleek crimps were all
ruffled up, and her lace fichu twisted half around her neck.
She looked distressed.
"It's not a bit changed you are, Nillie," said Mr. Malcolm
MacPherson admiringly. "And it's good I'm feeling to see you
again. Are you glad to see me, Nillie?"
"Oh, of course," said Aunt Olivia.
She twisted herself free and went to set up the table. Then
she turned to the flowers, but Mr. Malcolm MacPherson had
already gathered them up, leaving a goodly sprinkling of
leaves and stalks on the carpet.
"I picked these for you in the river field, Nillie," he said.
"Where will I be getting something to stick them in? Here,
this will do."
He grasped a frail, painted vase on the mantel, stuffed the
flowers in it, and set it on the table. The look on Aunt
Olivia's face was too much for me at last. I turned, caught
Peggy by the shoulder and dragged her out of the house.
"He will horrify the very soul out of Aunt Olivia's body if he
goes on like this," I gasped. "But he's splendid--and he
thinks the world of her--and, oh, Peggy, did you EVER hear
such kisses? Fancy Aunt Olivia!"
It did not take us long to get well acquainted with Mr.
Malcolm MacPherson. He almost haunted Aunt Olivia's house, and
Aunt Olivia insisted on our staying with her most of the time.
She seemed to be very shy of finding herself alone with him.
He horrified her a dozen times in an hour; nevertheless, she
was very proud of him, and liked to be teased about him, too.
She was delighted that we admired him.
"Though, to be sure, he is very different in his looks from
what he used to be," she said. "He is so dreadfully big! And I
do not like a beard, but I have not the courage to ask him to
shave it off. He might be offended. He has bought the old
Lynde place in Avonlea and wants to be married in a month.
But, dear me, that is too soon. It--it would be hardly
Peggy and I liked Mr. Malcolm MacPherson very much. So did
father. We were glad that he seemed to think Aunt Olivia
perfection. He was as happy as the day was long; but poor Aunt
Olivia, under all her surface pride and importance, was not.
Amid all the humour of the circumstances Peggy and I snuffed
tragedy compounded with the humour.
Mr. Malcolm MacPherson could never be trained to old-
maidishness, and even Aunt Olivia seemed to realize this. He
never stopped to clear his boots when he came in, although she
had an ostentatiously new scraper put at each door for his
benefit. He seldom moved in the house without knocking some of
Aunt Olivia's treasures over. He smoked cigars in her parlour
and scattered the ashes over the floor. He brought her flowers
every day and stuck them into whatever receptacle came
handiest. He sat on her cushions and rolled her antimacassars
up into balls. He put his feet on her chair rungs--and all
with the most distracting unconsciousness of doing anything
out of the way. He never noticed Aunt Olivia's fluttering
nervousness at all. Peggy and I laughed more than was good for
us those days. It was so funny to see Aunt Olivia hovering
anxiously around, picking up flower stems, and smoothing out
tidies, and generally following him about to straighten out
things. Once she even got a wing and dustpan and swept the
cigar ashes under his very eyes.
"Now don't be worrying yourself over that, Nillie," he
protested. "Why, I don't mind a litter, bless you!"
How good and jolly he was, that Mr. Malcolm MacPherson! Such
songs as he sang, such stories as he told, such a breezy,
unconventional atmosphere as he brought into that prim little
house, where stagnant dullness had reigned for years! He
worshipped Aunt Olivia, and his worship took the concrete form
of presents galore. He brought her a present almost every
visit--generally some article of jewelry. Bracelets, rings,
chains, ear-drops, lockets, bangles, were showered upon our
precise little aunt; she accepted them deprecatingly, but
never wore them. This hurt him a little, but she assured him
she would wear them all sometimes.
"I am not used to jewelry, Mr. MacPherson," she would tell
Her engagement ring she did wear--it was a rather "loud"
combination of engraved gold and opals. Sometimes we caught
her turning it on her finger with a very troubled face.
"I would be sorry for Mr. Malcolm MacPherson if he were not so
much in love with her," said Peggy. "But as he thinks that she
is perfection he doesn't need sympathy."
"I am sorry for Aunt Olivia," I said. "Yes, Peggy, I am. Mr.
MacPherson is a splendid man, but Aunt Olivia is a born old
maid, and it is outraging her very nature to be anything else.
Don't you see how it's hurting her? His big, splendid man-ways
are harrowing her very soul up--she can't get out of her
little, narrow groove, and it is killing her to be pulled
"Nonsense!" said Peggy. Then she added with a laugh,
"Mary, did you ever see anything so funny as Aunt Olivia
sitting on 'Mr. Malcolm MacPherson's' knee?"
It WAS funny. Aunt Olivia thought it very unbecoming to sit
there before us, but he made her do it. He would say, with his
big, jolly laugh, "Don't be minding the little girls," and
pull her down on his knee and hold her there. To my dying day
I shall never forget the expression on the poor little woman's
But, as the days went by and Mr. Malcolm MacPherson began to
insist on a date being set for the wedding, Aunt Olivia grew
to have a strangely disturbed look. She became very quiet, and
never laughed except under protest. Also, she showed signs of
petulance when any of us, but especially father, teased her
about her beau. I pitied her, for I think I understood better
than the others what her feelings really were. But even I was
not prepared for what did happen. I would not have believed
that Aunt Olivia could do it. I thought that her desire for
marriage in the abstract would outweigh the disadvantages of
the concrete. But one can never reckon with real, bred-in-the-
One morning Mr. Malcolm MacPherson told us all that he was
coming up that evening to make Aunt Olivia set the day. Peggy
and I laughingly approved, telling him that it was high time
for him to assert his authority, and he went off in great good
humour across the river field, whistling a Highland
strathspey. But Aunt Olivia looked like a martyr. She had a
fierce attack of housecleaning that day, and put everything in
flawless order, even to the corners.
"As if there was going to be a funeral in the house," sniffed
Peggy and I were up in the south-west room at dusk that
evening, piecing a quilt, when we heard Mr. Malcolm MacPherson
shouting out in the hall below to know if anyone was home. I
ran out to the landing, but as I did so Aunt Olivia came out
of her room, brushed past me, and flitted downstairs.
"Mr. MacPherson," I heard her say with double-distilled
primness, "will you please come into the parlour? I have
something to say to you."
They went in, and I returned to the south-west room.
"Peg, there's trouble brewing," I said. "I'm sure of it by
Aunt Olivia's face, it was GRAY. And she has gone down
ALONE--and shut the door."
"I am going to hear what she says to him," said Peggy
resolutely. "It is her own fault--she has spoiled us by always
insisting that we should be present at their interviews. That
poor man has had to do his courting under our very eyes. Come
The south-west room was directly over the parlour and there
was an open stovepipe-hole leading up therefrom. Peggy removed
the hat box that was on it, and we both deliberately and
shamelessly crouched down and listened with all our might.
It was easy enough to hear what Mr. Malcolm MacPherson was
"I've come up to get the date settled, Nillie, as I told you.
Come now, little woman, name the day."
"Don't, Mr. MacPherson," said Aunt Olivia. She spoke as a
woman who has keyed herself up to the doing of some very
distasteful task and is anxious to have it over and done with
as soon as possible. "There is something I must say to you. I
cannot marry you, Mr. MacPherson."
There was a pause. I would have given much to have seen the
pair of them. When Mr. Malcolm MacPherson spoke his voice was
that of blank, uncomprehending amazement.
"Nillie, what is it you are meaning?" he said.
"I cannot marry you, Mr. MacPherson," repeated Aunt Olivia.
"Why not?" Surprise was giving way to dismay.
"I don't think you will understand, Mr. MacPherson," said Aunt
Olivia, faintly. "You don't realize what it means for a woman
to give up everything--her own home and friends and all her
past life, so to speak, and go far away with a stranger."
"Why, I suppose it will be rather hard. But, Nillie, Avonlea isn't
very far away--not more than twelve miles, if it will be that."
"Twelve miles! It might as well be at the other side of the
world to all intents and purposes," said Aunt Olivia obstinately.
"I don't know a living soul there, except Rachel Lynde."
"Why didn't you say so before I bought the place, then? But
it's not too late. I can be selling it and buying right here
in East Grafton if that will please you--though there isn't
half as nice a place to be had. But I'll fix it up somehow!"
"No, Mr. MacPherson," said Aunt Olivia firmly, "that doesn't
cover the difficulty. I knew you would not understand. My ways
are not your ways and I cannot make them over. For--you track
mud in--and--and--you don't care whether things are tidy or not."
Poor Aunt Olivia had to be Aunt Olivia; if she were being
burned at the stake I verily believe she would have dragged
some grotesqueness into the tragedy of the moment.
"The devil!" said Mr. Malcolm MacPherson--not profanely or
angrily, but as in sheer bewilderment. Then he added, "Nillie,
you must be joking. It's careless enough I am--the west isn't
a good place to learn finicky ways--but you can teach me.
You're not going to throw me over because I track mud in!"
"I cannot marry you, Mr. MacPherson," said Aunt Olivia again.
"You can't be meaning it!" he exclaimed, because he was
beginning to understand that she did mean it, although it was
impossible for his man mind to understand anything else about
the puzzle. "Nillie, it's breaking my heart you are! I'll do
anything--go anywhere--be anything you want--only don't be
going back on me like this."
"I cannot marry you, Mr. MacPherson," said Aunt Olivia for the
"Nillie!" exclaimed Mr. Malcolm MacPherson. There was such
real agony in his tone that Peggy and I were suddenly stricken
with contrition. What were we doing? We had no right to be
listening to this pitiful interview. The pain and protest in
his voice had suddenly banished all the humour from it, and
left naught but the bare, stark tragedy. We rose and tiptoed
out of the room, wholesomely ashamed of ourselves.
When Mr. Malcolm MacPherson had gone, after an hour of useless
pleading, Aunt Olivia came up to us, pale and prim and
determined, and told us that there was to be no wedding. We
could not pretend surprise, but Peggy ventured a faint
"Oh, Aunt Olivia, do you think you have done right?"
"It was the only thing I could do," said Aunt Olivia stonily.
"I could not marry Mr. Malcolm MacPherson and I told him so.
Please tell your father--and kindly say nothing more to me
about the matter."
Then Aunt Olivia went downstairs, got a broom, and swept up
the mud Mr. Malcolm MacPherson had tracked over the steps.
Peggy and I went home and told father. We felt very flat, but
there was nothing to be done or said. Father laughed at the
whole thing, but I could not laugh. I was sorry for Mr.
Malcolm MacPherson and, though I was angry with her, I was
sorry for Aunt Olivia, too. Plainly she felt badly enough over
her vanished hopes and plans, but she had developed a strange
and baffling reserve which nothing could pierce.
"It's nothing but a chronic case of old-maidism," said father
Things were very dull for a week. We saw no more of Mr.
Malcolm MacPherson and we missed him dreadfully. Aunt Olivia
was inscrutable, and worked with fierceness at superfluous
One evening father came home with some news.
"Malcolm MacPherson is leaving on the 7:30 train for the
west," he said. "He has rented the Avonlea place and he's off.
They say he is mad as a hatter at the trick Olivia played on
After tea Peggy and I went over to see Aunt Olivia, who had
asked our advice about a wrapper. She was sewing as for dear
life, and her face was primmer and colder than ever. I
wondered if she knew of Mr. Malcolm MacPherson's departure.
Delicacy forbade me to mention it but Peggy had no such
"Well, Aunt Olivia, your beau is off," she announced
cheerfully. "You won't be bothered with him again. He is
leaving on the mail train for the west."
Aunt Olivia dropped her sewing and stood up. I have never seen
anything like the transformation that came over her. It was so
thorough and sudden as to be almost uncanny. The old maid
vanished completely, and in her place was a woman, full to the
lips with primitive emotion and pain.
"What shall I do?" she cried in a terrible voice. "Mary--
Peggy--what shall I do?"
It was almost a shriek. Peggy turned pale.
"Do you care?" she said stupidly.
"Care! Girls, I shall DIE if Malcolm MacPherson goes away! I
have been mad--I must have been mad. I have almost died of
loneliness since I sent him away. But I thought he would come
back! I must see him--there is time to reach the station
before the train goes if I go by the fields."
She took a wild step towards the door, but I caught her back
with a sudden mind-vision of Aunt Olivia flying bareheaded and
distraught across the fields.
"Wait a moment, Aunt Olivia. Peggy, run home and get father to
harness Dick in the buggy as quickly as he can. We'll drive
Aunt Olivia to the station. We'll get you there in time,
Peggy flew, and Aunt Olivia dashed upstairs. I lingered behind
to pick up her sewing, and when I got to her room she had her
hat and cape on. Spread out on the bed were all the boxes of
gifts which Mr. Malcolm MacPherson had brought her, and Aunt
Olivia was stringing their contents feverishly about her
person. Rings, three brooches, a locket, three chains and a
watch all went on--anyway and anyhow. A wonderful sight it was
to see Aunt Olivia bedizened like that!
"I would never wear them before--but I'll put them all on now
to show him I'm sorry," she gasped, with trembling lips.
When the three of us crowded into the buggy, Aunt Olivia
grasped the whip before we could prevent her and, leaning out,
gave poor Dick such a lash as he had never felt in his life
before. He went tearing down the steep, stony, fast-darkening
road in a fashion which made Peggy and me cry out in alarm.
Aunt Olivia was usually the most timid of women, but now she
didn't seem to know what fear was. She kept whipping and
urging poor Dick the whole way to the station, quite oblivious
to our assurances that there was plenty of time. The people
who met us that night must have thought we were quite mad. I
held on the reins, Peggy gripped the swaying side of the
buggy, and Aunt Olivia bent forward, hat and hair blowing back
from her set face with its strangely crimson cheeks, and plied
the whip. In such a guise did we whirl through the village and
over the two-mile station road.
When we drove up to the station, where the train was shunting
amid the shadows, Aunt Olivia made a flying leap from the
buggy and ran along the platform, with her cape streaming
behind her and all her brooches and chains glittering in the
lights. I tossed the reins to a boy standing near and we
followed. Just under the glare of the station lamp we saw Mr.
Malcolm MacPherson, grip in hand. Fortunately no one else was
very near, but it would have been all the same had they been
the centre of a crowd. Aunt Olivia fairly flung herself
"Malcolm," she cried, "don't go--don't go--I'll marry you--
I'll go anywhere--and I don't care how much mud you bring in!"
That truly Aunt Olivia touch relieved the tension of the
situation a little. Mr. MacPherson put his arm about her and
drew her back into the shadows.
"There, there," he soothed. "Of course I won't be going. Don't
"And you'll come right back with me now?" implored Aunt
Olivia, clinging to him as if she feared he would be whisked
away from her yet if she let go for a moment.
"Of course, of course," he said.
Peggy got a chance home with a friend, and Aunt Olivia and Mr.
Malcolm MacPherson and I drove back in the buggy. Mr.
MacPherson held Aunt Olivia on his knee because there was no
room, but she would have sat there, I think, had there been a
dozen vacant seats. She clung to him in the most barefaced
fashion, and all her former primness and reserve were swept
away completely. She kissed him a dozen times or more and told
him she loved him--and I did not even smile, nor did I want
to. Somehow, it did not seem in the least funny to me then,
nor does it now, although it doubtless will to others. There
was too much real intensity of feeling in it all to leave any
room for the ridiculous. So wrapped up in each other were they
that I did not even feel superfluous.
I set them safely down in Aunt Olivia's yard and turned
homeward, completely forgotten by the pair. But in the
moonlight, which flooded the front of the house, I saw
something that testified eloquently to the transformation in
Aunt Olivia. It had rained that afternoon and the yard was
muddy. Nevertheless, she went in at her front door and took
Mr. Malcolm MacPherson in with her without even a glance at
VIII. The Quarantine at Alexander Abraham's
I refused to take that class in Sunday School the first time I
was asked. It was not that I objected to teaching in the
Sunday School. On the contrary I rather liked the idea; but it
was the Rev. Mr. Allan who asked me, and it had always been a
matter of principle with me never to do anything a man asked
me to do if I could help it. I was noted for that. It saves a
great deal of trouble and it simplifies everything
beautifully. I had always disliked men. It must have been born
in me, because, as far back as I can remember, an antipathy to
men and dogs was one of my strongest characteristics. I was
noted for that. My experiences through life only served to
deepen it. The more I saw of men, the more I liked cats.
So, of course, when the Rev. Allan asked me if I would consent
to take a class in Sunday School, I said no in a fashion
calculated to chasten him wholesomely. If he had sent his wife
the first time, as he did the second, it would have been
wiser. People generally do what Mrs. Allan asks them to do
because they know it saves time.
Mrs. Allan talked smoothly for half an hour before she
mentioned the Sunday School, and paid me several compliments.
Mrs. Allan is famous for her tact. Tact is a faculty for
meandering around to a given point instead of making a bee-
line. I have no tact. I am noted for that. As soon as Mrs.
Allan's conversation came in sight of the Sunday School, I,
who knew all along whither it was tending, said, straight out,
"What class do you want me to teach?"
Mrs. Allan was so surprised that she forgot to be tactful, and
answered plainly for once in her life,
"There are two classes--one of boys and one of girls--needing
a teacher. I have been teaching the girls' class, but I shall
have to give it up for a little time on account of the baby's
health. You may have your choice, Miss MacPherson."
"Then I shall take the boys," I said decidedly. I am noted for
my decision. "Since they have to grow up to be men it's well
to train them properly betimes. Nuisances they are bound to
become under any circumstances; but if they are taken in hand
young enough they may not grow up to be such nuisances as they
otherwise would and that will be some unfortunate woman's
Mrs. Allan looked dubious. I knew she had expected me to
choose the girls.
"They are a very wild set of boys," she said.
"I never knew boys who weren't," I retorted.
"I--I--think perhaps you would like the girls best," said Mrs.
Allan hesitatingly. If it had not been for one thing--which I
would never in this world have admitted to Mrs. Allan--I might
have liked the girls' class best myself. But the truth was,
Anne Shirley was in that class; and Anne Shirley was the one
living human being that I was afraid of. Not that I disliked
her. But she had such a habit of asking weird, unexpected
questions, which a Philadelphia lawyer couldn't answer. Miss
Rogerson had that class once and Anne routed her, horse, foot
and artillery. _I_ wasn't going to undertake a class with a
walking interrogation point in it like that. Besides, I
thought Mrs. Allan required a slight snub. Ministers' wives
are rather apt to think they can run everything and everybody,
if they are not wholesomely corrected now and again.
"It is not what _I_ like best that must be considered, Mrs.
Allan," I said rebukingly. "It is what is best for those boys.
I feel that _I_ shall be best for THEM."
"Oh, I've no doubt of that, Miss MacPherson," said Mrs. Allan
amiably. It was a fib for her, minister's wife though she was.
She HAD doubt. She thought I would be a dismal failure as
teacher of a boys' class.
But I was not. I am not often a dismal failure when I make up
my mind to do a thing. I am noted for that.
"It is wonderful what a reformation you have worked in that
class, Miss MacPherson--wonderful," said the Rev. Mr. Allan
some weeks later. He didn't mean to show how amazing a thing
he thought it that an old maid noted for being a man hater
should have managed it, but his face betrayed him.
"Where does Jimmy Spencer live?" I asked him crisply. "He came
one Sunday three weeks ago and hasn't been back since. I mean
to find out why."
Mr. Allan coughed.
"I believe he is hired as handy boy with Alexander Abraham
Bennett, out on the White Sands road," he said.
"Then I am going out to Alexander Abraham Bennett's on the
White Sands road to see why Jimmy Spencer doesn't come to
Sunday school," I said firmly.
Mr. Allan's eyes twinkled ever so slightly. I have always
insisted that if that man were not a minister he would have a
sense of humour.
"Possibly Mr. Bennett will not appreciate your kind interest!
He has--ah--a singular aversion to your sex, I understand. No
woman has ever been known to get inside of Mr. Bennett's house
since his sister died twenty years ago."
"Oh, he is the one, is he?" I said, remembering. "He is the woman
hater who threatens that if a woman comes into his yard he'll
chase her out with a pitch-fork. Well, he will not chase ME out!"
Mr. Allan gave a chuckle--a ministerial chuckle, but still a
chuckle. It irritated me slightly, because it seemed to imply
that he thought Alexander Abraham Bennett would be one too
many for me. But I did not show Mr. Allan that he annoyed me.
It is always a great mistake to let a man see that he can vex you.
The next afternoon I harnessed my sorrel pony to the buggy and
drove down to Alexander Abraham Bennett's. As usual, I took
William Adolphus with me for company. William Adolphus is my
favourite among my six cats. He is black, with a white dicky
and beautiful white paws. He sat up on the seat beside me and
looked far more like a gentleman than many a man I've seen in
a similar position.
Alexander Abraham's place was about three miles along the
White Sands road. I knew the house as soon as I came to it by
its neglected appearance. It needed paint badly; the blinds
were crooked and torn; weeds grew up to the very door.
Plainly, there was no woman about THAT place. Still, it was
a nice house, and the barns were splendid. My father always
said that when a man's barns were bigger than his house it was
a sign that his income exceeded his expenditure. So it was all
right that they should be bigger; but it was all wrong that
they should be trimmer and better painted. Still, thought I,
what else could you expect of a woman hater?
"But Alexander Abraham evidently knows how to run a farm, even
it he is a woman hater," I remarked to William Adolphus as I
got out and tied the pony to the railing.
I had driven up to the house from the back way and now I was
opposite a side door opening on the veranda. I thought I might
as well go to it, so I tucked William Adolphus under my arm
and marched up the path. Just as I was half-way up, a dog
swooped around the front corner and made straight for me. He
was the ugliest dog I had ever seen; and he didn't even bark--
just came silently and speedily on, with a business-like eye.
I never stop to argue matters with a dog that doesn't bark. I
know when discretion is the better part of valour. Firmly
clasping William Adolphus, I ran--not to the door, because the
dog was between me and it, but to a big, low-branching cherry
tree at the back corner of the house. I reached it in time and
no more. First thrusting William Adolphus on to a limb above
my head, I scrambled up into that blessed tree without
stopping to think how it might look to Alexander Abraham if he
happened to be watching.
My time for reflection came when I found myself perched half
way up the tree with William Adolphus beside me. William
Adolphus was quite calm and unruffled. I can hardly say with
truthfulness what I was. On the contrary, I admit that I felt
The dog was sitting on his haunches on the ground below,
watching us, and it was quite plain to be seen, from his
leisurely manner, that it was not his busy day. He bared his
teeth and growled when he caught my eye.
"You LOOK like a woman hater's dog," I told him. I meant it
for an insult; but the beast took it for a compliment.
Then I set myself to solving the question, "How am I to get
out of this predicament?"
It did not seem easy to solve it.
"Shall I scream, William Adolphus?" I demanded of that
intelligent animal. William Adolphus shook his head. This is a
fact. And I agreed with him.
"No, I shall not scream, William Adolphus," I said. "There is
probably no one to hear me except Alexander Abraham, and I
have my painful doubts about his tender mercies. Now, it is
impossible to go down. Is it, then, William Adolphus, possible
to go up?"
I looked up. Just above my head was an open window with a
tolerably stout branch extending right across it.
"Shall we try that way, William Adolphus?" I asked.
William Adolphus, wasting no words, began to climb the tree. I
followed his example. The dog ran in circles about the tree
and looked things not lawful to be uttered. It probably would
have been a relief to him to bark if it hadn't been so against
I got in by the window easily enough, and found myself in a
bedroom the like of which for disorder and dust and general
awfulness I had never seen in all my life. But I did not pause
to take in details. With William Adolphus under my arm I
marched downstairs, fervently hoping I should meet no one on
I did not. The hall below was empty and dusty. I opened the
first door I came to and walked boldly in. A man was sitting
by the window, looking moodily out. I should have known him
for Alexander Abraham anywhere. He had just the same uncared-
for, ragged appearance that the house had; and yet, like the
house, it seemed that he would not be bad looking if he were
trimmed up a little. His hair looked as if it had never been
combed, and his whiskers were wild in the extreme.
He looked at me with blank amazement in his countenance.
"Where is Jimmy Spencer?" I demanded. "I have come to see
"How did he ever let you in?" asked the man, staring at me.
"He didn't let me in," I retorted. "He chased me all over the
lawn, and I only saved myself from being torn piecemeal by
scrambling up a tree. You ought to be prosecuted for keeping
such a dog! Where is Jimmy?"
Instead of answering Alexander Abraham began to laugh in a
most unpleasant fashion.
"Trust a woman for getting into a man's house if she has made
up her mind to," he said disagreeably.
Seeing that it was his intention to vex me I remained cool and
"Oh, I wasn't particular about getting into your house, Mr.
Bennett," I said calmly. "I had but little choice in the
matter. It was get in lest a worse fate befall me. It was not
you or your house I wanted to see--although I admit that it is
worth seeing if a person is anxious to find out how dirty a
place CAN be. It was Jimmy. For the third and last time--
where is Jimmy?"
"Jimmy is not here," said Mr. Bennett gruffly--but not quite
so assuredly. "He left last week and hired with a man over at
"In that case," I said, picking up William Adolphus, who had
been exploring the room with a disdainful air, "I won't
disturb you any longer. I shall go."
"Yes, I think it would be the wisest thing," said Alexander
Abraham--not disagreeably this time, but reflectively, as if
there was some doubt about the matter. "I'll let you out by
the back door. Then the--ahem!--the dog will not interfere
with you. Please go away quietly and quickly."
I wondered if Alexander Abraham thought I would go away with a
whoop. But I said nothing, thinking this the most dignified
course of conduct, and I followed him out to the kitchen as
quickly and quietly as he could have wished. Such a kitchen!
Alexander Abraham opened the door--which was locked--just as a
buggy containing two men drove into the yard.
"Too late!" he exclaimed in a tragic tone. I understood that
something dreadful must have happened, but I did not care,
since, as I fondly supposed, it did not concern me. I pushed
out past Alexander Abraham--who was looking as guilty as if he
had been caught burglarizing--and came face to face with the
man who had sprung from the buggy. It was old Dr. Blair, from
Carmody, and he was looking at me as if he had found me
"My dear Peter," he said gravely, "I am VERY sorry to see
you here--very sorry indeed."
I admit that this exasperated me. Besides, no man on earth,
not even my own family doctor, has any right to "My dear
"There is no loud call for sorrow, doctor," I said loftily.
"If a woman, forty-eight years of age, a member of the
Presbyterian church in good and regular standing, cannot call
upon one of her Sunday School scholars without wrecking all
the proprieties, how old must she be before she can?"
The doctor did not answer my question. Instead, he looked
reproachfully at Alexander Abraham.
"Is this how you keep your word, Mr. Bennett?" he said. "I
thought that you promised me that you would not let anyone
into the house."
"I didn't let her in," growled Mr. Bennett. "Good heavens,
man, she climbed in at an upstairs window, despite the
presence on my grounds of a policeman and a dog! What is to be
done with a woman like that?"
"I do not understand what all this means," I said addressing
myself to the doctor and ignoring Alexander Abraham entirely,
"but if my presence here is so extremely inconvenient to all
concerned, you can soon be relieved of it. I am going at
"I am very sorry, my dear Peter," said the doctor
impressively, "but that is just what I cannot allow you to do.
This house is under quarantine for smallpox. You will have to
Smallpox! For the first and last time in my life, I openly
lost my temper with a man. I wheeled furiously upon Alexander
"Why didn't you tell me?" I cried.
"Tell you!" he said, glaring at me. "When I first saw you it
was too late to tell you. I thought the kindest thing I could
do was to hold my tongue and let you get away in happy
ignorance. This will teach you to take a man's house by storm,
"Now, now, don't quarrel, my good people," interposed the
doctor seriously--but I saw a twinkle in his eye. "You'll have
to spend some time together under the same roof and you won't
improve the situation by disagreeing. You see, Peter, it was
this way. Mr. Bennett was in town yesterday--where, as you are
aware, there is a bad outbreak of smallpox--and took dinner in
a boarding-house where one of the maids was ill. Last night
she developed unmistakable symptoms of smallpox. The Board of
Health at once got after all the people who were in the house
yesterday, so far as they could locate them, and put them
under quarantine. I came down here this morning and explained
the matter to Mr. Bennett. I brought Jeremiah Jeffries to
guard the front of the house and Mr. Bennett gave me his word
of honour that he would not let anyone in by the back way
while I went to get another policeman and make all the
necessary arrangements. I have brought Thomas Wright and have
secured the services of another man to attend to Mr. Bennett's
barn work and bring provisions to the house. Jacob Green and
Cleophas Lee will watch at night. I don't think there is much
danger of Mr. Bennett's taking the smallpox, but until we are
sure you must remain here, Peter."
While listening to the doctor I had been thinking. It was the
most distressing predicament I had ever got into in my life,
but there was no sense in making it worse.
"Very well, doctor," I said calmly. "Yes, I was vaccinated a
month ago, when the news of the smallpox first came. When you
go back through Avonlea kindly go to Sarah Pye and ask her to
live in my house during my absence and look after things,
especially the cats. Tell her to give them new milk twice a
day and a square inch of butter apiece once a week. Get her to
put my two dark print wrappers, some aprons, and some changes
of underclothing in my third best valise and have it sent down
to me. My pony is tied out there to the fence. Please take him
home. That is all, I think."
"No, it isn't all," said Alexander Abraham grumpily. "Send
that cat home, too. I won't have a cat around the place--I'd
rather have smallpox."
I looked Alexander Abraham over gradually, in a way I have,
beginning at his feet and traveling up to his head. I took my
time over it; and then I said, very quietly.
"You may have both. Anyway, you'll have to have William
Adolphus. He is under quarantine as well as you and I. Do you
suppose I am going to have my cat ranging at large through
Avonlea, scattering smallpox germs among innocent people? I'll
have to put up with that dog of yours. You will have to endure
Alexander Abraham groaned, but I could see that the way I had
looked him over had chastened him considerably.
The doctor drove away, and I went into the house, not choosing
to linger outside and be grinned at by Thomas Wright. I hung
my coat up in the hall and laid my bonnet carefully on the
sitting-room table, having first dusted a clean place for it
with my handkerchief. I longed to fall upon that house at once
and clean it up, but I had to wait until the doctor came back
with my wrapper. I could not clean house in my new suit and a
Alexander Abraham was sitting on a chair looking at me.
Presently he said,
"I am NOT curious--but will you kindly tell me why the
doctor called you Peter?"
"Because that is my name, I suppose," I answered, shaking up a
cushion for William Adolphus and thereby disturbing the dust
Alexander Abraham coughed gently.
"Isn't that--ahem!--rather a peculiar name for a woman?"
"It is," I said, wondering how much soap, if any, there was in
"I am NOT curious," said Alexander Abraham, "but would you
mind telling me how you came to be called Peter?"
"If I had been a boy my parents intended to call me Peter in
honour of a rich uncle. When I--fortunately--turned out to be
a girl my mother insisted that I should be called Angelina.
They gave me both names and called me Angelina, but as soon as
I grew old enough I decided to be called Peter. It was bad
enough, but not so bad as Angelina."
"I should say it was more appropriate," said Alexander
Abraham, intending, as I perceived, to be disagreeable.
"Precisely," I agreed calmly. "My last name is MacPherson, and
I live in Avonlea. As you are NOT curious, that will be all
the information you will need about me."
"Oh!" Alexander Abraham looked as if a light had broken in on
him. "I've heard of you. You--ah--pretend to dislike men."
Pretend! Goodness only knows what would have happened to
Alexander Abraham just then if a diversion had not taken
place. But the door opened and a dog came in--THE dog. I
suppose he had got tired waiting under the cherry tree for
William Adolphus and me to come down. He was even uglier
indoors than out.
"Oh, Mr. Riley, Mr. Riley, see what you have let me in for,"
said Alexander Abraham reproachfully.
But Mr. Riley--since that was the brute's name--paid no
attention to Alexander Abraham. He had caught sight of William
Adolphus curled up on the cushion, and he started across the
room to investigate him. William Adolphus sat up and began to
"Call off that dog," I said warningly to Alexander Abraham.
"Call him off yourself," he retorted. "Since you've brought
that cat here you can protect him."
"Oh, it wasn't for William Adolphus' sake I spoke," I said
pleasantly. "William Adolphus can protect himself."
William Adolphus could and did. He humped his back, flattened
his ears, swore once, and then made a flying leap for Mr.
Riley. William Adolphus landed squarely on Mr. Riley's
brindled back and promptly took fast hold, spitting and
clawing and caterwauling.
You never saw a more astonished dog than Mr. Riley. With a
yell of terror he bolted out to the kitchen, out of the
kitchen into the hall, through the hall into the room, and so
into the kitchen and round again. With each circuit he went
faster and faster, until he looked like a brindled streak with
a dash of black and white on top. Such a racket and commotion
I never heard, and I laughed until the tears came into my
eyes. Mr. Riley flew around and around, and William Adolphus
held on grimly and clawed. Alexander Abraham turned purple
"Woman, call off that infernal cat before he kills my dog," he
shouted above the din of yelps and yowls.
"Oh, he won't kill min," I said reassuringly, "and he's going
too fast to hear me if I did call him. If you can stop the
dog, Mr. Bennett, I'll guarantee to make William Adolphus
listen to reason, but there's no use trying to argue with a
Alexander Abraham made a frantic lunge at the brindled streak
as it whirled past him, with the result that he overbalanced
himself and went sprawling on the floor with a crash. I ran to
help him up, which only seemed to enrage him further.
"Woman," he spluttered viciously, "I wish you and your fiend
of a cat were in--in--"
"In Avonlea," I finished quickly, to save Alexander Abraham
from committing profanity. "So do I, Mr. Bennett, with all my
heart. But since we are not, let us make the best of it like
sensible people. And in future you will kindly remember that
my name is Miss MacPherson, NOT Woman!"
With this the end came and I was thankful, for the noise those
two animals made was so terrific that I expected the policeman
would be rushing in, smallpox or no smallpox, to see if
Alexander Abraham and I were trying to murder each other. Mr.
Riley suddenly veered in his mad career and bolted into a dark
corner between the stove and the wood-box, William Adolphus
let go just in time.
There never was any more trouble with Mr. Riley after that. A
meeker, more thoroughly chastened dog you could not find.
William Adolphus had the best of it and he kept it.
Seeing that things had calmed down and that it was five
o'clock I decided to get tea. I told Alexander Abraham that I
would prepare it, if he would show me where the eatables were.
"You needn't mind," said Alexander Abraham. "I've been in the
habit of getting my own tea for twenty years."
"I daresay. But you haven't been in the habit of getting
mine," I said firmly. "I wouldn't eat anything you cooked if I
starved to death. If you want some occupation, you'd better
get some salve and anoint the scratches on that poor dog's
Alexander Abraham said something that I prudently did not
hear. Seeing that he had no information to hand out I went on
an exploring expedition into the pantry. The place was awful
beyond description, and for the first time a vague sentiment
of pity for Alexander Abraham glimmered in my breast. When a
man had to live in such surroundings the wonder was, not that
he hated women, but that he didn't hate the whole human race.
But I got up a supper somehow. I am noted for getting up
suppers. The bread was from the Carmody bakery and I made good
tea and excellent toast; besides, I found a can of peaches in
the pantry which, as they were bought, I wasn't afraid to eat.
That tea and toast mellowed Alexander Abraham in spite of
himself. He ate the last crust, and didn't growl when I gave
William Adolphus all the cream that was left. Mr. Riley did
not seem to want anything. He had no appetite.
By this time the doctor's boy had arrived with my valise.
Alexander Abraham gave me quite civilly to understand that
there was a spare room across the hall and that I might take
possession of it. I went to it and put on a wrapper. There was
a set of fine furniture in the room, and a comfortable bed.
But the dust! William Adolphus had followed me in and his paws
left marks everywhere he walked.
"Now," I said briskly, returning to the kitchen, "I'm going to
clean up and I shall begin with this kitchen. You'd better
betake yourself to the sitting-room, Mr. Bennett, so as to be
out of the way."
Alexander Abraham glared at me.
"I'm not going to have my house meddled with," he snapped. "It
suits me. If you don't like it you can leave it."
"No, I can't. That is just the trouble," I said pleasantly.
"If I could leave it I shouldn't be here for a minute. Since I
can't, it simply has to be cleaned. I can tolerate men and
dogs when I am compelled to, but I cannot and will not
tolerate dirt and disorder. Go into the sitting-room."
Alexander Abraham went. As he closed the door, I heard him
say, in capitals, "WHAT AN AWFUL WOMAN!"
I cleared that kitchen and the pantry adjoining. It was ten
o'clock when I got through, and Alexander Abraham had gone to
bed without deigning further speech. I locked Mr. Riley in one
room and William Adolphus in another and went to bed, too. I
had never felt so dead tired in my life before. It had been a
But I got up bright and early the next morning and got a
tiptop breakfast, which Alexander Abraham condescended to eat.
When the provision man came into the yard I called to him from
the window to bring me a box of soap in the afternoon, and
then I tackled the sitting-room.
It took me the best part of a week to get that house in order,
but I did it thoroughly. I am noted for doing things
thoroughly. At the end of the time it was clean from garret to
cellar. Alexander Abraham made no comments on my operations,
though he groaned loud and often, and said caustic things to
poor Mr. Riley, who hadn't the spirit to answer back after his
drubbing by William Adolphus. I made allowances for Alexander
Abraham because his vaccination had taken and his arm was real
sore; and I cooked elegant meals, not having much else to do,
once I had got things scoured up. The house was full of
provisions--Alexander Abraham wasn't mean about such things, I
will say that for him. Altogether, I was more comfortable than
I had expected to be. When Alexander Abraham wouldn't talk I
let him alone; and when he would I just said as sarcastic
things as he did, only I said them smiling and pleasant. I
could see he had a wholesome awe for me. But now and then he
seemed to forget his disposition and talked like a human
being. We had one or two real interesting conversations.
Alexander Abraham was an intelligent man, though he had got
terribly warped. I told him once I thought he must have been
nice when he was a boy.
One day he astonished me by appearing at the dinner table with
his hair brushed and a white collar on. We had a tiptop dinner
that day, and I had made a pudding that was far too good for a
woman hater. When Alexander Abraham had disposed of two large
platefuls of it, he sighed and said,
"You can certainly cook. It's a pity you are such a detestable
crank in other respects."
"It's kind of convenient being a crank," I said. "People are
careful how they meddle with you. Haven't you found that out
in your own experience?"
"I am NOT a crank," growled Alexander Abraham resentfully.
"All I ask is to be let alone."
"That's the very crankiest kind of crank," I said. "A person
who wants to be let alone flies in the face of Providence, who
decreed that folks for their own good were not to be let
alone. But cheer up, Mr. Bennett. The quarantine will be up on
Tuesday and then you'll certainly be let alone for the rest of
your natural life, as far as William Adolphus and I are
concerned. You may then return to your wallowing in the mire
and be as dirty and comfortable as of yore."
Alexander Abraham growled again. The prospect didn't seem to
cheer him up as much as I should have expected. Then he did an
amazing thing. He poured some cream into a saucer and set it
down before William Adolphus. William Adolphus lapped it up,
keeping one eye on Alexander Abraham lest the latter should
change his mind. Not to be outdone, I handed Mr. Riley a bone.
Neither Alexander Abraham nor I had worried much about the
smallpox. We didn't believe he would take it, for he hadn't
even seen the girl who was sick. But the very next morning I
heard him calling me from the upstairs landing.
"Miss MacPherson," he said in a voice so uncommonly mild that
it gave me an uncanny feeling, "what are the symptoms of
"Chills and flushes, pain in the limbs and back, nausea and
vomiting," I answered promptly, for I had been reading them up
in a patent medicine almanac.
"I've got them all," said Alexander Abraham hollowly.
I didn't feel as much scared as I should have expected. After
enduring a woman hater and a brindled dog and the early
disorder of that house--and coming off best with all three--
smallpox seemed rather insignificant. I went to the window and
called to Thomas Wright to send for the doctor.
The doctor came down from Alexander Abraham's room looking
"It's impossible to pronounce on the disease yet," he said.
"There is no certainty until the eruption appears. But, of
course, there is every likelihood that it is the smallpox. It
is very unfortunate. I am afraid that it will be difficult to
get a nurse. All the nurses in town who will take smallpox
cases are overbusy now, for the epidemic is still raging
there. However, I'll go into town to-night and do my best.
Meanwhile, at present, you must not go near him, Peter."
I wasn't going to take orders from any man, and as soon as the
doctor had gone I marched straight up to Alexander Abraham's
room with some dinner for him on a tray. There was a lemon
cream I thought he could eat even if he had the smallpox.
"You shouldn't come near me," he growled. "You are risking
"I am not going to see a fellow creature starve to death, even
if he is a man," I retorted.
"The worst of it all," groaned Alexander Abraham, between
mouthfuls of lemon cream, "is that the doctor says I've got to
have a nurse. I've got so kind of used to you being in the
house that I don't mind you, but the thought of another woman
coming here is too much. Did you give my poor dog anything to
"He has had a better dinner than many a Christian," I said
Alexander Abraham need not have worried about another woman
coming in. The doctor came back that night with care on his
"I don't know what is to be done," he said. "I can't get a
soul to come here."
"_I_ shall nurse Mr. Bennett," I said with dignity. "It is my
duty and I never shirk my duty. I am noted for that. He is a
man, and he has smallpox, and he keeps a vile dog; but I am
not going to see him die for lack of care for all that."
"You're a good soul, Peter," said the doctor, looking
relieved, manlike, as soon as he found a woman to shoulder the
I nursed Alexander Abraham through the smallpox, and I didn't
mind it much. He was much more amiable sick than well, and he
had the disease in a very mild form. Below stairs I reigned
supreme and Mr. Riley and William Adolphus lay down together
like the lion and the lamb. I fed Mr. Riley regularly, and
once, seeing him looking lonesome, I patted him gingerly. It
was nicer than I thought it would be. Mr. Riley lifted his
head and looked at me with an expression in his eyes which
cured me of wondering why on earth Alexander Abraham was so
fond of the beast.
When Alexander Abraham was able to sit up, he began to make up
for the time he'd lost being pleasant. Anything more sarcastic
than that man in his convalescence you couldn't imagine. I
just laughed at him, having found out that that could be
depended on to irritate him. To irritate him still further I
cleaned the house all over again. But what vexed him most of
all was that Mr. Riley took to following me about and wagging
what he had of a tail at me.
"It wasn't enough that you should come into my peaceful home
and turn it upside down, but you have to alienate the
affections of my dog," complained Alexander Abraham.
"He'll get fond of you again when I go home," I said
comfortingly. "Dogs aren't very particular that way. What they
want is bones. Cats now, they love disinterestedly. William
Adolphus has never swerved in his allegiance to me, although
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