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Chapter 14

  • It was what Susan called a streaky winter … all thaws and freezes that kep_ngleside decorated with fantastic fringes of icicles. The children fed seve_lue-jays who came regularly to the orchard for their rations and let Jem pic_hem up, though they flew from everybody else. Anne sat up o' nights to por_ver seed catalogues in January and February. Then the winds of March swirle_ver the dunes and up the harbors and over the hills. Rabbits, said Susan, were laying Easter eggs.
  • "Isn't March an INciting month, Mummy?" cried Jem, who was a little brother t_ll the winds that blew.
  • They could have spared the "incitement" of Jem scratching his hand on a rust_ail and having a nasty time of it for some days, while Aunt Mary Maria tol_ll the stories of blood-poisoning she had ever heard. But that, Ann_eflected when the danger was over, was what you must expect with a small so_ho was always trying experiments.
  • And lo, it was April! With the laughter of April rain … the whisper of Apri_ain … the trickle, the sweep, the drive, the lash, the dance, the splash o_pril rain. "Oh, Mummy, hasn't the world got its face washed nice and clean?"
  • cried Di, on the morning sunshine returned.
  • There were pale spring stars shining over fields of mist, there wer_ussywillows in the marsh. Even the little twigs on the trees seemed all a_nce to have lost their clear cold quality and to have become soft an_anguorous. The first robin was an event; the Hollow was once more a plac_ull of wild free delight; Jem brought his mother the first mayflowers … rather to Aunt Mary Maria's offence, since she thought they should have bee_ffered to _her;_ Susan began sorting over the attic shelves, and Anne, wh_ad hardly had a minute to herself all winter, put on spring gladness as _arment and literally lived in her garden, while the Shrimp showed his sprin_aptures by writhing all over the paths.
  • "You care more for that garden than you do for your husband, Annie," said Aun_ary Maria.
  • "My garden is so kind to me," answered Anne dreamily … then, realizing th_mplications that might be taken out of her remark, began to laugh.
  • "You do say the most extraordinary things, Annie. Of course _I_ know you don'_ean that Gilbert isn't kind … but what if a stranger heard you say such _hing?"
  • "Dear Aunt Mary Maria," said Anne gaily, "I'm really not responsible for th_hings I say this time of the year. Everybody around here knows that. I'_lways a little mad in spring. But it's such a divine madness. Do you notic_hose mists over the dunes like dancing witches? And the daffodils? We'v_ever had such a show of daffodils at Ingleside before."
  • "I don't care much for daffodils. They are such flaunting things," said Aun_ary Maria, drawing her shawl around her and going indoors to protect he_ack.
  • "Do you know, Mrs. Dr. dear," said Susan ominously, "what has become of thos_ew irises you wanted to plant in that shady corner? _She_ planted them thi_fternoon when you were out right in the sunniest part of the back yard."
  • "Oh, Susan! And we can't move them because she'd be so hurt!"
  • "If you will just give _me_ the word, Mrs. Dr. dear … "
  • "No, no, Susan, we'll leave them there for the time being. She cried, yo_emember, when I hinted that she shouldn't have pruned the spirea _before_looming."
  • "But sneering at our daffodils, Mrs. Dr. dear … and them famous all around th_arbour … "
  • "And deserve to be. Look at them laughing at you for minding Aunt Mary Maria.
  • Susan, the nasturtiums are coming up in this corner, after all. It's such fu_hen you've given up hope of a thing to find it has suddenly popped up. I'_oing to have a little rose garden made in the southwest corner. The very nam_f rose garden thrills to my toes. Did you ever see such a _blue_ blueness o_ky before, Susan? And if you listen very carefully now at night you can hea_ll the little brooks of the countryside gossiping. I've half a notion t_leep in the Hollow tonight with a pillow of wild violets."
  • "You would find it very damp," said Susan patiently. Mrs. Dr. was always lik_his in the spring. It would pass.
  • "Susan," said Anne coaxingly, "I want to have a birthday party next week."
  • "Well, and why should you not?' asked Susan. To be sure, none of the famil_ad a birthday the last week in May, but if Mrs. Dr. wanted a birthday part_hy boggle over that?
  • "For Aunt Mary Maria," went on Anne, as one determined to get the worst over.
  • "Her birthday is next week. Gilbert says she is fifty-five and I've bee_hinking."
  • "Mrs. Dr. dear, do you really mean to get up a party for that … "
  • "Count a hundred, Susan … count a hundred, Susan dear. It would please her so.
  • What has she in life, after all?"
  • "That is her own fault … "
  • "Perhaps so. But, Susan, I really want to do this for her."
  • "Mrs. Dr. dear," said Susan ominously, "you have always been kind enough t_ive me a week's vacation whenever I felt I needed it. Perhaps I had bette_ake it next week! I will ask my niece Gladys to come and help you out. An_hen Miss Mary Maria Blythe can have a dozen birthday parties, for all of me."
  • "If you feel like that about it, Susan, I'll give up the idea, of course,"
  • said Anne slowly.
  • "Mrs. Dr. dear, that woman has foisted herself upon you and means to stay her_orever. She has worried you … and henpecked the doctor … and made th_hildren's lives miserable. I say nothing about myself, for who am I? She ha_colded and nagged and insinuated and whined … and now you want to get up _irthday party for her! Well, all I can say is, if you want to do that … we'l_ust have to go ahead and have it!"
  • "Susan, you old duck!"
  • Plotting and planning followed. Susan, having yielded, was determined that fo_he honour of Ingleside the party must be something that even Mary Mari_lythe could not find fault with.
  • "I think we'll have a luncheon, Susan. Then they'll be away early enough fo_e to go to the concert at Lowbridge with the doctor. We'll keep it a secre_nd surprise her. She shan't know a thing about it till the last minute. I'l_nvite all the people in the Glen she likes… ."
  • "And who may _they_ be, Mrs. Dr. dear?"
  • "Well, tolerates, then. And her cousin, Adella Carey from Lowbridge, and som_eople from town. We'll have a big plummy birthday cake with fifty-fiv_andles on it … "
  • "Which _I_ am to make, of course … "
  • "Susan, you _know_ you make the best fruit-cake in P. E. Island … "
  • "I know that I am as wax in your hands, Mrs. Dr. dear."
  • A mysterious week followed. An air of hush-hush pervaded Ingleside. Everybod_as sworn not to give the secret away to Aunt Mary Maria. But Anne and Susa_ad reckoned without gossip. The night before the party Aunt Mary Maria cam_ome from a call in the Glen to find them sitting rather wearily in th_nlighted sun-room.
  • "All in the dark, Annie? It beats me how anyone can like sitting in the dark.
  • It gives me the blues."
  • "It isn't dark … it's twilight … there has been a love-match between light an_ark and beautiful exceedingly is the offspring thereof," said Anne, more t_erself than anybody else.
  • "I suppose you know what you mean yourself, Annie. And so you're having _arty tomorrow?"
  • Anne suddenly sat bolt upright. Susan, already sitting so, could not sit an_prighter.
  • "Why … why … Aunty … "
  • "You always leave me to hear things from outsiders," said Aunt Mary Maria, bu_eemingly more in sorrow than in anger.
  • "We … we meant it for a surprise, Aunty … "
  • "I don't know what you want of a party this time of year when you can't depen_n the weather, Annie."
  • Anne drew a breath of relief. Evidently Aunt Mary Maria knew only that ther_as to be a party, not that it had any connexion with her.
  • "I … I wanted to have it before the spring flowers were done, Aunty."
  • "I shall wear my garnet taffeta. I suppose, Annie, if I had not heard of thi_n the village I should have been caught by all your fine friends tomorrow i_ cotton dress."
  • "Oh, no, Aunty. We meant to tell you in time to dress, of course … "
  • "Well, if _my_ advice means anything to you, Annie … and sometimes I am almos_ompelled to think it does not … I would say that in future it would be bette_or you not to be _quite so secretive_ about things. By the way, are you awar_hat they are saying in the village that it was Jem who threw the ston_hrough the window of the Methodist church?"
  • "He did not," said Anne quietly. "He told me he did not."
  • "Are you sure, Annie dear, that he was not fibbing?"
  • "Annie dear" still spoke quietly.
  • "Quite sure, Aunt Mary Maria. Jem has never told me an untruth in his life."
  • "Well, I thought you ought to know what was being said."
  • Aunt Mary Maria stalked off in her usual gracious manner, ostentatiousl_voiding the Shrimp, who was lying on his back on the floor entreating someon_o tickle his stomach.
  • Susan and Anne drew a long breath.
  • "I think I'll go to bed, Susan. And I do hope it is going to be fine tomorrow.
  • I don't like the look of that dark cloud over the harbour."
  • "It will be fine, Mrs. Dr. dear," reassured Susan. "The almanack says so."
  • Susan had an almanack which foretold the whole year's weather and was righ_ften enough to keep up its credit.
  • "Leave the side door unlocked for the doctor, Susan. He may be late gettin_ome from town. He went in for the roses … fifty-five golden roses, Susan … I've heard Aunt Mary Maria say that yellow roses were the only flowers sh_iked."
  • Half an hour later, Susan, reading her nightly chapter in her Bible, cam_cross the verse, "Withdraw thy foot from thy neighbour's house lest he wear_f thee and hate thee." She put a sprig of southernwood in it to mark th_pot. "Even in those days," she reflected.
  • Anne and Susan were both up early, desiring to complete certain las_reparations before Aunt Mary Maria should be about. Anne always liked to ge_p early and catch that mystical half-hour before sunrise when the worl_elongs to the fairies and the old gods. She liked to see the morning sky o_ale rose and gold behind the church spire, the thin, translucent glow o_unrise spreading over the dunes, the first violet spirals of smoke floatin_p from the village roofs.
  • "It's as if we had had a day made to order, Mrs. Dr. dear," said Susa_omplacently, as she feathered an orange-frosted cake with cocoanut. "I wil_ry my hand at them new-fangled butterballs after breakfast and I will phon_arter Flagg every half-hour to make sure that he will not forget the ice- cream. And there will be time to scrub the verandah steps."
  • "Is that necessary, Susan?"
  • "Mrs. Dr. dear, you have invited Mrs. Marshall Elliott, have you not? _She_hall not see _our_ verandah steps otherwise than spotless. But you will se_o the decorations, Mrs. Dr. dear? I was not born with the gift of arrangin_lowers."
  • "Four cakes! Gee!" said Jem.
  • "When we give a party," said Susan grandly, "we _give_ a party."
  • The guests came in due time and were received by Aunt Mary Maria in garne_affeta and by Anne in biscuit-coloured voile. Anne thought of putting on he_hite muslin, for the day was summer-warm, but decided otherwise.
  • "Very sensible of you, Annie," commented Aunt Mary Maria. "White, I alway_ay, is only for the young."
  • Everything went according to schedule. The table looked beautiful with Anne'_rettiest dishes and the exotic beauty of white and purple iris. Susan'_utterballs made a sensation, nothing like them having been seen in the Gle_efore; her cream soup was the last word in soups; the chicken salad had bee_ade of Ingleside "chickens that _are_ chickens"; the badgered Carter Flag_ent up the ice-cream on the tick of the dot. Finally Susan, bearing th_irthday cake with its fifty-five lighted candles as if it were the Baptist'_ead on a charger, marched in and set it down before Aunt Mary Maria.
  • Anne, outwardly the smiling serene hostess, had been feeling ver_ncomfortable for some time. In spite of all outward smoothness she had a_ver-deepening conviction that something had gone terribly wrong. On th_uests' arrival she had been too much occupied to notice the change that cam_ver Aunt Mary Maria's face when Mrs. Marshall Elliott cordially wished he_any happy returns of the day. But when they were all finally seated aroun_he table Anne wakened up to the fact that Aunt Mary Maria was lookin_nything but pleased. She was actually white … it _couldn't_ be with fury! … and not one word did she say as the meal progressed, save curt replies t_emarks addressed to her. She took only two spoonfuls of soup and thre_outhfuls of salad; as for the ice-cream, she behaved to it as if it wasn'_here.
  • When Susan set the birthday cake, with its flickering candles, down befor_er, Aunt Mary Maria gave a fearful gulp which was not quite successful i_wallowing a sob and consequently issued as a strangled whoop.
  • "Aunty, aren't you feeling well?" cried Anne.
  • Aunt Mary Maria stared at her icily.
  • _"Quite_ well, Annie. Remarkably well, indeed, for _such an aged person_ a_yself."
  • At this auspicious moment the twins popped in, carrying between them th_asketful of fifty-five yellow roses, and, amid a suddenly frozen silence, presented it to Aunt Mary Maria, with lisped congratulations and good wishes.
  • A chorus of admiration went up from the table, but Aunt Mary Maria did no_oin in it.
  • "The … the twins will blow out the candles for you, Aunty," faltered Ann_ervously, "and then … will you cut the birthday cake?"
  • "Not being quite senile … yet … Annie, I can blow the candles out myself."
  • Aunt Mary Maria proceeded to blow them out, painstakingly and deliberately.
  • With equal painstaking and deliberation she cut the cake. Then she laid th_nife down.
  • "And now perhaps I may be excused, Annie. _Such an old woman_ as I am need_est after so much excitement."
  • Swish went Aunt Mary Maria's taffeta skirt. Crash went the basket of roses a_he swept past it. Click went Aunt Mary Maria's high heels up the stairs. Ban_ent Aunt Mary Maria's door in the distance.
  • The dumfounded guests ate their slices of birthday cake with such appetite a_hey could muster, in a strained silence broken only by a story Mrs. Amo_artin told desperately of a doctor in Nova Scotia who had poisoned severa_atients by injecting diphtheria germs into them. The others, feeling tha_his might not be in the best of taste, did not back up her laudable effort to
  • "liven things up" and all went away as soon as they decently could.
  • A distracted Anne rushed to Aunt Mary Maria's room.
  • "Aunty, _what_ is the matter? … "
  • "Was it necessary to advertise my age in public, Annie? And to ask Adell_arey here … to have her find out how old I am … she's been dying to know fo_ears!"
  • "Aunty, we meant … we meant … "
  • "I don't know what your purpose was, Annie. That there is something back o_ll this I know very well … oh, I can read your mind, dear Annie … but I shal_ot try to ferret it out … I shall leave it between you and your conscience."
  • "Aunt Mary Maria, my only intention was to give you a happy birthday. I'_readfully sorry… ."
  • Aunt Mary Maria put her handkerchief to her eyes and smiled bravely.
  • "Of course I forgive you, Annie. But you must realize that after such _eliberate attempt to injure my feelings I cannot stay here any longer."
  • "Amity, won't you believe … "
  • Aunt Mary Maria lifted a long, thin, knobby hand.
  • "Don't let us discuss it, Annie. I want peace … just peace. 'A wounded spiri_ho can bear?'"
  • Anne went to the concert with Gilbert that night, but it could not be said sh_njoyed it. Gilbert took the whole matter "just like a man," as Miss Corneli_ight have said.
  • "I remember she was always a little touchy about her age. Dad used to rag her.
  • I should have warned you … but it had slipped my memory. If she goes, don'_ry to stop her" … and refrained through clannishness from adding "goo_iddance!"
  • "She will not go. No such good luck, Mrs. Dr. dear," said Susan incredulously.
  • But for once Susan was wrong. Aunt Mary Maria went away the very next day, forgiving everybody with her parting breath.
  • "Don't blame Annie, Gilbert," she said magnanimously. "I acquit her of al_ntentional insult. I never minded her having secrets from me … though to _ensitive mind like mine … but in spite of everything I've always liked poo_nnie" … this with the air of one confessing a weakness. "But Susan Baker is _at of another colour. My last word to you, Gilbert, is … put Susan Baker i_er place and keep her there."
  • Nobody could believe in their good luck at first. Then they woke up to th_act that Aunt Mary Maria had really gone … that it was possible to laug_gain without hurting anyone's feelings … open all the windows without anyon_omplaining of draughts … eat a meal without anyone telling you that somethin_ou specially liked was liable to produce cancer of the stomach.
  • "I've never sped a parting guest so willingly," thought Anne, half guiltily.
  • "It _is_ nice to call your soul your own again."
  • The Shrimp groomed himself meticulously, feeling that, after all, there wa_ome fun in being a cat. The first peony burst into bloom in the garden.
  • "The world is just full of poetry, isn't it, Mummy?" said Walter.
  • "It is going to be a real nice June," foretold Susan. "The almanack says so.
  • There are going to be a few brides and most likely at least two funerals. Doe_t not seem strange to be able to draw a free breath again? When I think tha_ did all that in me lay to prevent you giving that party, Mrs. Dr. dear, _ealize afresh that there _is_ an overruling Providence. And don't you think, Mrs. Dr. dear, that the doctor would relish some onions with his fried stea_oday?"