Anne's luck held. The Women's Missionary Auxiliary asked her if she woul_all on Mrs. George Churchill for her yearly contribution to the society. Mrs.
Churchill seldom went to church and was not a member of the Auxiliary, but she
"believed in missions" and always gave a generous sum if anyone called an_sked her for it. People enjoyed doing this so little that the members had t_ake their turn at it and this year the turn was Anne's.
She walked down one evening, taking a daisied trail across lots which led ove_he sweet, cool loveliness of a hill-top to the road where the Churchill far_ay, a mile from the Glen. It was rather a dull road, with grey snake fence_unning up steep little slopes … yet it had homelights … a brook … the smel_f hayfields that run down to the sea … gardens. Anne stopped to look at ever_arden she passed. Her interest in gardens was perennial. Gilbert was wont t_ay that Anne _had_ to buy a book if the word "garden" were in the title.
A lazy boat idled down the harbour and far out a vessel was becalmed. Ann_lways watched an outward bound ship with a little quickening of her pulses.
She understood Captain Franklin Drew when she heard him say once, as he wen_n board his vessel at the wharf, "God, how sorry I am for the folks we leav_n shore!"
The big Churchill house, with the grim iron lacework around its flat mansar_oof, looked down on the harbour and the dunes. Mrs. Churchill greeted he_olitely, if none too effusively, and ushered her into a gloomy and splendi_arlour, the dark, brown-papered walls of which were hung with innumerabl_rayons of departed Churchills and Elliotts. Mrs. Churchill sat down on _reen plush sofa, folded her long thin hands, and gazed steadily at he_aller.
Mary Churchill was tall and gaunt and austere. She had a prominent chin, deep- set blue eyes like Alden's, and a wide, compressed mouth. She never waste_ords and she never gossipped. So Anne found it rather difficult to work up t_er objective naturally, but she managed it through the medium of the ne_inister across the harbour whom Mrs. Churchill did not like.
"He is not a spiritual man," said Mrs. Churchill coldly.
"I have heard that his sermons are remarkable," said Anne.
"I heard one and do not wish to hear more. My soul sought food and was given _ecture. He believes the Kingdom of Heaven can be taken by brains. It cannot."
"Speaking of ministers … they have a very clever one at Lowbridge now. I thin_e is interested in my young friend, Stella Chase. Gossip says it will be _atch."
"Do you mean a marriage?" said Mrs. Churchill.
Anne felt snubbed but reflected that you had to swallow things like that whe_ou were interfering in what didn't concern you.
"I think it would be a very suitable one, Mrs. Churchill. Stella is especiall_itted for a minister's wife. I've been telling Alden he mustn't try to spoi_t."
"Why?" asked Mrs. Churchill, without the flicker of an eyelid.
"Well … really … you know … I'm afraid Alden would stand no chance whatever.
Mr. Chase doesn't think anyone good enough for Stella. All Alden's friend_ould hate to see him dropped suddenly like an old glove. He's too nice a bo_or that."
"No girl ever dropped my son," said Mrs. Churchill, compressing her thin lips.
"It was always the other way about. He found them out, for all their curls an_iggles, their wrigglings and mincings. My son can marry any woman he chooses, Mrs. Blythe … _any_ woman."
"Oh?" said Anne's tongue. Her tone said, "Of course I am too polite t_ontradict you but you have not changed my opinion." Mary Churchill understoo_nd her white, shrivelled face warmed a little as she went out of the room t_et her missionary contribution.
"You have the most wonderful view here," said Anne, when Mrs. Churchil_shered her to the door.
Mrs. Churchill gave the gulf a glance of disapproval.
"If you felt the bite of the east wind in winter, Mrs. Blythe, you might no_hink so much of the view. It's cool enough tonight. I should think you'd b_fraid of catching cold in that thin dress. Not but what it's a pretty one.
You are young enough still to care for gauds and vanities. I have ceased t_eel any interest in such transitory things."
Anne felt fairly well satisfied with the interview as she went home throug_he dim green twilight.
"Of course one can't count on Mrs. Churchill," she told a flock of starling_ho were holding a parliament in a little field scooped out of the woods, "bu_ think I worried her a little. I could see she didn't like having peopl_hink Alden _could_ be jilted. Well, I've done what in me lies with al_oncerned except Mr. Chase and I don't see what I can do with him when I don'_ven know him. I wonder if he has the slightest notion that Alden and Stell_re sweethearting. Not likely. Stella would never dare take Alden to th_ouse, of course. Now, what _am_ I to do about Mr. Chase?"
It was really uncanny … the way things helped her out. One evening Mis_ornelia came along and asked Anne to accompany her to the Chase home.
"I'm going down to ask Richard Chase for a contribution to the new churc_itchen stove. Will you come with me, dearie, just as a moral support? I hat_o tackle him alone."
They found Mr. Chase standing on his front steps, looking, with his long leg_nd his long nose, rather like a meditative crane. He had a few shinin_trands of hair brushed over the top of his bald head and his little grey eye_winkled at them. He happened to be thinking that if that was the doctor'_ife with old Cornelia she had a mighty good figure. As for Cousin Cornelia, twice removed, she was a bit too solidly built and had about as much intellec_s a grasshopper, but she wasn't a bad old cat at all if you always rubbed he_he right way.
He invited them courteously into his small library, where Miss Corneli_ettled into a chair with a little grunt.
"It's dreadful hot tonight. I'm afraid we'll have a thunderstorm. Mercy on us, Richard, that cat is bigger than ever!"
Richard Chase had a familiar in the shape of a yellow cat of abnormal siz_hich now climbed up on his knee. He stroked it tenderly.
"Thomas the Rhymer gives the world assurance of a cat," he said. "Don't you, Thomas? Look at your Aunt Cornelia, Rhymer. Observe the baleful glances she i_asting at you out of orbs created to express only kindness and affection."
"Don't you call me that beast's Aunt Cornelia!" protested Mrs. Elliot_harply. "A joke is a joke but that is carrying things too far."
"Wouldn't you rather be the Rhymer's aunt than Neddy Churchill's aunt?"
queried Richard Chase plaintively. "Neddy is a glutton and a wine-bibber, isn't he? I've heard you giving a catalogue of his sins. Wouldn't you rathe_e aunt to a fine upstanding cat like Thomas with a blameless record wher_hiskey and tabbies are concerned?"
"Poor Ned is a human being," retorted Miss Cornelia. "I don't like cats. Tha_s the only fault I have to find with Alden Churchill. He has got th_trangest liking for cats, too. Lord knows where he got it … both his fathe_nd mother loathed them."
"What a sensible young man he must be!"
"Sensible! Well, he's sensible enough … except in the matter of cats and hi_ankering after evolution … another thing he didn't inherit from his mother."
"Do you know, Mrs. Elliott," said Richard Chase solemnly, "I have a secre_eaning towards evolution myself."
"So you've told me before. Well, believe what you want to, Dick Chase … jus_ike a man. Thank God, nobody could ever make _me_ believe that I descende_rom a monkey."
"You don't look it, I confess, you comely woman. I see no simian resemblance_n your rosy, comfortable, eminently gracious physiognomy. Still, your great- grandmother a million times removed swung herself from branch to branch by he_ail. Science proves that, Cornelia … take it or leave it."
"I'll leave it, then. I'm not going to argue with you on that or any point.
I've got my own religion and no ape-ancestors figure in it. By the way, Richard, Stella doesn't look so well this summer as I'd like to see her."
"She always feels the hot weather a good deal. She'll pick up when it'_ooler."
"I hope so. Lisette picked up every summer but the last, Richard … don'_orget that. Stella has her mother's constitution. It's just as well she isn'_ikely to marry."
"Why isn't she likely to marry? I ask from curiosity, Cornelia … ran_uriosity. The processes of feminine thought are intensely interesting to me.
From what premises or data do you draw the conclusion, in your own delightfu_ffhand way, that Stella is not likely to marry?"
"Well, Richard, to put it plainly, she isn't the kind of girl that is ver_opular with men. She's a good, sweet girl, but she doesn't take with men."
"She has had admirers. I have spent much of my substance in the purchase an_aintenance of shotguns and bulldogs."
"They admired your money-bags, I fancy. They were easily discouraged, weren'_hey? Just one broadside of sarcasm from you and off they went. If they ha_eally wanted Stella they wouldn't have wilted for that any more than for you_maginary bulldog. No, Richard, you might as well admit the fact that Stell_sn't the girl to win desirable beaus. Lisette wasn't, you know. She never ha_ beau till you came along."
"But wasn't I worth waiting for? Surely Lisette was a wise young woman. Yo_ould not have me give my daughter to any Tom, Dick or Harry, would you? M_tar, who, in spite of your disparaging remarks, is fit to shine in th_alaces of kings?"
"We have no kings in Canada," retorted Miss Cornelia. "I'm not saying Stell_sn't a lovely girl. I'm only saying the men don't seem to see it and, considering her constitution, I think it is just as well. A good thing fo_ou, too. You could never get on without her … you'd be as helpless as a baby.
Well, promise us a contribution to the church stove range and we'll be off. _now you're dying to pick up that book of yours."
"Admirable, clear-sighted woman! What a treasure you are for a cousin-in-law!
I admit it… . I _am_ dying. But no other than yourself would have bee_erspicacious enough to see it or amiable enough to save my life by actin_pon it. How much are you holding me up for?"
"You can afford five dollars."
"I never argue with a lady. Five dollars it is. Ah, going? She never lose_ime, this unique woman! Once her object is attained she straightway leave_ou in peace. They don't hatch her breed of cats nowadays. Good-evening pear_f in-laws."
During the whole call Anne had not uttered one word. Why should she when Mrs.
Elliott was doing her work for her so cleverly and unconsciously? But a_ichard Chase bowed them out he suddenly bent forward confidentially.
"You've got the finest pair of ankles I've ever seen, Mrs. Blythe, and I'v_een about a bit in my time."
"Isn't he dreadful?" gasped Miss Cornelia as they went down the lane. "He'_lways saying outrageous things like that to women. You mustn't mind him, Ann_earie."
Anne didn't. She rather liked Richard Chase.
"I don't think," she reflected, "that he quite liked the idea of Stella no_eing popular with the men, in spite of the fact that their grandfathers wer_onkeys. I think he'd like to 'show folks,' too. Well I have done all I ca_o. I have interested Alden and Stella in each other; and, between us, Mis_ornelia and I have, I think, made Mrs. Churchill and Mr. Chase rather for th_atch than against it. Now I must just sit tight and see how it turns out."
A month later Stella Chase came to Ingleside and again sat down by Anne on th_erandah steps … thinking, as she did so, that she hoped she would look lik_rs. Blythe some day … with that _ripened_ look … the look of a woman who ha_ived fully and graciously.
The cool smoky evening had followed a cool, yellowish-grey day in earl_eptember. It was threaded with the gentle moan of the sea.
"The sea is unhappy tonight," Walter would say when he heard that sound.
Stella seemed absent-minded and quiet. Presently she said abruptly, looking u_t a sorcery of stars that was being woven in the purple night, "Mrs. Blythe, I want to tell you something."
"I'm engaged to Alden Churchill," said Stella desperately. "We've been engage_ver since last Christmas. We told Father and Mrs. Churchill right away bu_e've kept it a secret from everyone else just because it was so sweet to hav_uch a secret. We hated to share it with the world. But we are going to b_arried next month."
Anne gave an excellent imitation of a woman who had been turned to stone.
Stella was still staring at the stars, so she did not see the expression o_rs. Blythe's face. She went on, a little more easily:
"Alden and I met at a party in Lowbridge last November. We … loved each othe_rom the very first moment. He said he had always dreamed of me … had alway_een looking for me. He said to himself, 'There is my wife,' when he saw m_ome in at the door. And I … felt just the same. Oh, we are so happy, Mrs.
Still Anne said nothing, several times over.
"The only cloud on my happiness is your attitude about the matter, Mrs.
Blythe. Won't you try to approve? You've been such a dear friend to me since _ame to Glen St. Mary … I've felt as if you were an older sister. And I'l_eel so badly if I think my marriage is against your wish."
There was a sound of tears in Stella's voice. Anne recovered her powers o_peech.
"Dearest, your happiness is all I've wanted. I like Alden … he's a splendi_ellow … only he _had_ the reputation of being a flirt … "
"But he isn't. He was just looking for the right one, don't you see, Mrs.
Blythe? And he couldn't find her."
"How does your father regard it?"
"Oh, Father is greatly pleased. He took to Alden from the start. They used t_rgue for hours about evolution. Father said he always meant to let me marr_hen the right man came along. I feel dreadfully about leaving him, but h_ays young birds have a right to their own nest. Cousin Delia Chase is comin_o keep house for him and Father likes her very much."
"And Alden's mother?"
"She is quite willing, too. When Alden told her last Christmas that we wer_ngaged she went to the Bible and the very first verse she turned up was, '_an shall leave father and mother and cleave unto his wife.' She said it wa_erfectly clear then what she ought to do and she consented at once. She i_oing to go to that little house of hers in Lowbridge."
"I am glad you won't have to live with that green plush sofa," said Anne.
"The sofa? Oh, yes, the furniture is very old-fashioned, isn't it? But she i_aking it with her and Alden is going to refurnish completely. So you se_veryone is pleased, Mrs. Blythe, and won't you give us your good wishes, too?"
Anne leaned forward and kissed Stella's cool satin cheek.
"I am _very_ glad for you. God bless the days that are coming for you, m_ear."
When Stella had gone Anne flew up to her own room to avoid seeing anyone for _ew moments. A cynical, lopsided old moon was coming out from behind som_haggy clouds in the east and the fields beyond seemed to wink slyly an_mpishly at her.
She took stock of all the preceding weeks. She had ruined her dining-roo_arpet, destroyed two treasured heirlooms and spoiled her library ceiling; sh_ad been trying to use Mrs. Churchill as a cat's-paw and Mrs. Churchill mus_ave been laughing in her sleeve all the time.
"Who," asked Anne of the moon, "has been made the biggest fool of in thi_ffair? I know what Gilbert's opinion will be. All the trouble I've gone to, to bring about a marriage between two people who were already engaged? I'_ured of matchmaking then … absolutely cured. Never will I lift a finger t_romote a marriage if nobody in the world ever gets married again. Well, ther_s one consolation … Jen Pringle's letter today saying she is going to marr_ewis Stedman whom she met at my party. The Bristol candlesticks were no_acrificed entirely in vain. Boys … boys! _Must_ you make such unearthl_oises down there?"
"We're owls … we _have_ to hoot," Jem's injured voice proclaimed from the dar_hrubbery. He knew he was making a very good job of hooting. Jem could mimi_he voice of any little wild thing out in the woods. Walter was not so good a_t and he presently ceased being an owl and became a rather disillusione_ittle boy, creeping to Mother for comfort.
"Mummy, I thought crickets _sang …_ and Mr. Carter Flagg said today the_on't … they just make that noise scraping their hind-legs. _Do_ they, Mummy?"
"Something like that … I'm not quite sure of the process. But _that_ is thei_ay of singing, you know."
"I don't like it. I'll never like to hear them singing again."
"Oh, yes, you will. You'll forget about the hind-legs in time and just thin_f their fairy chorus all over the harvest meadows and the autumn hills. Isn'_t bedtime, small son?"
"Mummy, will you tell me a bedtime story that will send a cold chill down m_pine? And sit beside me afterwards till I go to sleep?"