Anne Shirley was curled up on the window-seat of Theodora Dix's sitting-roo_ne Saturday evening, looking dreamily afar at some fair starland beyond th_ills of sunset. Anne was visiting for a fortnight of her vacation at Ech_odge, where Mr. and Mrs. Stephen Irving were spending the summer, and sh_ften ran over to the old Dix homestead to chat for awhile with Theodora. The_ad had their chat out, on this particular evening, and Anne was givin_erself over to the delight of building an air-castle. She leaned her shapel_ead, with its braided coronet of dark red hair, against the window-casing, and her gray eyes were like the moonlight gleam of shadowy pools.
Then she saw Ludovic Speed coming down the lane. He was yet far from th_ouse, for the Dix lane was a long one, but Ludovic could be recognized as fa_s he could be seen. No one else in Middle Grafton had such a tall, gently- stooping, placidly-moving figure. In every kink and turn of it there was a_ndividuality all Ludovic's own.
Anne roused herself from her dreams, thinking it would only be tactful to tak_er departure. Ludovic was courting Theodora. Everyone in Grafton knew that, or, if anyone were in ignorance of the fact, it was not because he had not ha_ime to find out. Ludovic had been coming down that lane to see Theodora, i_he same ruminating, unhastening fashion, for fifteen years!
When Anne, who was slim and girlish and romantic, rose to go, Theodora, wh_as plump and middle-aged and practical, said, with a twinkle in her eye:
"There isn't any hurry, child. Sit down and have your call out. You've see_udovic coming down the lane, and, I suppose, you think you'll be a crowd. Bu_ou won't. Ludovic rather likes a third person around, and so do I. It spur_p the conversation as it were. When a man has been coming to see you straigh_long, twice a week for fifteen years, you get rather talked out by spells."
Theodora never pretended to bashfulness where Ludovic was concerned. She wa_ot at all shy of referring to him and his dilatory courtship. Indeed, i_eemed to amuse her.
Anne sat down again and together they watched Ludovic coming down the lane, gazing calmly about him at the lush clover fields and the blue loops of th_iver winding in and out of the misty valley below.
Anne looked at Theodora's placid, finely-moulded face and tried to imagin_hat she herself would feel like if she were sitting there, waiting for a_lderly lover who had, seemingly, taken so long to make up his mind. But eve_nne's imagination failed her for this.
"Anyway," she thought, impatiently, "if I wanted him I think I'd find some wa_f hurrying him up. Ludovic SPEED! Was there ever such a misfit of a name?
Such a name for such a man is a delusion and a snare."
Presently Ludovic got to the house, but stood so long on the doorstep in _rown study, gazing into the tangled green boskage of the cherry orchard, tha_heodora finally went and opened the door before he knocked. As she brough_im into the sitting-room she made a comical grimace at Anne over hi_houlder.
Ludovic smiled pleasantly at Anne. He liked her; she was the only young gir_e knew, for he generally avoided young girls—they made him feel awkward an_ut of place. But Anne did not affect him in this fashion. She had a way o_etting on with all sorts of people, and, although they had not known her ver_ong, both Ludovic and Theodora looked upon her as an old friend.
Ludovic was tall and somewhat ungainly, but his unhesitating placidity gav_im the appearance of a dignity that did not otherwise pertain to him. He ha_ drooping, silky, brown moustache, and a little curly tuft of imperial,—_ashion which was regarded as eccentric in Grafton, where men had clean-shave_hins or went full-bearded. His eyes were dreamy and pleasant, with a touch o_elancholy in their blue depths.
He sat down in the big bulgy old armchair that had belonged to Theodora'_ather. Ludovic always sat there, and Anne declared that the chair had come t_ook like him.
The conversation soon grew animated enough. Ludovic was a good talker when h_ad somebody to draw him out. He was well read, and frequently surprised Ann_y his shrewd comments on men and matters out in the world, of which only th_aint echoes reached Deland River. He had also a liking for religiou_rguments with Theodora, who did not care much for politics or the making o_istory, but was avid of doctrines, and read everything pertaining thereto.
When the conversation drifted into an eddy of friendly wrangling betwee_udovic and Theodora over Christian Science, Anne understood that he_sefulness was ended for the time being, and that she would not be missed.
"It's star time and good-night time," she said, and went away quietly.
But she had to stop to laugh when she was well out of sight of the house, in _reen meadow bestarred with the white and gold of daisies. A wind, odour- freighted, blew daintily across it. Anne leaned against a white birch tree i_he corner and laughed heartily, as she was apt to do whenever she thought o_udovic and Theodora. To her eager youth, this courtship of theirs seemed _ery amusing thing. She liked Ludovic, but allowed herself to be provoked wit_im.
"The dear, big, irritating goose!" she said aloud. "There never was such _ovable idiot before. He's just like the alligator in the old rhyme, wh_ouldn't go along, and wouldn't keep still, but just kept bobbing up an_own."
Two evenings later, when Anne went over to the Dix place, she and Theodor_rifted into a conversation about Ludovic. Theodora, who was the mos_ndustrious soul alive, and had a mania for fancy work into the bargain, wa_usying her smooth, plump fingers with a very elaborate Battenburg lac_entre-piece. Anne was lying back in a little rocker, with her slim hand_olded in her lap, watching Theodora. She realized that Theodora was ver_andsome, in a stately, Juno-like fashion of firm, white flesh, large, clearly-chiselled outlines, and great, cowey, brown eyes. When Theodora wa_ot smiling, she looked very imposing. Anne thought it likely that Ludovi_eld her in awe.
"Did you and Ludovic talk about Christian Science ALL Saturday evening?" sh_sked.
Theodora overflowed into a smile.
"Yes, and we even quarrelled over it. At least _I_ did. Ludovic wouldn'_uarrel with anyone. You have to fight air when you spar with him. I hate t_quare up to a person who won't hit back."
"Theodora," said Anne coaxingly, "I am going to be curious and impertinent.
You can snub me if you like. Why don't you and Ludovic get married?"
Theodora laughed comfortably.
"That's the question Grafton folks have been asking for quite a while, _eckon, Anne. Well, I'd have no objection to marrying Ludovic. That's fran_nough for you, isn't it? But it's not easy to marry a man unless he asks you.
And Ludovic has never asked me."
"Is he too shy?" persisted Anne. Since Theodora was in the mood, she meant t_ift this puzzling affair to the bottom.
Theodora dropped her work and looked meditatively out over the green slopes o_he summer world.
"No, I don't think it is that. Ludovic isn't shy. It's just his way—the Spee_ay. The Speeds are all dreadfully deliberate. They spend years thinking ove_ thing before they make up their minds to do it. Sometimes they get so muc_n the habit of thinking about it that they never get over it—like old Alde_peed, who was always talking of going to England to see his brother, bu_ever went, though there was no earthly reason why he shouldn't. They're no_azy, you know, but they love to take their time."
"And Ludovic is just an aggravated case of Speedism," suggested Anne.
"Exactly. He never hurried in his life. Why, he has been thinking for the las_ix years of getting his house painted. He talks it over with me every littl_hile, and picks out the colour, and there the matter stays. He's fond of me, and he means to ask me to have him sometime. The only question is—will th_ime ever come?"
"Why don't you hurry him up?" asked Anne impatiently.
Theodora went back to her stitches with another laugh.
"If Ludovic could be hurried up, I'm not the one to do it. I'm too shy. I_ounds ridiculous to hear a woman of my age and inches say that, but it i_rue. Of course, I know it's the only way any Speed ever did make out to ge_arried. For instance, there's a cousin of mine married to Ludovic's brother.
I don't say she proposed to him out and out, but, mind you, Anne, it wasn'_ar from it. I couldn't do anything like that. I DID try once. When I realize_hat I was getting sere and mellow, and all the girls of my generation wer_oing off on either hand, I tried to give Ludovic a hint. But it stuck in m_hroat. And now I don't mind. If I don't change Dix to Speed until I take th_nitiative, it will be Dix to the end of life. Ludovic doesn't realize that w_re growing old, you know. He thinks we are giddy young folks yet, with plent_f time before us. That's the Speed failing. They never find out they're aliv_ntil they're dead."
"You're fond of Ludovic, aren't you?" asked Anne, detecting a note of rea_itterness among Theodora's paradoxes.
"Laws, yes," said Theodora candidly. She did not think it worth while to blus_ver so settled a fact. "I think the world and all of Ludovic. And h_ertainly does need somebody to look after HIM. He's neglected—he look_rayed. You can see that for yourself. That old aunt of his looks after hi_ouse in some fashion, but she doesn't look after him. And he's coming now t_he age when a man needs to be looked after and coddled a bit. I'm lonesom_ere, and Ludovic is lonesome up there, and it does seem ridiculous, doesn'_t? I don't wonder that we're the standing joke of Grafton. Goodness knows, _augh at it enough myself. I've sometimes thought that if Ludovic could b_ade jealous it might spur him along. But I never could flirt and there'_obody to flirt with if I could. Everybody hereabouts looks upon me a_udovic's property and nobody would dream of interfering with him."
"Theodora," cried Anne, "I have a plan!"
"Now, what are you going to do?" exclaimed Theodora.
Anne told her. At first Theodora laughed and protested. In the end, sh_ielded somewhat doubtfully, overborne by Anne's enthusiasm.
"Well, try it, then," she said, resignedly. "If Ludovic gets mad and leave_e, I'll be worse off than ever. But nothing venture, nothing win. And ther_s a fighting chance, I suppose. Besides, I must admit I'm tired of his dilly- dallying."
Anne went back to Echo Lodge tingling with delight in her plot. She hunted u_rnold Sherman, and told him what was required of him. Arnold Sherman listene_nd laughed. He was an elderly widower, an intimate friend of Stephen Irving, and had come down to spend part of the summer with him and his wife in Princ_dward Island. He was handsome in a mature style, and he had a dash o_ischief in him still, so that he entered readily enough into Anne's plan. I_mused him to think of hurrying Ludovic Speed, and he knew that Theodora Di_ould be depended on to do her part. The comedy would not be dull, whateve_ts outcome.
The curtain rose on the first act after prayer meeting on the next Thursda_ight. It was bright moonlight when the people came out of church, an_verybody saw it plainly. Arnold Sherman stood upon the steps close to th_oor, and Ludovic Speed leaned up against a corner of the graveyard fence, a_e had done for years. The boys said he had worn the paint off that particula_lace. Ludovic knew of no reason why he should paste himself up against th_hurch door. Theodora would come out as usual, and he would join her as sh_ent past the corner.
This was what happened, Theodora came down the steps, her stately figur_utlined in its darkness against the gush of lamplight from the porch. Arnol_herman asked her if he might see her home. Theodora took his arm calmly, an_ogether they swept past the stupefied Ludovic, who stood helplessly gazin_fter them as if unable to believe his eyes.
For a few moments he stood there limply; then he started down the road afte_is fickle lady and her new admirer. The boys and irresponsible young me_rowded after, expecting some excitement, but they were disappointed. Ludovi_trode on until he overtook Theodora and Arnold Sherman, and then fell meekl_n behind them.
Theodora hardly enjoyed her walk home, although Arnold Sherman laid himsel_ut to be especially entertaining. Her heart yearned after Ludovic, whos_huffling footsteps she heard behind her. She feared that she had been ver_ruel, but she was in for it now. She steeled herself by the reflection tha_t was all for his own good, and she talked to Arnold Sherman as if he wer_he one man in the world. Poor, deserted Ludovic, following humbly behind, heard her, and if Theodora had known how bitter the cup she was holding to hi_ips really was, she would never have been resolute enough to present it, n_atter for what ultimate good.
When she and Arnold turned in at her gate, Ludovic had to stop. Theodor_ooked over her shoulder and saw him standing still on the road. His forlor_igure haunted her thoughts all night. If Anne had not run over the next da_nd bolstered up her convictions, she might have spoiled everything b_rematurely relenting.
Ludovic, meanwhile, stood still on the road, quite oblivious to the hoots an_omments of the vastly amused small boy contingent, until Theodora and hi_ival disappeared from his view under the firs in the hollow of her lane. The_e turned about and went home, not with his usual leisurely amble, but with _erturbed stride which proclaimed his inward disquiet.
He felt bewildered. If the world had come suddenly to an end or if the lazy, meandering Grafton River had turned about and flowed up hill, Ludovic coul_ot have been more astonished. For fifteen years he had walked home fro_eetings with Theodora; and now this elderly stranger, with all the glamour of
"the States" hanging about him, had coolly walked off with her under Ludovic'_ery nose. Worse—most unkindest cut of all—Theodora had gone with hi_illingly; nay, she had evidently enjoyed his company. Ludovic felt th_tirring of a righteous anger in his easy-going soul.
When he reached the end of his lane, he paused at his gate, and looked at hi_ouse, set back from the lane in a crescent of birches. Even in the moonlight, its weather-worn aspect was plainly visible. He thought of the "palatia_esidence" rumour ascribed to Arnold Sherman in Boston, and stroked his chi_ervously with his sunburnt fingers. Then he doubled up his fist and struck i_martly on the gate-post.
"Theodora needn't think she is going to jilt me in this fashion, after keepin_ompany with me for fifteen years," he said. "I'LL have something to say t_t, Arnold Sherman or no Arnold Sherman. The impudence of the puppy!"
The next morning Ludovic drove to Carmody and engaged Joshua Pye to come an_aint his house, and that evening, although he was not due till Saturda_ight, he went down to see Theodora.
Arnold Sherman was there before him, and was actually sitting in Ludovic's ow_rescriptive chair. Ludovic had to deposit himself in Theodora's new wicke_ocker, where he looked and felt lamentably out of place.
If Theodora felt the situation to be awkward, she carried it off superbly. Sh_ad never looked handsomer, and Ludovic perceived that she wore her secon_est silk dress. He wondered miserably if she had donned it in expectation o_is rival's call. She had never put on silk dresses for him. Ludovic ha_lways been the meekest and mildest of mortals, but he felt quite murderous a_e sat mutely there and listened to Arnold Sherman's polished conversation.
"You should just have been here to see him glowering," Theodora told th_elighted Anne the next day. "It may be wicked of me, but I felt real glad. _as afraid he might stay away and sulk. So long as he comes here and sulks _on't worry. But he is feeling badly enough, poor soul, and I'm really eate_p by remorse. He tried to outstay Mr. Sherman last night, but he didn'_anage it. You never saw a more depressed-looking creature than he was as h_urried down the lane. Yes, he actually hurried."
The following Sunday evening Arnold Sherman walked to church with Theodora, and sat with her. When they came in Ludovic Speed suddenly stood up in his pe_nder the gallery. He sat down again at once, but everybody in view had see_im, and that night folks in all the length and breadth of Grafton Rive_iscussed the dramatic occurrence with keen enjoyment.
"Yes, he jumped right up as if he was pulled on his feet, while the ministe_as reading the chapter," said his cousin, Lorella Speed, who had been i_hurch, to her sister, who had not. "His face was as white as a sheet, and hi_yes were just glaring out of his head. I never felt so thrilled, I declare! _lmost expected him to fly at them then and there. But he just gave a sort o_asp and set down again. I don't know whether Theodora Dix saw him or not. Sh_ooked as cool and unconcerned as you please."
Theodora had not seen Ludovic, but if she looked cool and unconcerned, he_ppearance belied her, for she felt miserably flustered. She could not preven_rnold Sherman coming to church with her, but it seemed to her like going to_ar. People did not go to church and sit together in Grafton unless they wer_he next thing to being engaged. What if this filled Ludovic with the narcoti_f despair instead of wakening him up! She sat through the service in miser_nd heard not one word of the sermon.
But Ludovic's spectacular performances were not yet over. The Speeds might b_ard to get started, but once they were started their momentum wa_rresistible. When Theodora and Mr. Sherman came out, Ludovic was waiting o_he steps. He stood up straight and stern, with his head thrown back and hi_houlders squared. There was open defiance in the look he cast on his rival, and masterfulness in the mere touch of the hand he laid on Theodora's arm.
"May I see you home, Miss Dix?" his words said. His tone said, "I am going t_ee you home whether or no."
Theodora, with a deprecating look at Arnold Sherman, took his arm, and Ludovi_arched her across the green amid a silence which the very horses tied to th_torm fence seemed to share. For Ludovic 'twas a crowded hour of gloriou_ife.
Anne walked all the way over from Avonlea the next day to hear the news.
Theodora smiled consciously.
"Yes, it is really settled at last, Anne. Coming home last night Ludovic aske_e plump and plain to marry him,—Sunday and all as it was. It's to be righ_way—for Ludovic won't be put off a week longer than necessary."
"So Ludovic Speed has been hurried up to some purpose at last," said Mr.
Sherman, when Anne called in at Echo Lodge, brimful with her news. "And yo_re delighted, of course, and my poor pride must be the scapegoat. I shal_lways be remembered in Grafton as the man from Boston who wanted Theodora Di_nd couldn't get her."
"But that won't be true, you know," said Anne comfortingly.
Arnold Sherman thought of Theodora's ripe beauty, and the mello_ompanionableness she had revealed in their brief intercourse.
"I'm not perfectly sure of that," he said, with a half sigh.