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Chapter 4 The Manse Children

  • Aunt Martha might be, and was, a very poor housekeeper; the Rev. John Kno_eredith might be, and was, a very absent-minded, indulgent man. But it coul_ot be denied that there was something very homelike and lovable about th_len St. Mary manse in spite of its untidiness. Even the critical housewive_f the Glen felt it, and were unconsciously mellowed in judgment because o_t. Perhaps its charm was in part due to accidental circumstances—th_uxuriant vines clustering over its gray, clap-boarded walls, the friendl_cacias and balm-of-gileads that crowded about it with the freedom of ol_cquaintance, and the beautiful views of harbour and sand-dunes from its fron_indows. But these things had been there in the reign of Mr. Meredith'_redecessor, when the manse had been the primmest, neatest, and drearies_ouse in the Glen. So much of the credit must be given to the personality o_ts new inmates. There was an atmosphere of laughter and comradeship about it;
  • the doors were always open; and inner and outer worlds joined hands. Love wa_he only law in Glen St. Mary manse.
  • The people of his congregation said that Mr. Meredith spoiled his children.
  • Very likely he did. It is certain that he could not bear to scold them. "The_ave no mother," he used to say to himself, with a sigh, when some unusuall_laring peccadillo forced itself upon his notice. But he did not know the hal_f their goings-on. He belonged to the sect of dreamers. The windows of hi_tudy looked out on the graveyard but, as he paced up and down the room,
  • reflecting deeply on the immortality of the soul, he was quite unaware tha_erry and Carl were playing leap-frog hilariously over the flat stones in tha_bode of dead Methodists. Mr. Meredith had occasional acute realizations tha_is children were not so well looked after, physically or morally, as they ha_een before his wife died, and he had always a dim sub-consciousness tha_ouse and meals were very different under Aunt Martha's management from wha_hey had been under Cecilia's. For the rest, he lived in a world of books an_bstractions; and, therefore, although his clothes were seldom brushed, an_lthough the Glen housewives concluded, from the ivory-like pallor of hi_lear-cut features and slender hands, that he never got enough to eat, he wa_ot an unhappy man.
  • If ever a graveyard could be called a cheerful place, the old Methodis_raveyard at Glen St. Mary might be so called. The new graveyard, at the othe_ide of the Methodist church, was a neat and proper and doleful spot; but th_ld one had been left so long to Nature's kindly and gracious ministries tha_t had become very pleasant.
  • It was surrounded on three sides by a dyke of stones and sod, topped by _ray and uncertain paling. Outside the dyke grew a row of tall fir trees wit_hick, balsamic boughs. The dyke, which had been built by the first settler_f the Glen, was old enough to be beautiful, with mosses and green thing_rowing out of its crevices, violets purpling at its base in the early sprin_ays, and asters and golden-rod making an autumnal glory in its corners.
  • Little ferns clustered companionably between its stones, and here and there _ig bracken grew.
  • On the eastern side there was neither fence nor dyke. The graveyard ther_traggled off into a young fir plantation, ever pushing nearer to the grave_nd deepening eastward into a thick wood. The air was always full of the harp-
  • like voices of the sea, and the music of gray old trees, and in the sprin_ornings the choruses of birds in the elms around the two churches sang o_ife and not of death. The Meredith children loved the old graveyard.
  • Blue-eyed ivy, "garden-spruce," and mint ran riot over the sunken graves.
  • Blueberry bushes grew lavishly in the sandy corner next to the fir wood. Th_arying fashions of tombstones for three generations were to be found there,
  • from the flat, oblong, red sandstone slabs of old settlers, down through th_ays of weeping willows and clasped hands, to the latest monstrosities of tall
  • "monuments" and draped urns. One of the latter, the biggest and ugliest in th_raveyard, was sacred to the memory of a certain Alec Davis who had been bor_ Methodist but had taken to himself a Presbyterian bride of the Douglas clan.
  • She had made him turn Presbyterian and kept him toeing the Presbyterian mar_ll his life. But when he died she did not dare to doom him to a lonely grav_n the Presbyterian graveyard over-harbour. His people were all buried in th_ethodist cemetery; so Alec Davis went back to his own in death and his wido_onsoled herself by erecting a monument which cost more than any of th_ethodists could afford. The Meredith children hated it, without just knowin_hy, but they loved the old, flat, bench-like stones with the tall grasse_rowing rankly about them. They made jolly seats for one thing. They were al_itting on one now. Jerry, tired of leap frog, was playing on a jew's-harp.
  • Carl was lovingly poring over a strange beetle he had found; Una was trying t_ake a doll's dress, and Faith, leaning back on her slender brown wrists, wa_winging her bare feet in lively time to the jew's-harp.
  • Jerry had his father's black hair and large black eyes, but in him th_atter were flashing instead of dreamy. Faith, who came next to him, wore he_eauty like a rose, careless and glowing. She had golden-brown eyes, golden-
  • brown curls and crimson cheeks. She laughed too much to please her father'_ongregation and had shocked old Mrs. Taylor, the disconsolate spouse o_everal departed husbands, by saucily declaring—in the church-porch a_hat—"The world ISN'T a vale of tears, Mrs. Taylor. It's a world of laughter."
  • Little dreamy Una was not given to laughter. Her braids of straight, dead-
  • black hair betrayed no lawless kinks, and her almond-shaped, dark-blue eye_ad something wistful and sorrowful in them. Her mouth had a trick of fallin_pen over her tiny white teeth, and a shy, meditative smile occasionally crep_ver her small face. She was much more sensitive to public opinion than Faith,
  • and had an uneasy consciousness that there was something askew in their way o_iving. She longed to put it right, but did not know how. Now and then sh_usted the furniture—but it was so seldom she could find the duster because i_as never in the same place twice. And when the clothes-brush was to be foun_he tried to brush her father's best suit on Saturdays, and once sewed on _issing button with coarse white thread. When Mr. Meredith went to church nex_ay every female eye saw that button and the peace of the Ladies' Aid wa_pset for weeks.
  • Carl had the clear, bright, dark-blue eyes, fearless and direct, of hi_ead mother, and her brown hair with its glints of gold. He knew the secret_f bugs and had a sort of freemasonry with bees and beetles. Una never like_o sit near him because she never knew what uncanny creature might be secrete_bout him. Jerry refused to sleep with him because Carl had once taken a youn_arter snake to bed with him; so Carl slept in his old cot, which was so shor_hat he could never stretch out, and had strange bed-fellows. Perhaps it wa_ust as well that Aunt Martha was half blind when she made that bed.
  • Altogether they were a jolly, lovable little crew, and Cecilia Meredith'_eart must have ached bitterly when she faced the knowledge that she mus_eave them.
  • "Where would you like to be buried if you were a Methodist?" asked Fait_heerfully.
  • This opened up an interesting field of speculation.
  • "There isn't much choice. The place is full," said Jerry. "I'D like tha_orner near the road, I guess. I could hear the teams going past and th_eople talking."
  • "I'd like that little hollow under the weeping birch," said Una. "Tha_irch is such a place for birds and they sing like mad in the mornings."
  • "I'd take the Porter lot where there's so many children buried. I like lot_f company," said Faith. "Carl, where'd you?"
  • "I'd rather not be buried at all," said Carl, "but if I had to be I'd lik_he ant-bed. Ants are AWF'LY int'resting."
  • "How very good all the people who are buried here must have been," sai_na, who had been reading the laudatory old epitaphs. "There doesn't seem t_e a single bad person in the whole graveyard. Methodists must be better tha_resbyterians after all."
  • "Maybe the Methodists bury their bad people just like they do cats,"
  • suggested Carl. "Maybe they don't bother bringing them to the graveyard a_ll."
  • "Nonsense," said Faith. "The people that are buried here weren't any bette_han other folks, Una. But when anyone is dead you mustn't say anything of hi_ut good or he'll come back and ha'nt you. Aunt Martha told me that. I aske_ather if it was true and he just looked through me and muttered, 'True? True?
  • What is truth? What IS truth, O jesting Pilate?' I concluded from that it mus_e true."
  • "I wonder if Mr. Alec Davis would come back and ha'nt me if I threw a ston_t the urn on top of his tombstone," said Jerry.
  • "Mrs. Davis would," giggled Faith. "She just watches us in church like _at watching mice. Last Sunday I made a face at her nephew and he made on_ack at me and you should have seen her glare. I'll bet she boxed HIS ear_hen they got out. Mrs. Marshall Elliott told me we mustn't offend her on an_ccount or I'd have made a face at her, too!"
  • "They say Jem Blythe stuck out his tongue at her once and she would neve_ave his father again, even when her husband was dying," said Jerry. "I wonde_hat the Blythe gang will be like."
  • "I liked their looks," said Faith. The manse children had been at th_tation that afternoon when the Blythe small fry had arrived. "I liked Jem'_ooks ESPECIALLY."
  • "They say in school that Walter's a sissy," said Jerry.
  • "I don't believe it," said Una, who had thought Walter very handsome.
  • "Well, he writes poetry, anyhow. He won the prize the teacher offered las_ear for writing a poem, Bertie Shakespeare Drew told me. Bertie's mothe_hought HE should have got the prize because of his name, but Bertie said h_ouldn't write poetry to save his soul, name or no name."
  • "I suppose we'll get acquainted with them as soon as they begin going t_chool," mused Faith. "I hope the girls are nice. I don't like most of th_irls round here. Even the nice ones are poky. But the Blythe twins loo_olly. I thought twins always looked alike, but they don't. I think the red-
  • haired one is the nicest."
  • "I liked their mother's looks," said Una with a little sigh. Una envied al_hildren their mothers. She had been only six when her mother died, but sh_ad some very precious memories, treasured in her soul like jewels, o_wilight cuddlings and morning frolics, of loving eyes, a tender voice, an_he sweetest, gayest laugh.
  • "They say she isn't like other people," said Jerry.
  • "Mrs. Elliot says that is because she never really grew up," said Faith.
  • "She's taller than Mrs. Elliott."
  • "Yes, yes, but it is inside—Mrs. Elliot says Mrs. Blythe just stayed _ittle girl inside."
  • "What do I smell?" interrupted Carl, sniffing.
  • They all smelled it now. A most delectable odour came floating up on th_till evening air from the direction of the little woodsy dell below the mans_ill.
  • "That makes me hungry," said Jerry.
  • "We had only bread and molasses for supper and cold ditto for dinner," sai_na plaintively.
  • Aunt Martha's habit was to boil a large slab of mutton early in the wee_nd serve it up every day, cold and greasy, as long as it lasted. To thi_aith, in a moment of inspiration, had give the name of "ditto", and by thi_t was invariably known at the manse.
  • "Let's go and see where that smell is coming from," said Jerry.
  • They all sprang up, frolicked over the lawn with the abandon of youn_uppies, climbed a fence, and tore down the mossy slope, guided by the savor_ure that ever grew stronger. A few minutes later they arrived breathlessly i_he sanctum sanctorum of Rainbow Valley where the Blythe children were jus_bout to give thanks and eat.
  • They halted shyly. Una wished they had not been so precipitate: but D_lythe was equal to that and any occasion. She stepped forward, with _omrade's smile.
  • "I guess I know who you are," she said. "You belong to the manse, don'_ou?"
  • Faith nodded, her face creased by dimples.
  • "We smelled your trout cooking and wondered what it was."
  • "You must sit down and help us eat them," said Di.
  • "Maybe you haven't more than you want yourselves," said Jerry, lookin_ungrily at the tin platter.
  • "We've heaps—three apiece," said Jem. "Sit down."
  • No more ceremony was necessary. Down they all sat on mossy stones. Merr_as that feast and long. Nan and Di would probably have died of horror ha_hey known what Faith and Una knew perfectly well—that Carl had two young mic_n his jacket pocket. But they never knew it, so it never hurt them. Where ca_olks get better acquainted than over a meal table? When the last trout ha_anished, the manse children and the Ingleside children were sworn friends an_llies. They had always known each other and always would. The race of Josep_ecognized its own.
  • They poured out the history of their little pasts. The manse children hear_f Avonlea and Green Gables, of Rainbow Valley traditions, and of the littl_ouse by the harbour shore where Jem had been born. The Ingleside childre_eard of Maywater, where the Merediths had lived before coming to the Glen, o_na's beloved, one-eyed doll and Faith's pet rooster.
  • Faith was inclined to resent the fact that people laughed at her fo_etting a rooster. She liked the Blythes because they accepted it withou_uestion.
  • "A handsome rooster like Adam is just as nice a pet as a dog or cat, _hink," she said. "If he was a canary nobody would wonder. And I brought hi_p from a little, wee, yellow chicken. Mrs. Johnson at Maywater gave him t_e. A weasel had killed all his brothers and sisters. I called him after he_usband. I never liked dolls or cats. Cats are too sneaky and dolls are DEAD."
  • "Who lives in that house away up there?" asked Jerry.
  • "The Miss Wests—Rosemary and Ellen," answered Nan. "Di and I are going t_ake music lessons from Miss Rosemary this summer."
  • Una gazed at the lucky twins with eyes whose longing was too gentle fo_nvy. Oh, if she could only have music lessons! It was one of the dreams o_er little hidden life. But nobody ever thought of such a thing.
  • "Miss Rosemary is so sweet and she always dresses so pretty," said Di. "He_air is just the colour of new molasses taffy," she added wistfully—for Di,
  • like her mother before her, was not resigned to her own ruddy tresses.
  • "I like Miss Ellen, too," said Nan. "She always used to give me candie_hen she came to church. But Di is afraid of her."
  • "Her brows are so black and she has such a great deep voice," said Di. "Oh,
  • how scared of her Kenneth Ford used to be when he was little! Mother says th_irst Sunday Mrs. Ford brought him to church Miss Ellen happened to be there,
  • sitting right behind them. And the minute Kenneth saw her he just screamed an_creamed until Mrs. Ford had to carry him out."
  • "Who is Mrs. Ford?" asked Una wonderingly.
  • "Oh, the Fords don't live here. They only come here in the summer. An_hey're not coming this summer. They live in that little house 'way, 'way dow_n the harbour shore where father and mother used to lie. I wish you could se_ersis Ford. She is just like a picture."
  • "I've heard of Mrs. Ford," broke in Faith. "Bertie Shakespeare Drew told m_bout her. She was married fourteen years to a dead man and then he came t_ife."
  • "Nonsense," said Nan. "That isn't the way it goes at all. Berti_hakespeare can never get anything straight. I know the whole story and I'l_ell it to you some time, but not now, for it's too long and it's time for u_o go home. Mother doesn't like us to be out late these damp evenings."
  • Nobody cared whether the manse children were out in the damp or not. Aun_artha was already in bed and the minister was still too deeply lost i_peculations concerning the immortality of the soul to remember the mortalit_f the body. But they went home, too, with visions of good times coming i_heir heads.
  • "I think Rainbow Valley is even nicer than the graveyard," said Una. "And _ust love those dear Blythes. It's SO nice when you can love people because s_ften you CAN'T. Father said in his sermon last Sunday that we should lov_verybody. But how can we? How could we love Mrs. Alec Davis?"
  • "Oh, father only said that in the pulpit," said Faith airily. "He has mor_ense than to really think it outside."
  • The Blythe children went up to Ingleside, except Jem, who slipped away fo_ few moments on a solitary expedition to a remote corner of Rainbow Valley.
  • Mayflowers grew there and Jem never forgot to take his mother a bouquet a_ong as they lasted.