Chapter 18: Spring Days
The ice in the harbor grew black and rotten in the March suns; in April there were blue waters and a windy, white-capped gulf again; and again the Four Winds light begemmed the twilights.
"I'm so glad to see it once more," said Anne, on the first evening of its reappearance. "I've missed it so all winter. The northwestern sky has seemed blank and lonely without it."
The land was tender with brand-new, golden-green, baby leaves. There was an emerald mist on the woods beyond the Glen. The seaward valleys were full of fairy mists at dawn.
Vibrant winds came and went with salt foam in their breath. The sea laughed and flashed and preened and allured, like a beautiful, coquettish woman. The herring schooled and the fishing village woke to life. The harbor was alive with white sails making for the channel. The ships began to sail outward and inward again.
"On a spring day like this," said Anne, "I know exactly what my soul will feel like on the resurrection morning."
"There are times in spring when I sorter feel that I might have been a poet if I'd been caught young," remarked Captain Jim. "I catch myself conning over old lines and verses I heard the schoolmaster reciting sixty years ago. They don't trouble me at other times. Now I feel as if I had to get out on the rocks or the fields or the water and spout them."
Captain Jim had come up that afternoon to bring Anne a load of shells for her garden, and a little bunch of sweet-grass which he had found in a ramble over the sand dunes.
"It's getting real scarce along this shore now," he said. "When I was a boy there was a-plenty of it. But now it's only once in a while you'll find a plot--and never when you're looking for it. You jest have to stumble on it--you're walking along on the sand hills, never thinking of sweet-grass--and all at once the air is full of sweetness-- and there's the grass under your feet. I favor the smell of sweet-grass. It always makes me think of my mother."
"She was fond of it?" asked Anne.
"Not that I knows on. Dunno's she ever saw any sweet-grass. No, it's because it has a kind of motherly perfume--not too young, you understand--something kind of seasoned and wholesome and dependable--jest like a mother. The schoolmaster's bride always kept it among her handkerchiefs. You might put that little bunch among yours, Mistress Blythe. I don't like these boughten scents-- but a whiff of sweet-grass belongs anywhere a lady does."
Anne had not been especially enthusiastic over the idea of surrounding her flower beds with quahog shells; as a decoration they did not appeal to her on first thought. But she would not have hurt Captain Jim's feelings for anything; so she assumed a virtue she did not at first feel, and thanked him heartily. And when Captain Jim had proudly encircled every bed with a rim of the big, milk-white shells, Anne found to her surprise that she liked the effect. On a town lawn, or even up at the Glen, they would not have been in keeping, but here, in the old-fashioned, sea-bound garden of the little house of dreams, they BELONGED.
"They DO look nice," she said sincerely.
"The schoolmaster's bride always had cowhawks round her beds," said Captain Jim. "She was a master hand with flowers. She LOOKED at 'em--and touched 'em--SO--and they grew like mad. Some folks have that knack--I reckon you have it, too, Mistress Blythe."
"Oh, I don't know--but I love my garden, and I love working in it. To potter with green, growing things, watching each day to see the dear, new sprouts come up, is like taking a hand in creation, I think. Just now my garden is like faith--the substance of things hoped for. But bide a wee."
"It always amazes me to look at the little, wrinkled brown seeds and think of the rainbows in 'em," said Captain Jim. "When I ponder on them seeds I don't find it nowise hard to believe that we've got souls that'll live in other worlds. You couldn't hardly believe there was life in them tiny things, some no bigger than grains of dust, let alone color and scent, if you hadn't seen the miracle, could you?"
Anne, who was counting her days like silver beads on a rosary, could not now take the long walk to the lighthouse or up the Glen road. But Miss Cornelia and Captain Jim came very often to the little house. Miss Cornelia was the joy of Anne's and Gilbert's existence. They laughed side-splittingly over her speeches after every visit. When Captain Jim and she happened to visit the little house at the same time there was much sport for the listening. They waged wordy warfare, she attacking, he defending. Anne once reproached the Captain for his baiting of Miss Cornelia.
"Oh, I do love to set her going, Mistress Blythe," chuckled the unrepentant sinner. "It's the greatest amusement I have in life. That tongue of hers would blister a stone. And you and that young dog of a doctor enj'y listening to her as much as I do."
Captain Jim came along another evening to bring Anne some mayflowers. The garden was full of the moist, scented air of a maritime spring evening. There was a milk-white mist on the edge of the sea, with a young moon kissing it, and a silver gladness of stars over the Glen. The bell of the church across the harbor was ringing dreamily sweet. The mellow chime drifted through the dusk to mingle with the soft spring-moan of the sea. Captain Jim's mayflowers added the last completing touch to the charm of the night.
"I haven't seen any this spring, and I've missed them," said Anne, burying her face in them.
"They ain't to be found around Four Winds, only in the barrens away behind the Glen up yander. I took a little trip today to the Land-of-nothing-to-do, and hunted these up for you. I reckon they're the last you'll see this spring, for they're nearly done."
"How kind and thoughtful you are, Captain Jim. Nobody else-- not even Gilbert"--with a shake of her head at him--"remembered that I always long for mayflowers in spring."
"Well, I had another errand, too--I wanted to take Mr. Howard back yander a mess of trout. He likes one occasional, and it's all I can do for a kindness he did me once. I stayed all the afternoon and talked to him. He likes to talk to me, though he's a highly eddicated man and I'm only an ignorant old sailor, because he's one of the folks that's GOT to talk or they're miserable, and he finds listeners scarce around here. The Glen folks fight shy of him because they think he's an infidel. He ain't that far gone exactly--few men is, I reckon--but he's what you might call a heretic. Heretics are wicked, but they're mighty int'resting. It's jest that they've got sorter lost looking for God, being under the impression that He's hard to find--which He ain't never. Most of 'em blunder to Him after awhile, I guess. I don't think listening to Mr. Howard's arguments is likely to do me much harm. Mind you, I believe what I was brought up to believe. It saves a vast of bother--and back of it all, God is good. The trouble with Mr. Howard is that he's a leetle TOO clever. He thinks that he's bound to live up to his cleverness, and that it's smarter to thrash out some new way of getting to heaven than to go by the old track the common, ignorant folks is travelling. But he'll get there sometime all right, and then he'll laugh at himself."
"Mr. Howard was a Methodist to begin with," said Miss Cornelia, as if she thought he had not far to go from that to heresy.
"Do you know, Cornelia," said Captain Jim gravely, "I've often thought that if I wasn't a Presbyterian I'd be a Methodist."
"Oh, well," conceded Miss Cornelia, "if you weren't a Presbyterian it wouldn't matter much what you were. Speaking of heresy, reminds me, doctor--I've brought back that book you lent me--that Natural Law in the Spiritual World--I didn't read more'n a third of it. I can read sense, and I can read nonsense, but that book is neither the one nor the other."
"It IS considered rather heretical in some quarters," admitted Gilbert, "but I told you that before you took it, Miss Cornelia."
"Oh, I wouldn't have minded its being heretical. I can stand wickedness, but I can't stand foolishness," said Miss Cornelia calmly, and with the air of having said the last thing there was to say about Natural Law.
"Speaking of books, A Mad Love come to an end at last two weeks ago," remarked Captain Jim musingly. "It run to one hundred and three chapters. When they got married the book stopped right off, so I reckon their troubles were all over. It's real nice that that's the way in books anyhow, isn't it, even if 'tistn't so anywhere else?"
"I never read novels," said Miss Cornelia. "Did you hear how Geordie Russell was today, Captain Jim?"
"Yes, I called in on my way home to see him. He's getting round all right--but stewing in a broth of trouble, as usual, poor man.
'Course he brews up most of it for himself, but I reckon that don't make it any easier to bear."
"He's an awful pessimist," said Miss Cornelia.
"Well, no, he ain't a pessimist exactly, Cornelia. He only jest never finds anything that suits him."
"And isn't that a pessimist?"
"No, no. A pessimist is one who never expects to find anything to suit him. Geordie hain't got THAT far yet."
"You'd find something good to say of the devil himself, Jim Boyd."
"Well, you've heard the story of the old lady who said he was persevering. But no, Cornelia, I've nothing good to say of the devil."
"Do you believe in him at all?" asked Miss Cornelia seriously.
"How can you ask that when you know what a good Presbyterian I am, Cornelia? How could a Presbyterian get along without a devil?"
"DO you?" persisted Miss Cornelia.
Captain Jim suddenly became grave.
"I believe in what I heard a minister once call `a mighty and malignant and INTELLIGENT power of evil working in the universe,'" he said solemnly. "I do THAT, Cornelia. You can call it the devil, or the
`principle of evil,' or the Old Scratch, or any name you like. It's THERE, and all the infidels and heretics in the world can't argue it away, any more'n they can argue God away. It's there, and it's working. But, mind you, Cornelia, I believe it's going to get the worst of it in the long run."
"I am sure I hope so," said Miss Cornelia, none too hopefully. "But speaking of the devil, I am positive that Billy Booth is possessed by him now. Have you heard of Billy's latest performance?"
"No, what was that?"
"He's gone and burned up his wife's new, brown broadcloth suit, that she paid twenty-five dollars for in Charlottetown, because he declares the men looked too admiring at her when she wore it to church the first time. Wasn't that like a man?"
"Mistress Booth IS mighty pretty, and brown's her color," said Captain Jim reflectively.
"Is that any good reason why he should poke her new suit into the kitchen stove? Billy Booth is a jealous fool, and he makes his wife's life miserable. She's cried all the week about her suit. Oh, Anne, I wish I could write like you, believe ME. Wouldn't I score some of the men round here!"
"Those Booths are all a mite queer," said Captain Jim. "Billy seemed the sanest of the lot till he got married and then this queer jealous streak cropped out in him. His brother Daniel, now, was always odd."
"Took tantrums every few days or so and wouldn't get out of bed," said Miss Cornelia with a relish. "His wife would have to do all the barn work till he got over his spell. When he died people wrote her letters of condolence; if I'd written anything it would have been one of congratulation. Their father, old Abram Booth, was a disgusting old sot. He was drunk at his wife's funeral, and kept reeling round and hiccuping `I didn't dri--i--i--nk much but I feel a--a-- awfully que--e--e--r.' I gave him a good jab in the back with my umbrella when he came near me, and it sobered him up until they got the casket out of the house. Young Johnny Booth was to have been married yesterday, but he couldn't be because he's gone and got the mumps. Wasn't that like a man?"
"How could he help getting the mumps, poor fellow?"
"I'd poor fellow him, believe ME, if I was Kate Sterns. I don't know how he could help getting the mumps, but I DO know the wedding supper was all prepared and everything will be spoiled before he's well again. Such a waste! He should have had the mumps when he was a boy."
"Come, come, Cornelia, don't you think you're a mite unreasonable?"
Miss Cornelia disdained to reply and turned instead to Susan Baker, a grim-faced, kind-hearted elderly spinster of the Glen, who had been installed as maid-of-all-work at the little house for some weeks. Susan had been up to the Glen to make a sick call, and had just returned.
"How is poor old Aunt Mandy tonight?" asked Miss Cornelia.
"Very poorly--very poorly, Cornelia. I am afraid she will soon be in heaven, poor thing!"
"Oh, surely, it's not so bad as that!" exclaimed Miss Cornelia, sympathetically .
Captain Jim and Gilbert looked at each other. Then they suddenly rose and went out.
"There are times," said Captain Jim, between spasms, "when it would be a sin NOT to laugh. Them two excellent women!"Next