Jane of Lantern Hill-7

27

 August slipped into September.  Jimmy John began to summer fallow the big pasture field below the pond.  Jane liked the look of the fresh red furrows.  And she liked Mrs Jimmy John's flock of white geese swimming about the pond.  There had been a time when Jane had kept a flock of white swans on a purple lake in the moon, but now she preferred the geese.  Day by day the wheat-and oat-fields became more golden.  Then Step-a-yard mowed the Jimmy John wheat. The Peters grew so fat catching evicted field-mice that dad told Jane she would really have to put them on a slimming diet.

Summer was ended.  A big storm marked the ending, preceded by a week of curiously still weather.  Step-a-yard shook his head and didn't like it.  Something uncommon was brewing, he said.

The weather all summer had behaved itself well . . . days of sun and days of friendly rain.  Jane had heard of the north shore storms and wanted to see one.  She got her wish with a vengeance.

One day the gulf changed sulkily from blue to grey.  The hills were clear and sharp, foretelling rain.  The sky to the north-east was black, the clouds were dark with bitter wind.

"Lots of int'resting weather coming . . . don't hold me responsible for it," warned Step-a-yard when Jane started home from the Jimmy Johns'.  She literally blew along the path and felt that if Lantern Hill hadn't stood in the way she might have emulated Little Aunt Em's reputed exploit of blowing over the harbour.  There was a wild, strange, hostile look all over the world.  The very trees seemed strangers in the oncoming storm.

"Shut the doors and windows tight, Jane," said dad.  "Our house will just laugh at the east wind."

The storm broke presently and lasted for two days.  The wind that night didn't sound like wind at all . . . it sounded like the roar of a wild beast.  For two days you could see nothing but a swirl of grey rain over a greyer sea . . . hear nothing but the tremendous music of huge breakers booming against the stubborn rocks of lower Queen's Shore.  Jane liked it all after she got used to it. Something in her thrilled to it.  And they were very cosy, sitting before their fire of white birchwood those wild nights, while the rain poured against the window and the wind roared and the gulf thundered.

"This is something like, Jane," said dad puffing at the Old Contemptible with a Peter on either shoulder.  "Mankind must have its hearth-fire after all.  It's a cold life warming yourself before other people's stoves."

And then he told Jane that he had decided to keep on living at Lantern Hill.

Jane gave a gasp of joy and relief.  At first it had been vaguely understood that when Jane went dad would shut up Lantern Hill and go to town for the winter; and Jane had consequently been cumbered with certain worries.

What would become of her windowful of geraniums?  The Jimmy Johns had enough of their own to look after.  Dad would take Happy with him but what about the Peters?  And the house itself . . . the thought of its unlighted windows was unbearable.  It would be so lonely . . . so deserted.

"Oh, dad, I'm so glad . . . I couldn't bear to think of it missing us.  But won't you . . . how about your meals?"

"Oh, I can get up a bite for myself, I daresay."

"I'm going to teach you to fry a steak and boil potatoes before I go," said Jane resolutely.  "You can't starve then."

"Jane, you'll beat your husband . . . I know you will.  It is no use trying to teach me to cook.  Remember our first porridge.  I daresay the Jimmy Johns won't see me starve.  I'll arrange for one good meal a day there.  Yes, I'm staying on here, Jane.  I'll keep the heart of Lantern Hill beating for you.  I'll water the geraniums and see that the Peters don't get rheumatism in their legs.  But I can't imagine what the place will be like without you. . . ."

"You WILL miss me a little, won't you, dad?"

"A little!  My Jane is trying to be humorous.  But one consolation is that I'll likely get a little real work done on my Methuselah epic.  I won't have so many interruptions.  And I'll be able to growl without getting dirty looks."

"You may just have one growl a day," grinned Jane.  "Oh, I'm so glad I made lots of jam.  The pantry is full of it."

It was the next night dad showed her the letters.  He was at his desk with Second Peter snoozing at his feet when Jane went in after washing the supper dishes.  He was leaning his head on his hand and Jane thought with a sudden pang that he looked old and tired.  The cat with the green spots and the diamond eyes was winking at him.

"Where did you get that cat, dad?"

"Your mother gave it to me . . . for a joke . . . before we were married.  We saw it in a shop-window and were taken by the weirdness of it.  And here . . . here are some letters I wrote her, Jane . . . one week she and her mother went over to Halifax.  I found them to-night when I was cleaning out a drawer.  I've been laughing at myself . . . the bitterest kind of laughter in the world.  You'll laugh, too, Jane.  Listen . . .  'To-day I tried to write a poem to you, Robin, but it is not finished because I could not find words fine enough, as a lover could not find raiment dainty enough for his bride.  The old words that other men have used in singing to their loves seemed too worn and common for you. I wanted new words, crystal clear or coloured only by the iris of light.  Not words that have been stamped and stained with all the hues of other men's thoughts' . . . wasn't I a sentimental fool, Jane? . . . 'I watched the new moon to-night, Robin.  You told me you always watched the new moon set.  It has been a bond between us ever since. . . .  Oh, how dear and human and girlish and queenly you are . . . half saint and half very womanly woman. . . .  It is so sweet to do something for one we love, even if it be only opening a door for her to pass through or handing her a book. . . . You are like a rose, my Robin . . . like a white tea-rose by moonlight. . . ."

"I wonder if any one will ever compare me to a rose," thought Jane. It didn't seem likely.  She couldn't think of any flower she resembled.

"She didn't care enough about those letters to take them with her, Jane.  After she went away I found them in the drawer of the little desk I had given her."

"But she didn't know she wasn't coming back then, dad."

Second Peter snarled as if he had been pushed aside by a foot.

"Didn't she?  I think she did."

"I'm sure she didn't."  Jane was sure, though she couldn't have given any reason for her sureness.  "Let me take them back to her."

"No!"  Dad brought his hand down so heavily on his desk that he hurt himself and winced.  "I'm going to burn them."

"Oh, no, no."  Somehow Jane couldn't bear to think of those letters being burned.  "Give them to me, dad.  I won't take them to Toronto . . . I'll leave them in my table drawer . . . but please don't burn them."

"Well!"  Dad pushed the letters over to her and picked up a pen, as if dismissing the subject of the letters and her at the same time. Jane went out slowly, looking back at him.  How she loved him . . . she loved even his shadow on the wall . . . his lovely clear-cut shadow.  How could mother ever have left him?

The storm spent itself that night with a wild red sunset and a still wilder north-west wind . . . the wind of fine weather.  The beach was still a maelstrom of foam the next day and the shadows of wild black clouds kept tearing over the sands, but the rain had ceased and the sun shone between the clouds.  The harvest fields were drenched and tangled, the ground in the Jimmy John orchard was covered with apples . . . and the summer was ended.  There was an indefinable change over everything that meant autumn.

 

28

 Those last few days were compounded of happiness and misery for Jane.  She did so many things she loved to do and would not do again until next summer . . . and next summer seemed a hundred years away.  It was funny.  She hadn't wanted to come and now she didn't want to go.  She cleaned everything up and washed every dish in the house and polished all the silver and scoured Mr Muffet and Company till their faces shone.  She felt lonely and left out when she heard the Jimmy Johns and the Snowbeams talking about the cranberrying in October, and when dad said, "I wish you could see those maples over yonder against that spruce hill in two weeks' time," and she realized that in two weeks' time there would be a thousand miles between them . . . well, it seemed to her that she just couldn't bear it.

Aunt Irene came out one day when Jane was house-cleaning furiously.

"Aren't you tired of playing at housekeeping yet, lovey?"

But that true Aunt Irenian touch could not disturb Jane.

"I'm coming back next summer," said Jane triumphantly.

Aunt Irene sighed.

"I suppose that would be nice . . . in some ways.  But so many things may happen before then.  It's a whim of your father's to live here now, but we don't know when he'll take another.  Still, we can always hope for the best, can't we, lovey?"

The last day came.  Jane packed her trunk, not forgetting a jar of very special wild-strawberry jam she was taking home to mother and two dozen russet apples Polly Snowbeam had given her for her own and Jody's consumption.  Polly knew all about Jody and sent her her love.

They had a chicken dinner--the Ella twin and the George twin had brought the birds over with Miranda's compliments, and Jane wondered when she would have a slice off the breast again.  In the afternoon she went down alone to say good-bye to the shore.  She could hardly bear the loneliness of the waves lapping on the beach. The sound and the tang and the sweep of the sea would not let her go.  She knew the fields and the windy golden shore were a part of her.  She and her Island understood each other.

"I belong here," said Jane.

"Come back soon.  P. E. Island needs you," said Timothy Salt, offering her the quarter of an apple on the point of his knife. "You will," he added.  "The Island's got into your blood.  It does that to some folks."

Jane and dad had expected a last quiet evening together but instead there was a surprise party.  All Jane's particular friends, old and young, came, even Mary Millicent who sat in a corner all the evening, staring at Jane, and never spoke a word.  Step-a-yard came and Timothy Salt and Min and Min's ma and Ding-dong Bell and the Big Donalds and the Little Donalds and people from the Corners that Jane didn't know knew her.

Every one brought her a farewell gift.  The Snowbeams clubbed together and brought her a white plaster of Paris plaque to hang on her bedroom wall.  It cost twenty-five cents and had a picture of Moses and Aaron on it in blue turbans and red gowns . . . and Jane saw grandmother looking at it!  Little Aunt Em could not come but she sent word to Jane Stuart that she would save some hollyhock seeds for her.  They had a very gay evening, although all the girls cried after they had sung, "For she's a jolly good fellow." Shingle Snowbeam cried so much into the tea towel with which she was helping Polly to dry the dishes that Jane had to get a dry one out.

Jane did not cry but she was thinking, "It's the last good time I'll have for ages.  And everybody has been so lovely to me."

"You don't know how much I'm feeling this, Jane, right here in my heart," said Step-a-yard patting his stomach.

Dad and Jane sat up a little while after the folks had gone.

"They love you here, Jane."

"Polly and Shingle and Min are going to write to me every week," said Jane.

"You'll get the news of the Hill and the Corners then," said dad gently.  "You know I can't write to you, Jane . . . not while you're living in that house."

"And grandmother won't let me write to you," said Jane sadly.

"But as long as you know there's a dad and I know there's a Jane, it won't matter too much, will it?  I'll keep a diary, Jane, and you can read it when you come next summer.  It will be like getting a bundle of letters all at once.  And while we'll think of each other in general quite often, let's arrange one particular time for it.  Seven o'clock in the evening here is six in Toronto.  At seven o'clock every Saturday night I'll think of you and at six you think of me."

It was like dad to plan something like that.

"And, dad, will you sow some flower seeds for me next spring?  I won't be here in time to do it.  Nasturtiums and cosmos and phlox and marigolds . . . oh, Mrs Jimmy John will tell you what to get, and I'd like a little patch of vegetables, too."

"Consider it done, Queen Jane."

"And can I have a few hens next summer, dad?"

"Those hens are hatched already," said dad.

He squeezed her hand.

"We've had a good time, haven't we, Jane?"

"We've LAUGHED so much together," said Jane, thinking of 60 Gay where there was no laughter.  "You won't forget to send for me next spring, will you, dad?"

"No," was all dad said.  "No" is sometimes a horrible word but there are times when it is beautiful.

They had to get up early the next morning because dad was going to drive Jane to town to catch the boat train and meet a certain Mrs Wesley who was going to Toronto.  Jane thought she could travel very well by herself, but for once dad was adamant.

The morning sky was red with trees growing black against it.  The old moon was visible, like a new moon turned the wrong way, above the birches on Big Donald's hill.  It was still misty in the hollows.  Jane bade every room farewell and just before they left dad stopped the clock.

"We'll start it again when you come back, Janekin.  My watch will do me for the winter."

The purring Peters had to be said good-bye to but Happy went to town with them.  Aunt Irene was at the station and so was Lilian Morrow, the latter all perfume and waved hair.  Dad seemed glad to see her; he walked up and down the platform with her.  She called him "'Drew."  You could hear the apostrophe before it like a coo or a kiss.  Jane could have done very well without Miss Morrow to see her off.

Aunt Irene kissed her twice and cried.

"Remember you always have a friend in ME, lovey" . . . as if she thought Jane had no other.

"Don't look so woebegone, dear," smiled Lilian Morrow.  "Remember you're going home."

Home!  "Home is where the heart is."  Jane had heard or read that. And she knew she was leaving her heart on the Island with dad, to whom she presently said goodbye with all the anguish of all the good-byes that have ever been said in her voice.

Jane watched the red shores of the Island from the boat until they were only a dim blue line against the sky.  And now to be Victoria again!

When Jane went through the gates of the Toronto station, she heard a laugh she would have known anywhere.  There was only one such laugh in the world.  And there was mother, in a lovely new crimson velvet wrap with a white fur collar and underneath a dress of white chiffon embroidered with brilliants.  Jane knew this meant that mother was going out to dinner . . . and she knew grandmother had not allowed mother to break her engagement for the sake of spending Jane's first evening home with her.  But mother, smelling of violets, was holding her tight, laughing and crying.

"My dearest . . . my very own little girl.  You're home again.  Oh, darling, I've missed you so. . . .  I've missed you so."

Jane hugged mother fiercely . . . mother as beautiful as ever, her eyes as blue as ever, though, as Jane saw instantly, a little thinner than she had been in June.

"Are you glad to be back, darling?"

"So glad to be with you again, mummy," said Jane.

"You've grown . . . why, darling, you're up to my shoulder . . . and such a lovely tan.  But I can never let you go away again . . . never."

Jane kept her own counsel about that.  She felt curiously changed and grown-uppish as she went through the big lighted station with mother.  Frank was waiting with the limousine and they went home through the busy, crowded streets to 60 Gay.  60 Gay was neither busy nor crowded.  The clang of the iron gates behind her seemed a knell of doom.  She was re-entering prison.  The great, cold, still house struck a chill to her spirit.  Mother had gone on to the dinner and grandmother and Aunt Gertrude were meeting her.  She kissed Aunt Gertrude's narrow white face and grandmother's soft wrinkled one.

"You've grown, Victoria," said grandmother icily.  She did not like Jane looking into her eyes on the level.  And grandmother saw at a glance that Jane had somehow learned what to do with her arms and legs and was looking entirely too much mistress of herself.  "Don't smile with your lips closed, if you please.  I've never really been able to see the charm of 'La Gioconda.'"

They had dinner.  It was six o'clock.  Down home it would be seven. Dad would be . . . Jane felt she could not swallow a mouthful.

"Will you be good enough to pay attention when I am speaking to you, Victoria?"

"I beg your pardon, grandmother."

"I am asking you what you wore this summer.  I have looked into your trunk and the clothes you took with you don't seem to have been worn at all."

"Only the green linen jumper suit," said Jane.  "I wore it to church and the ice-cream social.  I had gingham dresses to wear at home.  I kept house for father, you know."

Grandmother wiped her lips daintily with her napkin.  It seemed as if she were wiping some disagreeable flavour off them.

"I am not inquiring about your rural activities" . . . Jane saw grandmother looking at her hands. . . .  "It will be wise for you to forget them. . . ."

"But I'm going back next summer, grandmother. . . ."

"Be kind enough not to interrupt me, Victoria.  And as you must be tired after your journey, I would advise you to go to bed at once. Mary has prepared a bath for you.  I suppose you will be rather glad to get into a real bath-tub once more."

When she had had the whole gulf for a bath-tub all summer!

"I must run over and see Jody first," said Jane . . . and went. She could not forget her new freedom so quickly.  Grandmother watched her go with tightening lips.  Perhaps she realized that never again would Jane be quite the meek, overawed Victoria of the old days.  She had grown in mind as well as in body.

Jane and Jody had a rapturous reunion.  Jody had grown too.  She was thinner and taller and her eyes were sadder than ever.

"Oh, Jane, I'm so glad you're back.  It's been so long."

"I'm so glad you're still here, Jody.  I was afraid Miss West might have sent you to the orphanage."

"She's always saying she will . . . I guess she will yet.  Did you really like the Island so much, Jane?"

"I just loved it," said Jane, glad that here was at least one person to whom she could talk freely about her Island and her father.

Jane was horribly homesick as she climbed the soft-carpeted stairway to bed.  If she were only skipping up the bare, painted steps at Lantern Hill!  Her old room had not grown any friendlier. She ran to the window, opened it and gazed out . . . but not on starry hills and the moon shining on woodland fields.  The clamour of Bloor Street assailed her ears.  The huge old trees about 60 Gay were sufficient unto themselves . . . they were not her friendly birches and spruces.  A wind was trying to blow . . . Jane felt sorry for it . . . checked here, thwarted there.  But it was blowing from the west.  Would it blow right down to the Island . . . to the velvety black night starred with harbour lights beyond Lantern Hill?  Jane leaned out of the window and sent a kiss to dad on it.

"And now," remarked Jane to Victoria, "there will be only nine months to put in."

 

29

 "She will soon forget everything about Lantern Hill," said grandmother.

Mother wasn't so sure.  She felt the change in Jane as did everybody.  Uncle David's family thought Jane "much improved." Aunt Sylvia said Victoria had actually become able to get through a room without danger to the furniture.  And Phyllis was a shade less patronizing, though with plenty of room for improvement yet.

"I heard you went barefoot down there," she said curiously.

"Of course," said Jane.  "All the children do in summer."

"Victoria has gone quite P. E. Island," said grandmother with her bitter little smile, much as if she had said, "Victoria has gone quite savage."  Grandmother had already learned a new way to get under Jane's skin.  It was to say little biting things about the Island.  Grandmother employed it quite mercilessly.  She felt that Jane, in so many respects, had somehow slipped beyond her power to hurt.  All the colour still went out of Jane in grandmother's presence but she was not thereby reduced to the old flabbiness. Jane had not been chatelaine of Lantern Hill and the companion of a keen, mature intellect all summer for nothing.  A new spirit looked out of her hazel eyes . . . something that was free and aloof . . . something that was almost beyond grandmother's power to tame or hurt.  All the venom of her stings seemed unable to touch this new Jane . . . except when she sneered at the Island.

Because in a very real sense Jane was still living on the Island. This helped to take the edge off her first two weeks of unbearable homesickness.  While she was practising her scales she was listening for the thunder of the breakers on Queen's Shore; while she ate her meals she was waiting for dad to come in from one of his long hikes with Happy trotting at his heels; when she was alone in the big gloomy house she was companioned by the Peters . . . who could have imagined that a couple of cat's a thousand miles away could be such comforts? . . .  When she lay awake at night she was hearing all the sounds of her Island home.  And while she was reading the Bible chapter to grandmother and Aunt Gertrude in that terrible, unchanged drawing-room, she was reading it to dad on the old Watch Tower.

"I should prefer a little more REVERENCE in reading the Bible, Victoria," said grandmother.  Jane had been reading an old Hebrew war tale as father would have read it, with a trumpet clang of victory in her voice.  Grandmother looked at her vindictively.  It was plain that reading the Bible was no longer a penance to Jane. She seemed positively to enjoy it.  And what could grandmother do about it?

Jane had made a list on the back of her arithmetic notebook of the months that must pass before her return to the Island, and smiled when she ticked off September.

She had felt very reluctant to go back to St Agatha's.  But in a short time she found herself saying one day in amazement, "I like going to school."

She had always felt vaguely left out . . . excluded at St Agatha's. Now, for some reason unknown to her, she no longer felt so.  It was as if she had become a comrade and a leader overnight.  The girls of her class looked up to her.  The teachers began to wonder why they had never before suspected what a remarkable child Victoria Stuart was.  Why, she was simply full of executive ability.

And her studies were no longer a tribulation.  They had become a pleasure.  She wanted to study as hard as she could, to catch up with dad.  Dim ghosts of history . . . exquisite, unhappy queens . . . grim old tyrants . . . had become real . . . marked poems in the reader she and dad had read together were full of meaning for her . . . the ancient lands where they had roamed in fancy were places she knew and loved.  It was so easy to learn about them. Jane brought home no more bad reports.  Mother was delighted but grandmother did not seem overly pleased.  She picked up a letter one day which Jane was writing to Polly Jimmy John, glanced over it, dropped it with disdain:

"Phlox is not spelled f-l-o-x, Victoria.  But I suppose it does not matter to your haphazard friends how you spell."

Jane blushed.  She knew perfectly well how to spell phlox but there was so much to tell Polly . . . to ask Polly . . . so many messages to send to the people in that far, dear Island by the sea . . . she just scribbled away furiously without thinking.

"Polly Garland is the best speller at Lantern Corners school," said Jane.

"Oh, I have no doubt . . . no doubt whatever . . . that she has all the backwoods virtues," said grandmother.

Grandmother's sneers could not poison Jane's delight in the letters she got from the Island.  They came as thick as autumn leaves in Vallambroso.  Somebody at Lantern Hill or Hungry Cove or the Corners was always writing to Jane.  The Snowbeams sent composite letters, dreadfully spelled and blotted, written paragraph about. They possessed the knack of writing the most amusing things, illustrated along the edges with surprisingly well-done thumb-nail sketches by Shingle.  Jane always wanted to shriek with laughter over the Snowbeam letters.

Elder Tommy had the mumps . . . fancy Elder Tommy with the mumps . . . Shingle had fancied it in a few sidesplitting curves. . . . The tail-board of Big Donald's cart had come out when he was going up Little Donald's hill and all his turnips had rolled out and down the hill and was he mad!  The pigs had got into the Corners graveyard; Min's ma was making a silk quilt . . . Jane immediately began saving patches for Min's ma's quilt. . . .  Ding-dong's dog had torn the whole seat out of Andy Pearson's second best trousers, the frost had killed all the dahlias, Step-a-yard was having boils, there had been a lovely lot of funerals this fall, old Mrs Dougald MacKay had died and people who were at the funeral said she looked perfectly gorgeous, the Jimmy Johns' baby had laughed at last, the big tree on Big Donald's hill had blown down . . . Jane was sorry for that, she had loved that tree. . . .  "We miss you just awful, Jane. . . .  Oh, Jane, we wish you could be here for Hallowe'en night."

Jane wished it, too.  If one could but fly in the darkness over rivers and mountains and forests to the Island for just that one night!  What fun they would have running round putting turnip and pumpkin Jack-o'-lanterns on gate-posts and perhaps helping to carry off somebody's gate.

"What are you laughing at, darling?" asked mother.

"A letter from home," said Jane thoughtlessly.

"Oh, Jane Victoria, isn't this your home?" cried mother piteously.

Jane was sorry she had spoken.  But she had to be honest.  Home!  A little house looking seaward . . . a white gull . . . ships going up and down . . . spruce woods . . . misty barrens . . . salt air cold from leagues of gulf . . . quiet . . . silence.  THAT was home . . . the only home she knew.  But she hated to hurt mother.  Jane had begun to feel curiously protective about mother . . . as if, somehow, she must be shielded and guarded.  Oh, if she could only talk things over with mother . . . tell her everything about dad . . . find out everything.  What fun it would be to read those letters to mother!  She did read them to Jody.  Jody was as much interested in the Lantern Hill folks as Jane herself.  She began sending messages to Polly and Shingle and Min.

The elms around 60 Gay turned a rusty yellow.  Far away the red leaves would be falling from the maples . . . the autumn mists would be coming in from the sea.  Jane opened her notebook and ticked off October.

November was a dark, dry, windy month.  Jane scored a secret triumph over grandmother one week of it.

"Let me make the croquettes for lunch, Mary," she begged one day. Mary consented very sceptically, remembering that there was plenty of chicken salad in the refrigerator if the croquettes were ruined. They were not.  They were everything croquettes should be.  Nobody knew who had made them, but Jane had the fun of watching folks eat them.  Grandmother took a second helping.

"Mary seems to have learned how to make croquettes properly at last," she said.

Jane wore a poppy on Armistice Day because dad was a D.S.  She was hungry to hear about him but she would not ask her Island correspondents.  They must not know she and dad did not exchange letters.  But sometimes there was a bit about him in some of the letters . . . perhaps only a sentence or two.  She lived for and by them.  She got up in the night to re-read the letters they were in. And every Saturday afternoon she shut herself up in her room and wrote him a letter which she sealed up and asked Mary to hide in her trunk.  She would take them all to dad next summer and let him read them while she read his diary.  She made a little ritual of dressing up to write to dad.  It was delightful to be writing to him, while the wind howled outside, to father so far away and yet so near, telling him everything you had done that week, all the little intimate things you loved.

The first snow came one afternoon as she wrote, in flakes as large as butterflies.  Would it be snowing on the Island?  Jane hunted up the morning paper and looked to see what the weather report in the Maritimes was.  Yes . . . cold, with showers of snow . . . clearing and cold at night.  Jane shut her eyes and saw it.  Great soft flakes falling over the grey landscape against the dark spruces . . . her little garden a thing of fairy beauty . . . egg flakes in the empty robin's nest she and Shingle knew of . . . the dark sea around the white land.  "Clearing and cold at night."  Frosty stars gleaming out in still frostier evening blue over quiet fields thinly white with snow.  Would dad remember to let the Peters in?

Jane ticked off November.

 

30

 Christmas had never meant a great deal to Jane.  They always did the same things in the same way.  There were neither tree nor stockings at 60 Gay and no morning celebration because grandmother so decreed.  She said she liked a quiet forenoon and she always went to the service in St Barnabas's, though, for some queer reason of her own, she always wanted to go alone that day.  Then they all went for lunch to Uncle William's or Uncle David's and there was a big family dinner at night at 60 Gay, with the presents in display. Jane always got a good many things she didn't want especially and one or two she did.  Mother always seemed even a little gayer on Christmas than on any other day . . . too gay, as if, Jane in her new wisdom felt, she were afraid of remembering something if she stopped being gay for a moment.

But the Christmas season this year had a subtle meaning for Jane it had never possessed before.  There was the concert at St Agatha's for one thing, in which Jane was one of the star performers.  She recited another habitant poem and did it capitally . . . because she was reciting to an audience of one a thousand miles away and didn't care a hoot for grandmother's scornful face and compressed lips.  The last number was a tableau in which four girls represented the spirits of the four seasons kneeling around the Christmas spirit.  Jane was the spirit of autumn with maple-leaves in her russet hair.

"Your granddaughter is going to be a very handsome girl," a lady told grandmother.  "She doesn't resemble her lovely mother, of course, but there is something very striking about her face."

"Handsome is as handsome does," said grandmother in a tone which implied that, judged by that standard, Jane hadn't the remotest chance of good looks.  But Jane didn't hear it and wouldn't have cared if she had.  She knew what dad thought about her bones.

Jane could not send presents to the Island . . . she had no money to buy them.  An allowance was something Jane had never had.  So she wrote a special letter to all her friends instead.  They sent her little gifts which gave her far more delight than the fine ones she got in Toronto.

Min's ma sent her a packet of summer savoury.

"Nobody here cares for summer savoury," said grandmother, meaning that she didn't.  "We prefer sage."

"Mrs Jimmy John always uses savoury in her stuffing and so do Min's ma and Mrs Big Donald," said Jane.

"Oh, no doubt we are sadly behind the times," said grandmother, and when Jane opened the packet of spruce-gum Young John had sent her grandmother said, "Well, well, so LADIES chew gum nowadays.  Other times, other manners."

She picked up the card Ding-dong had sent Jane.  It had on it the picture of a blue and gold angel under which Ding-dong had written, "This looks like you."

"I have always heard," said grandmother, "that love is blind."

Grandmother certainly had the knack of making you feel ridiculous.

But even grandmother did not disdain the bundle of driftwood old Timothy Salt expressed up.  She let Jane burn it in the fireplace on Christmas eve, and mother loved the blue and green and purple flames.  Jane sat before it and dreamed.  It was a very cold night . . . a night of frost and stars.  Would it be as cold on the Island and would her geraniums freeze?  Would there be a thick white fur on the windows at Lantern Hill?  What kind of a Christmas would dad have?  She knew he was going to Aunt Irene's for dinner. Aunt Irene had written Jane a note to accompany her gift of a pretty knitted sweater and told her so.  "With a few of his old friends," said Aunt Irene.

Would Lilian Morrow be among the old friends?  Somehow Jane hoped not.  There was always a queer little formless, nameless fear in her heart when she thought of Lilian Morrow and her caressing "'Drew."

Lantern Hill would be empty on Christmas.  Jane resented that.  Dad would take Happy with him and the poor Peters would be all alone.

Jane had one thrill on Christmas Day nobody knew anything about. They went to lunch at Uncle David's and there was a copy of Saturday Evening in the library.  Jane pounced on it.  Would there be anything of dad's in it?  Yes, there was.  Another front page article on "The Consequences of Confederation in Regard to the Maritime Provinces."  Jane was totally out of her depth in it, but she read every word of it with pride and delight.

Then came the cat.

 

31

 They had had dinner at 60 Gay and were all in the big drawing-room, which even with a fire blazing on the hearth still seemed cold and grim.  Frank came in with a basket.

"It's come, Mrs Kennedy," he said.

Grandmother took the basket from Frank and opened it.  A magnificent white Persian cat was revealed, blinking pale green eyes disdainfully and distrustfully at everybody.  Mary and Frank had discussed that cat in the kitchen.

"Whatever has the old dame got into her noddle now?" said Frank. "I thought she hated cats and wouldn't let Miss Victoria have one on any consideration.  And here she's giving her one . . . and it costing seventy-five dollars.  Seventy-five dollars for a cat!"

"Money's no object to her," said Mary.  "And I'll tell you what's in her noddle.  I haven't cooked for her for twenty years without learning to read her mind.  Miss Victoria has a cat on that Island of hers.  Her grandmother wants to cut that cat out.  She isn't going to have Andrew Stuart letting Miss Victoria have cats when she isn't allowed to have them here.  The old lady is at her wit's end how to wean Miss Victoria away from the Island and that's what this cat means.  Thinks she--a real Persian, costing seventy-five dollars and looking like the King of All Cats, will soon put the child out of conceit with her miserable common kittens.  Look at the presents she give Miss Victoria this Christmas.  As if to say, 'You couldn't get anything like that from your father!'  Oh, I'm knowing her.  But she's met her match at last or I'm mistaken.  She can't overcrow Miss Victoria any longer and she's just beginning to find it out."

"This is a Christmas present for you, Victoria," said grandmother. "It should have been here last night but there was some delay . . . somebody was ill."

Everybody looked at Jane as if they expected her to go into spasms of delight.

"Thank you, grandmother," said Jane flatly.

She didn't like Persian cats.  Aunt Minnie had one . . . a pedigreed smoke-blue . . . and Jane had never liked it.  Persian cats were so deceptive.  They looked so fat and fluffy, and then when you picked them up, expecting to enjoy a good satisfying squeeze, there was nothing to them but bones.  Anybody was welcome to their Persian cat for all of Jane.

"Its name is Snowball," said Grandmother.

So she couldn't even name her own cat.  But grandmother expected her to like the cat and Jane went to work heroically in the following days trying to like it.  The trouble was, the cat didn't want to be liked.  No friendliness ever warmed the pale green fire of its eyes.  It did not want to be petted or caressed.  The Peters had been lapsters, with eyes of amber, and Jane from the first had been able to talk to them in their own language.  But Snowball refused to understand a word she said.

"I thought . . . correct me if I'm wrong . . . that you professed to be fond of cats," said grandmother.

"Snowball doesn't like me," said Jane.

"Oh!" said grandmother.  "Well, I suppose your taste in cats is on a par with your taste in friends.  And I don't suppose there is very much that can be done about it."

"Darling, COULDN'T you like Snowball a little more?" pleaded mother, as soon as they were alone.  "Just to please your grandmother.  She thought you would be delighted.  Can't you pretend to like it?"

Jane was not very good at pretending.  She looked after Snowball faithfully, combed and brushed him every day, saw that he had the right kind of food and plenty of it, saw that he did not get out in the cold and take pneumonia . . . would not have cared in the least if he had.  She liked pussies who went out boldly on their own mysterious errands and later appeared on the doorstep pleading to get in where there was a warm cushion and a drop of cream. Snowball took all her attention as a matter of course, paraded about 60 Gay, waving a plumy tail and was rapturously adored by all callers.

"Poor Snowball," said grandmother ironically.

At this unlucky point Jane giggled.  She couldn't help it. Snowball looked so little desirous of pity.  Sitting on the arm of the chesterfield, he was monarch of all he surveyed and quite happy about it.

"I like a cat I can hug," said Jane.  "A cat that likes to be hugged."

"You forget you are talking to me, not to Jody," said grandmother.

After three weeks Snowball disappeared.  Luckily Jane was at St Agatha's or grandmother might have suspected her of conniving at his disappearance.  Everybody was away and Mary had left the front door open for a few moments.  Snowball went out and apparently wandered into the fourth dimension.  A lost-and-found ad. had no results.

"He's been stole," said Frank.  "That's what comes of having them expensive cats."

"It's not me that's sorry.  He had to be more pampered than a baby," said Mary.  "And I'm not of the opinion Miss Victoria will break her heart about it either.  She's still hankering after her Peters . . . she's not one to change and the old lady can put that in her pipe and smoke it."

Jane couldn't pretend any great grief and grandmother was very angry.  She smouldered for days over it and Jane was uncomfortable. Perhaps she had been ungrateful . . . perhaps she hadn't tried hard enough to like Snowball.  Anyhow, on the night the big white Persian suddenly materialized on the street corner, as she and mother were waiting for the Bloor car amid a swirl of snow, and wrapped itself around her legs in an apparent frenzy of recognition and hoarse miaows, Jane yelped with genuine delight.

"Mummy . . . mummy . . . here's Snowball."

That she and mother should be standing alone on a street corner, waiting for a car on a blustery January night was an unprecedented thing.  There had been doings at St Agatha's that night . . . the senior girls had put on a play and mother had been invited.  Frank was laid up with influenza and they had to go with Mrs Austen. Before the play was half through Mrs Austen had been summoned home because of sudden illness in her family and mother had said, "Don't think of us for a moment.  Jane and I can go home perfectly well on the street-cars."

Jane always loved a ride on a street-car, and it was twice as much fun with mother.  It was so seldom she and mother went anywhere alone.  But when they did, mother was such a good companion.  She saw the funny side of everything and her eyes laughed to Jane's when a joke popped its head up.  Jane was sorry when they got off at Bloor for that meant they were comparatively near home.

"Darling, how can this be Snowball?" exclaimed mother.  "It does look like him, I admit . . . but it's a mile from home. . . ."

"Frank always said he'd been stolen, mummy.  It must be Snowball . . . a strange cat wouldn't make a fuss over me like this. . . ."

"I shouldn't have thought Snowball would either," laughed mother.

"I expect he's glad to see a friend," said Jane.  "We don't know how he's been treated.  He feels awfully thin.  We must take him home."

"On the street-car. . . ."

"We can't leave him here.  I'll hold him . . . he'll be quiet."

Snowball was quiet for a few moments after they entered the car. There were not many people on it.  Three boys at the far end sniggered as Jane sat down with her armful of cat.  A pudgy child edged away from her in terror.  A man with a pimply face scowled at her as if he were personally insulted by the sight of a Persian cat.

Suddenly Snowball seemed to go quite mad.  He made one wild leap out of Jane's incautiously relaxed arms and went whizzing around the car, hurtling over the seats and hurling himself against the windows.  Women shrieked.  The pudgy child bounced up and screamed. The pimply-faced man's hat got knocked off by a wild Snowballian leap, and he swore.  The conductor opened the door.

"Don't let the cat out," shrieked breathless, pursuing Jane.  "Shut the door . . . shut it quick . . . it's my lost cat and I'm taking it home."

"You'd better keep hold of it then," said the conductor gruffly.

"Enough is as good as a feast," thought Snowball . . . evidently . . . for he allowed Jane to nab him.  The boys all laughed insultingly as Jane walked back to her seat, looking neither to the right nor to the left.  A button had burst off her slipper and she had stumbled and skinned her nose on the handle of a seat.  But she was Jane victorious . . . as well as Victoria.

"Oh, darling . . . darling," said mother, in kinks of laughter . . . real laughter.  When had mother laughed like that?  If grandmother saw her!

"That's a dangerous animal," said the pimply-faced man warningly.

Jane looked at the boys.  They made irresistibly comic faces at her and she made faces back.  She liked Snowball better than she ever had before.  But she did not relax her grip on him until she heard the door of 60 Gay clang behind her.

"We've found Snowball, grandmother," cried Jane triumphantly. "We've brought him home."

She released the cat who stood looking squiffly about.

"That is not Snowball," said grandmother.  "That is a female cat."

Judging from grandmother's tone it was evident that there was something very disgraceful about a female cat!

The owner of the female cat was eventually discovered through another lost-and-found and no more Persians appeared at 60 Gay. Jane had ticked off December, and January was speeding away.  The Lantern Hill news was still absorbing.  Everybody was skating . . . on the pond or on the little round, tree-shadowed pool beyond the Corners. . . .  Shingle Snowbeam had been queen in a Christmas concert and had worn a crown of scalloped tin; the new minister's wife could play the organ; the Jimmy John baby had eaten all the blooms off Mrs Jimmy John's Christmas cactus, every last one of them; Mrs Little Donald had had her gobbler for Christmas dinner . . . Jane remembered that magnificent white gobbler with the coral- red wattles and accorded him a meed of regret; Uncle Tombstone had butcher Min's ma's pig and Min's ma had sent a roast to dad; Min's ma had got a new pig to bring up, a nice pink pig exactly like Elder Tommy; Mr Spragg's dog at the Corners had bit the eye out of Mr Loney's dog and Mr Loney was going to law about it; Mrs Angus Scatterby, whose husband had died in October, was disappointed over the result . . . "It's not so much fun being a widow as I expected," she was reported to have said; Sherwood Morton had gone into the choir and the managers had put a few more nails in the roof . . . Jane suspected Step-a-yard of that joke; there was wonderful coasting on Big Donald's hill; her dad had got a new dog, a fat white dog named Bubbles; her geraniums were blooming beautiful . . . "and me too far away to see them," thought Jane with a pang; William MacAllister had had a fight with Thomas Crowder because Thomas told William he didn't like the whiskers William would have had if he had had whiskers; they had had a silver thaw . . . Jane could see it . . . ice jewels . . . the maple wood a thing of unearthly splendour . . . every stalk sticking up from the crusted snow of the garden a spear of crystal; Step-a-yard was mudding . . . what on earth was mudding? . . . she must find out next summer; Mr Snowbeam's pig-house roof had blown off . . . "if he'd nailed the ridge-pole firmly on last summer when I advised him to, this wouldn't have happened," thought Jane virtuously; Bob Woods had fell on his dog and sprained his back . . . was it Bob's back or the dog's that was sprained? . . . Caraway Snowbeam had to have her tonsils out and was putting on such airs about it; Jabez Gibbs had set a trap for a skunk and caught his own cat; Uncle Tombstone had given all his friends an oyster supper; some said Mrs Alec Carson at the Corners had a new baby, some said she hadn't.

What had 60 Gay to offer against the colour and flavour of news like that?  Jane ticked off January.

February was stormy.  Jane spent many a blustery evening, while the wind howled up and down Gay Street, poring over seed catalogues, picking out things for dad to plant in the spring.  She loved to read the description of the vegetables and imagine she saw rows of them at Lantern Hill.  She copied down all Mary's best recipes to make them for dad next summer . . . dad who was likely at this very moment to be sitting cosily by their own fireside with two happy dogs curled up at his feet and outside a wild white night of drifting snow.  Jane ticked off February.

 


                                       

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