Those first three weeks at Redmond had seemed long; but the rest of the term flew by on wings of wind. Before they realized it the Redmond students found themselves in the grind of Christmas examinations, emerging therefrom more or less triumphantly. The honor of leading in the Freshman classes fluctuated between Anne, Gilbert and Philippa; Priscilla did very well; Charlie Sloane scraped through respectably, and comported himself as complacently as if he had led in everything.
“I can’t really believe that this time tomorrow I’ll be in Green Gables,” said Anne on the night before departure. “But I shall be. And you, Phil, will be in Bolingbroke with Alec and Alonzo.”
“I’m longing to see them,” admitted Phil, between the chocolate she was nibbling. “They really are such dear boys, you know. There’s to be no end of dances and drives and general jamborees. I shall never forgive you, Queen Anne, for not coming home with me for the holidays.”
“`Never’ means three days with you, Phil. It was dear of you to ask me — and I’d love to go to Bolingbroke some day. But I can’t go this year — I MUST go home. You don’t know how my heart longs for it.”
“You won’t have much of a time,” said Phil scornfully. “There’ll be one or two quilting parties, I suppose; and all the old gossips will talk you over to your face and behind your back. You’ll die of lonesomeness, child.”
“In Avonlea?” said Anne, highly amused.
“Now, if you’d come with me you’d have a perfectly gorgeous time. Bolingbroke would go wild over you, Queen Anne — your hair and your style and, oh, everything! You’re so DIFFERENT. You’d be such a success — and I would bask in reflected glory — `not the rose but near the rose.’ Do come, after all, Anne.”
“Your picture of social triumphs is quite fascinating, Phil, but I’ll paint one to offset it. I’m going home to an old country farmhouse, once green, rather faded now, set among leafless apple orchards. There is a brook below and a December fir wood beyond, where I’ve heard harps swept by the fingers of rain and wind. There is a pond nearby that will be gray and brooding now. There will be two oldish ladies in the house, one tall and thin, one short and fat; and there will be two twins, one a perfect model, the other what Mrs. Lynde calls a `holy terror.’ There will be a little room upstairs over the porch, where old dreams hang thick, and a big, fat, glorious feather bed which will almost seem the height of luxury after a boardinghouse mattress. How do you like my picture, Phil?”
“It seems a very dull one,” said Phil, with a grimace.
“Oh, but I’ve left out the transforming thing,” said Anne softly. “There’ll be love there, Phil — faithful, tender love, such as I’ll never find anywhere else in the world — love that’s waiting for me. That makes my picture a masterpiece, doesn’t it, even if the colors are not very brilliant?”
Phil silently got up, tossed her box of chocolates away, went up to Anne, and put her arms about her.
“Anne, I wish I was like you,” she said soberly.
Diana met Anne at the Carmody station the next night, and they drove home together under silent, star-sown depths of sky. Green Gables had a very festal appearance as they drove up the lane. There was a light in every window, the glow breaking out through the darkness like flame-red blossoms swung against the dark background of the Haunted Wood. And in the yard was a brave bonfire with two gay little figures dancing around it, one of which gave an unearthly yell as the buggy turned in under the poplars.
“Davy means that for an Indian war-whoop,” said Diana. “Mr. Harrison’s hired boy taught it to him, and he’s been practicing it up to welcome you with. Mrs. Lynde says it has worn her nerves to a frazzle. He creeps up behind her, you know, and then lets go. He was determined to have a bonfire for you, too. He’s been piling up branches for a fortnight and pestering Marilla to be let pour some kerosene oil over it before setting it on fire. I guess she did, by the smell, though Mrs. Lynde said up to the last that Davy would blow himself and everybody else up if he was let.”
Anne was out of the buggy by this time, and Davy was rapturously hugging her knees, while even Dora was clinging to her hand.
“Isn’t that a bully bonfire, Anne? Just let me show you how to poke it — see the sparks? I did it for you, Anne, ’cause I was so glad you were coming home.”
The kitchen door opened and Marilla’s spare form darkened against the inner light. She preferred to meet Anne in the shadows, for she was horribly afraid that she was going to cry with joy — she, stern, repressed Marilla, who thought all display of deep emotion unseemly. Mrs. Lynde was behind her, sonsy, kindly, matronly, as of yore. The love that Anne had told Phil was waiting for her surrounded her and enfolded her with its blessing and its sweetness. Nothing, after all, could compare with old ties, old friends, and old Green Gables! How starry Anne’s eyes were as they sat down to the loaded supper table, how pink her cheeks, how silver-clear her laughter! And Diana was going to stay all night, too. How like the dear old times it was! And the rose-bud tea-set graced the table! With Marilla the force of nature could no further go.
“I suppose you and Diana will now proceed to talk all night,” said Marilla sarcastically, as the girls went upstairs. Marilla was always sarcastic after any self-betrayal.
“Yes,” agreed Anne gaily, “but I’m going to put Davy to bed first. He insists on that.”
“You bet,” said Davy, as they went along the hall. “I want somebody to say my prayers to again. It’s no fun saying them alone.”
“You don’t say them alone, Davy. God is always with you to hear you.”
“Well, I can’t see Him,” objected Davy. “I want to pray to somebody I can see, but I WON’T say them to Mrs. Lynde or Marilla, there now!”
Nevertheless, when Davy was garbed in his gray flannel nighty, he did not seem in a hurry to begin. He stood before Anne, shuffling one bare foot over the other, and looked undecided.
“Come, dear, kneel down,” said Anne.
Davy came and buried his head in Anne’s lap, but he did not kneel down.
“Anne,” he said in a muffled voice. “I don’t feel like praying after all. I haven’t felt like it for a week now. I — I DIDN’T pray last night nor the night before.”
“Why not, Davy?” asked Anne gently.
“You — you won’t be mad if I tell you?” implored Davy.
Anne lifted the little gray-flannelled body on her knee and cuddled his head on her arm.
“Do I ever get `mad’ when you tell me things, Davy?”
“No-o-o, you never do. But you get sorry, and that’s worse. You’ll be awful sorry when I tell you this, Anne — and you’ll be ‘shamed of me, I s’pose.”
“Have you done something naughty, Davy, and is that why you can’t say your prayers?”
“No, I haven’t done anything naughty — yet. But I want to do it.”
“What is it, Davy?”
“I — I want to say a bad word, Anne,” blurted out Davy, with a desperate effort. “I heard Mr. Harrison’s hired boy say it one day last week, and ever since I’ve been wanting to say it ALL the time — even when I’m saying my prayers.”
“Say it then, Davy.”
Davy lifted his flushed face in amazement.
“But, Anne, it’s an AWFUL bad word.”
Davy gave her another incredulous look, then in a low voice he said the dreadful word. The next minute his face was burrowing against her.
“Oh, Anne, I’ll never say it again — never. I’ll never WANT to say it again. I knew it was bad, but I didn’t s’pose it was so — so — I didn’t s’pose it was like THAT.”
“No, I don’t think you’ll ever want to say it again, Davy — or think it, either. And I wouldn’t go about much with Mr. Harrison’s hired boy if I were you.”
“He can make bully war-whoops,” said Davy a little regretfully.
“But you don’t want your mind filled with bad words, do you, Davy — words that will poison it and drive out all that is good and manly?”
“No,” said Davy, owl-eyed with introspection.
“Then don’t go with those people who use them. And now do you feel as if you could say your prayers, Davy?”
“Oh, yes,” said Davy, eagerly wriggling down on his knees, “I can say them now all right. I ain’t scared now to say `if I should die before I wake,’ like I was when I was wanting to say that word.”
Probably Anne and Diana did empty out their souls to each other that night, but no record of their confidences has been preserved. They both looked as fresh and bright-eyed at breakfast as only youth can look after unlawful hours of revelry and confession. There had been no snow up to this time, but as Diana crossed the old log bridge on her homeward way the white flakes were beginning to flutter down over the fields and woods, russet and gray in their dreamless sleep. Soon the far-away slopes and hills were dim and wraith-like through their gauzy scarfing, as if pale autumn had flung a misty bridal veil over her hair and was waiting for her wintry bridegroom. So they had a white Christmas after all, and a very pleasant day it was. In the forenoon letters and gifts came from Miss Lavendar and Paul; Anne opened them in the cheerful Green Gables kitchen, which was filled with what Davy, sniffing in ecstasy, called “pretty smells.”
“Miss Lavendar and Mr. Irving are settled in their new home now,” reported Anne. “I am sure Miss Lavendar is perfectly happy — I know it by the general tone of her letter — but there’s a note from Charlotta the Fourth. She doesn’t like Boston at all, and she is fearfully homesick. Miss Lavendar wants me to go through to Echo Lodge some day while I’m home and light a fire to air it, and see that the cushions aren’t getting moldy. I think I’ll get Diana to go over with me next week, and we can spend the evening with Theodora Dix. I want to see Theodora. By the way, is Ludovic Speed still going to see her?”
“They say so,” said Marilla, “and he’s likely to continue it. Folks have given up expecting that that courtship will ever arrive anywhere.”
“I’d hurry him up a bit, if I was Theodora, that’s what,” said Mrs. Lynde. And there is not the slightest doubt but that she would.
There was also a characteristic scrawl from Philippa, full of Alec and Alonzo, what they said and what they did, and how they looked when they saw her.
“But I can’t make up my mind yet which to marry,” wrote Phil. “I do wish you had come with me to decide for me. Some one will have to. When I saw Alec my heart gave a great thump and I thought, `He might be the right one.’ And then, when Alonzo came, thump went my heart again. So that’s no guide, though it should be, according to all the novels I’ve ever read. Now, Anne, YOUR heart wouldn’t thump for anybody but the genuine Prince Charming, would it? There must be something radically wrong with mine. But I’m having a perfectly gorgeous time. How I wish you were here! It’s snowing today, and I’m rapturous. I was so afraid we’d have a green Christmas and I loathe them. You know, when Christmas is a dirty grayey-browney affair, looking as if it had been left over a hundred years ago and had been in soak ever since, it is called a GREEN Christmas! Don’t ask me why. As Lord Dundreary says, `there are thome thingth no fellow can underthtand.’
“Anne, did you ever get on a street car and then discover that you hadn’t any money with you to pay your fare? I did, the other day. It’s quite awful. I had a nickel with me when I got on the car. I thought it was in the left pocket of my coat. When I got settled down comfortably I felt for it. It wasn’t there. I had a cold chill. I felt in the other pocket. Not there. I had another chill. Then I felt in a little inside pocket. All in vain. I had two chills at once.
“I took off my gloves, laid them on the seat, and went over all my pockets again. It was not there. I stood up and shook myself, and then looked on the floor. The car was full of people, who were going home from the opera, and they all stared at me, but I was past caring for a little thing like that.
“But I could not find my fare. I concluded I must have put it in my mouth and swallowed it inadvertently.
“I didn’t know what to do. Would the conductor, I wondered, stop the car and put me off in ignominy and shame? Was it possible that I could convince him that I was merely the victim of my own absentmindedness, and not an unprincipled creature trying to obtain a ride upon false pretenses? How I wished that Alec or Alonzo were there. But they weren’t because I wanted them. If I HADN’T wanted them they would have been there by the dozen. And I couldn’t decide what to say to the conductor when he came around. As soon as I got one sentence of explanation mapped out in my mind I felt nobody could believe it and I must compose another. It seemed there was nothing to do but trust in Providence, and for all the comfort that gave me I might as well have been the old lady who, when told by the captain during a storm that she must put her trust in the Almighty exclaimed, `Oh, Captain, is it as bad as that?’
“Just at the conventional moment, when all hope had fled, and the conductor was holding out his box to the passenger next to me, I suddenly remembered where I had put that wretched coin of the realm. I hadn’t swallowed it after all. I meekly fished it out of the index finger of my glove and poked it in the box. I smiled at everybody and felt that it was a beautiful world.”
The visit to Echo Lodge was not the least pleasant of many pleasant holiday outings. Anne and Diana went back to it by the old way of the beech woods, carrying a lunch basket with them. Echo Lodge, which had been closed ever since Miss Lavendar’s wedding, was briefly thrown open to wind and sunshine once more, and firelight glimmered again in the little rooms. The perfume of Miss Lavendar’s rose bowl still filled the air. It was hardly possible to believe that Miss Lavendar would not come tripping in presently, with her brown eyes a-star with welcome, and that Charlotta the Fourth, blue of bow and wide of smile, would not pop through the door. Paul, too, seemed hovering around, with his fairy fancies.
“It really makes me feel a little bit like a ghost revisiting the old time glimpses of the moon,” laughed Anne. “Let’s go out and see if the echoes are at home. Bring the old horn. It is still behind the kitchen door.”
The echoes were at home, over the white river, as silver-clear and multitudinous as ever; and when they had ceased to answer the girls locked up Echo Lodge again and went away in the perfect half hour that follows the rose and saffron of a winter sunset.