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All Sorts and Conditions of Men . . . and women
A September day on Prince Edward Island hills; a crisp wind blowing up
over the sand dunes from the sea; a long red road, winding through fields
and woods, now looping itself about a corner of thick set spruces, now
threading a plantation of young maples with great feathery sheets of ferns
beneath them, now dipping down into a hollow where a brook flashed out of
the woods and into them again, now basking in open sunshine between
ribbons of golden-rod and smoke-blue asters; air athrill with the pipings
of myriads of crickets, those glad little pensioners of the summer hills;
a plump brown pony ambling along the road; two girls behind him, full to
the lips with the simple, priceless joy of youth and life.
"Oh, this is a day left over from Eden, isn't it, Diana?" . . . and Anne
sighed for sheer happiness. "The air has magic in it. Look at the purple
in the cup of the harvest valley, Diana. And oh, do smell the dying fir!
It's coming up from that little sunny hollow where Mr. Eben Wright has
been cutting fence poles. Bliss is it on such a day to be alive; but to
smell dying fir is very heaven. That's two thirds Wordsworth and one third
Anne Shirley. It doesn't seem possible that there should be dying fir in
heaven, does it? And yet it doesn't seem to me that heaven would be quite
perfect if you couldn't get a whiff of dead fir as you went through its
woods. Perhaps we'll have the odor there without the death. Yes, I think
that will be the way. That delicious aroma must be the souls of the firs .
. . and of course it will be just souls in heaven."
"Trees haven't souls," said practical Diana, "but the smell of dead fir is
certainly lovely. I'm going to make a cushion and fill it with fir
needles. You'd better make one too, Anne."
"I think I shall . . . and use it for my naps. I'd be certain to dream I
was a dryad or a woodnymph then. But just this minute I'm well content to
be Anne Shirley, Avonlea schoolma'am, driving over a road like this on
such a sweet, friendly day."
"It's a lovely day but we have anything but a lovely task before us,"
sighed Diana. "Why on earth did you offer to canvass this road, Anne?
Almost all the cranks in Avonlea live along it, and we'll probably be
treated as if we were begging for ourselves. It's the very worst road of
"That is why I chose it. Of course Gilbert and Fred would have taken this
road if we had asked them. But you see, Diana, I feel myself responsible
for the A.V.I.S., since I was the first to suggest it, and it seems to me
that I ought to do the most disagreeable things. I'm sorry on your
account; but you needn't say a word at the cranky places. I'll do all the
talking . . . Mrs. Lynde would say I was well able to. Mrs. Lynde doesn't
know whether to approve of our enterprise or not. She inclines to, when
she remembers that Mr. and Mrs. Allan are in favor of it; but the fact
that village improvement societies first originated in the States is a
count against it. So she is halting between two opinions and only success
will justify us in Mrs. Lynde's eyes. Priscilla is going to write a paper
for our next Improvement meeting, and I expect it will be good, for her
aunt is such a clever writer and no doubt it runs in the family. I shall
never forget the thrill it gave me when I found out that Mrs. Charlotte E.
Morgan was Priscilla's aunt. It seemed so wonderful that I was a friend of
the girl whose aunt wrote 'Edgewood Days' and 'The Rosebud Garden.'"
"Where does Mrs. Morgan live?"
"In Toronto. And Priscilla says she is coming to the Island for a visit
next summer, and if it is possible Priscilla is going to arrange to have
us meet her. That seems almost too good to be true—but it's
something pleasant to imagine after you go to bed."
The Avonlea Village Improvement Society was an organized fact. Gilbert
Blythe was president, Fred Wright vice-president, Anne Shirley secretary,
and Diana Barry treasurer. The "Improvers," as they were promptly
christened, were to meet once a fortnight at the homes of the members. It
was admitted that they could not expect to affect many improvements so
late in the season; but they meant to plan the next summer's campaign,
collect and discuss ideas, write and read papers, and, as Anne said,
educate the public sentiment generally.
There was some disapproval, of course, and . . . which the Improvers felt
much more keenly . . . a good deal of ridicule. Mr. Elisha Wright was
reported to have said that a more appropriate name for the organization
would be Courting Club. Mrs. Hiram Sloane declared she had heard the
Improvers meant to plough up all the roadsides and set them out with
geraniums. Mr. Levi Boulter warned his neighbors that the Improvers would
insist that everybody pull down his house and rebuild it after plans
approved by the society. Mr. James Spencer sent them word that he wished
they would kindly shovel down the church hill. Eben Wright told Anne that
he wished the Improvers could induce old Josiah Sloane to keep his
whiskers trimmed. Mr. Lawrence Bell said he would whitewash his barns if
nothing else would please them but he would NOT hang lace curtains in the
cowstable windows. Mr. Major Spencer asked Clifton Sloane, an Improver who
drove the milk to the Carmody cheese factory, if it was true that
everybody would have to have his milk-stand hand-painted next summer and
keep an embroidered centerpiece on it.
In spite of . . . or perhaps, human nature being what it is, because of .
. . this, the Society went gamely to work at the only improvement they
could hope to bring about that fall. At the second meeting, in the Barry
parlor, Oliver Sloane moved that they start a subscription to re-shingle
and paint the hall; Julia Bell seconded it, with an uneasy feeling that
she was doing something not exactly ladylike. Gilbert put the motion, it
was carried unanimously, and Anne gravely recorded it in her minutes. The
next thing was to appoint a committee, and Gertie Pye, determined not to
let Julia Bell carry off all the laurels, boldly moved that Miss Jane
Andrews be chairman of said committee. This motion being also duly
seconded and carried, Jane returned the compliment by appointing Gertie on
the committee, along with Gilbert, Anne, Diana, and Fred Wright. The
committee chose their routes in private conclave. Anne and Diana were told
off for the Newbridge road, Gilbert and Fred for the White Sands road, and
Jane and Gertie for the Carmody road.
"Because," explained Gilbert to Anne, as they walked home together through
the Haunted Wood, "the Pyes all live along that road and they won't give a
cent unless one of themselves canvasses them."
The next Saturday Anne and Diana started out. They drove to the end of the
road and canvassed homeward, calling first on the "Andrew girls."
"If Catherine is alone we may get something," said Diana, "but if Eliza is
there we won't."
Eliza was there . . . very much so . . . and looked even grimmer than
usual. Miss Eliza was one of those people who give you the impression that
life is indeed a vale of tears, and that a smile, never to speak of a
laugh, is a waste of nervous energy truly reprehensible. The Andrew girls
had been "girls" for fifty odd years and seemed likely to remain girls to
the end of their earthly pilgrimage. Catherine, it was said, had not
entirely given up hope, but Eliza, who was born a pessimist, had never had
any. They lived in a little brown house built in a sunny corner scooped
out of Mark Andrew's beech woods. Eliza complained that it was terrible
hot in summer, but Catherine was wont to say it was lovely and warm in
Eliza was sewing patchwork, not because it was needed but simply as a
protest against the frivolous lace Catherine was crocheting. Eliza
listened with a frown and Catherine with a smile, as the girls explained
their errand. To be sure, whenever Catherine caught Eliza's eye she
discarded the smile in guilty confusion; but it crept back the next
"If I had money to waste," said Eliza grimly, "I'd burn it up and have the
fun of seeing a blaze maybe; but I wouldn't give it to that hall, not a
cent. It's no benefit to the settlement . . . just a place for young folks
to meet and carry on when they's better be home in their beds."
"Oh, Eliza, young folks must have some amusement," protested Catherine.
"I don't see the necessity. We didn't gad about to halls and places when
we were young, Catherine Andrews. This world is getting worse every day."
"I think it's getting better," said Catherine firmly.
"YOU think!" Miss Eliza's voice expressed the utmost contempt. "It doesn't
signify what you THINK, Catherine Andrews. Facts is facts."
"Well, I always like to look on the bright side, Eliza."
"There isn't any bright side."
"Oh, indeed there is," cried Anne, who couldn't endure such heresy in
silence. "Why, there are ever so many bright sides, Miss Andrews. It's
really a beautiful world."
"You won't have such a high opinion of it when you've lived as long in it
as I have," retorted Miss Eliza sourly, "and you won't be so enthusiastic
about improving it either. How is your mother, Diana? Dear me, but she has
failed of late. She looks terrible run down. And how long is it before
Marilla expects to be stone blind, Anne?"
"The doctor thinks her eyes will not get any worse if she is very
careful," faltered Anne.
Eliza shook her head.
"Doctors always talk like that just to keep people cheered up. I wouldn't
have much hope if I was her. It's best to be prepared for the worst."
"But oughtn't we be prepared for the best too?" pleaded Anne. "It's just
as likely to happen as the worst."
"Not in my experience, and I've fifty-seven years to set against your
sixteen," retorted Eliza. "Going, are you? Well, I hope this new society
of yours will be able to keep Avonlea from running any further down hill
but I haven't much hope of it."
Anne and Diana got themselves thankfully out, and drove away as fast as
the fat pony could go. As they rounded the curve below the beech wood a
plump figure came speeding over Mr. Andrews' pasture, waving to them
excitedly. It was Catherine Andrews and she was so out of breath that she
could hardly speak, but she thrust a couple of quarters into Anne's hand.
"That's my contribution to painting the hall," she gasped. "I'd like to
give you a dollar but I don't dare take more from my egg money for Eliza
would find it out if I did. I'm real interested in your society and I
believe you're going to do a lot of good. I'm an optimist. I HAVE to be,
living with Eliza. I must hurry back before she misses me . . . she thinks
I'm feeding the hens. I hope you'll have good luck canvassing, and don't
be cast down over what Eliza said. The world IS getting better . . . it
The next house was Daniel Blair's.
"Now, it all depends on whether his wife is home or not," said Diana, as
they jolted along a deep-rutted lane. "If she is we won't get a cent.
Everybody says Dan Blair doesn't dare have his hair cut without asking her
permission; and it's certain she's very close, to state it moderately. She
says she has to be just before she's generous. But Mrs. Lynde says she's
so much 'before' that generosity never catches up with her at all."
Anne related their experience at the Blair place to Marilla that evening.
"We tied the horse and then rapped at the kitchen door. Nobody came but
the door was open and we could hear somebody in the pantry, going on
dreadfully. We couldn't make out the words but Diana says she knows they
were swearing by the sound of them. I can't believe that of Mr. Blair, for
he is always so quiet and meek; but at least he had great provocation, for
Marilla, when that poor man came to the door, red as a beet, with
perspiration streaming down his face, he had on one of his wife's big
gingham aprons. 'I can't get this durned thing off,' he said, 'for the
strings are tied in a hard knot and I can't bust 'em, so you'll have to
excuse me, ladies.' We begged him not to mention it and went in and sat
down. Mr. Blair sat down too; he twisted the apron around to his back and
rolled it up, but he did look so ashamed and worried that I felt sorry for
him, and Diana said she feared we had called at an inconvenient time. 'Oh,
not at all,' said Mr. Blair, trying to smile . . . you know he is always
very polite . . . 'I'm a little busy . . . getting ready to bake a cake as
it were. My wife got a telegram today that her sister from Montreal is
coming tonight and she's gone to the train to meet her and left orders for
me to make a cake for tea. She writ out the recipe and told me what to do
but I've clean forgot half the directions already. And it says, 'flavor
according to taste.' What does that mean? How can you tell? And what if my
taste doesn't happen to be other people's taste? Would a tablespoon of
vanilla be enough for a small layer cake?"
"I felt sorrier than ever for the poor man. He didn't seem to be in his
proper sphere at all. I had heard of henpecked husbands and now I felt
that I saw one. It was on my lips to say, 'Mr. Blair, if you'll give us a
subscription for the hall I'll mix up your cake for you.' But I suddenly
thought it wouldn't be neighborly to drive too sharp a bargain with a
fellow creature in distress. So I offered to mix the cake for him without
any conditions at all. He just jumped at my offer. He said he'd been used
to making his own bread before he was married but he feared cake was
beyond him, and yet he hated to disappoint his wife. He got me another
apron, and Diana beat the eggs and I mixed the cake. Mr. Blair ran about
and got us the materials. He had forgotten all about his apron and when he
ran it streamed out behind him and Diana said she thought she would die to
see it. He said he could bake the cake all right . . . he was used to that
. . . and then he asked for our list and he put down four dollars. So you
see we were rewarded. But even if he hadn't given a cent I'd always feel
that we had done a truly Christian act in helping him."
Theodore White's was the next stopping place. Neither Anne nor Diana had
ever been there before, and they had only a very slight acquaintance with
Mrs. Theodore, who was not given to hospitality. Should they go to the
back or front door? While they held a whispered consultation Mrs. Theodore
appeared at the front door with an armful of newspapers. Deliberately she
laid them down one by one on the porch floor and the porch steps, and then
down the path to the very feet of her mystified callers.
"Will you please wipe your feet carefully on the grass and then walk on
these papers?" she said anxiously. "I've just swept the house all over and
I can't have any more dust tracked in. The path's been real muddy since
the rain yesterday."
"Don't you dare laugh," warned Anne in a whisper, as they marched along
the newspapers. "And I implore you, Diana, not to look at me, no matter
what she says, or I shall not be able to keep a sober face."
The papers extended across the hall and into a prim, fleckless parlor.
Anne and Diana sat down gingerly on the nearest chairs and explained their
errand. Mrs. White heard them politely, interrupting only twice, once to
chase out an adventurous fly, and once to pick up a tiny wisp of grass
that had fallen on the carpet from Anne's dress. Anne felt wretchedly
guilty; but Mrs. White subscribed two dollars and paid the money down . .
. "to prevent us from having to go back for it," Diana said when they got
away. Mrs. White had the newspapers gathered up before they had their
horse untied and as they drove out of the yard they saw her busily
wielding a broom in the hall.
"I've always heard that Mrs. Theodore White was the neatest woman alive
and I'll believe it after this," said Diana, giving way to her suppressed
laughter as soon as it was safe.
"I am glad she has no children," said Anne solemnly. "It would be dreadful
beyond words for them if she had."
At the Spencers' Mrs. Isabella Spencer made them miserable by saying
something ill-natured about everyone in Avonlea. Mr. Thomas Boulter
refused to give anything because the hall, when it had been built, twenty
years before, hadn't been built on the site he recommended. Mrs. Esther
Bell, who was the picture of health, took half an hour to detail all her
aches and pains, and sadly put down fifty cents because she wouldn't be
there that time next year to do it . . . no, she would be in her grave.
Their worst reception, however, was at Simon Fletcher's. When they drove
into the yard they saw two faces peering at them through the porch window.
But although they rapped and waited patiently and persistently nobody came
to the door. Two decidedly ruffled and indignant girls drove away from
Simon Fletcher's. Even Anne admitted that she was beginning to feel
discouraged. But the tide turned after that. Several Sloane homesteads
came next, where they got liberal subscriptions, and from that to the end
they fared well, with only an occasional snub. Their last place of call
was at Robert Dickson's by the pond bridge. They stayed to tea here,
although they were nearly home, rather than risk offending Mrs. Dickson,
who had the reputation of being a very "touchy" woman.
While they were there old Mrs. James White called in.
"I've just been down to Lorenzo's," she announced. "He's the proudest man
in Avonlea this minute. What do you think? There's a brand new boy there .
. . and after seven girls that's quite an event, I can tell you." Anne
pricked up her ears, and when they drove away she said.
"I'm going straight to Lorenzo White's."
"But he lives on the White Sands road and it's quite a distance out of our
way," protested Diana. "Gilbert and Fred will canvass him."
"They are not going around until next Saturday and it will be too late by
then," said Anne firmly. "The novelty will be worn off. Lorenzo White is
dreadfully mean but he will subscribe to ANYTHING just now. We mustn't let
such a golden opportunity slip, Diana." The result justified Anne's
foresight. Mr. White met them in the yard, beaming like the sun upon an
Easter day. When Anne asked for a subscription he agreed enthusiastically.
"Certain, certain. Just put me down for a dollar more than the highest
subscription you've got."
"That will be five dollars . . . Mr. Daniel Blair put down four," said
Anne, half afraid. But Lorenzo did not flinch.
"Five it is . . . and here's the money on the spot. Now, I want you to
come into the house. There's something in there worth seeing . . .
something very few people have seen as yet. Just come in and pass YOUR
"What will we say if the baby isn't pretty?" whispered Diana in
trepidation as they followed the excited Lorenzo into the house.
"Oh, there will certainly be something else nice to say about it," said
Anne easily. "There always is about a baby."
The baby WAS pretty, however, and Mr. White felt that he got his five
dollars' worth of the girls' honest delight over the plump little
newcomer. But that was the first, last, and only time that Lorenzo White
ever subscribed to anything.
Anne, tired as she was, made one more effort for the public weal that
night, slipping over the fields to interview Mr. Harrison, who was as
usual smoking his pipe on the veranda with Ginger beside him. Strickly
speaking he was on the Carmody road; but Jane and Gertie, who were not
acquainted with him save by doubtful report, had nervously begged Anne to
Mr. Harrison, however, flatly refused to subscribe a cent, and all Anne's
wiles were in vain.
"But I thought you approved of our society, Mr. Harrison," she mourned.
"So I do . . . so I do . . . but my approval doesn't go as deep as my
"A few more experiences such as I have had today would make me as much of
a pessimist as Miss Eliza Andrews," Anne told her reflection in the east
gable mirror at bedtime.