The firelight shadows were dancing over the kitchen walls at Green Gables, for the spring evening was chilly; through the open east window drifted in the subtly sweet voices of the night. Marilla was sitting by the fire—at least, in body. In spirit she was roaming olden ways, with feet grown young. Of late Marilla had thus spent many an hour, when she thought she should have been knitting for the twins.
"I suppose I'm growing old," she said.
Yet Marilla had changed but little in the past nine years, save to grow something thinner, and even more angular; there was a little more gray in the hair that was still twisted up in the same hard knot, with two hairpins—WERE they the same hairpins?—still stuck through it. But her expression was very different; the something about the mouth which had hinted at a sense of humor had developed wonderfully; her eyes were gentler and milder, her smile more frequent and tender.
Marilla was thinking of her whole past life, her cramped but not unhappy childhood, the jealously hidden dreams and the blighted hopes of her girlhood, the long, gray, narrow, monotonous years of dull middle life that followed. And the coming of Anne—the vivid, imaginative, impetuous child with her heart of love, and her world of fancy, bringing with her color and warmth and radiance, until the wilderness of existence had blossomed like the rose. Marilla felt that out of her sixty years she had lived only the nine that had followed the advent of Anne. And Anne would be home tomorrow night.
The kitchen door opened. Marilla looked up expecting to see Mrs. Lynde. Anne stood before her, tall and starry-eyed, with her hands full of Mayflowers and violets.
"Anne Shirley!" exclaimed Marilla. For once in her life she was surprised out of her reserve; she caught her girl in her arms and crushed her and her flowers against her heart, kissing the bright hair and sweet face warmly. "I never looked for you till tomorrow night. How did you get from Carmody?"
"Walked, dearest of Marillas. Haven't I done it a score of times in the Queen's days? The mailman is to bring my trunk tomorrow; I just got homesick all at once, and came a day earlier. And oh! I've had such a lovely walk in the May twilight; I stopped by the barrens and picked these Mayflowers; I came through Violet-Vale; it's just a big bowlful of violets now—the dear, sky-tinted things. Smell them, Marilla—drink them in."
Marilla sniffed obligingly, but she was more interested in Anne than in drinking violets.
"Sit down, child. You must be real tired. I'm going to get you some supper."
"There's a darling moonrise behind the hills tonight, Marilla, and oh, how the frogs sang me home from Carmody! I do love the music of the frogs. It seems bound up with all my happiest recollections of old spring evenings. And it always reminds me of the night I came here first. Do you remember it, Marilla?"
"Well, yes," said Marilla with emphasis. "I'm not likely to forget it ever."
"They used to sing so madly in the marsh and brook that year. I would listen to them at my window in the dusk, and wonder how they could seem so glad and so sad at the same time. Oh, but it's good to be home again! Redmond was splendid and Bolingbroke delightful—but Green Gables is HOME."
"Gilbert isn't coming home this summer, I hear," said Marilla.
"No." Something in Anne's tone made Marilla glance at her sharply, but Anne was apparently absorbed in arranging her violets in a bowl. "See, aren't they sweet?" she went on hurriedly. "The year is a book, isn't it, Marilla? Spring's pages are written in Mayflowers and violets, summer's in roses, autumn's in red maple leaves, and winter in holly and evergreen."
"Did Gilbert do well in his examinations?" persisted Marilla.
"Excellently well. He led his class. But where are the twins and Mrs. Lynde?"
"Rachel and Dora are over at Mr. Harrison's. Davy is down at Boulters'. I think I hear him coming now."
Davy burst in, saw Anne, stopped, and then hurled himself upon her with a joyful yell.
"Oh, Anne, ain't I glad to see you! Say, Anne, I've grown two inches since last fall. Mrs. Lynde measured me with her tape today, and say, Anne, see my front tooth. It's gone. Mrs. Lynde tied one end of a string to it and the other end to the door, and then shut the door. I sold it to Milty for two cents. Milty's collecting teeth."
"What in the world does he want teeth for?" asked Marilla.
"To make a necklace for playing Indian Chief," explained Davy, climbing upon Anne's lap. "He's got fifteen already, and everybody's else's promised, so there's no use in the rest of us starting to collect, too. I tell you the Boulters are great business people."
"Were you a good boy at Mrs. Boulter's?" asked Marilla severely.
"Yes; but say, Marilla, I'm tired of being good."
"You'd get tired of being bad much sooner, Davy-boy," said Anne.
"Well, it'd be fun while it lasted, wouldn't it?" persisted Davy. "I could be sorry for it afterwards, couldn't I?"
"Being sorry wouldn't do away with the consequences of being bad, Davy. Don't you remember the Sunday last summer when you ran away from Sunday School? You told me then that being bad wasn't worth while. What were you and Milty doing today?"
"Oh, we fished and chased the cat, and hunted for eggs, and yelled at the echo. There's a great echo in the bush behind the Boulter barn. Say, what is echo, Anne; I want to know."
"Echo is a beautiful nymph, Davy, living far away in the woods, and laughing at the world from among the hills."
"What does she look like?"
"Her hair and eyes are dark, but her neck and arms are white as snow. No mortal can ever see how fair she is. She is fleeter than a deer, and that mocking voice of hers is all we can know of her. You can hear her calling at night; you can hear her laughing under the stars. But you can never see her. She flies afar if you follow her, and laughs at you always just over the next hill."
"Is that true, Anne? Or is it a whopper?" demanded Davy staring.
"Davy," said Anne despairingly, "haven't you sense enough to distinguish between a fairytale and a falsehood?"
"Then what is it that sasses back from the Boulter bush? I want to know," insisted Davy.
"When you are a little older, Davy, I'll explain it all to you."
The mention of age evidently gave a new turn to Davy's thoughts for after a few moments of reflection, he whispered solemnly:
"Anne, I'm going to be married."
"When?" asked Anne with equal solemnity.
"Oh, not until I'm grown-up, of course."
"Well, that's a relief, Davy. Who is the lady?"
"Stella Fletcher; she's in my class at school. And say, Anne, she's the prettiest girl you ever saw. If I die before I grow up you'll keep an eye on her, won't you?"
"Davy Keith, do stop talking such nonsense," said Marilla severely.
"'Tisn't nonsense," protested Davy in an injured tone. "She's my promised wife, and if I was to die she'd be my promised widow, wouldn't she? And she hasn't got a soul to look after her except her old grandmother."
"Come and have your supper, Anne," said Marilla, "and don't encourage that child in his absurd talk."