"Oh, what is the matter?" she cried anxiously.
"I'm -- I'm forty today," sobbed Janet.
"Well, you were nearly that yesterday and it didn't hurt," comforted Anne, trying not to smile.
"But -- but," went on Janet with a big gulp, "John Douglas won't ask me to marry him."
"Oh, but he will," said Anne lamely. "You must give him time, Janet
"Time!" said Janet with indescribable scorn. "He has had twenty years. How much time does he want?"
"Do you mean that John Douglas has been coming to see you for twenty years?"
"He has. And he has never so much as mentioned marriage to me. And I don't believe he ever will now. I've never said a word to a mortal about it, but it seems to me I've just got to talk it out with some one at last or go crazy. John Douglas begun to go with me twenty years ago, before mother died. Well, he kept coming and coming, and after a spell I begun making quilts and things; but he never said anything about getting married, only just kept coming and coming. There wasn't anything I could do. Mother died when we'd been going together for eight years. I thought he maybe would speak out then, seeing as I was left alone in the world. He was real kind and feeling, and did everything he could for me, but he never said marry. And that's the way it has been going on ever since. People blame ME for it. They say I won't marry him because his mother is so sickly and I don't want the bother of waiting on her. Why, I'd LOVE to wait on John's mother! But I let them think so. I'd rather they'd blame me than pity me! It's so dreadful humiliating that John won't ask me. And WHY won't he? Seems to me if I only knew his reason I wouldn't mind it so much."
"Perhaps his mother doesn't want him to marry anybody," suggested Anne.
"Oh, she does. She's told me time and again that she'd love to see John settled before her time comes. She's always giving him hints -- you heard her yourself the other day. I thought I'd ha' gone through the floor."
"It's beyond me," said Anne helplessly. She thought of Ludovic Speed. But the cases were not parallel. John Douglas was not a man of Ludovic's type.
"You should show more spirit, Janet," she went on resolutely. "Why didn't you send him about his business long ago?"
"I couldn't," said poor Janet pathetically. "You see, Anne, I've always been awful fond of John. He might just as well keep coming as not, for there was never anybody else I'd want, so it didn't matter."
"But it might have made him speak out like a man," urged Anne.
Janet shook her head.
"No, I guess not. I was afraid to try, anyway, for fear he'd think I meant it and just go. I suppose I'm a poor-spirited creature, but that is how I feel. And I can't help it."
"Oh, you COULD help it, Janet. It isn't too late yet. Take a firm stand. Let that man know you are not going to endure his shillyshallying any longer. I'LL back you up."
"I dunno," said Janet hopelessly. "I dunno if I could ever get up enough spunk. Things have drifted so long. But I'll think it over."
Anne felt that she was disappointed in John Douglas. She had liked him so well, and she had not thought him the sort of man who would play fast and loose with a woman's feelings for twenty years. He certainly should be taught a lesson, and Anne felt vindictively that she would enjoy seeing the process. Therefore she was delighted when Janet told her, as they were going to prayer-meeting the next night, that she meant to show some "sperrit."
"I'll let John Douglas see I'm not going to be trodden on any longer."
"You are perfectly right," said Anne emphatically.
When prayer-meeting was over John Douglas came up with his usual request. Janet looked frightened but resolute.
"No, thank you," she said icily. "I know the road home pretty well alone. I ought to, seeing I've been traveling it for forty years. So you needn't trouble yourself, MR. Douglas."
Anne was looking at John Douglas; and, in that brilliant moonlight, she saw the last twist of the rack again. Without a word he turned and strode down the road.
"Stop! Stop!" Anne called wildly after him, not caring in the least for the other dumbfounded onlookers. "Mr. Douglas, stop! Come back."
John Douglas stopped but he did not come back. Anne flew down the road, caught his arm and fairly dragged him back to Janet.
"You must come back," she said imploringly. "It's all a mistake, Mr. Douglas -- all my fault. I made Janet do it. She didn't want to -- but it's all right now, isn't it, Janet?"
Without a word Janet took his arm and walked away. Anne followed them meekly home and slipped in by the back door.
"Well, you are a nice person to back me up," said Janet sarcastically.
"I couldn't help it, Janet," said Anne repentantly. "I just felt as if I had stood by and seen murder done. I HAD to run after him."
"Oh, I'm just as glad you did. When I saw John Douglas making off down that road I just felt as if every little bit of joy and happiness that was left in my life was going with him. It was an awful feeling."
"Did he ask you why you did it?" asked Anne.
"No, he never said a word about it," replied Janet dully.
Next chapter: Chapter XXXIV -- John Douglas Speaks at Last