There had been an autumn storm of wind and rain, lasting for three days. Thunderous had been the crash of billows on the rocks, wild the white spray and spume that blew over the bar, troubled and misty and tempest-torn the erstwhile blue peace of Four Winds Harbor. Now it was over, and the shore lay clean-washed after the storm; not a wind stirred, but there was still a fine surf on, dashing on sand and rock in a splendid white turmoil--the only restless thing in the great, pervading stillness and peace.
"Oh, this is a moment worth living through weeks of storm and stress for," Anne exclaimed, delightedly sending her far gaze across the tossing waters from the top of the cliff where she stood. Presently she scrambled down the steep path to the little cove below, where she seemed shut in with rocks and sea and sky.
"I'm going to dance and sing," she said. "There's no one here to see me--the seagulls won't carry tales of the matter. I may be as crazy as I like."
She caught up her skirt and pirouetted along the hard strip of sand just out of reach of the waves that almost lapped her feet with their spent foam. Whirling round and round, laughing like a child, she reached the little headland that ran out to the east of the cove; then she stopped suddenly, blushing crimson; she was not alone; there had been a witness to her dance and laughter.
The girl of the golden hair and sea-blue eyes was sitting on a boulder of the headland, half-hidden by a jutting rock. She was looking straight at Anne with a strange expression--part wonder, part sympathy, part--could it be?--envy. She was bare-headed, and her splendid hair, more than ever like Browning's "gorgeous snake," was bound about her head with a crimson ribbon. She wore a dress of some dark material, very plainly made; but swathed about her waist, outlining its fine curves, was a vivid girdle of red silk. Her hands, clasped over her knee, were brown and somewhat work- hardened; but the skin of her throat and cheeks was as white as cream. A flying gleam of sunset broke through a low-lying western cloud and fell across her hair. For a moment she seemed the spirit of the sea personified--all its mystery, all its passion, all its elusive charm.
"You--you must think me crazy," stammered Anne, trying to recover her self-possession. To be seen by this stately girl in such an abandon of childishness--she, Mrs. Dr. Blythe, with all the dignity of the matron to keep up--it was too bad!
"No," said the girl, "I don't."
She said nothing more; her voice was expressionless; her manner slightly repellent; but there was something in her eyes--eager yet shy, defiant yet pleading--which turned Anne from her purpose of walking away. Instead, she sat down on the boulder beside the girl.
"Let's introduce ourselves," she said, with the smile that had never yet failed to win confidence and friendliness. "I am Mrs. Blythe--and I live in that little white house up the harbor shore."
"Yes, I know," said the girl. "I am Leslie Moore--Mrs. Dick Moore," she added stiffly.
Anne was silent for a moment from sheer amazement. It had not occurred to her that this girl was married--there seemed nothing of the wife about her. And that she should be the neighbor whom Anne had pictured as a commonplace Four Winds housewife! Anne could not quickly adjust her mental focus to this astonishing change.
"Then--then you live in that gray house up the brook," she stammered.
"Yes. I should have gone over to call on you long ago," said the other. She did not offer any explanation or excuse for not having gone.
"I wish you would come," said Anne, recovering herself somewhat. "We're such near neighbors we ought to be friends. That is the sole fault of Four Winds--there aren't quite enough neighbors. Otherwise it is perfection."
"You like it?"
"Like it! I love it. It is the most beautiful place I ever saw."
"I've never seen many places," said Leslie Moore, slowly, "but I've always thought it was very lovely here. I--I love it, too."
She spoke, as she looked, shyly, yet eagerly. Anne had an odd impression that this strange girl--the word "girl" would persist-- could say a good deal if she chose.
"I often come to the shore," she added.
"So do I," said Anne. "It's a wonder we haven't met here before."
"Probably you come earlier in the evening than I do. It is generally late--almost dark--when I come. And I love to come just after a storm--like this. I don't like the sea so well when it's calm and quiet. I like the struggle--and the crash--and the noise."
"I love it in all its moods," declared Anne. "The sea at Four Winds is to me what Lover's Lane was at home. Tonight it seemed so free--so untamed--something broke loose in me, too, out of sympathy. That was why I danced along the shore in that wild way. I didn't suppose anybody was looking, of course. If Miss Cornelia Bryant had seen me she would have forboded a gloomy prospect for poor young Dr. Blythe."
"You know Miss Cornelia?" said Leslie, laughing. She had an exquisite laugh; it bubbled up suddenly and unexpectedly with something of the delicious quality of a baby's. Anne laughed, too.
"Oh, yes. She has been down to my house of dreams several times."
"Your house of dreams?"
"Oh, that's a dear, foolish little name Gilbert and I have for our home. We just call it that between ourselves. It slipped out before I thought."
"So Miss Russell's little white house is your house of dreams," said Leslie wonderingly. "I had a house of dreams once--but it was a palace," she added, with a laugh, the sweetness of which was marred by a little note of derision.
"Oh, I once dreamed of a palace, too," said Anne. "I suppose all girls do. And then we settle down contentedly in eight-room houses that seem to fulfill all the desires of our hearts--because our prince is there. You should have had your palace really, though--you are so beautiful. You must let me say it--it has to be said--I'm nearly bursting with admiration. You are the loveliest thing I ever saw, Mrs. Moore."
"If we are to be friends you must call me Leslie," said the other with an odd passion.
"Of course I will. And my friends call me Anne."
"I suppose I am beautiful," Leslie went on, looking stormily out to sea. "I hate my beauty. I wish I had always been as brown and plain as the brownest and plainest girl at the fishing village over there. Well, what do you think of Miss Cornelia?"
The abrupt change of subject shut the door on any further confidences.
"Miss Cornelia is a darling, isn't she?" said Anne. "Gilbert and I were invited to her house to a state tea last week. You've heard of groaning tables."
"I seem to recall seeing the expression in the newspaper reports of weddings," said Leslie, smiling.
"Well, Miss Cornelia's groaned--at least, it creaked--positively. You couldn't have believed she would have cooked so much for two ordinary people. She had every kind of pie you could name, I think--except lemon pie. She said she had taken the prize for lemon pies at the Charlottetown Exhibition ten years ago and had never made any since for fear of losing her reputation for them."
"Were you able to eat enough pie to please her?"
"I wasn't. Gilbert won her heart by eating--I won't tell you how much. She said she never knew a man who didn't like pie better than his Bible. Do you know, I love Miss Cornelia."
"So do I," said Leslie. "She is the best friend I have in the world."
Anne wondered secretly why, if this were so, Miss Cornelia had never mentioned Mrs. Dick Moore to her. Miss Cornelia had certainly talked freely about every other individual in or near Four Winds.
"Isn't that beautiful?" said Leslie, after a brief silence, pointing to the exquisite effect of a shaft of light falling through a cleft in the rock behind them, across a dark green pool at its base. "If I had come here--and seen nothing but just that--I would go home satisfied."
"The effects of light and shadow all along these shores are wonderful," agreed Anne. "My little sewing room looks out on the harbor, and I sit at its window and feast my eyes. The colors and shadows are never the same two minutes together."
"And you are never lonely?" asked Leslie abruptly. "Never-- when you are alone?"
"No. I don't think I've ever been really lonely in my life," answered Anne. "Even when I'm alone I have real good company-- dreams and imaginations and pretendings. I like to be alone now and then, just to think over things and taste them. But I love friendship-- and nice, jolly little times with people. Oh, won't you come to see me--often? Please do. I believe," Anne added, laughing, "that you'd like me if you knew me."
"I wonder if you would like me," said Leslie seriously. She was not fishing for a compliment. She looked out across the waves that were beginning to be garlanded with blossoms of moonlit foam, and her eyes filled with shadows.
"I'm sure I would," said Anne. "And please don't think I'm utterly irresponsible because you saw me dancing on the shore at sunset. No doubt I shall be dignified after a time. You see, I haven't been married very long. I feel like a girl, and sometimes like a child, yet."
"I have been married twelve years," said Leslie.
Here was another unbelievable thing.
"Why, you can't be as old as I am!" exclaimed Anne. "You must have been a child when you were married."
"I was sixteen," said Leslie, rising, and picking up the cap and jacket lying beside her. "I am twenty-eight now. Well, I must go back."
"So must I. Gilbert will probably be home. But I'm so glad we both came to the shore tonight and met each other."
Leslie said nothing, and Anne was a little chilled. She had offered friendship frankly but it had not been accepted very graciously, if it had not been absolutely repelled. In silence they climbed the cliffs and walked across a pasture-field of which the feathery, bleached, wild grasses were like a carpet of creamy velvet in the moonlight. When they reached the shore lane Leslie turned.
"I go this way, Mrs. Blythe. You will come over and see me some time, won't you?"
Anne felt as if the invitation had been thrown at her. She got the impression that Leslie Moore gave it reluctantly.
"I will come if you really want me to," she said a little coldly.
"Oh, I do--I do," exclaimed Leslie, with an eagerness which seemed to burst forth and beat down some restraint that had been imposed on it.
"Then I'll come. Good-night--Leslie."
"Good-night, Mrs. Blythe."
Anne walked home in a brown study and poured out her tale to Gilbert.
"So Mrs. Dick Moore isn't one of the race that knows Joseph?" said Gilbert teasingly.
"No--o--o, not exactly. And yet--I think she was one of them once, but has gone or got into exile," said Anne musingly. "She is certainly very different from the other women about here. You can't talk about eggs and butter to her. To think I've been imagining her a second Mrs. Rachel Lynde! Have you ever seen Dick Moore, Gilbert?"
"No. I've seen several men working about the fields of the farm, but I don't know which was Moore."
"She never mentioned him. I know she isn't happy."
"From what you tell me I suppose she was married before she was old enough to know her own mind or heart, and found out too late that she had made a mistake. It's a common tragedy enough, Anne.
A fine woman would have made the best of it. Mrs. Moore has evidently let it make her bitter and resentful."
"Don't let us judge her till we know," pleaded Anne. "I don't believe her case is so ordinary. You will understand her fascination when you meet her, Gilbert. It is a thing quite apart from her beauty. I feel that she possesses a rich nature, into which a friend might enter as into a kingdom; but for some reason she bars every one out and shuts all her possibilities up in herself, so that they cannot develop and blossom. There, I've been struggling to define her to myself ever since I left her, and that is the nearest I can get to it. I'm going to ask Miss Cornelia about her."
Next chapter: The Story of Leslie Moore