It really began the night before with a restless, wakeful vigil of grumbling toothache. When Anne arose in the dull, bitter winter morning she felt that life was flat, stale, and unprofitable.
She went to school in no angelic mood. Her cheek was swollen and her face ached. The schoolroom was cold and smoky, for the fire refused to burn and the children were huddled about it in shivering groups. Anne sent them to their seats with a sharper tone than she had ever used before. Anthony Pye strutted to his with his usual impertinent swagger and she saw him whisper something to his seat-mate and then glance at her with a grin.
Never, so it seemed to Anne, had there been so many squeaky pencils as there were that morning; and when Barbara Shaw came up to the desk with a sum she tripped over the coal scuttle with disastrous results. The coal rolled to every part of the room, her slate was broken into fragments, and when she picked herself up, her face, stained with coal dust, sent the boys into roars of laughter.
Anne turned from the second reader class which she was hearing.
“Really, Barbara,” she said icily, “if you cannot move without falling over something you’d better remain in your seat. It is positively disgraceful for a girl of your age to be so awkward.”
Poor Barbara stumbled back to her desk, her tears combining with the coal dust to produce an effect truly grotesque. Never before had her beloved, sympathetic teacher spoken to her in such a tone or fashion, and Barbara was heartbroken. Anne herself felt a prick of conscience but it only served to increase her mental irritation, and the second reader class remember that lesson yet, as well as the unmerciful infliction of arithmetic that followed. Just as Anne was snapping the sums out St. Clair Donnell arrived breathlessly.
“You are half an hour late, St. Clair,” Anne reminded him frigidly. “Why is this?”
“Please, miss, I had to help ma make a pudding for dinner ‘cause we’re expecting company and Clarice Almira’s sick,” was St. Clair’s answer, given in a perfectly respectful voice but nevertheless provocative of great mirth among his mates.
“Take your seat and work out the six problems on page eighty-four of your arithmetic for punishment,” said Anne. St. Clair looked rather amazed at her tone but he went meekly to his desk and took out his slate. Then he stealthily passed a small parcel to Joe Sloane across the aisle. Anne caught him in the act and jumped to a fatal conclusion about that parcel.
Old Mrs. Hiram Sloane had lately taken to making and selling “nut cakes” by way of adding to her scanty income. The cakes were specially tempting to small boys and for several weeks Anne had had not a little trouble in regard to them. On their way to school the boys would invest their spare cash at Mrs. Hiram’s, bring the cakes along with them to school, and, if possible, eat them and treat their mates during school hours. Anne had warned them that if they brought any more cakes to school they would be confiscated; and yet here was St. Clair Donnell coolly passing a parcel of them, wrapped up in the blue and white striped paper Mrs. Hiram used, under her very eyes.
“Joseph,” said Anne quietly, “bring that parcel here.”
Joe, startled and abashed, obeyed. He was a fat urchin who always blushed and stuttered when he was frightened. Never did anybody look more guilty than poor Joe at that moment.
“Throw it into the fire,” said Anne.
Joe looked very blank.
“P . . . p . . . p . . . lease, m . . . m . . . miss,” he began.
“Do as I tell you, Joseph, without any words about it.”
“B . . . b . . . but m . . . m . . . miss . . . th . . . th . . . they’re . . .” gasped Joe in desperation.
“Joseph, are you going to obey me or are you NOT?” said Anne.
A bolder and more self-possessed lad than Joe Sloane would have been overawed by her tone and the dangerous flash of her eyes. This was a new Anne whom none of her pupils had ever seen before. Joe, with an agonized glance at St. Clair, went to the stove, opened the big, square front door, and threw the blue and white parcel in, before St. Clair, who had sprung to his feet, could utter a word. Then he dodged back just in time.
For a few moments the terrified occupants of Avonlea school did not know whether it was an earthquake or a volcanic explosion that had occurred. The innocent looking parcel which Anne had rashly supposed to contain Mrs. Hiram’s nut cakes really held an assortment of firecrackers and pinwheels for which Warren Sloane had sent to town by St. Clair Donnell’s father the day before, intending to have a birthday celebration that evening. The crackers went off in a thunderclap of noise and the pinwheels bursting out of the door spun madly around the room, hissing and spluttering. Anne dropped into her chair white with dismay and all the girls climbed shrieking upon their desks. Joe Sloane stood as one transfixed in the midst of the commotion and St. Clair, helpless with laughter, rocked to and fro in the aisle. Prillie Rogerson fainted and Annetta Bell went into hysterics.
It seemed a long time, although it was really only a few minutes, before the last pinwheel subsided. Anne, recovering herself, sprang to open doors and windows and let out the gas and smoke which filled the room. Then she helped the girls carry the unconscious Prillie into the porch, where Barbara Shaw, in an agony of desire to be useful, poured a pailful of half frozen water over Prillie’s face and shoulders before anyone could stop her.
It was a full hour before quiet was restored . . . but it was a quiet that might be felt. Everybody realized that even the explosion had not cleared the teacher’s mental atmosphere. Nobody, except Anthony Pye, dared whisper a word. Ned Clay accidentally squeaked his pencil while working a sum, caught Anne’s eye and wished the floor would open and swallow him up. The geography class were whisked through a continent with a speed that made them dizzy. The grammar class were parsed and analyzed within an inch of their lives. Chester Sloane, spelling “odoriferous” with two f’s, was made to feel that he could never live down the disgrace of it, either in this world or that which is to come.
Anne knew that she had made herself ridiculous and that the incident would be laughed over that night at a score of tea-tables, but the knowledge only angered her further. In a calmer mood she could have carried off the situation with a laugh but now that was impossible; so she ignored it in icy disdain.
When Anne returned to the school after dinner all the children were as usual in their seats and every face was bent studiously over a desk except Anthony Pye’s. He peered across his book at Anne, his black eyes sparkling with curiosity and mockery. Anne twitched open the drawer of her desk in search of chalk and under her very hand a lively mouse sprang out of the drawer, scampered over the desk, and leaped to the floor.
Anne screamed and sprang back, as if it had been a snake, and Anthony Pye laughed aloud.
Then a silence fell . . . a very creepy, uncomfortable silence. Annetta Bell was of two minds whether to go into hysterics again or not, especially as she didn’t know just where the mouse had gone. But she decided not to. Who could take any comfort out of hysterics with a teacher so white-faced and so blazing-eyed standing before one?
“Who put that mouse in my desk?” said Anne. Her voice was quite low but it made a shiver go up and down Paul Irving’s spine. Joe Sloane caught her eye, felt responsible from the crown of his head to the sole of his feet, but stuttered out wildly,
“N . . . n . . . not m . . . m . . . me t . . . t . . . teacher, n . . . n . . . not m . . . m . . . me.”
Anne paid no attention to the wretched Joseph. She looked at Anthony Pye, and Anthony Pye looked back unabashed and unashamed.
“Anthony, was it you?”
“Yes, it was,” said Anthony insolently.
Anne took her pointer from her desk. It was a long, heavy hardwood pointer.
“Come here, Anthony.”
It was far from being the most severe punishment Anthony Pye had ever undergone. Anne, even the stormy-souled Anne she was at that moment, could not have punished any child cruelly. But the pointer nipped keenly and finally Anthony’s bravado failed him; he winced and the tears came to his eyes.
Anne, conscience-stricken, dropped the pointer and told Anthony to go to his seat. She sat down at her desk feeling ashamed, repentant, and bitterly mortified. Her quick anger was gone and she would have given much to have been able to seek relief in tears. So all her boasts had come to this . . . she had actually whipped one of her pupils. How Jane would triumph! And how Mr. Harrison would chuckle! But worse than this, bitterest thought of all, she had lost her last chance of winning Anthony Pye. Never would he like her now.
Anne, by what somebody has called “a Herculaneum effort,” kept back her tears until she got home that night. Then she shut herself in the east gable room and wept all her shame and remorse and disappointment into her pillows . . . wept so long that Marilla grew alarmed, invaded the room, and insisted on knowing what the trouble was.
“The trouble is, I’ve got things the matter with my conscience,” sobbed Anne. “Oh, this has been such a Jonah day, Marilla. I’m so ashamed of myself. I lost my temper and whipped Anthony Pye.”
“I’m glad to hear it,” said Marilla with decision. “It’s what you should have done long ago.”
“Oh, no, no, Marilla. And I don’t see how I can ever look those children in the face again. I feel that I have humiliated myself to the very dust. You don’t know how cross and hateful and horrid I was. I can’t forget the expression in Paul Irving’s eyes . . . he looked so surprised and disappointed. Oh, Marilla, I HAVE tried so hard to be patient and to win Anthony’s liking . . . and now it has all gone for nothing.”
Marilla passed her hard work-worn hand over the girl’s glossy, tumbled hair with a wonderful tenderness. When Anne’s sobs grew quieter she said, very gently for her,
“You take things too much to heart, Anne. We all make mistakes . . . but people forget them. And Jonah days come to everybody. As for Anthony Pye, why need you care if he does dislike you? He is the only one.”
“I can’t help it. I want everybody to love me and it hurts me so when anybody doesn’t. And Anthony never will now. Oh, I just made an idiot of myself today, Marilla. I’ll tell you the whole story.”
Marilla listened to the whole story, and if she smiled at certain parts of it Anne never knew. When the tale was ended she said briskly,
“Well, never mind. This day’s done and there’s a new one coming tomorrow, with no mistakes in it yet, as you used to say yourself. Just come downstairs and have your supper. You’ll see if a good cup of tea and those plum puffs I made today won’t hearten you up.”
“Plum puffs won’t minister to a mind diseased,” said Anne disconsolately; but Marilla thought it a good sign that she had recovered sufficiently to adapt a quotation.
The cheerful supper table, with the twins’ bright faces, and Marilla’s matchless plum puffs . . . of which Davy ate four . . . did “hearten her up” considerably after all. She had a good sleep that night and awakened in the morning to find herself and the world transformed. It had snowed softly and thickly all through the hours of darkness and the beautiful whiteness, glittering in the frosty sunshine, looked like a mantle of charity cast over all the mistakes and humiliations of the past.
“Every morn is a fresh beginning,
Every morn is the world made new,”
sang Anne, as she dressed.
Owing to the snow she had to go around by the road to school and she thought it was certainly an impish coincidence that Anthony Pye should come ploughing along just as she left the Green Gables lane. She felt as guilty as if their positions were reversed; but to her unspeakable astonishment Anthony not only lifted his cap . . . which he had never done before . . . but said easily,
“Kind of bad walking, ain’t it? Can I take those books for you, teacher?”
Anne surrendered her books and wondered if she could possibly be awake. Anthony walked on in silence to the school, but when Anne took her books she smiled down at him . . . not the stereotyped “kind” smile she had so persistently assumed for his benefit but a sudden outflashing of good comradeship. Anthony smiled . . . no, if the truth must be told, Anthony GRINNED back. A grin is not generally supposed to be a respectful thing; yet Anne suddenly felt that if she had not yet won Anthony’s liking she had, somehow or other, won his respect.
Mrs. Rachel Lynde came up the next Saturday and confirmed this.
“Well, Anne, I guess you’ve won over Anthony Pye, that’s what. He says he believes you are some good after all, even if you are a girl. Says that whipping you gave him was ‘just as good as a man’s.’”
“I never expected to win him by whipping him, though,” said Anne, a little mournfully, feeling that her ideals had played her false somewhere. “It doesn’t seem right. I’m sure my theory of kindness can’t be wrong.”
“No, but the Pyes are an exception to every known rule, that’s what,” declared Mrs. Rachel with conviction.
Mr. Harrison said, “Thought you’d come to it,” when he heard it, and Jane rubbed it in rather unmercifully.