One September afternoon in the year of grace 1840 Avery and Janet Sparhallow were picking apples in their Uncle Daniel Sparhallow's big orchard. It was an afternoon of mellow sunshine; about them, beyond the orchard, were old harvest fields, mellowly bright and serene, and beyond the fields the sapphire curve of the St. Lawrence Gulf was visible through the groves of spruce and birch. There was a soft whisper of wind in the trees, and the pale purple asters that feathered the orchard grass swayed gently towards each other. Janet Sparhallow, who loved the outdoor world and its beauty, was, for the time being at least, very happy, as her little brown face, with its fine, satiny skin, plainly showed. Avery Sparhallow did not seem so happy. She worked rather abstractedly and frowned oftener than she smiled.
Avery Sparhallow was conceded to be a beauty, and had no rival in Burnley Beach. She was very pretty, with the obvious, indisputable prettiness of rich black hair, vivid, certain colour, and laughing, brilliant eyes. Nobody ever called Janet a beauty, or even thought her pretty. She was only seventeen—five years younger than Avery—and was rather lanky and weedy, with a rope of straight dark-brown hair, long, narrow, shining brown eyes and very black lashes, and a crooked, clever little mouth. She had visitations of beauty when excited, because then she flushed deeply, and colour made all the difference in the world to her; but she had never happened to look in the glass when excited, so that she had never seen herself beautiful; and hardly anybody else had ever seen her so, because she was always too shy and awkward and tongue-tied in company to feel excited over anything. Yet very little could bring that transforming flush to her face: a wind off the gulf, a sudden glimpse of blue upland, a flame-red poppy, a baby's laugh, a certain footstep. As for Avery Sparhallow, she never got excited over anything—not even her wedding dress, which had come from Charlottetown that day, and was incomparably beyond anything that had ever been seen in Burnley Beach before. For it was made of an apple-green silk, sprayed over with tiny rosebuds, which had been specially sent for to England, where Aunt Matilda Sparhallow had a brother in the silk trade. Avery Sparhallow's wedding dress was making far more of a sensation in Burnley Beach than her wedding itself was making. For Randall Burnley had been dangling after her for three years, and everybody knew that there was nobody for a Sparhallow to marry except a Burnley and nobody for a Burnley to marry except a Sparhallow.
"Only one silk dress—and I want a dozen," Avery had said scornfully.
"What would you do with a dozen silk dresses on a farm?" Janet asked wonderingly.
"Oh—what indeed?" agreed Avery, with an impatient laugh.
"Randall will think just as much of you in drugget as in silk," said Janet, meaning to comfort.
Again Avery laughed.
"That is true. Randall never notices what a woman has on. I like a man who does notice—and tells me about it. I like a man who likes me better in silk than in drugget. I will wear this rosebud silk when I'm married, and it will be supposed to last me the rest of my life and be worn on all state occasions, and in time become an heirloom like Aunt Matilda's hideous blue satin. I want a new silk dress every month."
Janet paid little attention to this kind of raving. Avery had always been more or less discontented. She would be contented enough after she was married. Nobody could be discontented who was Randall Burnley's wife. Janet was sure of that.
Janet liked picking apples; Avery did not like it; but Aunt Matilda had decreed that the red apples should be picked that afternoon, and Aunt Matilda's word was law at the Sparhallow farm, even for wilful Avery. So they worked and talked as they worked—of Avery's wedding, which was to be as soon as Bruce Gordon should arrive from Scotland.
"I wonder what Bruce will be like," said Avery. "It is eight years since he went home to Scotland. He was sixteen then—he will be twenty-four now. He went away a boy—he will come back a man."
"I don't remember much about him," said Janet. "I was only nine when he went away. He used to tease me—I do remember that." There was a little resentment in her voice. Janet had never liked being teased. Avery laughed.
"You were so touchy, Janet. Touchy people always get teased. Bruce was very handsome—and as nice as he was handsome. Those two years he was here were the nicest, gayest time I ever had. I wish he had stayed in Canada. But of course he wouldn't do that. His father was a rich man and Bruce was ambitious. Oh, Janet, I wish I could live in the old land. That would be life."
Janet had heard all this before and could not understand it. She had no hankering for either Scotland or England. She loved the new land and its wild, virgin beauty. She yearned to the future, never to the past.
"I'm tired of Burnley Beach," Avery went on passionately, shaking apples wildly off a laden bough by way of emphasis. "I know all the people—what they are—what they can be. It's like reading a book for the twentieth time. I know where I was born and who I'll marry—and where I'll be buried. That's knowing too much. All my days will be alike when I marry Randall. There will never be anything unexpected or surprising about them. I tell you Janet," Avery seized another bough and shook it with a vengeance, "I hate the very thought of it."
"The thought of—what?" said Janet in bewilderment.
"Of marrying Randall Burnley—or marrying anybody down here—and settling down on a farm for life."
Then Avery sat down on the rung of her ladder and laughed at Janet's face.
"You look stunned, Janet. Did you really think I wanted to marry Randall?"
Janet was stunned, and she did think that. How could any girl not want to marry Randall Burnley if she had the chance?
"Don't you love him?" she asked stupidly.
Avery bit into a nut-sweet apple.
"No," she said frankly. "Oh, I don't hate him, of course. I like him well enough. I like him very well. But we'll quarrel all our lives."
"Then what are you marrying him for?" asked Janet.
"Why, I'm getting on—twenty-two—all the girls of my age are married already. I won't be an old maid, and there's nobody but Randall. Nobody good enough for a Sparhallow, that is. You wouldn't want me to marry Ned Adams or John Buchanan, would you?"
"No," said Janet, who had her full share of the Sparhallow pride.
"Well, then, of course I must marry Randall. That's settled and there's no use making faces over the notion. I'm not making faces, but I'm tired of hearing you talk as if you thought I adored him and must be in the seventh heaven because I was going to marry him, you romantic child."
"Does Randall know you feel like this?" asked Janet in a low tone.
"No. Randall is like all men—vain and self-satisfied—and believes I'm crazy about him. It's just as well to let him think so, until we're safely married anyhow. Randall has some romantic notions too, and I'm not sure that he'd marry me if he knew, in spite of his three years' devotion. And I have no intention of being jilted three weeks before my wedding day."
Avery laughed again, and tossed away the core of her apple.
Janet, who had been very pale, went crimson and lovely. She could not endure hearing Randall criticized. "Vain and self-satisfied"—when there was never a man less so! She was horrified to feel that she almost hated Avery—Avery who did not love Randall.
"What a pity Randall didn't take a fancy to you instead of me, Janet," said Avery teasingly. "Wouldn't you like to marry him, Janet? Wouldn't you now?"
"No," cried Janet angrily. "I just like Randall, I've liked him ever since that day when I was a little thing and he came here and saved me from being shut up all day in that dreadful dark closet because I broke Aunt Matilda's blue cup—when I hadn't meant to break it. He wouldn't let her shut me up! He is like that—he understands! I want you to marry him because he wants you, and it isn't fair that you—that you—"
"Nothing is fair in this world, child. Is it fair that I, who am so pretty—you know I am pretty, Janet—and who love life and excitement, should have to be buried on a P.E. Island farm all my days? Or else be an old maid because a Sparhallow mustn't marry beneath her? Come, Janet, don't look so woebegone. I wouldn't have told you if I'd thought you'd take it so much to heart. I'll be a good wife to Randall, never fear, and I'll keep him up to the notch of prosperity much better than if I thought him a little lower than the angels. It doesn't do to think a man perfection, Janet, because he thinks so too, and when he finds someone who agrees with him he is inclined to rest on his oars."
"At any rate, you don't care for anyone else," said Janet hopefully.
"Not I. I like Randall as well as I like anybody."
"Randall won't be satisfied with that," muttered Janet. But Avery did not hear her, having picked up her basket of apples and gone. Janet sat down on the lower rung of the ladder and gave herself up to an unpleasant reverie. Oh, how the world had changed in half an hour! She had never been so worried in her life. She was so fond of Randall—she had always been fond of him—why, he was just like a brother to her! She couldn't possibly love a brother more. And Avery was going to hurt him; it would hurt him horribly when he found out she did not love him. Janet could not bear the thought of Randall being hurt; it made her fairly savage. He must not be hurt—Avery must love him. Janet could not understand why she did not.
Surely everyone must love Randall. It had never occurred to Janet to ask herself, as Avery had asked, if she would like to marry Randall. Randall could never fancy her—a little plain, brown thing, only half grown. Nobody could think of her beside beautiful, rose-faced Avery. Janet accepted this fact unquestioningly. She had never been jealous. She only felt that she wanted Randall to have everything he wanted—to be perfectly happy. Why, it would be dreadful if he did not marry Avery—if he went and married some other girl. She would never see him then, never have any more delightful talks with him about all the things they both loved so much—winds and delicate dawns, mysterious woods in moonlight and starry midnights, silver-white sails going out of the harbour in the magic of morning, and the grey of gulf storms. There would be nothing in life; it would just be one great, unbearable emptiness; for she, herself, would never marry. There was nobody for her to marry—and she didn't care. If she could have Randall for a real brother, she would not mind a bit being an old maid. And there was that beautiful new frame house Randall had built for his bride, which she, Janet, had helped him build, because Avery would not condescend to details of pantry and linen closet and cupboards. Janet and Randall had had such fun over the cupboards. No stranger must ever come to be mistress of that house. Randall must marry Avery, and she must love him. Could anything be done to make her love him?
"I believe I'll go and see Granny Thomas," said Janet desperately.
She thought this was a silly idea, but it still haunted her and would not be shaken off. Granny Thomas was a very old woman who lived at Burnley Cove and was reputed to be something of a witch. That is, people who were not Sparhallows or Burnleys gave her that name. Sparhallows or Burnleys, of course, were above believing in such nonsense. Janet was above believing it; but still—the sailors along shore were careful to "keep on the good side" of Granny Thomas, lest she brew an unfavourable wind for them, and there was much talk of love potions. Janet knew that people said Peggy Buchanan would never have got Jack McLeod if Granny had not given her a love potion. Jack had never looked at Peggy, though she was after him for years; and then, all at once, he was quite mad about her—and married her—and wore her life out with jealousy. And Peggy, the homeliest of all the Buchanan girls! There must be something in it. Janet made a sudden desperate resolve. She would go to Granny and ask her for a love potion to make Avery love Randall. If Granny couldn't do any good, she couldn't do any harm. Janet was a little afraid of her, and had never been near her house, but what wouldn't she do for Randall?
Janet never lost much time in carrying out any resolution she made. The next afternoon she slipped away to visit Granny Thomas. She put on her longest dress and did her hair up for the first time. Granny must not think her a child. She rowed herself down the long pond to the row of golden-brown sand dunes that parted it from the gulf. It was a wonderful autumn day. There were wild growths and colours and scents in sweet procession all around the pond. Every curve in it revealed some little whim of loveliness. On the left bank, in a grove of birch, was Randall's new house, waiting to be sanctified by love and joy and birth. Janet loved to be alone thus with the delightful day. She was sorry when she had walked over the stretch of windy weedy sea fields and reached Granny's little tumbledown house at the Cove—sorry and a little frightened as well. But only a little; there was good stuff in Janet; she lifted the latch boldly and walked in when Granny bade. Granny was curled up on a stool by her fireplace, and if ever anybody did look like a witch, she did. She waved her pipe at another stool, and Janet sat down, gazing a little curiously at Granny, whom she had never seen at such close quarters before.
Will I look like that when I am very old? she thought, beholding Granny's wizened, marvellously wrinkled face. I wonder if anybody will be sorry when you die.
"Staring wasn't thought good manners in my time," said Granny. Then, as Janet blushed crimson under the rebuke, she added, "Keep red like that instead o' white, and you won't need no love ointment."
Janet felt a little cold thrill. How did Granny know what she had come for? Was she a real witch after all? For a moment she wished she hadn't come. Perhaps it was not right to tamper with the powers of darkness. Peggy Buchanan was notoriously unhappy. If Janet had known how to get herself away, she would have gone without asking for anything.
Then a sound came from the lean-to behind the house.
"S-s-h. I hear the devil grunting like a pig," muttered Granny, looking very impish.
But Janet smiled a little contemptuously. She knew it was a pig and no devil. Granny Thomas was only an old fraud. Her awe passed away and left her cool Sparhallow.
"Can you," she said with her own directness, "make a—a person care for another person—care—very much?"
Granny removed her pipe and chuckled.
"What you want is toad ointment," she said.
Toad ointment! Janet shuddered. That did not sound very nice. Granny noticed the shudder.
"Nothing like it," she said, nodding her crone-like old grey head. "There's other things, but noan so sure. Put a li'l bit—oh, such a li'l bit—on his eyelids, and he's yourn for life. You need something powerful—you're noan so pretty—only when you're blushing."
Janet was blushing again. So Granny thought she wanted the charm for herself! Well, what did it matter? Randall was the only one to be considered.
"Is it very—expensive?" she faltered. She had not much money. Money was no plentiful thing on a P.E.I. farm in 1840.
"Oh, noa—oh, noa," Granny leered. "I don't sell it. I gives it. I like to see young folks happy. You don't need much, as I've said—just a li'l smootch and you'll have your man, and send old Granny a bite o' the wedding cake and fig o' baccy for luck, and a bid to the fir-r-st christening! Doan't forget that, dearie."
Janet was cold again with anger. She hated old Granny Thomas. She would never come near her again.
"I'd rather pay you its worth," she said coldly.
"You couldn't, dearie. What money could be eno' for such a treasure? But that's the Sparhallow pride. Well, go, see if the Sparhallow pride and the Sparhallow money will buy you your lad's love."
Granny looked so angry that Janet hastened to appease her.
"Oh, please forgive me—I meant no offence. Only—it must have cost you much trouble to make it."
Granny chuckled again. She was vastly pleased to see a Sparhallow suing to her—a Sparhallow!
"Toads am cheap," she said. "It's all in the knowing how and the time o' the moon. Here, take this li'l pill box—there's eno' in it—and put a li'l bit on his eyelids when you've getten the chance—and when he looks at you, he'll love you. Mind you, though, that he looks at no other first—it's the first one he sees that he'll love. That's the way it works."
"Thank you." Janet took the little box. She wished she dared to go at once. But perhaps this would anger Granny. Granny looked at her with a twinkle in her little, incredibly old eyes.
"Be off," she said. "You're in a hurry to go—you're as proud as any of the proud Sparhallows. But I bear you no grudge. I likes proud people—when they have to come to me to get help."
Janet found herself outside with a relieved heart in her bosom and her little box in her hand. For a moment she was tempted to throw it away. But no—Randall would be so unhappy if he found out Avery didn't love him! She would try the ointment at least—she would try to forget about the toads and not let herself think how it was made—something might come of it.
Janet hurried home along the shore, where a silvery wave broke in a little lovely silvery curve on the sand. She was so happy that her cheeks burned, and Randall Burnley, who was sitting on the edge of her flat when she reached the pond, looked at her with admiration. Janet dropped her box into her pocket stealthily when she saw him. What with her guilty secret, she hardly knew whether she was glad or not when he said he was going to row her up the pond.
"I saw you go down an hour ago and I've been waiting ever since," he said. "Where have you been?"
"Oh—I just—wanted a walk—this lovely day," said Janet miserably. She felt that she was telling an untruth and this hurt her horribly—especially when it was to Randall. This was what came of truck with witches—you were led into falsehood and deception straightaway. Again Janet was tempted to drop Granny's pill box into the depths of Burnley Pond—and again she decided not to because she saw Randall Burnley's deep-set, blue-grey eyes, that could look tender or sorrowful or passionate or whimsical as he willed, and thought how they would look when he found Avery did not love him.
So Janet drowned the voice of conscience and was brazenly happy—happy because Randall Burnley rowed her up the pond—happy because he walked halfway home with her over the autumnal fields—happy because he talked of the day and the sea and the golden weather, as only Randall could talk. But she thought she was happy because she had in her pocket what might make Avery love him.
Randall went as far as the stile in the birch wood between the Burnley and the Sparhallow land—and he kept her there talking for another half-hour—and though he talked only of a book he had read and a new puppy he was training, Janet listened with her soul in her ears. She talked too—quite freely; she was never in the least shy or tongue-tied or awkward in Randall's company. There she was always at her best, with a delightful feeling of being understood. She wondered if he noticed she had her hair done up. Her eyes shone and her brown face was full of rosy, kissable hues. When he finally turned away homeward, life went flat. Janet decided she was very tired after her long walk and her trying interview. But it did not matter, since she had her love potion. That was so much nicer a name than toad ointment.
That night Janet rubbed mutton tallow on her hands. She had never done that before—she had thought it vain and foolish—though Avery did it every night. But that afternoon on the pond Randall had said something about the beautiful shape of her pretty slender hands. He had never paid her a compliment before. Her hands were brown and a little hard—not soft and white like Avery's. So Janet resorted to the mutton tallow. If one had a scrap of beauty, if only in one's hands, one might as well take care of it.
Having got her ointment, the next thing was to make use of it. This was not so easy—because, in the first place, it must not be done when there was any danger of Avery's seeing some other than Randall first—and it must be done without Avery's knowing it. The two problems combined were almost too much for Janet. She bided her chance like a watchful cat—but it did not come. Two weeks went by and it had not come. Janet was getting very desperate. The wedding day was only a week away. The bride's cake was made and the turkeys fattened. The invitations were sent out. Janet's own bridesmaid dress was ready. And still the little pill box in the till of Janet's blue chest was unopened. She had never even opened it, lest virtue escape.
Then her chance came at last, unexpectedly. One evening at dusk, when Janet was crossing the little dark upstairs hall, Aunt Matilda called up to her.
"Janet, send Avery down. There is a young man wanting to see her."
Aunt Matilda was laughing a little—as she always did when Randall came. It was a habit with her, hanging over from the early days of Randall's courtship. Janet went on into their room to tell Avery. And lo, Avery was lying asleep on her bed, tired out from her busy day. Janet, after one glance, flew to her chest. She took out her pill box and opened it, a little fearfully. The toad ointment was there, dark and unpleasant enough to view. Janet tiptoed breathlessly to the bed and gingerly scraped the tip of her finger in the ointment.
She said so little would be enough—oh, I hope I'm not doing wrong.
Trembling with excitement, she brushed lightly the white lids of Avery's eyes. Avery stirred and opened them. Janet guiltily thrust her pill box behind her.
"Randall is downstairs asking for you, Avery."
Avery sat up, looking annoyed. She had not expected Randall that evening and would greatly have preferred a continuance of her nap. She went down crossly enough, but looking very lovely, flushed from sleep. Janet stood in their room, clasping her cold hands nervously over her breast. Would the charm work? Oh, she must know—she must know. She could not wait. After a few moments that seemed like years she crept down the stairs and out into the dusk of the June-warm September night. Like a shadow she slipped up to the open parlour window and looked cautiously in between the white muslin curtains. The next minute she had fallen on her knees in the mint bed. She wished she could die then and there.
The young man in the parlour was not Randall Burnley. He was dark and smart and handsome; he was sitting on the sofa by Avery's side, holding her hands in his, smiling into her rosy, delighted, excited face. And he was Bruce Gordon—no doubt of that. Bruce Gordon, the expected cousin from Scotland!
"Oh, what have I done? What have I done?" moaned poor Janet, wringing her hands. She had seen Avery's face quite plainly—had seen the look in her eyes. Avery had never looked at Randall Burnley like that. Granny Thomas' abominable ointment had worked all right—and Avery had fallen in love with the wrong man.
Janet, cold with horror and remorse, dragged herself up to the window again and listened. She must know—she must be sure. She could hear only a word here and there, but that word was enough.
"I thought you promised to wait for me, Avery," Bruce said reproachfully.
"You were so long in coming back—I thought you had forgotten me," cried Avery.
"I think I did forget a little, Avery. I was such a boy. But now—well, thank Heaven, I haven't come too late."
There was a silence, and shameless Janet, peering above the window sill, saw what she saw. It was enough. She crept away upstairs to her room. She was lying there across the bed when Avery swept in—a splendid, transfigured Avery, flushed triumphant. Janet sat up, pallid, tear-stained, and looked at her.
"Janet," said Avery, "I am going to marry Bruce Gordon next Wednesday night instead of Randall Burnley."
Janet sprang forward and caught Avery's hand.
"You must not," she cried wildly. "It's all my fault—oh, if I could only die—I got the love ointment from Granny Thomas to rub on your eyes to make you love the first man you would see. I meant it to be Randall—I thought it was Randall—oh, Avery!"
Avery had been listening, between amazement and anger. Now anger mastered amazement.
"Janet Sparhallow," she cried, "are you crazy? Or do you mean that you went to Granny Thomas—you, a Sparhallow!—and asked her for a love philtre to make me love Randall Burnley?"
"I didn't tell her it was for you—she thought I wanted it for myself," moaned Janet. "Oh, we must undo it—I'll go to her again—no doubt she knows of some way to undo the spell—"
Avery, whose rages never lasted long, threw back her dark head and laughed ringingly.
"Janet Sparhallow, you talk as if you lived in the dark ages! The idea of supposing that horrid old woman could give you love philtres! Why, girl, I've always loved Bruce—always. But I thought he'd forgotten me. And tonight when he came I found he hadn't. There's the whole thing in a nutshell. I'm going to marry him and go home with him to Scotland."
"And what about Randall?" said Janet, corpse-white.
"Oh, Randall—pooh! Do you suppose I'm worrying about Randall? But you must go to him tomorrow and tell him for me, Janet."
"I will not—I will not."
"Then I'll tell him myself—and I'll tell him about you going to Granny," said Avery cruelly. "Janet, don't stand there looking like that. I've no patience with you. I shall be perfectly happy with Bruce—I would have been miserable with Randall. I know I shan't sleep a wink tonight—I'm so excited. Why, Janet, I'll be Mrs. Gordon of Gordon Brae—and I'll have everything heart can desire and the man of my heart to boot. What has lanky Randall Burnley with his little six-roomed house to set against that?"
If Avery did not sleep, neither did Janet. She lay awake till dawn, suffering such misery as she had never endured in her life before. She knew she must go to Randall Burnley tomorrow and break his heart. If she did not, Avery would tell him—tell him what Janet had done. And he must not know that—he must not. Janet could not bear that thought.
It was a pallid, dull-eyed Janet who went through the birch wood to the Burnley farm next afternoon, leaving behind her an excited household where the sudden change of bridegrooms, as announced by Avery, had rather upset everybody. Janet found Randall working in the garden of his new house—setting out rosebushes for Avery—Avery, who was to jilt him at the very altar, so to speak. He came over to open the gate for Janet, smiling his dear smile. It was a dear smile—Janet caught her breath over the dearness of it—and she was going to blot it off his face.
She spoke out, with plainness and directness. When you had to deal a mortal blow, why try to lighten it?
"Avery sent me to tell you that she is going to marry Bruce Gordon instead of you. He came last night—and she says that she has always liked him best."
A very curious change came over Randall's face—but not the change Janet had expected to see. Instead of turning pale Randall flushed; and instead of a sharp cry of pain and incredulity, Randall said in no uncertain tones, "Thank God!"
Janet wondered if she were dreaming. Granny Thomas' love potion seemed to have turned the world upside down. For Randall's arms were about her and Randall was pressing his lean bronzed cheek to hers and Randall was saying:
"Now I can tell you, Janet, how much I love you."
"Me? Me!" choked Janet.
"You. Why, you're in the very core of my heart, girl. Don't tell me you can't love me—you can—you must—why, Janet," for his eyes had caught and locked with hers for a minute, "you do!"
There were five minutes about which nobody can tell anything, for even Randall and Janet never knew clearly just what happened in those five minutes. Then Janet, feeling somehow as if she had died and then come back to life, found her tongue.
"Three years ago you came courting Avery," she said reproachfully.
"Three years ago you were a child. I did not think about you. I wanted a wife—and Avery was pretty. I thought I was in love with her. Then you grew up all at once—and we were such good friends—I never could talk to Avery—she wasn't interested in anything I said—and you have eyes that catch a man—I've always thought of your eyes. But I was honour-bound to Avery—I didn't dream you cared. You must marry me next Wednesday, Janet—we'll have a double wedding. You won't mind—being married—so soon?"
"Oh, no—I won't—mind," said Janet dazedly. "Only—oh, Randall—I must tell you—I didn't mean to tell you—I'd have rather died—but now—I must tell you about it now—because I can't bear anything hidden between us. I went to old Granny Thomas—and got a love ointment from her—to make Avery love you, because I knew she didn't—and I wanted you to be happy—Randall, don't—I can't talk when you do that! Do you think Granny's ointment could have made her care for Bruce?"
Randall laughed—the little, low laugh of the triumphant lover.
"If it did, I'm glad of it. But I need no such ointment on my eyes to make me love you—you carry your philtre in that elfin little face of yours, Janet."
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