Saturday, January 13, 2018

Keep it Short #2

This week I read five short stories by L.M. Montgomery. The stories were: "Fair Exchange and No Robbery," "Four Winds," "Marcella's Reward," "Margaret's Patient," and "Matthew Insists on Puffed Sleeves." 

Fair Exchange and No Robbery

First sentence: Katherine Rangely was packing up. Her chum and roommate, Edith Wilmer, was sitting on the bed watching her in that calm disinterested fashion peculiarly maddening to a bewildered packer.

Premise/plot: Katherine and Edith amicably exchange boyfriends in this short story by L.M. Montgomery. Of course, they don't plan on it. Katherine is going to visit one of her aunt's for a month or two just when her boyfriend, Ned, has come to town. Katherine tells Edith to keep company with Ned and show him around town. Katherine is pleasantly surprised that Edith's boyfriend, Sidney, is staying nearby. They start seeing a lot of each other.

My thoughts: This is a silly, almost amateurish story. I would recommend Montgomery to anyone who's weighed down by a recent Thomas Hardy read. Montgomery is the perfect antidote.

Four Winds

First sentence: Alan Douglas threw down his pen with an impatient exclamation. It was high time his next Sunday's sermon was written, but he could not concentrate his thoughts on his chosen text.

Premise/plot: A preacher (Alan) falls in love with a young woman (Lynde) who has never entered a church in her life.

Alan finds inspiration from his nature walks. One day he takes a new path that leads him to a house that he's never seen before. He sees a beautiful woman. He wants to know who she is and more about her. The gossip he hears is discouraging. She's the daughter of a reclusive sea captain; he's known to be an atheist who yells visiting preachers off his property. But all is not as it seems. He begins to know all three residents. He falls madly in love with Lynde Oliver, the young woman. But will they get their happily ever after?

My thoughts: Four Winds was a much better read. The characters are more developed. The story is definitely more complex as well. But it was the writing that hooked me.
Many of Alan's best sermons were written after he had come home, rapt-eyed, from some long shore tramp where the wilderness had opened its heart to him and the pines had called to him in their soft, sibilant speech.
"I believe no ill of anyone until I have absolute proof of it," said Alan, smiling—he was quite unconscious what a winning smile he had, which was the best of it—"and I never put faith in gossip. Of course you are gossipped about—you know that."
"I think many dogs are much more lovable—and worthy of love—than many people," said Alan, laughing.
"I never talk religion," said Alan emphatically. "I try to live it. I'll not come to your house as a self-appointed missionary, sir, but I shall certainly act and speak at all times as my conscience and my reverence for my vocation demands. If I respect your beliefs, whatever they may be, I shall expect you to respect mine, Captain Oliver."
"Souls should not be rudely handled any more than bodies."
Marcella's Reward

First sentence: Dr. Clark shook his head gravely. "She is not improving as fast as I should like to see," he said. "In fact—er—she seems to have gone backward the past week. You must send her to the country, Miss Langley. The heat here is too trying for her."

Premise/plot: Marcella and Patty live with their Aunt Emma. Patty is ill, perhaps even dying. Marcella is in despair because she doesn't have enough money to care for Patty as the doctor recommends. But she keeps a bright spirit, and endures the drudgery of work patiently, even kindly. Her goodness is noticed and rewarded by a stranger.

My thoughts: There must have been quite a market for feel-good stories. Montgomery certainly wrote a lot of them. Marcella's kind stranger turns out to be her mother's childhood friend. Upon learning who Marcella's mother is, she becomes a fairy godmother of sorts. This story lacks a prince but one isn't really needed. It is quite happy enough as is.

Margaret's Patient
First sentence:  Margaret paused a moment at the gate and looked back at the quaint old house under its snowy firs with a thrill of proprietary affection. It was her home; for the first time in her life she had a real home, and the long, weary years of poorly paid drudgery were all behind her. Before her was a prospect of independence and many of the delights she had always craved; in the immediate future was a trip to Vancouver with Mrs. Boyd.

Premise/plot: Margaret Campbell's goodness is rewarded beyond all expectations in this short story. Dr. Forbes asks Margaret to take in and nurse a patient, Freda Martin. She does, giving up her vacation to do so. Freda's health returns and it turns out that Freda is a cousin. These two lonely souls have found a family to belong to.

My thoughts: There must have been quite a market for feel-good stories. Montgomery certainly wrote a lot of them. Quite a few of them depend completely on happy coincidences. Reading too many in a row can be like eating pixie sticks.

Matthew Insists on Puffed Sleeves

First sentence: Matthew was having a bad ten minutes of it. He had come into the kitchen, in the twilight of a cold, grey December evening, and had sat down in the wood-box corner to take off his heavy boots, unconscious of the fact that Anne and a bevy of her schoolmates were having a practice of "The Fairy Queen" in the sitting-room. Presently they came trooping through the hall and out into the kitchen, laughing and chattering gaily.

Premise/plot: This short story is really a chapter from Anne of Green Gables.  Essentially, Matthew notices that Anne is not dressed like her classmates. He decides she needs a new dress for Christmas. At first, he thought to buy the dress himself, or the material for the dress. But his awkward encounter with the female clerk at the store is one for the ages. He goes to Mrs. Lynde--after bringing home TWENTY pounds of brown sugar to Marilla--and she saves the day. She'll sew the dress herself. Anne cries tears of joy--and perhaps readers will as well.

My thoughts: I love, love, love this chapter from the novel. Matthew is one of my favorite characters ever. I love him for his shyness, his awkwardness. I love him for his big, big heart. I love him because he's a dear. I love him because he so completely gets Anne. The scene of Matthew in the store is hilarious.
Alas! Matthew did not know that Samuel, in the recent expansion of his business, had set up a lady clerk also; she was a niece of his wife's and a very dashing young person indeed, with a huge, drooping pompadour, big, rolling brown eyes, and a most extensive and bewildering smile. She was dressed with exceeding smartness and wore several bangle bracelets that glittered and rattled and tinkled with every movement of her hands. Matthew was covered with confusion at finding her there at all; and those bangles completely wrecked his wits at one fell swoop.
"What can I do for you this evening. Mr. Cuthbert?" Miss Lucilla Harris inquired, briskly and ingratiatingly, tapping the counter with both hands.
"Have you any—any—any—well now, say any garden rakes?" stammered Matthew.
Miss Harris looked somewhat surprised, as well she might, to hear a man inquiring for garden rakes in the middle of December.
"I believe we have one or two left over," she said, "but they're upstairs in the lumber-room. I'll go and see."
During her absence Matthew collected his scattered senses for another effort.
When Miss Harris returned with the rake and cheerfully inquired: "Anything else tonight, Mr. Cuthbert?" Matthew took his courage in both hands and replied: "Well now, since you suggest it, I might as well—take—that is—look at—buy some—some hayseed."
Miss Harris had heard Matthew Cuthbert called odd. She now concluded that he was entirely crazy.
"We only keep hayseed in the spring," she explained loftily. "We've none on hand just now."
"Oh, certainly—certainly—just as you say," stammered unhappy Matthew, seizing the rake and making for the door. At the threshold he recollected that he had not paid for it and he turned miserably back. While Miss Harris was counting out his change he rallied his powers for a final desperate attempt.
"Well now—if it isn't too much trouble—I might as well—that is—I'd like to look at—at—some sugar."
"White or brown?" queried Miss Harris patiently.
"Oh—well now—brown," said Matthew feebly.
"There's a barrel of it over there," said Miss Harris, shaking her bangles at it. "It's the only kind we have."
"I'll—I'll take twenty pounds of it," said Matthew, with beads of perspiration standing on his forehead.
Matthew had driven halfway home before he was his own man again. It had been a gruesome experience, but it served him right, he thought, for committing the heresy of going to a strange store. When he reached home he hid the rake in the tool-house, but the sugar he carried in to Marilla.
"Brown sugar!" exclaimed Marilla. "Whatever possessed you to get so much? You know I never use it except for the hired man's porridge or black fruit-cake. Jerry's gone and I've made my cake long ago. It's not good sugar, either—it's coarse and dark—William Blair doesn't usually keep sugar like that."
"I—I thought it might come in handy sometime," said Matthew, making good his escape.

Christmas morning broke on a beautiful white world. It had been a very mild December and people had looked forward to a green Christmas; but just enough snow fell softly in the night to transfigure Avonlea. Anne peeped out from her frosted gable window with delighted eyes. The firs in the Haunted Wood were all feathery and wonderful; the birches and wild cherry trees were outlined in pearl; the ploughed fields were stretches of snowy dimples; and there was a crisp tang in the air that was glorious. Anne ran downstairs singing until her voice re-echoed through Green Gables.
"Merry Christmas, Marilla! Merry Christmas, Matthew! Isn't it a lovely Christmas? I'm so glad it's white. Any other kind of Christmas doesn't seem real, does it? I don't like green Christmases. They're not green—they're just nasty faded browns and greys. What makes people call them green? Why—why—Matthew, is that for me? Oh, Matthew!"
Matthew had sheepishly unfolded the dress from its paper swathings and held it out with a deprecatory glance at Marilla, who feigned to be contemptuously filling the teapot, but nevertheless watched the scene out of the corner of her eye with a rather interested air.
Anne took the dress and looked at it in reverent silence. Oh, how pretty it was—a lovely soft brown gloria with all the gloss of silk; a skirt with dainty frills and shirrings; a waist elaborately pin-tucked in the most fashionable way, with a little ruffle of filmy lace at the neck. But the sleeves—they were the crowning glory! Long elbow cuffs, and above them two beautiful puffs divided by rows of shirring and bows of brown silk ribbon.
"That's a Christmas present for you, Anne," said Matthew shyly. "Why—why—Anne, don't you like it? Well now—well now."
For Anne's eyes had suddenly filled with tears.
"Like it! Oh, Matthew!" Anne laid the dress over a chair and clasped her hands. "Matthew, it's perfectly exquisite. Oh, I can never thank you enough. Look at those sleeves! Oh, it seems to me this must be a happy dream."
"Well, well, let us have breakfast," interrupted Marilla. "I must say, Anne, I don't think you needed the dress; but since Matthew has got it for you, see that you take good care of it. There's a hair ribbon Mrs. Lynde left for you. It's brown, to match the dress. Come now, sit in."
"I don't see how I'm going to eat breakfast," said Anne rapturously. "Breakfast seems so commonplace at such an exciting moment. I'd rather feast my eyes on that dress. I'm so glad that puffed sleeves are still fashionable. It did seem to me that I'd never get over it if they went out before I had a dress with them. I'd never have felt quite satisfied, you see. It was lovely of Mrs. Lynde to give me the ribbon, too. I feel that I ought to be a very good girl indeed. It's at times like this I'm sorry I'm not a model little girl; and I always resolve that I will be in future. But somehow it's hard to carry out your resolutions when irresistible temptations come. Still, I really will make an extra effort after this."
When the commonplace breakfast was over Diana appeared, crossing the white log bridge in the hollow, a gay little figure in her crimson ulster. Anne flew down the slope to meet her.
"Merry Christmas, Diana! And oh, it's a wonderful Christmas. I've something splendid to show you. Matthew has given me the loveliest dress, with such sleeves. I couldn't even imagine any nicer."
"I've got something more for you," said Diana breathlessly. "Here—this box. Aunt Josephine sent us out a big box with ever so many things in it—and this is for you. I'd have brought it over last night, but it didn't come until after dark, and I never feel very comfortable coming through the Haunted Wood in the dark now."
Anne opened the box and peeped in. First a card with "For the Anne-girl and Merry Christmas," written on it; and then, a pair of the daintiest little kid slippers, with beaded toes and satin bows and glistening buckles.
"Oh," said Anne, "Diana, this is too much, I must be dreaming."

© 2018 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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