"Just imagine—this night week I'll be in Avonlea—delightful thought!" said Anne, bending over the box in which she was packing Mrs. Rachel Lynde's quilts. "But just imagine—this night week I'll be gone forever from Patty's Place—horrible thought!"
"I wonder if the ghost of all our laughter will echo through the maiden dreams of Miss Patty and Miss Maria," speculated Phil.
Miss Patty and Miss Maria were coming home, after having trotted over most of the habitable globe.
"We'll be back the second week in May" wrote Miss Patty. "I expect Patty's Place will seem rather small after the Hall of the Kings at Karnak, but I never did like big places to live in. And I'll be glad enough to be home again. When you start traveling late in life you're apt to do too much of it because you know you haven't much time left, and it's a thing that grows on you. I'm afraid Maria will never be contented again."
"I shall leave here my fancies and dreams to bless the next comer," said Anne, looking around the blue room wistfully—her pretty blue room where she had spent three such happy years. She had knelt at its window to pray and had bent from it to watch the sunset behind the pines. She had heard the autumn raindrops beating against it and had welcomed the spring robins at its sill. She wondered if old dreams could haunt rooms—if, when one left forever the room where she had joyed and suffered and laughed and wept, something of her, intangible and invisible, yet nonetheless real, did not remain behind like a voiceful memory.
"I think," said Phil, "that a room where one dreams and grieves and rejoices and lives becomes inseparably connected with those processes and acquires a personality of its own. I am sure if I came into this room fifty years from now it would say 'Anne, Anne' to me. What nice times we've had here, honey! What chats and jokes and good chummy jamborees! Oh, dear me! I'm to marry Jo in June and I know I will be rapturously happy. But just now I feel as if I wanted this lovely Redmond life to go on forever."
"I'm unreasonable enough just now to wish that, too," admitted Anne. "No matter what deeper joys may come to us later on we'll never again have just the same delightful, irresponsible existence we've had here. It's over forever, Phil."
"What are you going to do with Rusty?" asked Phil, as that privileged pussy padded into the room.
"I am going to take him home with me and Joseph and the Sarah-cat," announced Aunt Jamesina, following Rusty. "It would be a shame to separate those cats now that they have learned to live together. It's a hard lesson for cats and humans to learn."
"I'm sorry to part with Rusty," said Anne regretfully, "but it would be no use to take him to Green Gables. Marilla detests cats, and Davy would tease his life out. Besides, I don't suppose I'll be home very long. I've been offered the principalship of the Summerside High School."
"Are you going to accept it?" asked Phil.
"I—I haven't decided yet," answered Anne, with a confused flush.
Phil nodded understandingly. Naturally Anne's plans could not be settled until Roy had spoken. He would soon—there was no doubt of that. And there was no doubt that Anne would say "yes" when he said "Will you please?" Anne herself regarded the state of affairs with a seldom-ruffled complacency. She was deeply in love with Roy. True, it was not just what she had imagined love to be. But was anything in life, Anne asked herself wearily, like one's imagination of it? It was the old diamond disillusion of childhood repeated—the same disappointment she had felt when she had first seen the chill sparkle instead of the purple splendor she had anticipated. "That's not my idea of a diamond," she had said. But Roy was a dear fellow and they would be very happy together, even if some indefinable zest was missing out of life. When Roy came down that evening and asked Anne to walk in the park every one at Patty's Place knew what he had come to say; and every one knew, or thought they knew, what Anne's answer would be.
"Anne is a very fortunate girl," said Aunt Jamesina.
"I suppose so," said Stella, shrugging her shoulders. "Roy is a nice fellow and all that. But there's really nothing in him."
"That sounds very like a jealous remark, Stella Maynard," said Aunt Jamesina rebukingly.
"It does—but I am not jealous," said Stella calmly. "I love Anne and I like Roy. Everybody says she is making a brilliant match, and even Mrs. Gardner thinks her charming now. It all sounds as if it were made in heaven, but I have my doubts. Make the most of that, Aunt Jamesina."
Roy asked Anne to marry him in the little pavilion on the harbor shore where they had talked on the rainy day of their first meeting. Anne thought it very romantic that he should have chosen that spot. And his proposal was as beautifully worded as if he had copied it, as one of Ruby Gillis' lovers had done, out of a Deportment of Courtship and Marriage. The whole effect was quite flawless. And it was also sincere. There was no doubt that Roy meant what he said. There was no false note to jar the symphony. Anne felt that she ought to be thrilling from head to foot. But she wasn't; she was horribly cool. When Roy paused for his answer she opened her lips to say her fateful yes. And then—she found herself trembling as if she were reeling back from a precipice. To her came one of those moments when we realize, as by a blinding flash of illumination, more than all our previous years have taught us. She pulled her hand from Roy's.
"Oh, I can't marry you—I can't—I can't," she cried, wildly.
Roy turned pale—and also looked rather foolish. He had—small blame to him—felt very sure.
"What do you mean?" he stammered.
"I mean that I can't marry you," repeated Anne desperately. "I thought I could—but I can't."
"Why can't you?" Roy asked more calmly.
"Because—I don't care enough for you."
A crimson streak came into Roy's face.
"So you've just been amusing yourself these two years?" he said slowly.
"No, no, I haven't," gasped poor Anne. Oh, how could she explain? She couldn't explain. There are some things that cannot be explained. "I did think I cared—truly I did—but I know now I don't."
"You have ruined my life," said Roy bitterly.
"Forgive me," pleaded Anne miserably, with hot cheeks and stinging eyes.
Roy turned away and stood for a few minutes looking out seaward. When he came back to Anne, he was very pale again.
"You can give me no hope?" he said.
Anne shook her head mutely.
"Then—good-bye," said Roy. "I can't understand it—I can't believe you are not the woman I've believed you to be. But reproaches are idle between us. You are the only woman I can ever love. I thank you for your friendship, at least. Good-bye, Anne."
"Good-bye," faltered Anne. When Roy had gone she sat for a long time in the pavilion, watching a white mist creeping subtly and remorselessly landward up the harbor. It was her hour of humiliation and self-contempt and shame. Their waves went over her. And yet, underneath it all, was a queer sense of recovered freedom.
She slipped into Patty's Place in the dusk and escaped to her room. But Phil was there on the window seat.
"Wait," said Anne, flushing to anticipate the scene. "Wait til you hear what I have to say. Phil, Roy asked me to marry him-and I refused."
"You—you refused him?" said Phil blankly.
"Anne Shirley, are you in your senses?"
"I think so," said Anne wearily. "Oh, Phil, don't scold me. You don't understand."
"I certainly don't understand. You've encouraged Roy Gardner in every way for two years—and now you tell me you've refused him. Then you've just been flirting scandalously with him. Anne, I couldn't have believed it of you."
"I wasn't flirting with him—I honestly thought I cared up to the last minute—and then—well, I just knew I never could marry him."
"I suppose," said Phil cruelly, "that you intended to marry him for his money, and then your better self rose up and prevented you."
"I didn't. I never thought about his money. Oh, I can't explain it to you any more than I could to him."
"Well, I certainly think you have treated Roy shamefully," said Phil in exasperation. "He's handsome and clever and rich and good. What more do you want?"
"I want some one who belongs in my life. He doesn't. I was swept off my feet at first by his good looks and knack of paying romantic compliments; and later on I thought I must be in love because he was my dark-eyed ideal."
"I am bad enough for not knowing my own mind, but you are worse," said Phil.
"I do know my own mind," protested Anne. "The trouble is, my mind changes and then I have to get acquainted with it all over again."
"Well, I suppose there is no use in saying anything to you."
"There is no need, Phil. I'm in the dust. This has spoiled everything backwards. I can never think of Redmond days without recalling the humiliation of this evening. Roy despises me—and you despise me—and I despise myself."
"You poor darling," said Phil, melting. "Just come here and let me comfort you. I've no right to scold you. I'd have married Alec or Alonzo if I hadn't met Jo. Oh, Anne, things are so mixed-up in real life. They aren't clear-cut and trimmed off, as they are in novels."
"I hope that no one will ever again ask me to marry him as long as I live," sobbed poor Anne, devoutly believing that she meant it.