The Way of Transgressors
Davy and Dora were ready for Sunday School. They were going alone, which did not often happen, for Mrs. Lynde always attended Sunday School. But Mrs. Lynde had twisted her ankle and was lame, so she was staying home this morning. The twins were also to represent the family at church, for Anne had gone away the evening before to spend Sunday with friends in Carmody, and Marilla had one of her headaches.
Davy came downstairs slowly. Dora was waiting in the hall for him, having been made ready by Mrs. Lynde. Davy had attended to his own preparations. He had a cent in his pocket for the Sunday School collection, and a five-cent piece for the church collection; he carried his Bible in one hand and his Sunday School quarterly in the other; he knew his lesson and his Golden Text and his catechism question perfectly. Had he not studied them—perforce—in Mrs. Lynde's kitchen, all last Sunday afternoon? Davy, therefore, should have been in a placid frame of mind. As a matter of fact, despite text and catechism, he was inwardly as a ravening wolf.
Mrs. Lynde limped out of her kitchen as he joined Dora.
"Are you clean?" she demanded severely.
"Yes—all of me that shows," Davy answered with a defiant scowl.
Mrs. Rachel sighed. She had her suspicions about Davy's neck and ears. But she knew that if she attempted to make a personal examination Davy would likely take to his heels and she could not pursue him today.
"Well, be sure you behave yourselves," she warned them. "Don't walk in the dust. Don't stop in the porch to talk to the other children. Don't squirm or wriggle in your places. Don't forget the Golden Text. Don't lose your collection or forget to put it in. Don't whisper at prayer time, and don't forget to pay attention to the sermon."
Davy deigned no response. He marched away down the lane, followed by the meek Dora. But his soul seethed within. Davy had suffered, or thought he had suffered, many things at the hands and tongue of Mrs. Rachel Lynde since she had come to Green Gables, for Mrs. Lynde could not live with anybody, whether they were nine or ninety, without trying to bring them up properly. And it was only the preceding afternoon that she had interfered to influence Marilla against allowing Davy to go fishing with the Timothy Cottons. Davy was still boiling over this.
As soon as he was out of the lane Davy stopped and twisted his countenance into such an unearthly and terrific contortion that Dora, although she knew his gifts in that respect, was honestly alarmed lest he should never in the world be able to get it straightened out again.
"Darn her," exploded Davy.
"Oh, Davy, don't swear," gasped Dora in dismay.
"'Darn' isn't swearing—not real swearing. And I don't care if it is," retorted Davy recklessly.
"Well, if you must say dreadful words don't say them on Sunday," pleaded Dora.
Davy was as yet far from repentance, but in his secret soul he felt that, perhaps, he had gone a little too far.
"I'm going to invent a swear word of my own," he declared.
"God will punish you if you do," said Dora solemnly.
"Then I think God is a mean old scamp," retorted Davy. "Doesn't He know a fellow must have some way of 'spressing his feelings?"
"Davy!!!" said Dora. She expected that Davy would be struck down dead on the spot. But nothing happened.
"Anyway, I ain't going to stand any more of Mrs. Lynde's bossing," spluttered Davy. "Anne and Marilla may have the right to boss me, but SHE hasn't. I'm going to do every single thing she told me not to do. You watch me."
In grim, deliberate silence, while Dora watched him with the fascination of horror, Davy stepped off the green grass of the roadside, ankle deep into the fine dust which four weeks of rainless weather had made on the road, and marched along in it, shuffling his feet viciously until he was enveloped in a hazy cloud.
"That's the beginning," he announced triumphantly. "And I'm going to stop in the porch and talk as long as there's anybody there to talk to. I'm going to squirm and wriggle and whisper, and I'm going to say I don't know the Golden Text. And I'm going to throw away both of my collections right now."
And Davy hurled cent and nickel over Mr. Barry's fence with fierce delight.
"Satan made you do that," said Dora reproachfully.
"He didn't," cried Davy indignantly. "I just thought it out for myself. And I've thought of something else. I'm not going to Sunday School or church at all. I'm going up to play with the Cottons. They told me yesterday they weren't going to Sunday School today, 'cause their mother was away and there was nobody to make them. Come along, Dora, we'll have a great time."
"I don't want to go," protested Dora.
"You've got to," said Davy. "If you don't come I'll tell Marilla that Frank Bell kissed you in school last Monday."
"I couldn't help it. I didn't know he was going to," cried Dora, blushing scarlet.
"Well, you didn't slap him or seem a bit cross," retorted Davy. "I'll tell her THAT, too, if you don't come. We'll take the short cut up this field."
"I'm afraid of those cows," protested poor Dora, seeing a prospect of escape.
"The very idea of your being scared of those cows," scoffed Davy. "Why, they're both younger than you."
"They're bigger," said Dora.
"They won't hurt you. Come along, now. This is great. When I grow up I ain't going to bother going to church at all. I believe I can get to heaven by myself."
"You'll go to the other place if you break the Sabbath day," said unhappy Dora, following him sorely against her will.
But Davy was not scared—yet. Hell was very far off, and the delights of a fishing expedition with the Cottons were very near. He wished Dora had more spunk. She kept looking back as if she were going to cry every minute, and that spoiled a fellow's fun. Hang girls, anyway. Davy did not say "darn" this time, even in thought. He was not sorry—yet—that he had said it once, but it might be as well not to tempt the Unknown Powers too far on one day.
The small Cottons were playing in their back yard, and hailed Davy's appearance with whoops of delight. Pete, Tommy, Adolphus, and Mirabel Cotton were all alone. Their mother and older sisters were away. Dora was thankful Mirabel was there, at least. She had been afraid she would be alone in a crowd of boys. Mirabel was almost as bad as a boy—she was so noisy and sunburned and reckless. But at least she wore dresses.
"We've come to go fishing," announced Davy.
"Whoop," yelled the Cottons. They rushed away to dig worms at once, Mirabel leading the van with a tin can. Dora could have sat down and cried. Oh, if only that hateful Frank Bell had never kissed her! Then she could have defied Davy, and gone to her beloved Sunday School.
They dared not, of course, go fishing on the pond, where they would be seen by people going to church. They had to resort to the brook in the woods behind the Cotton house. But it was full of trout, and they had a glorious time that morning—at least the Cottons certainly had, and Davy seemed to have it. Not being entirely bereft of prudence, he had discarded boots and stockings and borrowed Tommy Cotton's overalls. Thus accoutered, bog and marsh and undergrowth had no terrors for him. Dora was frankly and manifestly miserable. She followed the others in their peregrinations from pool to pool, clasping her Bible and quarterly tightly and thinking with bitterness of soul of her beloved class where she should be sitting that very moment, before a teacher she adored. Instead, here she was roaming the woods with those half-wild Cottons, trying to keep her boots clean and her pretty white dress free from rents and stains. Mirabel had offered the loan of an apron but Dora had scornfully refused.
The trout bit as they always do on Sundays. In an hour the transgressors had all the fish they wanted, so they returned to the house, much to Dora's relief. She sat primly on a hencoop in the yard while the others played an uproarious game of tag; and then they all climbed to the top of the pig-house roof and cut their initials on the saddleboard. The flat-roofed henhouse and a pile of straw beneath gave Davy another inspiration. They spent a splendid half hour climbing on the roof and diving off into the straw with whoops and yells.
But even unlawful pleasures must come to an end. When the rumble of wheels over the pond bridge told that people were going home from church Davy knew they must go. He discarded Tommy's overalls, resumed his own rightful attire, and turned away from his string of trout with a sigh. No use to think of taking them home.
"Well, hadn't we a splendid time?" he demanded defiantly, as they went down the hill field.
"I hadn't," said Dora flatly. "And I don't believe you had—really—either," she added, with a flash of insight that was not to be expected of her.
"I had so," cried Davy, but in the voice of one who doth protest too much. "No wonder you hadn't—just sitting there like a—like a mule."
"I ain't going to, 'sociate with the Cottons," said Dora loftily.
"The Cottons are all right," retorted Davy. "And they have far better times than we have. They do just as they please and say just what they like before everybody. I 'm going to do that, too, after this."
"There are lots of things you wouldn't dare say before everybody," averred Dora.
"No, there isn't."
"There is, too. Would you," demanded Dora gravely, "would you say 'tomcat' before the minister?"
This was a staggerer. Davy was not prepared for such a concrete example of the freedom of speech. But one did not have to be consistent with Dora.
"Of course not," he admitted sulkily.
"'Tomcat' isn't a holy word. I wouldn't mention such an animal before a minister at all."
"But if you had to?" persisted Dora.
"I'd call it a Thomas pussy," said Davy.
"I think 'gentleman cat' would be more polite," reflected Dora.
"You thinking!" retorted Davy with withering scorn.
Davy was not feeling comfortable, though he would have died before he admitted it to Dora. Now that the exhilaration of truant delights had died away, his conscience was beginning to give him salutary twinges. After all, perhaps it would have been better to have gone to Sunday School and church. Mrs. Lynde might be bossy; but there was always a box of cookies in her kitchen cupboard and she was not stingy. At this inconvenient moment Davy remembered that when he had torn his new school pants the week before, Mrs. Lynde had mended them beautifully and never said a word to Marilla about them.
But Davy's cup of iniquity was not yet full. He was to discover that one sin demands another to cover it. They had dinner with Mrs. Lynde that day, and the first thing she asked Davy was,
"Were all your class in Sunday School today?"
"Yes'm," said Davy with a gulp. "All were there—'cept one."
"Did you say your Golden Text and catechism?"
"Did you put your collection in?"
"Was Mrs. Malcolm MacPherson in church?"
"I don't know." This, at least, was the truth, thought wretched Davy.
"Was the Ladies' Aid announced for next week?"
"I—I don't know."
"YOU should know. You should listen more attentively to the announcements. What was Mr. Harvey's text?"
Davy took a frantic gulp of water and swallowed it and the last protest of conscience together. He glibly recited an old Golden Text learned several weeks ago. Fortunately Mrs. Lynde now stopped questioning him; but Davy did not enjoy his dinner.
He could only eat one helping of pudding.
"What's the matter with you?" demanded justly astonished Mrs. Lynde. "Are you sick?"
"No," muttered Davy.
"You look pale. You'd better keep out of the sun this afternoon," admonished Mrs. Lynde.
"Do you know how many lies you told Mrs. Lynde?" asked Dora reproachfully, as soon as they were alone after dinner.
Davy, goaded to desperation, turned fiercely.
"I don't know and I don't care," he said. "You just shut up, Dora Keith."
Then poor Davy betook himself to a secluded retreat behind the woodpile to think over the way of transgressors.
Green Gables was wrapped in darkness and silence when Anne reached home. She lost no time going to bed, for she was very tired and sleepy. There had been several Avonlea jollifications the preceding week, involving rather late hours. Anne's head was hardly on her pillow before she was half asleep; but just then her door was softly opened and a pleading voice said, "Anne."
Anne sat up drowsily.
"Davy, is that you? What is the matter?"
A white-clad figure flung itself across the floor and on to the bed.
"Anne," sobbed Davy, getting his arms about her neck. "I'm awful glad you're home. I couldn't go to sleep till I'd told somebody."
"Told somebody what?"
"How mis'rubul I am."
"Why are you miserable, dear?"
"'Cause I was so bad today, Anne. Oh, I was awful bad—badder'n I've ever been yet."
"What did you do?"
"Oh, I'm afraid to tell you. You'll never like me again, Anne. I couldn't say my prayers tonight. I couldn't tell God what I'd done. I was 'shamed to have Him know."
"But He knew anyway, Davy."
"That's what Dora said. But I thought p'raps He mightn't have noticed just at the time. Anyway, I'd rather tell you first."
"What is it you did?"
Out it all came in a rush.
"I run away from Sunday School—and went fishing with the Cottons—and I told ever so many whoppers to Mrs. Lynde—oh! 'most half a dozen—and—and—I—I said a swear word, Anne—a pretty near swear word, anyhow—and I called God names."
There was silence. Davy didn't know what to make of it. Was Anne so shocked that she never would speak to him again?
"Anne, what are you going to do to me?" he whispered.
"Nothing, dear. You've been punished already, I think."
"No, I haven't. Nothing's been done to me."
"You've been very unhappy ever since you did wrong, haven't you?"
"You bet!" said Davy emphatically.
"That was your conscience punishing you, Davy."
"What's my conscience? I want to know."
"It's something in you, Davy, that always tells you when you are doing wrong and makes you unhappy if you persist in doing it. Haven't you noticed that?"
"Yes, but I didn't know what it was. I wish I didn't have it. I'd have lots more fun. Where is my conscience, Anne? I want to know. Is it in my stomach?"
"No, it's in your soul," answered Anne, thankful for the darkness, since gravity must be preserved in serious matters.
"I s'pose I can't get clear of it then," said Davy with a sigh. "Are you going to tell Marilla and Mrs. Lynde on me, Anne?"
"No, dear, I'm not going to tell any one. You are sorry you were naughty, aren't you?"
"And you'll never be bad like that again."
"No, but—" added Davy cautiously, "I might be bad some other way."
"You won't say naughty words, or run away on Sundays, or tell falsehoods to cover up your sins?"
"No. It doesn't pay," said Davy.
"Well, Davy, just tell God you are sorry and ask Him to forgive you."
"Have you forgiven me, Anne?"
"Then," said Davy joyously, "I don't care much whether God does or not."
"Oh—I'll ask Him—I'll ask Him," said Davy quickly, scrambling off the bed, convinced by Anne's tone that he must have said something dreadful. "I don't mind asking Him, Anne.—Please, God, I'm awful sorry I behaved bad today and I'll try to be good on Sundays always and please forgive me.—There now, Anne."
"Well, now, run off to bed like a good boy."
"All right. Say, I don't feel mis'rubul any more. I feel fine. Good night."
Anne slipped down on her pillows with a sigh of relief. Oh—how sleepy—she was! In another second—
"Anne!" Davy was back again by her bed. Anne dragged her eyes open.
"What is it now, dear?" she asked, trying to keep a note of impatience out of her voice.
"Anne, have you ever noticed how Mr. Harrison spits? Do you s'pose, if I practice hard, I can learn to spit just like him?"
Anne sat up.
"Davy Keith," she said, "go straight to your bed and don't let me catch you out of it again tonight! Go, now!"
Davy went, and stood not upon the order of his going.