"What are you dreaming of, Anne?"
The two girls were loitering one evening in a fairy hollow of the brook. Ferns nodded in it, and little grasses were green, and wild pears hung finely-scented, white curtains around it.
Anne roused herself from her reverie with a happy sigh.
"I was thinking out my story, Diana."
"Oh, have you really begun it?" cried Diana, all alight with eager interest in a moment.
"Yes, I have only a few pages written, but I have it all pretty well thought out. I've had such a time to get a suitable plot. None of the plots that suggested themselves suited a girl named Averil."
"Couldn't you have changed her name?"
"No, the thing was impossible. I tried to, but I couldn't do it, any more than I could change yours. Averil was so real to me that no matter what other name I tried to give her I just thought of her as Averil behind it all. But finally I got a plot that matched her. Then came the excitement of choosing names for all my characters. You have no idea how fascinating that is. I've lain awake for hours thinking over those names. The hero's name is Perceval Dalrymple."
"Have you named all the characters?" asked Diana wistfully. "If you hadn't I was going to ask you to let me name one—just some unimportant person. I'd feel as if I had a share in the story then."
"You may name the little hired boy who lived with the Lesters," conceded Anne. "He is not very important, but he is the only one left unnamed."
"Call him Raymond Fitzosborne," suggested Diana, who had a store of such names laid away in her memory, relics of the old "Story Club," which she and Anne and Jane Andrews and Ruby Gillis had had in their schooldays.
Anne shook her head doubtfully.
"I'm afraid that is too aristocratic a name for a chore boy, Diana. I couldn't imagine a Fitzosborne feeding pigs and picking up chips, could you?"
Diana didn't see why, if you had an imagination at all, you couldn't stretch it to that extent; but probably Anne knew best, and the chore boy was finally christened Robert Ray, to be called Bobby should occasion require.
"How much do you suppose you'll get for it?" asked Diana.
But Anne had not thought about this at all. She was in pursuit of fame, not filthy lucre, and her literary dreams were as yet untainted by mercenary considerations.
"You'll let me read it, won't you?" pleaded Diana.
"When it is finished I'll read it to you and Mr. Harrison, and I shall want you to criticize it severely. No one else shall see it until it is published."
"How are you going to end it—happily or unhappily?"
"I'm not sure. I'd like it to end unhappily, because that would be so much more romantic. But I understand editors have a prejudice against sad endings. I heard Professor Hamilton say once that nobody but a genius should try to write an unhappy ending. And," concluded Anne modestly, "I'm anything but a genius."
"Oh I like happy endings best. You'd better let him marry her," said Diana, who, especially since her engagement to Fred, thought this was how every story should end.
"But you like to cry over stories?"
"Oh, yes, in the middle of them. But I like everything to come right at last."
"I must have one pathetic scene in it," said Anne thoughtfully. "I might let Robert Ray be injured in an accident and have a death scene."
"No, you mustn't kill Bobby off," declared Diana, laughing. "He belongs to me and I want him to live and flourish. Kill somebody else if you have to."
For the next fortnight Anne writhed or reveled, according to mood, in her literary pursuits. Now she would be jubilant over a brilliant idea, now despairing because some contrary character would not behave properly. Diana could not understand this.
"Make them do as you want them to," she said.
"I can't," mourned Anne. "Averil is such an unmanageable heroine. She will do and say things I never meant her to. Then that spoils everything that went before and I have to write it all over again."
Finally, however, the story was finished, and Anne read it to Diana in the seclusion of the porch gable. She had achieved her "pathetic scene" without sacrificing Robert Ray, and she kept a watchful eye on Diana as she read it. Diana rose to the occasion and cried properly; but, when the end came, she looked a little disappointed.
"Why did you kill Maurice Lennox?" she asked reproachfully.
"He was the villain," protested Anne. "He had to be punished."
"I like him best of them all," said unreasonable Diana.
"Well, he's dead, and he'll have to stay dead," said Anne, rather resentfully. "If I had let him live he'd have gone on persecuting Averil and Perceval."
"Yes—unless you had reformed him."
"That wouldn't have been romantic, and, besides, it would have made the story too long."
"Well, anyway, it's a perfectly elegant story, Anne, and will make you famous, of that I'm sure. Have you got a title for it?"
"Oh, I decided on the title long ago. I call it Averil's Atonement. Doesn't that sound nice and alliterative? Now, Diana, tell me candidly, do you see any faults in my story?"
"Well," hesitated Diana, "that part where Averil makes the cake doesn't seem to me quite romantic enough to match the rest. It's just what anybody might do. Heroines shouldn't do cooking, I think."
"Why, that is where the humor comes in, and it's one of the best parts of the whole story," said Anne. And it may be stated that in this she was quite right.
Diana prudently refrained from any further criticism, but Mr. Harrison was much harder to please. First he told her there was entirely too much description in the story.
"Cut out all those flowery passages," he said unfeelingly.
Anne had an uncomfortable conviction that Mr. Harrison was right, and she forced herself to expunge most of her beloved descriptions, though it took three re-writings before the story could be pruned down to please the fastidious Mr. Harrison.
"I've left out all the descriptions but the sunset," she said at last. "I simply couldn't let it go. It was the best of them all."
"It hasn't anything to do with the story," said Mr. Harrison, "and you shouldn't have laid the scene among rich city people. What do you know of them? Why didn't you lay it right here in Avonlea—changing the name, of course, or else Mrs. Rachel Lynde would probably think she was the heroine."
"Oh, that would never have done," protested Anne. "Avonlea is the dearest place in the world, but it isn't quite romantic enough for the scene of a story."
"I daresay there's been many a romance in Avonlea—and many a tragedy, too," said Mr. Harrison drily. "But your folks ain't like real folks anywhere. They talk too much and use too high-flown language. There's one place where that Dalrymple chap talks even on for two pages, and never lets the girl get a word in edgewise. If he'd done that in real life she'd have pitched him."
"I don't believe it," said Anne flatly. In her secret soul she thought that the beautiful, poetical things said to Averil would win any girl's heart completely. Besides, it was gruesome to hear of Averil, the stately, queen-like Averil, "pitching" any one. Averil "declined her suitors."
"Anyhow," resumed the merciless Mr. Harrison, "I don't see why Maurice Lennox didn't get her. He was twice the man the other is. He did bad things, but he did them. Perceval hadn't time for anything but mooning."
"Mooning." That was even worse than "pitching!"
"Maurice Lennox was the villain," said Anne indignantly. "I don't see why every one likes him better than Perceval."
"Perceval is too good. He's aggravating. Next time you write about a hero put a little spice of human nature in him."
"Averil couldn't have married Maurice. He was bad."
"She'd have reformed him. You can reform a man; you can't reform a jelly-fish, of course. Your story isn't bad—it's kind of interesting, I'll admit. But you're too young to write a story that would be worth while. Wait ten years."
Anne made up her mind that the next time she wrote a story she wouldn't ask anybody to criticize it. It was too discouraging. She would not read the story to Gilbert, although she told him about it.
"If it is a success you'll see it when it is published, Gilbert, but if it is a failure nobody shall ever see it."
Marilla knew nothing about the venture. In imagination Anne saw herself reading a story out of a magazine to Marilla, entrapping her into praise of it—for in imagination all things are possible—and then triumphantly announcing herself the author.
One day Anne took to the Post Office a long, bulky envelope, addressed, with the delightful confidence of youth and inexperience, to the very biggest of the "big" magazines. Diana was as excited over it as Anne herself.
"How long do you suppose it will be before you hear from it?" she asked.
"It shouldn't be longer than a fortnight. Oh, how happy and proud I shall be if it is accepted!"
"Of course it will be accepted, and they will likely ask you to send them more. You may be as famous as Mrs. Morgan some day, Anne, and then how proud I'll be of knowing you," said Diana, who possessed, at least, the striking merit of an unselfish admiration of the gifts and graces of her friends.
A week of delightful dreaming followed, and then came a bitter awakening. One evening Diana found Anne in the porch gable, with suspicious-looking eyes. On the table lay a long envelope and a crumpled manuscript.
"Anne, your story hasn't come back?" cried Diana incredulously.
"Yes, it has," said Anne shortly.
"Well, that editor must be crazy. What reason did he give?"
"No reason at all. There is just a printed slip saying that it wasn't found acceptable."
"I never thought much of that magazine, anyway," said Diana hotly. "The stories in it are not half as interesting as those in the Canadian Woman, although it costs so much more. I suppose the editor is prejudiced against any one who isn't a Yankee. Don't be discouraged, Anne. Remember how Mrs. Morgan's stories came back. Send yours to the Canadian Woman."
"I believe I will," said Anne, plucking up heart. "And if it is published I'll send that American editor a marked copy. But I'll cut the sunset out. I believe Mr. Harrison was right."
Out came the sunset; but in spite of this heroic mutilation the editor of the Canadian Woman sent Averil's Atonement back so promptly that the indignant Diana declared that it couldn't have been read at all, and vowed she was going to stop her subscription immediately. Anne took this second rejection with the calmness of despair. She locked the story away in the garret trunk where the old Story Club tales reposed; but first she yielded to Diana's entreaties and gave her a copy.
"This is the end of my literary ambitions," she said bitterly.
She never mentioned the matter to Mr. Harrison, but one evening he asked her bluntly if her story had been accepted.
"No, the editor wouldn't take it," she answered briefly.
Mr. Harrison looked sidewise at the flushed, delicate profile.
"Well, I suppose you'll keep on writing them," he said encouragingly.
"No, I shall never try to write a story again," declared Anne, with the hopeless finality of nineteen when a door is shut in its face.
"I wouldn't give up altogether," said Mr. Harrison reflectively. "I'd write a story once in a while, but I wouldn't pester editors with it. I'd write of people and places like I knew, and I'd make my characters talk everyday English; and I'd let the sun rise and set in the usual quiet way without much fuss over the fact. If I had to have villains at all, I'd give them a chance, Anne—I'd give them a chance. There are some terrible bad men in the world, I suppose, but you'd have to go a long piece to find them—though Mrs. Lynde believes we're all bad. But most of us have got a little decency somewhere in us. Keep on writing, Anne."
"No. It was very foolish of me to attempt it. When I'm through Redmond I'll stick to teaching. I can teach. I can't write stories."
"It'll be time for you to be getting a husband when you're through Redmond," said Mr. Harrison. "I don't believe in putting marrying off too long—like I did."
Anne got up and marched home. There were times when Mr. Harrison was really intolerable. "Pitching," "mooning," and "getting a husband." Ow!!