maanantai 11. tammikuuta 2016

Chapter Ten: The Gossips

“Well, young man, have you had driving enough?”

“Yes, sir”, said Tom.”I tried to be careful — Laura told me not to touch anything.”

Douglas Ferguson laughed.

“It doesn’t get broken that easily. Now, come into the kitchen, so we can have tea. Your Aunty is going to drag Louisa to the table, too.”

Tom laughed, too. When he remembered Louisa s happy face he understood the words.

Douglas had invited Louisa over to arrange his library with him, and told her to ask her Aunty along, too. And then Tom, attracted by the motor car, wanted to follow them. Louisa had been putting the books in order the whole afternoon, Aunt Maggie had arranged the kitchen, though Mr Ferguson had had cleaners before he moved in, and Tom had sat in the motor car imagining himself to drive around the world.

Now they all sat around the table. Aunt Maggie had made tea, and Douglas had taken crackers, white bread, and jelly from the kitchen cupboard.

“You should have a housekeeper”, told Aunt Maggie. ”A bachelor living alone is always starving.”

“I’m not starving, though l’d like to have a — housekeeper”, said Douglas, meaning.

“Nonsense”, muttered Aunt Maggie and glanced at Louisa, who tried not to smiled behind her piece of bread. “Tom, I hope the motor car isn’t broken.”

“Of course it isn’t”, said Tom. “May I have another cracker?”

“As many as you wish. Have you already eaten, Louisa?”

“Oh yes, thank you. May I excuse?”

“Go on”, said Aunt Maggie. “She’s so fond of books, read all at Five Cherry Trees. New books are for her like fresh air...”

“…for me”, continued Douglas and smiled. “That’s a good hobby. The girl is welcome any time to read here.”

“You are so kind to her. Well, Tom, your tummy’s full?”

“Aye”, said Tom, who was happily forgetting more and more of his carefully taught King’s English, the longer he stayed in Lochdhu. “May I go and look at your pictures?”

“Of course”, said Douglas, and Tom went to see his collection of drawings of ships and trains.”He’s a fine boy. Yesterday I saw him chastising a lad who had teased a kitten.”

“You should have seen him a couple of weeks ago”, said Aunt Maggie. ”He was as white and weak and slender as a little girl. And now just look that tanned face!”

“Well”, said Douglas, “who wouldn’t flourish in your care, Maggie-o-mine.”

“Oh, don’t be stupid”, snapped Aunt Maggie. “More tea?”

Next day the church’s sewing circle came to Five Cherry Trees.

“I think I stay upstairs”, said Ethel.”If you once go to the parlour they never let you leave. ‘Oh, dear, you must sing to us!’ or ‘Darling, show me what a pretty thing you are sewing’. It’s best to stay away altogether.”

“Me, too”, said Myra.”I don’t want to be laughed at. They remember far too well my walk in Mommy’s petticoat.”

“Luckily Geordie asked me over”, Tom gave a sigh of relief. ”We’re going to play the new game his aunt gave to him. Shall you come along, Louisa? Geordie asked if you came.”

“No, I have to help Aunty in the kitchen.” Louisa gave a sigh, too, but of despair. ”You know how those madams eat and talk and sew and eat again. Aunty’s made hundreds of sandwiches, but I’m afraid they’re just a snack for them. And I must serve tea, too. You lucky ducks!”

Of course the others were sorry for Louisa, but still they were quite reliefed when “the madams” arrived and patted and caressed and smoothed Louisa and cried ”How nice!” to everything, because one must be polite.

“Take this teapot to the parlour”, told Aunt Maggie and gave it to Louisa in the kitchen. ”And for heaven’s sake don’t let a drop on the ladies!”

Louisa was as careful as possible and did not let a drop on anybody. But she had still time to hear many gossips.

“Well, it’s summertime and romance-time”, said Mrs MacGregor, meaning, as to start the conversation. “I heard Audrey Johnson shall get engaged — to Neil Anderson.”

“For heaven’s sake, I thought she can’t bear him!” cried Mrs Kerr. “Well well, who never understands young people! Last Easter Audrey told me she doesn’t ever speak to Neil after the episode in the old cottage — you know.”

Louisa was about to ask what was “the episode in the old cottage”, but ladies’ glances told her it was best not to ask.

“And romances right here in Five Cherry Trees, too”, Mrs Macaulay said. ”Or how is it, Laura? Douglas Ferguson is back.”

“I cannot prevent that”, Laura said calmly.

“He’s seen plenty often with Maggie”, continued Mrs Welsh. ”And yesterday she was in the old Ferguson place.”

“What!” cried the ladies.

“Louisa was asked to help him with the books, and Tom and Maggie made company to her”, Laura said, but not as calmly as before.

“Of course.” Mrs Welsh smiled a little. “Still, I didn’t think a woman in Maggie’s age would be so fond of a man. Old salt and so on.”

“Douglas was her beau twenty years ago”, said Mrs Cunningham. “Is there anything bad if they are still good friends? I think it is very sweet.”

Louisa could have hugged Cunningham.

Very good friends, you’d like to say? Nonsense, I smell there’s something else.” Mrs Welsh nodded resolutely.

“You really should smell it with that nose”, said Mrs Macguaire and laughed. “Stop that nonsense now. It’s Maggie’s business, not ours.”

“I really should give her a piece of good advice”, said Mrs Macaulay. ”A city man like Douglas Ferguson would never care of any country oldmaid. He’s just wanting some fun for his holiday, that’s what. And the children are just a good excuse to run about the Ferguson place. God knows what will come of this! In old times women were well-behaving, but if a woman in her forties begins to chase men, I must say…”

“Aunty’s not chasing anybody!” cried Louisa.

“My!” Mrs Macaulay stared at her. ”Well well, young lady, maybe you know it best.”

“I bet she knows.” Aunt Maggie stood on the treshold. ”If you have nothing else to speak about but my visits in my old chum’s home, I’m afraid you’re really getting old.”

“We are quite sensitive, ain’t we? There’s no reason to get so furious.”

“I’m not furious.” Aunt Maggie stepped in. “But you are childlish, just like school girls bubbling and giggling about ‘beaux’ and that kind of stuff. In your place l’d be ashamed!”

“That’s right”, said Mrs Cunningham. “I’m glad parson’s wife’s not here. In that case we’d have a real sermon next Sunday. The eight commandment, my dear ladies. Sit down now, Maggie, and take your needlework. I bet those gossipers won’t disturb you anymore.”

The ladies sat in amazement, till Mrs Macguaire burst into laughter.

“Oh, what fools we were! Forgive me, Maggie, if you ever can. In your place l’d kiss Douglas Ferguson right to his mouth before the shop house, that’s what l’d do!”

“But, Diana!” gasped Mrs Welsh.

“That would be the very right thing for you.” Diana Macguaire continued her needling.

Louisa had disappeared with her teapot. What an awful, awful mess!

Next day in the old Ferguson place she sat on the ladders of the library room, with couple of novels on her arms, in so deep thoughts that she did not even notice Douglas entering the room.

“Day-dreaming, aren’t you?” Douglas smiled. ”You’ve been quiet today.”

“I’ve got much to think of.”

“Can I help you?”

“I don’t know.” Louisa put Waverley into the shelf. “May I ask you something?”

“Anything, dearie.”

“Are you — are you — are you meeting my Aunty in serious inventions?”

Douglas stared at her.

“Excuse me?”

“Those old ducks are bubbling and giggling” — Louisa felt this saying of her Aunty very describing — “about your ‘romance’ with my Aunty. Please, could you tell me is it true?”

Mr Ferguson thought for a while.

“I guess you mean the respectable ladies of Lochdhu with that ‘old ducks’?”

“They’re not a bit respectable!”

“Quiet, lassie, after all they are. Well, a straight question deserves a straight answer. You are old enough to understand. I like your Aunty much, very, very much. Indeed I could say I love her.”

Louisa had an enormous breath.

“I guess it was she who drew me back to Lochdhu. We used to be lovers long time ago, and I proposed to her.”

“I know. Aunty told me.”

“I’m glad of it. So you can see why I came here for the summer. Usually I’ve gone to the seashore — or to England — or Paris — or Berlin. But now, I just felt how she was calling me. I found her old photograph when I planned my holiday, and the old love — well, you know what happens when dry paper meets fire. So I’m here, and gossips are rolling, and if your Aunty has any sense in her bonnie head, she won’t even speak to me from here on, because I’ve ruined her reputation.” Douglas gave an embarrassed laugh.

Louisa sat quietly for a while. Then she put the books to the ladders and climbed down.

“Aunt Maggie is the best Aunty in the whole world”, she swore. ”And I like you, after all. But Aunty doesn’t want to live in Glasgow.”

“I know it, dearie, I do know it. Now, we shall speak about something else before I drown in my old romantic memories. Let’s see — you’ve put all the S books in order.”

Louisa began to speak about the books, too. But on her way home she thought hardy about this old romance.

“I think it would be very beautiful to have a beau who would miss me after twenty years”, she then sighed by herself.

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