keskiviikko 13. tammikuuta 2016

Chapter Twelve: The Teller

If Glennari Notes had not made a special number of “country fun” for that summer, Five Cherry Trees would have been saved from many troubles. But “things happen as God wants”, as Aunt Maggie said, and in a cloudy July afternoon a reporter from the Notes drove to Lochdhu. First he stopped by the shop, because the shops are places where all the important news are told. He asked some questions from the Lochdhu people who happened to be there, and found Mrs Cunningham a very speakable person. And it was Mrs Cunningham who first told about Louisa MacDonald.

“Oh, such a sweet lassie she is”, she said. “And clever — you should hear when she tells stories about her ancestors. Once in a Sunday school concert she told about her great-great-great-uncle Alec, who was a Catholic but turned to a Presbyterian, and all the audience cried like a crowd of babies.”

“Where does that little miracle live?” asked the reporter with a little sarcastic voice. Of course all the people in this tiny world admired a girl who could tell anything.

“Up in Five Cherry Trees.”

And that was how the reporter, called Williamson, came to the manor. He asked to meet Louisa, who was helping her Aunty in washing, and came to the parlour in her old dress and her thick plait half opened. But she looked so fresh and friendly and joyful that Mr Williamson thought there maybe was something in her. So he asked, if he could hear a story.

Louisa told a story. Her Aunty had just spoken about her great-grandmother, who used to help all the poor people in the area, and then got pneumonia from one of them and died, and now the girl repeated the story, but with the voice and airs that made Mr Williamson just stare.

“May I — may I write an article of you to the Notes?” he asked. “As I told you, we are planning a special number — a country maiden who’s got such a gift of telling would be just what we need!”

“Of course”, said Louisa, though she did not exactly know what was “an article”.

Next week the Notes came out, and there was a whole page filled with Louisa. The paper was read almost to rags at Five Cherry Trees, and Mrs Macaulay muttered that “now she must be coming and going with her nose up like some duchess!”

But Louisa did not do that, though, of course, she was glad about publicity — as far as she did not quite know what followed with it.

In a hot day all the children were lolling on the yard. Tom lay on his back, looking the few clouds that lazily staggered over the sky; Louisa wrote her diary to the hard-covered note-book; Ethel dressed her doll, and Myra was dreaming under a rose bush. Laura, who had not any work for the day, sat on the veranda, writing a letter to his husband, and Aunt Maggie just came from the ice cellar. Everything was quiet and peaceful, birds sang in the Wood and bees buzzled around the roses above Myra’s head.

Just into middle of that idyllic scene appeared a motor car.

It came with awful noise and smoke up the way, and it was Tom who noticed it first.

“Mr Ferguson — no, that isn’t his car. Who’s that?”

Laura lifted her eyes from the letter.

“I don’t know. Another motor car here in one summer! Angus won’t believe that when I tell him.”

The motor car arrived to the gate, and Ethel ran to open it. After that the car stopped in the middle of the silkiest grass, and a man and a woman came out of it.

“Is that Five Cherry Trees?” asked the man.

“Yes, sir”, said Tom.

“And where’s the little teller?”

“Who?” asked Myra, who had carefully crowled underneath the rose bush, because she did not want any beesticks.

“That little girl — what was her name — you remember, Addie”, said the man.

“Lizzie or Leonida or something”, said Addie.

“You mean Louisa?” said Tom. “That’s her.”

The woman called Addie turned to Louisa, kneeled before her, put her arms around her, kissed her face and gasped,

“Oh, dear, dear, little.. I read the article about you, and oh, I fell in love with you at once! You mustn’t stay here a day, dearie, your gifts will go to vain — you’ll become a writer, I know you will, and that’s why I’m here with my husband... I offer you a new home in Edinburgh, and I offer you all the possibilities to have a telling tour and become a celebrity!”

Louisa was so amazed that she could not say a word, but Laura could. She rushed down the steps.

“Excuse me, ma’am, I won’t rent my daughter. Would you introduce yourselves, please?”

The strange woman looked Laura from top to toe and sniffed.

“If you want. My name is Addie Anderson — that’s my husband Malcolm — and we got the Glennari Notes to Edinburgh and decided the teller-girl mustn’t waste anymore time in this godforsaken place. “

Now Louisa drew herself away.

“This not any godforsaken place”, she said and went to her mother, because this strange woman frightened her.

“Oh, dear, you don’t mean that! You know hundreds of stories, I read it in the paper, and when you come to the South with us and we introduce you to the right persons, you’ll be famous just like that! We’ll arrange a tour in the theatres, in the Lothian first and then maybe wider, and you tell your stories night after night, and I know the audience will fall in love with you and your Highland stories!” Mrs Anderson got up from her knees.

“I really don’t understand what you mean, madam”, said Aunt Maggie, who had taken ice to the kitchen and told Myra to go and put just-baked pie into it. Weird strangers or not, the pie was not worth wasting. ”Here you come, some unknown persons, and try to go away with the girl as if it was the most natural thing!”

“Well”, said Mrs Anderson, ”you know the girl has wonderful future, if…”

“…if she is torn from her home and shown in drafty theatres like a circus animal?” Aunt Maggie stood just before Mrs Anderson, and Laura felt suddenly safe. If anybody could arrange this mess, it was Maggie. “Do you really think we would be mad enough to let the girl go?”

“I think you think her best.”

“My best is here”, interrupted Louisa. “I don’t want to be famous. This is my home.”

“Oh, darling, so many children move from their homes.”

“Get out now”, snapped Aunt Maggie.

“Hear, you”, said now Mr Anderson, who had been quiet all the time. ”We came here because we wanted to give this little teller a chance to succeed. Are you really so selfish that you resist it?”

“Selfish! And what about your unselfishness? No doubt you are ready to give the girl the ticket money from her so-called tour!”

“Of course we should cover the expenses, but after that she would get her share…”

Suddenly Aunt Maggie, who had been standing between Louisa and Laura and the Andersons as a guardian angel, cried,

“Oh, Douglas, as a heaven’s gift!”

Douglas Ferguson had just stepped through the gate and now came to the crowd. He saw at once that something was wrong, and Aunt Maggie cleared the rest up.

“Well”,  said Douglas, “I think it really is best you to leave. You are right, anyone would pay for hearing Louisa’s stories, but the girl is twelve, goes to school, has all her family and friends here. There’s no reason to ruin her life with publicity because of your greed.”

“That’s none of your business”, sniffed Mrs Anderson. ”Who are you?”

Douglas bowed.

“Douglas Ferguson. You have probably heard of my company.”

“You are… the owner of ‘Ferguson Ltd’?” gasped Mr Anderson.

“That’s right.”

“I didn’t think there would be any civilized person here”,  muttered Mrs Anderson. “So pleased to meet you, Mr Ferguson! Well, maybe we leave now. But little darling, if you ever want to come South, contact us first!” She kissed Louisa’s forehead while her husband turned the motor car on. ”Good bye.”

“Good day”,  said Aunt Maggie icily. Laura was too upset to say anything, and Louisa took her handkerchief and wiped her forehead, as if there were a spot of dirt on it.

“All kind of fools are runnin’ free!” said Douglas Ferguson, when the motor car had banged and smoked away.

“Oh, they wouldn’t have left if you had not come”, sighed Laura. “Thank you!”

‘Would you have liked to go?” Douglas asked Louisa, when Aunt Maggie had hurried inside to make tea. ”I’ve heard of that Anderson couple — they’re rich and odd, but they really have nose for business.”

“No, for heaven’s sake! That woman was awful — ‘little darling’, as if I was a baby!”

“She had a fine dress”, said little Ethel wistfully. “But I hate her, because she wanted to take you away.”

“I won’t go away, ever”,  said Louisa. ”Or at least not until I get married.”

That night Douglas and Maggie walked together from the prayer-meeting and did not care about the curious glances of Lochdhu ladies.

“It was like a nightmare”,  said Maggie, who had been more shocked by the Andersons’ visit than she confessed to herself. ”As the one I used to see when Angus was first time overseas — I saw him in a foundering ship and could do nothing. Ugh!”

“The best thing in the nightmares is waking up. And I think that kind of happening won’t take place anymore. The Andersons are odd, as I said. But Louisa’s become famous, after all. And, really, she deserves it. The stories she has told me are marvellous. She says she learns them from you.”

“Aye, or from Laura. But we have not the gift of telling the way she does. She’s a good hand increasing details into those stories and narrating them so vividly it is like a real theatre piece with many actors. Now, here’s the gate. Thank you for seeing me.” Maggie gave her hand.

“Thanks for company — Maggie-o-mine. Haven’t you thought…”

“Good night!” Aunt Maggie opened the gate and was gone.

Douglas sighed while turning back to the village. Would she never agree? He had made up his mind — he would get engaged this summer. But it was hard to propose when Maggie did not let him speak!

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