Aunt Susanna’s Birthday Celebration by L. M. Montgomery

Story type: Literature

Good afternoon, Nora May. I’m real glad to see you. I’ve been watching you coming down the hill and I hoping you’d turn in at our gate. Going to visit with me this afternoon? That’s good. I’m feeling so happy and delighted and I’ve been hankering for someone to tell it all to.

Tell you about it? Well, I guess I might as well. It ain’t any breach of confidence.

You didn’t know Anne Douglas? She taught school here three years ago, afore your folks moved over from Talcott. She belonged up Montrose way and she was only eighteen when she came here to teach. She boarded with us and her and me were the greatest chums. She was just a sweet girl.

She was the prettiest teacher we ever had, and that’s saying a good deal, for Springdale has always been noted for getting good-looking schoolmarms, just as Miller’s Road is noted for its humly ones.

Anne had yards of brown wavy hair and big, dark blue eyes. Her face was kind o’ pale, but when she smiled you would have to smile too, if you’d been chief mourner at your own funeral. She was a well-spring of joy in the house, and we all loved her.

Gilbert Martin began to drive her the very first week she was here. Gilbert is my sister Julia’s son, and a fine young fellow he is. It ain’t good manners to brag of your own relations, but I’m always forgetting and doing it. Gil was a great pet of mine. He was so bright and nice-mannered everybody liked him. Him and Anne were a fine-looking couple, Nora May. Not but what they had their shortcomings. Anne’s nose was a mite too long and Gil had a crooked mouth. Besides, they was both pretty proud and sperrited and high-strung.

But they thought an awful lot of each other. It made me feel young again to see ’em. Anne wasn’t a mossel vain, but nights she expected Gil she’d prink for hours afore her glass, fixing her hair this way and that, and trying on all her good clothes to see which become her most. I used to love her for it. And I used to love to see the way Gil’s face would light up when she came into a room or place where he was. Amanda Perkins, she says to me once, “Anne Douglas and Gil Martin are most terrible struck on each other.” And she said it in a tone that indicated that it was a dreadful disgraceful and unbecoming state of affairs. Amanda had a disappointment once and it soured her. I immediately responded, “Yes, they are most terrible struck on each other,” and I said it in a tone that indicated I thought it a most beautiful and lovely thing that they should be so.

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And so it was. You’re rather too young to be thinking of such things, Nora May, but you’ll remember my words when the time comes.

Another nephew of mine, James Ebenezer Lawson–he calls himself James E. back there in town, and I don’t blame him, for I never could stand Ebenezer for a name myself; but that’s neither here nor there. Well, he said their love was idyllic, I ain’t very sure what that means. I looked it up in the dictionary after James Ebenezer left–I wouldn’t display my ignorance afore him–but I can’t say that I was much the wiser for it. Anyway, it meant something real nice; I was sure of that by the way James Ebenezer spoke and the wistful look in his eyes. James Ebenezer isn’t married; he was to have been, and she died a month afore the wedding day. He was never the same man again.

Well, to get back to Gilbert and Anne. When Anne’s school year ended in June she resigned and went home to get ready to be married. The wedding was to be in September, and I promised Anne faithful I’d go over to Montrose in August for two weeks and help her to get her quilts ready. Anne thought that nobody could quilt like me. I was as tickled as a girl at the thought of visiting with Anne for two weeks, but I never went; things happened before August.

I don’t know rightly how the trouble began. Other folks–jealous folks–made mischief. Anne was thirty miles away and Gilbert couldn’t see her every day to keep matters clear and fair. Besides, as I’ve said, they were both proud and high-sperrited. The upshot of it was they had a terrible quarrel and the engagement was broken.

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When two people don’t care overly much for each other, Nora May, a quarrel never amounts to much between them, and it’s soon made up. But when they love each other better than life it cuts so deep and hurts so much that nine times out of ten they won’t ever forgive each other. The more you love anybody, Nora May, the more he can hurt you. To be sure, you’re too young to be thinking of such things.

It all came like a thunderclap on Gil’s friends here at Greendale, because we hadn’t ever suspected things were going wrong. The first thing we knew was that Anne had gone up west to teach school again at St. Mary’s, eighty miles away, and Gilbert, he went out to Manitoba on a harvest excursion and stayed there. It just about broke his parents’ hearts. He was their only child and they just worshipped him.

Gil and Anne both wrote to me off and on, but never a word, not so much as a name, did they say of each other. I’d ‘a’ writ and asked ’em the rights of the fuss if I could, in hopes of patching it up, but I can’t write now–my hand is too shaky–and mebbe it was just as well, for meddling is terribly risky work in a love trouble, Nora May. Ninety-nine times out of a hundred the last state of a meddler and them she meddles with is worse than the first.

So I just set tight and said nothing, while everybody else in the clan was talking Anne and Gil sixty words to the minute.

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Well, last birthday morning I was feeling terrible disperrited. I had made up my mind that my birthday was always to be a good thing for other people, and there didn’t seem one blessed thing I could do to make anybody glad. Emma Matilda and George and the children were all well and happy and wanted for nothing that I could give them. I begun to be afraid I’d lived long enough, Nora May. When a woman gets to the point where she can’t give a gift of joy to anyone, there ain’t much use in her living. I felt real old and worn out and useless.

I was sitting here under these very trees–they was just budding out in leaf then, as young and cheerful as if they wasn’t a hundred years old. And I sighed right out loud and said, “Oh, Grandpa Holland, it’s time I was put away up on the hill there with you.” And with that the gate banged and there was Nancy Jane Whitmore’s boy, Sam, with two letters for me.

One was from Anne up at St. Mary’s and the other was from Gil out in Manitoba.

I read Anne’s first. She just struck right into things in the first paragraph. She said her year at St. Mary’s was nearly up, and when it was she meant to quit teaching and go away to New York and learn to be a trained nurse. She said she was just broken-hearted about Gilbert, and would always love him to the day of her death. But she knew he didn’t care anything more about her after the way he had acted, and there was nothing left for her in life but to do something for other people, and so on and so on, for twelve mortal pages. Anne is a fine writer, and I just cried like a babe over that letter, it was so touching, although I was enjoying myself hugely all the time, I was so delighted to find out that Anne loved Gilbert still. I was getting skeered she didn’t, her letters all winter had been so kind of jokey and frivolous, all about the good times she was having, and the parties she went to, and the new dresses she got. New dresses! When I read that letter of Anne’s, I knew that all the purple and fine linen in the world was just like so much sackcloth and ashes to her as long as Gilbert was sulking out on a prairie farm.

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Well, I wiped my eyes and polished up my specs, but I might have spared myself the trouble, for in five minutes, Nora May, there was I sobbing again; over Gilbert’s letter. By the most curious coincidence he had opened his heart to me too. Being a man, he wasn’t so discursive as Anne; he said his say in four pages, but I could read the heartache between the lines. He wrote that he was going to Klondike and would start in a month’s time. He was sick of living now that he’d lost Anne. He said he loved her better than his life and always would, and could never forget her, but he knew she didn’t care anything about him now after the way she’d acted, and he wanted to get as far away from her and the torturing thought of her as he could. So he was going to Klondike–going to Klondike, Nora May, when his mother was writing to him to come home every week and Anne was breaking her heart for him at St. Mary’s.

Well, I folded up them letters and, says I, “Grandpa Holland, I guess my birthday celebration is here ready to hand.” I thought real hard. I couldn’t write myself to explain to those two people that they each thought the world of each other still–my hands are too stiff; and I couldn’t get anyone else to write because I couldn’t let out what they’d told me in confidence. So I did a mean, dishonourable thing, Nora May. I sent Anne’s letter to Gilbert and Gilbert’s to Anne. I asked Emma Matilda to address them, and Emma Matilda did it and asked no questions. I brought her up that way.

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Then I settled down to wait. In less than a month Gilbert’s mother had a letter from him saying that he was coming home to settle down and marry Anne. He arrived home yesterday and last night Anne came to Springdale on her way home from St. Mary’s. They came to see me this morning and said things to me I ain’t going to repeat because they would sound fearful vain. They were so happy that they made me feel as if it was a good thing to have lived eighty years in a world where folks could be so happy. They said their new joy was my birthday gift to them. The wedding is to be in September and I’m going to Montrose in August to help Anne with her quilts. I don’t think anything will happen to prevent this time–no quarrelling, anyhow. Those two young creatures have learned their lesson. You’d better take it to heart too, Nora May. It’s less trouble to learn it at second hand. Don’t you ever quarrel with your real beau–it don’t matter about the sham ones, of course. Don’t take offence at trifles or listen to what other people tell you about him–outsiders, that is, that want to make mischief. What you think about him is of more importance than what they do. To be sure, you’re too young yet to be thinking of such things at all. But just mind what old Aunt Susanna told you when your time comes.

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