"Mr. Dale," Sara called out anxiously. "Mr. Dale, are you home?"
It was early the next morning after the ill-fated evening at the Town Hall. Of all the painful results of the fire the worst for Sara had been the terrible blow to Jasper Dale's newborn self-confidence. Practically all night, Sara had lain awake brooding on it. Before breakfast, even, she had run all the way over to Jasper 's farmhouse and hammered on his door.
The door remained shut tight. On top of that, every curtain was drawn. No matter how much Sara rapped, no one came. After the front door, she tried the back door, then the barn, and then the front door again.
"Mr. Dale, please answer."
Her calls did no good. The house might as well have been a tomb, sealed up over the Jasper Dale who might have been, if only the Town Hall hadn't burst into flames.
With a sigh, Sara turned away. Maybe he really wasn't home, though Sara couldn't imagine where a man who had just been as humiliated as Jasper would go, except perhaps underneath his own bed. Yet she had no sooner stepped from the porch when a telltale sound brought her to a halt. It wasn't a big sound, but it was one Sara knew in an instant. It was the sound of an upstairs window closing. She dashed out into the yard -- too late to see Jasper himself, but in the window right over the kitchen, the curtains were quivering.
"Mr. Dale, I know you're in there. Andrew was looking at the magic lantern and he said that it won't take much to fix it. Please come out!"
Thank goodness magic lanterns were sturdy things, and that Andrew had had the good sense to rescue this one.
No answer greeted Sara's news. The curtains were still. Sara tried again.
"I'm sorry. It wasn't your fault. Everybody knows that."
Obviously, Jasper Dale didn't know that. Nor, after the shock at the hall, Sara supposed glumly, was he likely to take her word for it. She had been the one who had enticed him there. She had been the one who had recklessly promised that everything was going to turn out fine.
With heavy steps, Sara gave up and turned for home. Her burden now was more than just loss to the library fund, it was the haunting knowledge that Jasper Dale, who had trusted her, was wounded to the marrow of his bones. Affairs weren't much better back at Rose Cottage. Hetty may have forgotten herself enough to lead a standing ovation, but she had now come back to her usual frame of mind with a vengeance. She had predicted disaster and disaster had come. And all she could think of was that the disaster would be forever linked to the name of Hetty King.
Olivia, in hopes of cheering the morning, had put on her sunniest yellow apron. She stood at the stove poaching eggs. However, if she thought the idea of a good breakfast was going to calm anyone, she was mistaken. Hetty paced up and down, too agitated even to see to the teapot.
"Don't fret so, Hetty," Olivia said placatingly testing one of the eggs. "When all is said and done, the evening was a great success."
"A great success? Mrs. McGee goes up in smoke -- you call that a great success? I shall never be able to hold my head up in public again."
Hetty was all too prone to imagining herself the prime mover behind everything that happened in Avonlea. Olivia tried to cast more oil upon the waters.
"Mrs. McGee was quite unharmed. Only her pride was hurt."
Mrs. McGee was also proof of the adage that one should always wear respectable undergarments. One never knew when there was going to be a fire and the whole neighborhood would see them.
Hetty turned her cannons in a different direction. "I knew anything involving Jasper Dale was destined for failure."
At the name, a hitch of sympathy crossed Olivia's face. She had taken a liking to Jasper, now that she had seen him up close. She hated to think what he must be feeling right now and hoped Sara was, even then, putting some things to rights.
Hetty stopped short and stared out the window past the potted geraniums to the gate.
"Oh good Lord, look who's coming over. Hide the eggs."
In astonishment, Olivia saw it was none other than Mrs. Tarbush climbing down from her buggy and heading for their door. She was clutching a handkerchief and her face was screwed up in a manner that didn't bode well for civilized conversation. Hetty opened the door a split second before the widow would have burst through it.
"Good morning, Fanny," Hetty said, pretending she didn't notice the woman's state.
Fanny Tarbush honked loudly into handkerchief.
"There's not a good thing about it, Hetty King. I'm so upset. I hope the profit of your show has made it worth the pain it has cost me."
"Profit?" Hetty wasn't about to admit to financial gain in front of a woman she detested. "We'll be lucky to buy a dozen books after we pay for the damage."
There'd been the half dozen burnt chairs, the section of flooring that would have to be put in and Mrs. McGee's dress -- not to mention the smoking ruin of Hetty's bedsheet, which broke up her most prized set. And, no doubt, Jasper Dale would want money to fix that ridiculous magic lantern contraption of his.
Fanny Tarbush sat down on a kitchen chair, treated herself to a large sob and gave her handkerchief a twist.
"What about the damage to the sale of my farm? Our deal was to close this morning," she cried, much aggrieved. What was a few dollars for a spot blaze when one had lost the benefit of a hard-won transaction in real estate.
"Well, I hardly think that's any of my affair, Fanny," Hetty said sharply. There were some things even she refused to be responsible for.
Sara came in the door from Jasper Dale's. Her face told everything about her fruitless visit. On the way back through the dewy fields, she had had time to brood upon life's unfairnesses. Stockings soaked through, she entered the house with a slow, sepulchral tread.
"Hello, Mrs. Tarbush," she said politely. "I'm sorry to hear about Mr. Campbell."
Everyone knew that Mrs. Tarbush had had to beg a ride home last night in sour old Mr. Wade's rickety buggy. Mr. Wade raised chickens for a living and his buggy was always spotted all over from the pullets roosting on it.
"Gone!" Mrs. Tarbush lamented, twisting her handkerchief until it looked ready to scream for its life. "And after him practically asking me if my period of mourning was over."
Widows were expected to mourn for their husbands for at least a year, and to dress all in black. No gentleman could court a widow while she was still in mourning. But after the mourning was laid aside -- well then, things could become very lively indeed. Mrs. Tarbush had clearly been nursing a great many hopes of Mr. Campbell in that direction.
Ignoring Mrs. Tarbush's calamity, Sara progressed funereally over to the stove.
"Do we have any hard peas, Aunt Olivia?" she asked, chin stonily set.
Olivia looked away from the poached eggs, very much startled.
"I wanted to put them in my shoes -- for penance."
Sara's face grew even longer and paler as she contemplated her multiple tragedies. If ever there was a girl who needed to do penance, it was herself. Olivia was still looking at Sara in faint astonishment, even though she was growing familiar with Sara's dramatic turn of mind.
"I don't think Presbyterians do penance, Sara," Olivia ventured. Something very like amusement lurked at the corner of her mouth.
Denied the expiation of peas in her shoes, Sara blurted out, "It's either that, or kill Sally Potts!"
This was really what was down underneath everything -- fury at Sally's low, interfering tricks.
"You'll do nothing of the kind.
Olivia was a lot more definite about murder than she was about peas in people's shoes.
"Wellington!" groaned Mrs. Tarbush, a fat tear squeezing from each eye. "Not a word. Now this!"
Olivia kept her eye on Sara, perhaps worried about the safety of Sally Potts. Like a martyr led to execution, Sara lifted a hand to her forehead.
"I led poor jasper Dale into untold humiliation," she lamented. "Maybe the little pebbles on the front walk will do just as well. What would you say if I went barefoot for the next week?"
"I wouldn't say anything, Sara Stanley," Aunt Hetty cried, completely out of patience at last. "I would simply put you over my knee and give you a good solid spanking. You'd find that penance enough."
Mrs. Tarbush chose this moment to abandon herself completely to yowling, luxurious sobs. Her hat quivered and her shoulders shook and her bosom heaved like a stormy sea.
"Good heavens, Olivia," Hetty whispered, "give her some eggs and send her home."
Sara wasn't allowed to put pebbles in her shoe, but she had pains enough from Avonlea's more insensitive citizens. Mrs. Ray had returned from Newbridge to discover Clemmie's defection to the magic lantern show and Edward's illicit camp-out in the woods. Both children had suffered her wrath. Edward, rubbing his sore backside, was not going to forgive Clemmie for many months to come. Clemmie had immediately run up a fever, seeming to justify her mother's darkest warnings. Mrs. Ray met Mrs. Potts at the general store. Mrs. Potts mentioned Sara Stanley. Mrs. Ray flung up her hands toward Heaven.
"Didn't I tell you she was no good? The Bible says, 'Man is born to trouble as the sparks fly upward,' and we have no better proof."
"Upward and across the room," agreed Mrs. Potts, who had been at the scene of the conflagration. "We could all have perished."
"She certainly can tell a story, though," volunteered Mr. Lawson, who had overheard them from behind the flour bins. He had enjoyed Sara's narration tremendously and wanted to defend her. The forces were two to one against him, however. Mrs. Potts immediately leaped upon his well-meant remark.
"That's exactly what she is -- a Story Girl."
As though deliberately searching out a den of lions, Olivia and Sara picked this second to walk into the store. At the sight of Sara, Mrs. Ray's bony face went rigid and she bristled like a roused-up porcupine.
"Oh, hello, Miss Story Girl, I have a tale for you," she spat out acidly. "Clemmie's real sick. And it might be the measles, and the measles go awful hard with the Rays. If they don't die completely of 'em, it leaves them blind."
At this, Sara went white and her very knees turned to ice. She had been the one who had tempted Clemmie into the buggy. Of all the things she had brought upon Avonlea, the calamity that horrified her most was to be responsible for Clemmie's untimely demise.
"Has the doctor said it's measles, Mrs. Ray?" Olivia inquired, sliding a reassuring arm round Sara's shoulder.
"Well, no, but she's feverish. Real feverish, and --"Mrs. Ray gathered herself to give Sara her strongest evil eye, "-- all because you played the devil with her. You've played the devil with all of us."
Mrs. Ray, at full battle pitch, was enough to frighten a small platoon. Seeing Sara quail under the assault made even the good-natured Olivia lose her temper.
"That's enough, Mrs. Ray. What kind of mother leaves her child alone overnight? Clemmie was far safer with us. I'm very sorry she's ill, but I suggest you consult a doctor before making your own diagnosis."
This outburst from someone as mild and pliant as Olivia was so surprising that even Mrs. Ray was confounded. With one opponent done in, Olivia turned to finish off the other.
"And whether she's told you or not, Mrs. Potts, it was your girl Sally who caused the fire in the first place with her mean-spirited taunting of Jasper Dale. So, before I spread the story all over Avonlea, I would suggest you take your wagging tongues elsewhere!"
Olivia finished up with a great, hot rush of breath. With her feet planted apart, she stood glowering until Mrs. Potts and Mrs. Ray picked up their purchases and decamped. Only when they were gone did Sara realize that Olivia was shaking. She gazed up at her aunt with open admiration.
"Oh, Sara!" Olivia gasped, letting her breath escape her lungs, "that felt good!"
Having tasted battle and victory in almost the the same moment, Olivia grinned at Sara with all her might. She ought to have tried losing her temper years ago.