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Maud

Maud

A Novel Inspired by the Life of L.M. Montgomery
edition:Hardcover
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Excerpt

  She couldn’t breathe. Sweat pooled under the weight of her long hair, soaking her lace collar. The thin gold ring she always wore on her right hand strangled her swelling index finger. She tried twisting it, but it was stuck.
   “Stop fidgeting, Maud,” her grandmother whispered as she discreetly nudged Maud’s grandfather, who was dozing through Reverend Archibald’s sermon on the prodigal son. Grandfather grunted awake. “Honestly, I’m surprised at the both of you. This is no way for a Macneill to behave in church.” Grandfather sat straighter, and Maud cleared her throat so she wouldn’t laugh.
   Of course the heat did not fuss Grandma Macneill. Just like the black net that hid her graying hair, she was able to hide her emo- tions: an ability Grandma was always reminding Maud she sorely lacked. Grandma said Maud was too sensitive, wearing her feelings on the surface like the red sand on the Island shore. And Grandma was most likely right. She was right about everything.
   Maud muttered an apology, taking a quick look back at the rest of the congregation at Cavendish’s Presbyterian Church from their pew, always second from the front on the left-hand side. The Clarks, Simpsons, and Macneills were all present, as they were every Sunday, to give thanks—and also to take note of who was present, who was absent, and who was caught sleeping during the reverend’s sermon. Maud loved to think about how she might describe them if she put them in one of her stories.
   They were most definitely watching her—particularly the clan matriarchs, Mrs. Elvira Simpson and Mrs. Matilda Clark. Maud had seen them stare at her when she had followed her grandpar- ents into church that morning.
   Maud knew what they were thinking. Hadn’t she left Cavendish rather suddenly over some business with that schoolteacher Miss “Izzie” Robinson six months ago? It was certainly no surprise the flighty, overly sensitive (and frankly queer) child of the dearly departed Clara Macneill and her irresponsible husband, Hugh John Montgomery, would act that way. There was no escaping it; it was in her blood.
   It was true that Maud had left six months ago to live with her Aunt Emily and Uncle John Malcolm Montgomery in Malpeque and then with her Aunt Annie and Uncle John Campbell in Park Corner. What wasn’t true were the particular circumstances people believed—and there was nothing she could do about it.
   Now Maud was back with her Grandma and Grandfather Macneill, her mother’s parents, on their farm in Cavendish, Prince Edward Island, a small village of about forty families, on the North Shore, where everyone knew everyone’s business. She had spent the summer with her merry Campbell cousins, but now was back to Grandma’s lectures, uncomfortable dresses, and a new school year with a new teacher.
   Maud stared ahead at a straw hat of lush summer flowers sit- ting on top of a mound of curly blond hair. Underneath it was her best friend, Mollie, who had the privilege of sitting in her par- ents’ pew in the front row with the new teacher. Miss Gordon appeared to be listening attentively to the reverend’s sermon. She had just arrived in Cavendish that week, after the last teacher, Miss Robinson, had finally left during the summer. Maud hoped she would get a chance to prove herself to the new teacher. Even though her grandfather had strong feelings about women teachers (“another confounded female teacher,” Maud had heard him mutter as they passed Miss Gordon on the way into the church that morning), a teacher still held an important place in the com- munity: people respected your opinion—something Maud had learned the hard way earlier that year.
   Mollie turned her head discreetly to catch Maud’s eye and, in her typical overdramatic fashion, mimed fanning herself. Maud returned the action with an overly dramatic grin, earning a firm tsk from her grandmother. Maud stifled a giggle and gazed out the window, which overlooked the slope of the western hill, and tried to imagine a cool breeze blowing through the chapel, clearing away the judgment. She longed to run down to the red sandy shore, strip off her stockings—she didn’t even want to think about what was happening to her poor black stockings—and jump into the Gulf. The air was as stifling as what awaited her when she got home: an afternoon of reading the Bible in quiet contemplation and the arrival of her mother’s brother, Uncle John Franklin, and his family for supper—although at least her cousin Lu would be there.
   Maud turned her attention to the front. She had no idea what Reverend Archibald was talking about; her thoughts drifted back to what Mollie had said before church—that she had news. Mollie always had the best news.
   Resisting the urge to tap her best friend on the shoulder, Maud quickly looked over at her cousin Pensie, sitting in the pew across the aisle. At sixteen, Pensie could wear her wavy auburn hair in the latest fashion on top of her head, and she sported fringe bangs that accentuated her long chin and big brown eyes. Alas, being only fourteen, Maud wasn’t allowed to put her hair up, and she was forced to live under the weight of it. Thankfully, Grandma had allowed her to tie it in two little ribbons clipped behind her head so it was off her face.
   At long last, the service came to an end. Had her grandmother not been there, Maud would have pushed through the congrega- tion and raced down the stairs, where there was space to breathe. As it was Sunday—and Grandma was there—Maud walked with what she hoped was graceful civility, as befitted a child of the Macneill clan, to the cemetery in front of the church, manag- ing to find the welcome shade of a tree while she waited for her friends . . . and Mollie’s news.
   Maud leaned her head against the coarse bark and closed her eyes, trying to shut out the murmurs of people filing their way out of the church, but she couldn’t help but overhear the talk around her.
   “I heard she had hysterics in the schoolyard,” Mrs. Simpson said. “That’s what my daughter Mamie told me.”
   Of course Mamie would tell her mother some falsehood. She was one of the girls that followed Maud’s nemesis, Clemmie Macneill.
   “I’m not surprised, given . . . everything,” Mrs. Clark said. “I hope that new school teacher knows how to handle an emotional child like Maud Montgomery.”
   “It’s the Montgomery side, I’m sure,” Mrs. Simpson said.
   Maud scraped at the tree. How dare they speak about Father when he wasn’t here to defend himself! She was both a Montgomery and a Macneill, which was why she would not lower herself by marching over to those women and telling them to mind their own business. No. She would pretend to ignore them.
   “You certainly got out quickly,” a familiar voice said.
   Maud opened her eyes and sighed. “That heat was unbearable, Pensie. I couldn’t stand it any longer.”

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