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The Greatest Works of L. M. Montgomery

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Chapter XXXIII.
The Hotel Concert

Table of Contents

“Put on your white organdy, by all means, Anne,” advised Diana decidedly.

They were together in the east gable chamber; outside it was only twilight — a lovely yellowish-green twilight with a clear-blue cloudless sky. A big round moon, slowly deepening from her pallid luster into burnished silver, hung over the Haunted Wood; the air was full of sweet summer sounds — sleepy birds twittering, freakish breezes, faraway voices and laughter. But in Anne’s room the blind was drawn and the lamp lighted, for an important toilet was being made.

The east gable was a very different place from what it had been on that night four years before, when Anne had felt its bareness penetrate to the marrow of her spirit with its inhospitable chill. Changes had crept in, Marilla conniving at them resignedly, until it was as sweet and dainty a nest as a young girl could desire.

The velvet carpet with the pink roses and the pink silk curtains of Anne’s early visions had certainly never materialized; but her dreams had kept pace with her growth, and it is not probable she lamented them. The floor was covered with a pretty matting, and the curtains that softened the high window and fluttered in the vagrant breezes were of pale-green art muslin. The walls, hung not with gold and silver brocade tapestry, but with a dainty apple-blossom paper, were adorned with a few good pictures given Anne by Mrs. Allan. Miss Stacy’s photograph occupied the place of honor, and Anne made a sentimental point of keeping fresh flowers on the bracket under it. Tonight a spike of white lilies faintly perfumed the room like the dream of a fragrance. There was no “mahogany furniture,” but there was a white-painted bookcase filled with books, a cushioned wicker rocker, a toilet table befrilled with white muslin, a quaint, gilt-framed mirror with chubby pink Cupids and purple grapes painted over its arched top, that used to hang in the spare room, and a low white bed.

Anne was dressing for a concert at the White Sands Hotel. The guests had got it up in aid of the Charlottetown hospital, and had hunted out all the available amateur talent in the surrounding districts to help it along. Bertha Sampson and Pearl Clay of the White Sands Baptist choir had been asked to sing a duet; Milton Clark of Newbridge was to give a violin solo; Winnie Adella Blair of Carmody was to sing a Scotch ballad; and Laura Spencer of Spencervale and Anne Shirley of Avonlea were to recite.

As Anne would have said at one time, it was “an epoch in her life,” and she was deliciously athrill with the excitement of it. Matthew was in the seventh heaven of gratified pride over the honor conferred on his Anne and Marilla was not far behind, although she would have died rather than admit it, and said she didn’t think it was very proper for a lot of young folks to be gadding over to the hotel without any responsible person with them.

Anne and Diana were to drive over with Jane Andrews and her brother Billy in their double-seated buggy; and several other Avonlea girls and boys were going too. There was a party of visitors expected out from town, and after the concert a supper was to be given to the performers.

“Do you really think the organdy will be best?” queried Anne anxiously.

“I don’t think it’s as pretty as my blue-flowered muslin — and it

certainly isn’t so fashionable.”

“But it suits you ever so much better,” said Diana. “It’s so soft

and frilly and clinging. The muslin is stiff, and makes you look too

dressed up. But the organdy seems as if it grew on you.”

Anne sighed and yielded. Diana was beginning to have a reputation for notable taste in dressing, and her advice on such subjects was much sought after. She was looking very pretty herself on this particular night in a dress of the lovely wildrose pink, from which Anne was forever debarred; but she was not to take any part in the concert, so her appearance was of minor importance. All her pains were bestowed upon Anne, who, she vowed, must, for the credit of Avonlea, be dressed and combed and adorned to the Queen’s taste.

“Pull out that frill a little more — so; here, let me tie your sash; now for your slippers. I’m going to braid your hair in two thick braids, and tie them halfway up with big white bows — no, don’t pull out a single curl over your forehead — just have the soft part. There is no way you do your hair suits you so well, Anne, and Mrs. Allan says you look like a Madonna when you part it so. I shall fasten this little white house rose just behind your ear. There was just one on my bush, and I saved it for you.”

“Shall I put my pearl beads on?” asked Anne. “Matthew brought me a string from town last week, and I know he’d like to see them on me.”

Diana pursed up her lips, put her black head on one side critically, and finally pronounced in favor of the beads, which were thereupon tied around Anne’s slim milk-white throat.

“There’s something so stylish about you, Anne,” said Diana, with unenvious admiration. “You hold your head with such an air. I suppose it’s your figure. I am just a dumpling. I’ve always been afraid of it, and now I know it is so. Well, I suppose I shall just have to resign myself to it.”

“But you have such dimples,” said Anne, smiling affectionately into the pretty, vivacious face so near her own. “Lovely dimples, like little dents in cream. I have given up all hope of dimples. My dimple-dream will never come true; but so many of my dreams have that I mustn’t complain. Am I all ready now?”

“All ready,” assured Diana, as Marilla appeared in the doorway, a gaunt figure with grayer hair than of yore and no fewer angles, but with a much softer face. “Come right in and look at our elocutionist, Marilla. Doesn’t she look lovely?”

Marilla emitted a sound between a sniff and a grunt.

“She looks neat and proper. I like that way of fixing her hair. But I expect she’ll ruin that dress driving over there in the dust and dew with it, and it looks most too thin for these damp nights. Organdy’s the most unserviceable stuff in the world anyhow, and I told Matthew so when he got it. But there is no use in saying anything to Matthew nowadays. Time was when he would take my advice, but now he just buys things for Anne regardless, and the clerks at Carmody know they can palm anything off on him. Just let them tell him a thing is pretty and fashionable, and Matthew plunks his money down for it. Mind you keep your skirt clear of the wheel, Anne, and put your warm jacket on.”

Then Marilla stalked downstairs, thinking proudly how sweet Anne looked, with that

“One moonbeam from the forehead to the crown”

and regretting that she could not go to the concert herself to hear her girl recite.

“I wonder if it IS too damp for my dress,” said Anne anxiously.

“Not a bit of it,” said Diana, pulling up the window blind. “It’s a perfect night, and there won’t be any dew. Look at the moonlight.”

“I’m so glad my window looks east into the sunrising,” said Anne, going over to Diana. “It’s so splendid to see the morning coming up over those long hills and glowing through those sharp fir tops. It’s new every morning, and I feel as if I washed my very soul in that bath of earliest sunshine. Oh, Diana, I love this little room so dearly. I don’t know how I’ll get along without it when I go to town next month.”

“Don’t speak of your going away tonight,” begged Diana. “I don’t want to think of it, it makes me so miserable, and I do want to have a good time this evening. What are you going to recite, Anne? And are you nervous?”

“Not a bit. I’ve recited so often in public I don’t mind at all now. I’ve decided to give ‘The Maiden’s Vow.’ It’s so pathetic. Laura Spencer is going to give a comic recitation, but I’d rather make people cry than laugh.”

“What will you recite if they encore you?”

“They won’t dream of encoring me,” scoffed Anne, who was not without her own secret hopes that they would, and already visioned herself telling Matthew all about it at the next morning’s breakfast table. “There are Billy and Jane now — I hear the wheels. Come on.”

Billy Andrews insisted that Anne should ride on the front seat with him, so she unwillingly climbed up. She would have much preferred to sit back with the girls, where she could have laughed and chattered to her heart’s content. There was not much of either laughter or chatter in Billy. He was a big, fat, stolid youth of twenty, with a round, expressionless face, and a painful lack of conversational gifts. But he admired Anne immensely, and was puffed up with pride over the prospect of driving to White Sands with that slim, upright figure beside him.

Anne, by dint of talking over her shoulder to the girls and occasionally passing a sop of civility to Billy — who grinned and chuckled and never could think of any reply until it was too late — contrived to enjoy the drive in spite of all. It was a night for enjoyment. The road was full of buggies, all bound for the hotel, and laughter, silver clear, echoed and reechoed along it. When they reached the hotel it was a blaze of light from top to bottom. They were met by the ladies of the concert committee, one of whom took Anne off to the performers’ dressing room which was filled with the members of a Charlottetown Symphony Club, among whom Anne felt suddenly shy and frightened and countrified. Her dress, which, in the east gable, had seemed so dainty and pretty, now seemed simple and plain — too simple and plain, she thought, among all the silks and laces that glistened and rustled around her. What were her pearl beads compared to the diamonds of the big, handsome lady near her? And how poor her one wee white rose must look beside all the hothouse flowers the others wore! Anne laid her hat and jacket away, and shrank miserably into a corner. She wished herself back in the white room at Green Gables.

 

It was still worse on the platform of the big concert hall of the hotel, where she presently found herself. The electric lights dazzled her eyes, the perfume and hum bewildered her. She wished she were sitting down in the audience with Diana and Jane, who seemed to be having a splendid time away at the back. She was wedged in between a stout lady in pink silk and a tall, scornful-looking girl in a white-lace dress. The stout lady occasionally turned her head squarely around and surveyed Anne through her eyeglasses until Anne, acutely sensitive of being so scrutinized, felt that she must scream aloud; and the white-lace girl kept talking audibly to her next neighbor about the “country bumpkins” and “rustic belles” in the audience, languidly anticipating “such fun” from the displays of local talent on the program. Anne believed that she would hate that white-lace girl to the end of life.

Unfortunately for Anne, a professional elocutionist was staying at the hotel and had consented to recite. She was a lithe, dark-eyed woman in a wonderful gown of shimmering gray stuff like woven moonbeams, with gems on her neck and in her dark hair. She had a marvelously flexible voice and wonderful power of expression; the audience went wild over her selection. Anne, forgetting all about herself and her troubles for the time, listened with rapt and shining eyes; but when the recitation ended she suddenly put her hands over her face. She could never get up and recite after that — never. Had she ever thought she could recite? Oh, if she were only back at Green Gables!

At this unpropitious moment her name was called. Somehow Anne — who did not notice the rather guilty little start of surprise the white-lace girl gave, and would not have understood the subtle compliment implied therein if she had — got on her feet, and moved dizzily out to the front. She was so pale that Diana and Jane, down in the audience, clasped each other’s hands in nervous sympathy.

Anne was the victim of an overwhelming attack of stage fright. Often as she had recited in public, she had never before faced such an audience as this, and the sight of it paralyzed her energies completely. Everything was so strange, so brilliant, so bewildering — the rows of ladies in evening dress, the critical faces, the whole atmosphere of wealth and culture about her. Very different this from the plain benches at the Debating Club, filled with the homely, sympathetic faces of friends and neighbors. These people, she thought, would be merciless critics. Perhaps, like the white-lace girl, they anticipated amusement from her “rustic” efforts. She felt hopelessly, helplessly ashamed and miserable. Her knees trembled, her heart fluttered, a horrible faintness came over her; not a word could she utter, and the next moment she would have fled from the platform despite the humiliation which, she felt, must ever after be her portion if she did so.

But suddenly, as her dilated, frightened eyes gazed out over the audience, she saw Gilbert Blythe away at the back of the room, bending forward with a smile on his face — a smile which seemed to Anne at once triumphant and taunting. In reality it was nothing of the kind. Gilbert was merely smiling with appreciation of the whole affair in general and of the effect produced by Anne’s slender white form and spiritual face against a background of palms in particular. Josie Pye, whom he had driven over, sat beside him, and her face certainly was both triumphant and taunting. But Anne did not see Josie, and would not have cared if she had. She drew a long breath and flung her head up proudly, courage and determination tingling over her like an electric shock. She WOULD NOT fail before Gilbert Blythe — he should never be able to laugh at her, never, never! Her fright and nervousness vanished; and she began her recitation, her clear, sweet voice reaching to the farthest corner of the room without a tremor or a break. Selfpossession was fully restored to her, and in the reaction from that horrible moment of powerlessness she recited as she had never done before. When she finished there were bursts of honest applause. Anne, stepping back to her seat, blushing with shyness and delight, found her hand vigorously clasped and shaken by the stout lady in pink silk.

“My dear, you did splendidly,” she puffed. “I’ve been crying like a baby, actually I have. There, they’re encoring you — they’re bound to have you back!”

“Oh, I can’t go,” said Anne confusedly. “But yet — I must, or Matthew will be disappointed. He said they would encore me.”

“Then don’t disappoint Matthew,” said the pink lady, laughing.

Smiling, blushing, limpid eyed, Anne tripped back and gave a quaint, funny little selection that captivated her audience still further. The rest of the evening was quite a little triumph for her.

When the concert was over, the stout, pink lady — who was the wife of an American millionaire — took her under her wing, and introduced her to everybody; and everybody was very nice to her. The professional elocutionist, Mrs. Evans, came and chatted with her, telling her that she had a charming voice and “interpreted” her selections beautifully. Even the white-lace girl paid her a languid little compliment. They had supper in the big, beautifully decorated dining room; Diana and Jane were invited to partake of this, also, since they had come with Anne, but Billy was nowhere to be found, having decamped in mortal fear of some such invitation. He was in waiting for them, with the team, however, when it was all over, and the three girls came merrily out into the calm, white moonshine radiance. Anne breathed deeply, and looked into the clear sky beyond the dark boughs of the firs.

Oh, it was good to be out again in the purity and silence of the night! How great and still and wonderful everything was, with the murmur of the sea sounding through it and the darkling cliffs beyond like grim giants guarding enchanted coasts.

“Hasn’t it been a perfectly splendid time?” sighed Jane, as they drove away. “I just wish I was a rich American and could spend my summer at a hotel and wear jewels and low-necked dresses and have ice cream and chicken salad every blessed day. I’m sure it would be ever so much more fun than teaching school. Anne, your recitation was simply great, although I thought at first you were never going to begin. I think it was better than Mrs. Evans’s.”

“Oh, no, don’t say things like that, Jane,” said Anne quickly, “because it sounds silly. It couldn’t be better than Mrs. Evans’s, you know, for she is a professional, and I’m only a schoolgirl, with a little knack of reciting. I’m quite satisfied if the people just liked mine pretty well.”

“I’ve a compliment for you, Anne,” said Diana. “At least I think it must be a compliment because of the tone he said it in. Part of it was anyhow. There was an American sitting behind Jane and me — such a romantic-looking man, with coal-black hair and eyes. Josie Pye says he is a distinguished artist, and that her mother’s cousin in Boston is married to a man that used to go to school with him. Well, we heard him say — didn’t we, Jane?—’Who is that girl on the platform with the splendid Titian hair? She has a face I should like to paint.’ There now, Anne. But what does Titian hair mean?”

“Being interpreted it means plain red, I guess,” laughed Anne. “Titian was a very famous artist who liked to paint redhaired women.”

“DID you see all the diamonds those ladies wore?” sighed Jane. “They were simply dazzling. Wouldn’t you just love to be rich, girls?”

“We ARE rich,” said Anne staunchly. “Why, we have sixteen years to our credit, and we’re happy as queens, and we’ve all got imaginations, more or less. Look at that sea, girls — all silver and shadow and vision of things not seen. We couldn’t enjoy its loveliness any more if we had millions of dollars and ropes of diamonds. You wouldn’t change into any of those women if you could. Would you want to be that white-lace girl and wear a sour look all your life, as if you’d been born turning up your nose at the world? Or the pink lady, kind and nice as she is, so stout and short that you’d really no figure at all? Or even Mrs. Evans, with that sad, sad look in her eyes? She must have been dreadfully unhappy sometime to have such a look. You KNOW you wouldn’t, Jane Andrews!”

“I DON’T know — exactly,” said Jane unconvinced. “I think diamonds would comfort a person for a good deal.”

“Well, I don’t want to be anyone but myself, even if I go uncomforted by diamonds all my life,” declared Anne. “I’m quite content to be Anne of Green Gables, with my string of pearl beads. I know Matthew gave me as much love with them as ever went with Madame the Pink Lady’s jewels.”

Chapter XXXIV.
A Queen’s Girl

Table of Contents

The next three weeks were busy ones at Green Gables, for Anne was getting ready to go to Queen’s, and there was much sewing to be done, and many things to be talked over and arranged. Anne’s outfit was ample and pretty, for Matthew saw to that, and Marilla for once made no objections whatever to anything he purchased or suggested. More — one evening she went up to the east gable with her arms full of a delicate pale green material.

“Anne, here’s something for a nice light dress for you. I don’t suppose you really need it; you’ve plenty of pretty waists; but I thought maybe you’d like something real dressy to wear if you were asked out anywhere of an evening in town, to a party or anything like that. I hear that Jane and Ruby and Josie have got ‘evening dresses,’ as they call them, and I don’t mean you shall be behind them. I got Mrs. Allan to help me pick it in town last week, and we’ll get Emily Gillis to make it for you. Emily has got taste, and her fits aren’t to be equaled.”

“Oh, Marilla, it’s just lovely,” said Anne. “Thank you so much. I don’t believe you ought to be so kind to me — it’s making it harder every day for me to go away.”

The green dress was made up with as many tucks and frills and shirrings as Emily’s taste permitted. Anne put it on one evening for Matthew’s and Marilla’s benefit, and recited “The Maiden’s Vow” for them in the kitchen. As Marilla watched the bright, animated face and graceful motions her thoughts went back to the evening Anne had arrived at Green Gables, and memory recalled a vivid picture of the odd, frightened child in her preposterous yellowish-brown wincey dress, the heartbreak looking out of her tearful eyes. Something in the memory brought tears to Marilla’s own eyes.

“I declare, my recitation has made you cry, Marilla,” said Anne gaily stooping over Marilla’s chair to drop a butterfly kiss on that lady’s cheek. “Now, I call that a positive triumph.”

“No, I wasn’t crying over your piece,” said Marilla, who would have scorned to be betrayed into such weakness by any poetry stuff. “I just couldn’t help thinking of the little girl you used to be, Anne. And I was wishing you could have stayed a little girl, even with all your queer ways. You’ve grown up now and you’re going away; and you look so tall and stylish and so — so — different altogether in that dress — as if you didn’t belong in Avonlea at all — and I just got lonesome thinking it all over.”

“Marilla!” Anne sat down on Marilla’s gingham lap, took Marilla’s lined face between her hands, and looked gravely and tenderly into Marilla’s eyes. “I’m not a bit changed — not really. I’m only just pruned down and branched out. The real ME — back here — is just the same. It won’t make a bit of difference where I go or how much I change outwardly; at heart I shall always be your little Anne, who will love you and Matthew and dear Green Gables more and better every day of her life.”

Anne laid her fresh young cheek against Marilla’s faded one, and reached out a hand to pat Matthew’s shoulder. Marilla would have given much just then to have possessed Anne’s power of putting her feelings into words; but nature and habit had willed it otherwise, and she could only put her arms close about her girl and hold her tenderly to her heart, wishing that she need never let her go.

 

Matthew, with a suspicious moisture in his eyes, got up and went out-of-doors. Under the stars of the blue summer night he walked agitatedly across the yard to the gate under the poplars.

“Well now, I guess she ain’t been much spoiled,” he muttered, proudly. “I guess my putting in my oar occasional never did much harm after all. She’s smart and pretty, and loving, too, which is better than all the rest. She’s been a blessing to us, and there never was a luckier mistake than what Mrs. Spencer made — if it WAS luck. I don’t believe it was any such thing. It was Providence, because the Almighty saw we needed her, I reckon.”

The day finally came when Anne must go to town. She and Matthew drove in one fine September morning, after a tearful parting with Diana and an untearful practical one — on Marilla’s side at least — with Marilla. But when Anne had gone Diana dried her tears and went to a beach picnic at White Sands with some of her Carmody cousins, where she contrived to enjoy herself tolerably well; while Marilla plunged fiercely into unnecessary work and kept at it all day long with the bitterest kind of heartache — the ache that burns and gnaws and cannot wash itself away in ready tears. But that night, when Marilla went to bed, acutely and miserably conscious that the little gable room at the end of the hall was untenanted by any vivid young life and unstirred by any soft breathing, she buried her face in her pillow, and wept for her girl in a passion of sobs that appalled her when she grew calm enough to reflect how very wicked it must be to take on so about a sinful fellow creature.

Anne and the rest of the Avonlea scholars reached town just in time to hurry off to the Academy. That first day passed pleasantly enough in a whirl of excitement, meeting all the new students, learning to know the professors by sight and being assorted and organized into classes. Anne intended taking up the Second Year work being advised to do so by Miss Stacy; Gilbert Blythe elected to do the same. This meant getting a First Class teacher’s license in one year instead of two, if they were successful; but it also meant much more and harder work. Jane, Ruby, Josie, Charlie, and Moody Spurgeon, not being troubled with the stirrings of ambition, were content to take up the Second Class work. Anne was conscious of a pang of loneliness when she found herself in a room with fifty other students, not one of whom she knew, except the tall, brown-haired boy across the room; and knowing him in the fashion she did, did not help her much, as she reflected pessimistically. Yet she was undeniably glad that they were in the same class; the old rivalry could still be carried on, and Anne would hardly have known what to do if it had been lacking.

“I wouldn’t feel comfortable without it,” she thought. “Gilbert looks awfully determined. I suppose he’s making up his mind, here and now, to win the medal. What a splendid chin he has! I never noticed it before. I do wish Jane and Ruby had gone in for First Class, too. I suppose I won’t feel so much like a cat in a strange garret when I get acquainted, though. I wonder which of the girls here are going to be my friends. It’s really an interesting speculation. Of course I promised Diana that no Queen’s girl, no matter how much I liked her, should ever be as dear to me as she is; but I’ve lots of second-best affections to bestow. I like the look of that girl with the brown eyes and the crimson waist. She looks vivid and red-rosy; there’s that pale, fair one gazing out of the window. She has lovely hair, and looks as if she knew a thing or two about dreams. I’d like to know them both — know them well — well enough to walk with my arm about their waists, and call them nicknames. But just now I don’t know them and they don’t know me, and probably don’t want to know me particularly. Oh, it’s lonesome!”

It was lonesomer still when Anne found herself alone in her hall bedroom that night at twilight. She was not to board with the other girls, who all had relatives in town to take pity on them. Miss Josephine Barry would have liked to board her, but Beechwood was so far from the Academy that it was out of the question; so Miss Barry hunted up a boardinghouse, assuring Matthew and Marilla that it was the very place for Anne.

“The lady who keeps it is a reduced gentlewoman,” explained Miss Barry. “Her husband was a British officer, and she is very careful what sort of boarders she takes. Anne will not meet with any objectionable persons under her roof. The table is good, and the house is near the Academy, in a quiet neighborhood.”

All this might be quite true, and indeed, proved to be so, but it did not materially help Anne in the first agony of homesickness that seized upon her. She looked dismally about her narrow little room, with its dull-papered, pictureless walls, its small iron bedstead and empty bookcase; and a horrible choke came into her throat as she thought of her own white room at Green Gables, where she would have the pleasant consciousness of a great green still outdoors, of sweet peas growing in the garden, and moonlight falling on the orchard, of the brook below the slope and the spruce boughs tossing in the night wind beyond it, of a vast starry sky, and the light from Diana’s window shining out through the gap in the trees. Here there was nothing of this; Anne knew that outside of her window was a hard street, with a network of telephone wires shutting out the sky, the tramp of alien feet, and a thousand lights gleaming on stranger faces. She knew that she was going to cry, and fought against it.

“I WON’T cry. It’s silly — and weak — there’s the third tear splashing down by my nose. There are more coming! I must think of something funny to stop them. But there’s nothing funny except what is connected with Avonlea, and that only makes things worse — four — five — I’m going home next Friday, but that seems a hundred years away. Oh, Matthew is nearly home by now — and Marilla is at the gate, looking down the lane for him — six — seven — eight — oh, there’s no use in counting them! They’re coming in a flood presently. I can’t cheer up — I don’t WANT to cheer up. It’s nicer to be miserable!”

The flood of tears would have come, no doubt, had not Josie Pye appeared at that moment. In the joy of seeing a familiar face Anne forgot that there had never been much love lost between her and Josie. As a part of Avonlea life even a Pye was welcome.

“I’m so glad you came up,” Anne said sincerely.

“You’ve been crying,” remarked Josie, with aggravating pity. “I suppose you’re homesick — some people have so little self-control in that respect. I’ve no intention of being homesick, I can tell you. Town’s too jolly after that poky old Avonlea. I wonder how I ever existed there so long. You shouldn’t cry, Anne; it isn’t becoming, for your nose and eyes get red, and then you seem ALL red. I’d a perfectly scrumptious time in the Academy today. Our French professor is simply a duck. His moustache would give you kerwollowps of the heart. Have you anything eatable around, Anne? I’m literally starving. Ah, I guessed likely Marilla’d load you up with cake. That’s why I called round. Otherwise I’d have gone to the park to hear the band play with Frank Stockley. He boards same place as I do, and he’s a sport. He noticed you in class today, and asked me who the redheaded girl was. I told him you were an orphan that the Cuthberts had adopted, and nobody knew very much about what you’d been before that.”