DISCLAIMER: I do not own the characters except the Pedites, Monsieur Mimiex and Ralph Dale. They are all L. M. Montgomerry's. Do you think I'd share Walter Blythe if I did own him!
Thank you Guest. Your review certainly made my day! I can sympathise absolutely, I too cried my eyes out after reading 'And so, goodnight'. Walter is my favourite character, bar none. So, I had to write a fanfiction about him.
Thank you Emolma, for your review. Two reviews on the very first chapter, I'm thrilled! Hope you continue to think my characters are true to the books after reading this chapter. I have very grave doubts about Walter Blythe!
Constructive criticism is very welcome.
2. Walter Comes Home
He came in the evening, just as dusk was fading into twilight. The station-master saw a young man in khaki get off. He was tall with dark hair and grey eyes that had great pain and sorrow etched into them. There were lines around his eyes which should not have been there in the eyes of one so young. But unlike many of the other boys who got off, he seemed physically fit. No injuries, no bandages, no limp. He was the only one today and as he looked around, the station-master saw his eyes light up with what was unmistakably love. He seemed familiar yet unknown.
Walter, for it was he, walked down the well-known road from the station to Ingleside. He saw the manse loom up in front of him and considered whether to keep to the road or turn into Rainbow Valley just beyond the gate when he was brought to a halt by the figure of a young girl in the garden. He caught his breath as she turned. She had grown! Grown into a young woman from the girl he had left behind and grown beautiful! He could see that she had seen him at the same moment and realized she had not yet recognized him. The light from the windows fell on her, bathed her with light while he remained in shadow.
Walter stepped forward. With a gasp, Una backed away. He smiled, opened the gate and walked in. For some time, neither of them spoke. Then she said in a faint voice, "Hello, Walter. We were not expecting you today. Jem gave us quite a shock yesterday by turning up out of the blue. There is nobody at home right now except me, so maybe you would do best to go on to Ingleside."
He was rather disappointed at this attempt to get rid of him but he asked her whether she would accompany him. Una thought for a minute and then nodded. A few minutes later, they were on the Ingleside verandah. Once there, Walter took a deep breath, smiled a faint smile at Una and entered.
Immediately everybody inside was thrown into confusion. Di leaped to her feet from the cushion she had been sitting on. Jem dropped his book. Gilbert was away and Rilla was upstairs in her room. Walter went up to Anne, vaguely aware of loud ejaculations from Susan, sitting beside her.
As soon as the initial shock was over and Walter had begun to satisfy his mother's enquiries as to when he had come to Canada and which train he had taken when he had to start afresh at the arrival of his father, Rilla and Nan and Jerry from Rainbow Valley.
Una, after some time, Rather felt herself to be an unwanted extra to the family party and was getting tired of the noise and loud laughter and she quietly slipped away. Nobody noticed her except Walter. After a few more minutes, he excused himself, went up to his room, changed and washed swiftly. Ten minutes later, he was out of the house and in Rainbow Valley where he felt she had gone. He turned out to be right.
Una was sitting on a stone beside the little brook. Walter watched her from the shadow of a tree for some time before making his presence known to her. She made a pretty and graceful picture, one arm wrapped around her knee while the other supported her head lightly. The weight of the thick black cascade of straight hair in a coiffure at the back of her head tilted her hair back slightly, her usually wistful eyes were now sparkling with joy at the thought which was curving her lips into a rare lovely smile. Her white dress clung to her, showing off her slender figure to the best advantage and also making a great contrast to the green glade. Altogether, Una Meredith presented a very beautiful picture, though she did not know it.
Walter sat at her feet and for a time, none of them spoke. Then, Una broke the silence rather anxiously, "Do you think it was rude to just leave like that? I did not mean to be rude, but I was longing for some peace and quiet. It was rather noisy…..." she bit the end of the sentence off, blushing scarlet at what she had been saying about his family. But Walter laughed. "I agree, they are rather noisy now. I wanted some peace and quiet too and I thought Rainbow Valley would be just the place. I'll spend the time till supper here."
Another long pause. Then Una suddenly commented, "You've changed Walter! You seem much more peaceful now than when you left which is rather strange considering you have seen a war." Again she broke off suddenly, at having said so much. Walter did not seem to mind. He smiled and took one of her hands and transferred himself from the grass at her feet to the stone beside her.
Walter let his thought roam back to the time half-an-hour ago when he entered the Ingleside sitting room. His mother's eyes and smile as she embraced this son she never thought she would see again, Di hugging him and holding on like she would never let go, Jem beaming on as Susan exclaimed that he had given her the fright of her life and hoping that war had finally cure him of poetry. He was shaken out of the memory of Rilla's near hysterics by the sound of a little sigh at his side.
"Una, I know Ingleside will be overrun with people tomorrow wanting to hear some story of how I did not die and though nobody in my family has asked yet, I can understand they want to know as well." He paused. "But somehow, I want to tell you first."
If Una was surprised at this wish, she gave no sign of it, but turned towards him attentively, ready to listen to whatever he had to say.
"At Courcelette, the night before the battle, I saw the Piper. I wrote to Rilla about it. Did she show you the letter? I asked her to."
Una just nodded.
"Well, I was quite certain the Piper was going to take me the next day. But I was wrong. I was wounded. The bullet just missed my heart and I became unconscious. When I next woke up, I was in a German prison camp. I am still not sure how I came to be registered as dead instead of 'missing' but that is how it happened. There was another Walter in my troop – Walter Hyle. Perhaps there was a mix-up. Well, the Germans treated my wound, but it was painful because they did not bother with morphine." Another long pause.
"Yes, those two weeks were the most painful in my life. At first I was hardly conscious and so it did not matter Later, however….." he shuddered.
"At the end of three weeks, when I was able to walk without support, they loaded me onto a truck with a number of other prisoners. I was towards the end and perhaps that saved my life."
"It was night, pitch dark. We had been traveling for days, towards Germany. Something went wrong with the engine and the driver lost control, I think, because he rammed into a sheer cliff face. Those in front and on the left side of the truck were killed immediately. Five of us survived, all prisoners other than a fatally injured guard. He would not have lasted long but the men decided to put him out of his misery at once to prevent his being found by another truck and giving us away. Then they fled."
"I fell behind with another man whose leg had been stiffened by a bullet, because of our injuries. But this served us well because we were found, at dawn, by a couple of farmers, one of whom after much discussion decided to shelter us."
"He saved our lives. I later learned that the other three men had been caught and killed and had not given us away even under pain of torture, which I am quite sure they must have been put under." He felt Una's hand suddenly tighten on his and he gave her a reassuring little smile. She shuddered at the thought of this torture. Walter was quiet for some time before continuing.
"The place we were in was called Lexeuil-les-Bains. It was hardly more than a big village and my host, Monsieur Pedite lived on the outskirts. He was a dairy farmer, so there was lots of milk and cheese," Walter smiled.
"He had a family of five including himself, Madame Pedite, his daughters Marie and Charlotte who were seventeen and eighteen years old and a thirteen year old son, Martin. He was a nice boy and fascinated by us. My companion's name was Ralph Dale and we had to stay in the attic with boarded up windows and no sunlight coming in. When there was threat of raids, we were transferred to a hideout beneath the floorboards of the barn. This hideout was the idea of Monsieur Mimiex, the other farmer who had found us."
"Well, we lived in the attic, virtually prisoners. Nobody visited us except Marie or Charlotte with our meals thrice a day and sometimes Messieurs Pedite and Mimiex. Monsieur Mimiex had five grown sons, all of whom were in the war and three of whom he would never see again. Despite being a dairy farmer he was quite a scholar and fluent in English. He had read my poem and he wanted to know what had given me the inspiration for 'The Piper' because he found it a strange thought. We had long and earnest conversations and I really came to admire the man. His wife had died, three of his sons had died and yet he had given up his last son to the war, a few days ago and was as proud to see him go as the first. I used to listen to him talk and would feel ashamed that I had to stay there in hiding, unable to do anything. And yet, Madame Pedite would not let us go. She was afraid we would give them away."
"During those two years, I saw no face except the seven of them, nobody else in the village even knew. If anybody came to visit, we were forbidden to move a muscle for fear that the floorboards would creak. And yet we were better of than most of the other young men. We had fairly comfortable, if somewhat dark lodgings, three square meals and intelligent companions. I was sincerely thankful to God. I even had paper and pens provided me to write. I have a whole sheaf of poems in one of the pockets in my bag upstairs. I'll show them to you one day."
"It was sometime after we got the news of Germany's defeat and downfall that the two men decided it was all true and not rumours and the German army being in retreat, we were allowed to write home. Lorraine was still occupied, but the Kaiser had fallen and France was free. So they considered it time to let us go."
"I was sorry to leave, to tell you the truth, Una. It had been a prison but quite a pleasant prison and the Pedites did save my life. One day, when times are happier, maybe I can go back and thank them for all they did for me."
"Well, I came back to Canada, took care of certain formalities, proved that I was alive and had a right to live and then only did I allow myself to come back home. And here I am."
When he finished his story, Una said nothing. She was thinking about it, turning it over in her mind, thanking God for people like the Pedites and Monsieur Mimiex. At last, she spoke.
"Listening to your story Walter, one would think Death itself was afraid to take you. You had many narrow escapes. The Piper knew you still had work to do in this world before he piped you away," she smiled.
"Yes, at last since that day in Rainbow Valley, finally I have freed myself from certain chains that bound me to him. No longer am I held enthralled by his enchanting music. He may pipe all he likes but it will be years till I answer his call."