CHAPTER XII

Friday, June 7th 1884, New Line Road, West Grafton

Priscilla Reports #118

Have just finished my third consecutive reading of Persuasion. Father became so irritated I resorted to telling him that it was a set text for Sophomore English. Oh, that it was. But as fine as the Redmond faculty are – one in particular has caught mine and Anne's special attention – I doubt Miss Austen's work will ever be valued as high literature. Nor Mrs. Gaskell, nor George Elliot. If they were I should become a professor myself.

I could write my thesis in a month if I was at liberty to dissect the concept of unity in North and South, or the representation of the marriage in Pride and Prejudice. Instead I must plough through pages of unrequited urgings from powdered, wigged old men.

Why is love unreturned considered such a valuable subject of study? Love is for fools and simpletons. But no one will ever write a book about that! A love like Anne Elliot's and Captain Wentworth's could never exist in the real world. Imagine a handsome, intelligent, eligible man suffering the rejection of his marriage proposal yet still maintaining hope – hope through years of patient suffering – that he might someday win her back? I believe that dapper Dr Kent is right: only a woman could write something as fanciful as that.

Speaking of fanciful, I finally completed my critique of Anne's new story. There are elements I adore. Averil is certainly a handful and not easily tamed, and the villain is a masterstroke. There was one passage I read repeatedly. Anne had created such a powerful presence that I found myself blushing. For the rest, it appears she is trying to write some Arthurian legend. There are castles, dungeons and duels. And also, inexplicably, a cake. I really don't see it having much broad appeal. Ancient epics might be required reading but they are not what people want to read. So, I suggested that Anne move the story to a different era. The Regency period would be perfect, then she could still have her duel but would be forced to reword the archaic way her characters speak to each other. One speech was so long I thought I was reading a Mediaeval text and had to go through my trunk to hunt out my lexicon!

Poor darling, she always did have the highest ideals. Part of me feels loathe to pull her down to earth, but I also know she would never forgive me if I was not as honest as I could bear to be. I so wanted to add that I detest the name Averil, which brings to mind a dimply elbowed courtesan. As for Perceval! Well the man certainly lived up to his name. So simpering and foppish I half wished Maurice had won the duel and showed Averil what a real man was.

But then what would I know of a real man? I used to feel envious of Lottie – and her enormous land endowment. Now I feel sorry for her. I saw Nate again as I was posting back Anne's manuscript. Any time he comes into our store Father or Laureline are quick to fill his order, but there was no possibility of avoiding him as I exited the post office. The post mistress began coughing loudly and the next thing I knew I was consenting to let him walk me home. I suppose he realised he wouldn't have long in my company which was why he spoke so abruptly. Though nothing can excuse what he said.

"Why don't you answer my letters?" he sulked.

"Because I don't think Mrs. Rawley will appreciate it," I said.

He guided me into the alley where our store and the butcher's keep their refuse, and it was there he declared that he never wanted to marry Lottie but had no choice. I felt so overwhelmed; the smell of rancid meat and bad potatoes almost choked me. How I wish I had looked him in the eye and said that I still had a choice. That I chose to send his letters to his wife if he so much as looked at me again.

Of course, nothing so perfectly formed came from my lips. Instead I began to cry. The stench flooded my throat and for a moment I thought I would heave up my heart. Nate put his hand upon my cheek and that's when I kicked him. I heard the garbage pails clatter as I fled into the store, and looked so pale and unsteady when I got to the counter that Father ordered me on bedrest.

I had decided never to commit this event to paper. It makes me uneasy when I think that one day someone might read this. Reputations might be ruined. But as I read over it, part of me – no doubt a very wicked part – wishes I could send the account to Anne and have her make something of it. Then finally I might have a tale of romance based on reality. Without the added cake.

Monday 28th June, Orchard Slope, Avonlea

Dear Journalette,

Anne's masterpiece is finally complete!

I am half in suspense and half relieved. It isn't as much fun as I thought it would be having an authoress for a bosom friend. I feel as if I have been sharing Anne with Averil Lester for weeks. What would Averil say about this? How would Averil describe that? Once when I was wanting an opinion on which stitch I should choose for the wedding breakfast napkins, Anne dropped the sampler just to scribble some line that had come into her head. Another time she told me that 'very pretty' cannot really be considered alternative word for 'pretty'. She did listen to my suggestion for a happy ending but honestly, Journalette, I wouldn't have been that sorry to see the end of Perceval. Averil's fiery temper was far better suited to Maurice. Now there was a scoundrel! Of course, there is a lot to be said for the quiet, sensible type. Besides we don't have scoundrels in Avonlea. Mrs. Lynde wouldn't allow it.

Anne hasn't told her or Marilla about her story. No one knows, excepting Mr. Harrison and Gilbert and Priscilla Grant ~ and Fred, of course. And I accidently told Minnie-May. Won't everyone be surprised when they find out? Anne has visions of Marilla perusing the latest copy of McCalls and spying her name in the index. 'Averil's Atonement' by Miss A. Shirley.

At first Anne wanted a nom de plume but I talked her out of that nonsense.

"What!" I said, "and have none of the credit?"

For a moment I thought Anne would rather forgo fame for the pleasure of thinking up an alias.

"Just think, Diana," she said, "I could at last become Cordelia!"

I then reminded her that if she didn't put her own name to her work anyone, even Josie, could lay claim to it. And that put paid to that.

I wouldn't put it past her. Those Pye girls are shameless. They are both mad for that scandilous book, 'Guide to the Gentleman'. I've heard it is so unwholesome even Ruby refuses to read it. But from what she tells me there are ten rules and if you follow them to the letter men will fall at your feet. Now Josie and Gertie are ignoring every male between eighteen to thirty.

"If I ignored Fred he would never have proposed to me," I told them.

"Lucky for us," they said.

Lucky for me, I think they mean.

If only everyone could be as happy as Fred and me. Do you know, Journalette, he said he didn't mind what colour flowers we have for our wedding because I will be the prettiest coloured flower there. I don't see how I could be when I will be wearing white, but I know just what he meant. He's so obliging. Though I wish I might draw his opinion on at least one detail of our ceremony. Whenever I mention our special day the very first thing he says is, "Whatever you like Di-Di."

Isn't that the sweetest name? I have started calling him Fred-Fred. Only last evening after Moody's party it sounded more like Fred-Fred-Fred-Fred-Fred-Fred because he burrowed his face into my muslin shirtwaist ~ the one with the cutwork lace ~ and pressed his lips all over it. Journalette, it was a sensation! Though afterwards I got quite soggy. I felt something else too. Something I'm sure you could read all about in 'Guide to the Gentleman'.

Oh, it's so long to wait before we may marry. But wait we must, for everyone knows that young brides are made mothers in six months, not nine. Nettie Andrews is bound to be expecting more than a Christmas gift come December. I won't have anyone thinking that about me!

July 5th, Green Gables, in the deepest, darkest depths of despair...

I am eleven again. Standing by the door of Green Gables as a sharp realisation nails me to the floor.

They don't want me.

My story has been rejected by McCall's. Oh, Ida, I feel sickened, defective, wretched. As though I have abandoned my dearest, most beloved child to the random cruelty of an indifferent world.

I am suddenly remembering the terrifying day when a young woman came to the orphanage and ordered us to strip to our undergarments so that she might determine our condition.

"Last one up and died after three weeks," she hissed, "and lumped me with the job of burying of her."

When the woman discovered I was ten she took particular interest, I suppose because I was tall for my age. The cold dread I felt thinking she might choose me. That will give you an idea of how afraid I was, Ida, because my dearest dream was to be chosen. But to be given to her ~ I would rather have ended up with Mrs. Blewett. I felt so frightened as she pulled at my tongue and peered down my throat, the next thing I knew I was wetting myself and stood there trembling in a puddle on the floor. The matron was so mortified she made me wear my soiled clothes all day, which earned me the name 'Bedpan Shirley'.

"Bedpanne with an e," I told them.

I wish I could summon that spirit now. Before I could tell myself it wasn't really me who was being rejected, just some no count orphan like hundreds of others. But there is no way for me to gild this pill. This time I know it is me they don't want ~ the very best part of me too. I don't even know why. If the editor had only offered some criticism. Lord knows I have had my share, but I don't think I have been overly proud. I listened to others and to myself, and believed 'Averil's Atonement' had true significance.

Once Priscilla sent me her evaluation, the story took a life of its own. In fact, she influenced me more than I care to admit. Priss' own entanglement with Mr. Rawley proved so inspiring that I re-imagined Averil an impoverished but genteel young woman forced by her father to marry the ruthless landowner, Maurice Lennox. But Maurice forsakes his bridal night in favour of gambling with the wedding guests, so sweet Perceval presents Averil with her wedding cake. She is so bewitched by the flavour she insists on being taught how to make it and soon they fall deeply and irrevocably in love. It was certainly far more thrilling than anything Margaret Burton wrote, so why wasn't it accepted? I had so many ideas for my next story. I honestly believed the publishers would ask me to submit another, and that one day I would be offered a position at the magazine. Lowly and underpaid to be sure, but some foothold on the literary ladder. Everyone else will expect it as well. I can hear them all now…

"But you won the Thorburn, why can't you write a trifling magazine story?"

Mr. Harrison will chuckle in that patronising way of his ~ that I can tolerate ~ and Diana will be beautifully outraged and threaten to cancel her subscription. But Priscilla. Gilbert. They will expect the enterprise to be a cake walk. In truth it's been more like a walk across that ridgepole. But it wasn't my ankle that was crushed this time. It was my soul.

Diana is waving her flag from her bedroom window. I suppose she knows I got mail and imagines I've been offered a permanent contract, complete with enormous cheque. Oh, Ida, how do I tell her?

Later…

Diana wasn't signaling about my story. She has far bigger news than that. Gilbert's cousin is coming to stay. Correction, Gilbert's male cousin is coming to stay. Every girl in Avonlea is heading over to the Blythes to borrow cups of sugar or lengths of yarn. But not Ruby. Marilla says she's getting worse so I begged permission to miss Prayer Meeting tonight and go sit with her.

As I wrote that I had that creeping cold feeling go right through me, like a wind weaving through straight my bones. It never occurred to me till now. Averil Lester looks just like Ruby Gillis.

Horrid Mc Calls. Perhaps I'll try 'Canadian Woman' instead.

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