CHAPTER XXXII

September 5th, Patty's Place, Kingsport

Priscilla Reports #170

Somehow I have wound up in the dim, cold dining room when I should be in a soft, warm bed. With a soft, warm Stella.

I could feel her eyes on me all evening, as though a line attached us together. Had that line existed there would now be a tangle as comprehensive as the one inside me. She thinks I can't forgive her for encouraging me to ignore Mr. Rawley's letters. Perhaps she is right. It would explain why I spent more time being danced around the hall by strangers, than sitting by her side. Stella insists I am the only person she wants to dance with. But dancing in our bedroom is not the same as dancing at a Ball. Especially a Harvest Ball. I envisaged us laughing about it after. Instead she had a face like Gilbert Blythe.

I miss the days when he was always at Patty's Place. The gift he had for splitting our sides – and our kindling. After managing to unpack everything to Jimsie's satisfaction when we arrived back at Patty's Place, I was more than ready to flop in front of the fire. Only to find Phil attempting to kindle it with logs that were far too big, far too wet, and smelled all wrong. Gilbert knew where to find apple logs, and the scent of them was home.

I hadn't realised how I yearned for the Island until last summer. I yearn for it still. Especially as I sit in this cramped, dank dining room. Phil really has taken it over. She calls it her study, but it looks more like a dressing room to me. There are two looking glasses and an armoire! I don't have to wonder who she got to shift that colossus in here. I never appreciated how much Gil used to do for us. Somehow it doesn't occur to me to ask Roy to lend a hand. Perhaps I will. I could make this dining room into my bedroom. It is no exaggeration to say that Stella and I share everything with each other. And there are moments when I would like to claim the least little bit for myself.

Each time a letter arrived from Nate I would feel her eyes on me waiting to see what I would do. At first I read them in front of her. I would say it was because I had every right to do so, but I also know I savoured it. I am so used to looking sidelong at someone I can never hope to have; Stella's jealousy was intoxicating.

"Burn them," she would say to me, pointing to the fire – this was in the apple-log days. But I couldn't. Instead I began to leave them unopened and stuffed inside my hatbox. For months the news went unheard; Father and Laureline never said a word, yet I am not half so vexed with them. I seem bent on making this Stella's fault. As if she knew Nate's wife died of puerperal fever and the baby not long after.

If I felt Stella's eyes on me tonight, I felt everyone stare when I came home last May. Whispering, gesturing, so that I began to fear all West Grafton knew Nate had been writing to me. It took Laureline a whole day to mention it – but I have said enough of this already. Why do I always want to? Nate Rawley has no wife, no child, and a hundred-acre farm. But he doesn't write to me anymore.

The last letter I have from him is no more than a note. I didn't dare hunt it out until Phil, Anne and Jimsie were tucked up in bed. We climbed into bed too, Stella huddling next to me, clutching her pillow like she always does, and peering at the envelope in my hand. I noticed how ragged his writing looked. Why hadn't I sensed this letter was different? Why didn't I question why none came after? I don't know. And it makes me afraid that I really am as uppity and unforgiving as Nathaniel Rawley said I am.

But I'm not. I'm not! I loathe being out in the cold. I just wanted to dance tonight; to show affection for someone without always having to hide.

"Coming to bed?" I asked her. No Otto of Roses smeared on my face, no nightgown buttoned up to my neck. I know she knows what that means.

"I have to write a letter," she told me.

"Have to?" I said, and watched her settle down at the desk. "I am sure Miss Mallory won't mind waiting."

"Miss Mallory minds everything," she said.

I hated Stella in that moment. For putting a ghost before me, when I gave up a real live man. I decided I would rather sleep in the cinders than in our bedroom and ran away to the dining room. But it's so cold in here, I regret that now.

I am beginning to regret a lot of things.

Saturday, 5th September, Patty's Place, Kingsport ~ footsore, fanciful and overflowing with flowers!

Dearest Diary,

An auspicious beginning for you, little book! Though I don't wait for them anymore. Even tragical things have a beauty about them ~ at least my eleven-year old self used to think so. Was it the Island I missed so much, or the girl I used to be? The freckled little sprite who wore buttercups and wild roses in her Sunday best hat, and went about naming the world as though she were Eve.

There is to be no new name for you, dear Diary. Not because I've lost the knack but because diary is already a perfeckly perfeck word. Now let me begin by telling you that this is my last year at Patty's Place. And my last year at Redmond. Will it also be my last year as Anne Shirley?

Oh, let me think no more of names. Let me tell you all about tonight!

There was the most absurd Ball at Redmond. Well, more of a hoedown ~ at least Kingsport's idea of one. Any soul from Avonlea would have been rightfully bewildered. Hay bales under the chandeliers! Mrs. Lynde would have had a conniption if we dragged such a thing into our hall. Gingham ball gowns! Diana and Josie would have laughed so hard they wouldn't have been able to dance. Gilbert didn't seem to mind, however. No doubt lost in those violet eyes. The two of them barely arrived before they disappeared again. A country dance must be too common a thing for Miss Stuart.

Oh, I want to like her, Diary, I do! But I can't help feeling that behind her perfect ivory countenance that girl is smirking at me. Royal knows her slightly. She has an older brother who attended the same prep school as he did. She plays the cello well enough ~ though Phil did say she seemed more intent on expressing Christine than expressing Vivaldi. Stella wondered if it was only in playing that she was able to show her true self. While Priss' eyes were locked firmly on the concert master; a dashing violinist by the name of Marcus Ell.

"Ell for love," Jo chuckled.

If I was in the orchestra I would certainly fall in love with him ~ and not with terse Seniors who seem to have lost their sense of humour. I was going to knit Gilbert a scarf for his birthday. Now I doubt he would get the joke. Did I dream that evening we spent at Diana's wedding? I hoped we might rekindle something of our friendship when we returned to Redmond. Now I see I've been thoroughly replaced. I miss him, Diary. But I am used to that. I have many rooms inside me filled with little aches for things that are lost to me. Gilbert Blythe is just one more.

Roy is a darling. Though I now understand why Phil got so pouty about having to find yet another vase to put all her flowers in. The dear boy has sent me a bouquet every morning and evening since the new term began. Roses, carnations, asters, hyacinths, lilacs, tulips, chrysanthemums ~ even Priss is complaining that it's getting to be as bad as cushions! I don't mind the lack of places to keep a book and a cup of tea, so much as I mind how the flowers must feel. To be bought in glad hope of being put on display, only to find yourself jostling next to fuchsias and heliotropes. At night I imagine I hear them all, preening like Josie or prancing like Ruby or brooding like somebody else.

Do you know, Diary, brooding, melancholy men aren't half as interesting as they are in books. Fortunately, Roy's brooding is the sort where he is really hoping that I will ask him all about it. Which is not really brooding but a kind of sulking. No, that is unfair. Roy doesn't sulk he just thinks about things very deeply and likes to share his musings. I just wish he might have spared me tonight. The Ball was so gloriously silly. When I noticed Roy's eyebrows furrow as we strolled home together I knew I was supposed to ask him what was wrong. But I didn't. I felt too light-hearted, too joyous, too hopeful he might kiss more than the air around my hat. So Roy decided to mention it for me.

"I suppose, my dear, you are wondering why I walk with the weight of the world this evening?"

"Let me cheer you, then," I said, hopefully. "Why don't you come in and sit by the fire with the china dogs and excellent cats, and I'll tell you all about a real country dance."

I felt mean spirited then, because Roy told me it stung him even more to know that all I ever thought about was how to make him happy. But I wasn't thinking that at all.

"I vowed to never say a word," he went on, "but you are too intuitive to be deceived." He shook his head slowly and heaved a sigh. "There is nothing for it but to tell you my grievous news."

Such a chill went through me, having plenty of experience with the grievous side of life I was expecting the worst. I had to disguise my laughter as a sort of coughing when Roy announced that his mother did not look on our connection with a kind eye.

"Oh, Anne don't cry! Her words mean nothing to me – nothing!" he vowed.

"Dear Royal," I managed to say, "being disapproved of is mere grist to the mill for a girl like me."

Such a look came over his face, this lovely light I hadn't seen for the longest time. Then I really wished he would tell me what was in his heart. No doubt tomorrow he will say it with flowers.

September 5th, Patty's Place, Kingsport – 920 days without you

Dear Mags,

Here it comes, the beginning of the end. One year of hoping, one year of happiness, and one year to say our goodbyes. I can already picture myself at the station, promising to keep in touch, then falling apart as the train carries me away. If I remember how to cry that is. I wonder if Priscilla would do such a thing? I'm sure Anne would. That little goose cries when her withered flowers have to be thrown away.

"I always worry for cut flowers," she says. "I feel certain the spirits of wildflowers become as stars in the sky. But what becomes of hothouse flowers? To have never known the touch of the wind or the song of a bird. I imagine the happiest moments for those beauties are the ones they spend out in the world before they are delivered."

Oh Anne!

Would Phil cry? I could certainly see her get very red in the nose. Her mother's nose, she says, as though saying it will make it less true. I could be wrong but I am sure it has got a little more crooked since we first met.

Does anything change for you, Mags? Are stars really the souls of flowers? Does it smell like a Madam Lillian's where you are, or is it different for each angel? I hope my Heaven will smell of the darkroom. Of quinone and sulphate, and the big iron key we used to lock the door from the inside. The lavender water you sprinkled on your collars. The wisteria walk where we saw each other for the last time.

Not that I knew that of course. Thanks to you I am always expecting goodbyes. I know very well Priss is preparing to say it. She doesn't need to moon over boys to make me understand. I can feel it in the way her hand lingers on mine, as if she was saying: I shall never forget this. She even believes she still loves Mr. Rawley.

I never imagined Priscilla Grant would be the sort who thinks hate and love are a mere hair's breadth apart. I say hate is just good honest hate, without a drop of affection in it –

I can hear her on the stairs... She has gone into Anne's room.

Later...

I have just had a heart to heart with Anne, who came into my room, all drowsy eyes and flossy hair, to tell me Priss wanted to sleep with her tonight. Anne is tall enough. But Priss! That beanpole took over her entire bed. So, Anne slipped into Priss' bed and I into mine and we sent out our whispers over the rag rug between us.

"You have something so rare with Priss," Anne said, her voice woolly with want of sleep. "If Diana shared my ambitions I would never have wanted another."

"Oh, yes you would," I told her. "Sooner or later you'd long to be somebody's bride and somebody's mama. There's no escaping goodbyes, Anne."

"True," she said through a very thick yawn. "You just learn to carry them with you."

...