XI

Windy Willows, Spooks Lane, S'side

April 8th

P.S. 1. Never, never, never shall I forget Cyrus Taylor's face when his wife accused him of crocheting. But I shall always like him because he hunted for those kittens. And I like Esme for standing up for her father under the supposed wreck of all her hopes.

P.S. 2. I have put in a new pen. And I love you because you aren't pompous like Dr Carter... and I love you because you haven't got sticky out ears like Johnny. And... the very best reason of all... I love you just for being Gilbert!

P.S. 3. Please see the letter inside this letter...

...

I hope you can read my tiny writing. I wrote the pages below in response to a question in your previous letter and then changed my mind about sending it. You see I can be just as uncompromising as you can when it comes to getting things right. Do you suppose that's because so much has gone wrong between us, or simply because our competitive spirits are so utterly ineradicable? (Is that a word? Well now it is!) You sounded so happy after all the disappointment of Christmas, I felt loathe to cast a cloud upon your much deserved sunshine. But I am also aware of your habit for seizing on questions and never giving up till you've had your answer. It's a wonderful, maddening quality, and while some things really are best forgotten, I believe what I have written below is something you'll want to know.

A.S.

...I know you were attempting to explain to me your unquenchable thirst for life (which apparently includes dust ups in barnhouses, Gilbert Blythe, you're twenty-six!) but I went cold inside when you asked me if I ever been close to death.

It's not that I'm afraid of death. I am grateful to have shared those last weeks with Ruby and feel blessed to have been there for Matthew. I've known others who have died and seen even more come close. I really did have an odd little childhood compared to my Avonlea chums. When Minnie-May came down with croup I was appalled that Diana and Mary-Jo didn't have the least idea how to treat it ~ what did they teach these Island girls! You'll think me odder still when I tell you that once the worst was over, the first person I thought of was you. I had just delivered Minnie-May to safety, had the tears of Diana and astonishment of the doctor to my credit, and the only thing I cared about was missing school and losing my place at the top of the class to a certain unmentionable person! I really was an insufferable beast. Death was simply a part of life, the best one could do was keep out of the way. But I begged death to come for me the night I believed you were dying.

Fred Wright had it more right that you suppose, when he said the thought of losing you brought me to my knees. Because it did, though there was nothing romantic about it. In no way am I likening my pain to yours. I have seen my share of typhoid, I know what you will have endured. I almost wish I didn't, that my picture of you was of a beautiful youth who languished through the night with a perfect fevered brow. Instead, the moment I discovered how ill you were I had only one thought: that you weren't strong enough to survive. I'd seen you transform from the brawny boy who lead the charge at Rush Week, to the wraith who walked away from me at Convocation. I knew what would be required to fight your illness and in my heart I felt that death had come for you, too.

I knelt at my window and began to hate the distance between us. Those beautiful miles of Shining Water and Haunted Wood, I wanted to torch it all, eviscerate every branch and blade of grass. I kept thinking if it didn't exist then I could be with you. Instead half a mile might just as well have been two thousand, because I had no right, no chance, to be there at the end with you. It doesn't seem possible of me, I know, but nothing else will convey how desperate I was. If that sounds selfish, then I was selfish. I gave into despair and grief and raged at a God that could take a man who had so much still to give.

I saw then how essential you were to me. More necessary than writing, more cherished than Phil or Diana, more beloved than Marilla or Green Gables itself. Though it hurts to even think of living without them, there is a strange sort of solace in knowing I have the grace to let them go. I believe there is something inside me that would dig its roots even deeper and grow even stronger. I also believe if you had died, that part of me would go to the grave with you. Just as there can be no sound without silence, or sea without salt, there could be no Anne ~ no Anne I recognise ~ without you, Gilbert. Knowing this makes me afraid sometimes, but I don't know another way to love.

All through the night I rejoiced in my love, just as I prepared to lose it. It felt like a balm and a poison. There was sweet consolation that I had at least known a love like yours, yet it sickened me to think you believed me betrothed to someone else. And it hurt as nothing ever had, to remember you reaching out for me. Each time you tried to convince me to give up my grudge, or refused to crow after besting me in class, when you rescued me at the pond, and grasped at my hand when I finally offered it ~ oh it was LOVE, LOVE, LOVE and I didn't see it. LOVE when you went through Euclid with me for the hundredth time, LOVE when you gave up a Spring afternoon to study. LOVE each time you walked me home, when you waited at the gate, when you took me to your secret tree, and every single day we shared at Redmond. How many chances had I been given? And now when I knew what I had, you were going to die. It was unbearable to me, Gilbert, you must see why in that moment I wanted my life to end.

I always imagined true love would anoint me like the softest blessing, that it would fall into all my faults and cracks and finally make me whole. But it demands far more of me than that. I doubted your strength, it's true, but I refused to doubt my own. You once told me that life will only give you what you fight for, and I remember bending every thought to you. The gale outside did its utmost to drown out my prayers, the rain seemed to spit at me, but I couldn't let you go. If you heard me, if ever my voice was carried to you, it would have been then. I was as wild and desperate as any forsaken child calling for home. And you were home to me, Gilbert. You always will be.

In the morning He took pity on me, the God I had forsaken, and sent me an angel in the shape of Pacifique Buote. Just like his name that boy brought me peace because he told me you would live. I fell to the ground (exactly as Fred said I would) but unlike you I was content to live on my knees. No thanks, no prayer could ever convey my gratitude to a world that gave a wretched girl such a perfect miracle. Such grace and humbleness you never saw in me, Gilbert, if only it lasted longer than the month that passed until I could see you again. Because as much as I wished it enough that you lived, I couldn't make it true. I wanted you to love me as I loved you, and could no more hide it from the world than I could hide the colour of my hair.

My father had red hair, did I ever tell you that? And my mother had grey eyes just like mine. And they loved me, Gilbert. They loved me fiercely in the short time we had together and there really is nothing else you need to know. I'm just like you, remember? I want to give you the best of me, too.

Harvey House, Redmond, K'port

April 15th

...you do give me the best of yourself, even if it feels as though you're showing me your worst. Your anger, your despair, your Queenish moods, your prickly ones, you are true to all your Annes and honour them all. There isn't an ounce of the false in you. Being with you, it's like drinking from the clearest, sweetest spring. I feel revived and excited, all my doubts fall away, I know what's right and I follow it without any hesitation. Whatever path I take, there you are urging me on. When I woke from the fever, when I really awoke, Mam read me Phil's letter and all I could hear was you.

"There's nowhere on that Rock for you to simply buy it," she wrote. "If there's something you want you must make it yourself, and if you fail you either find the will to try again or learn to live without it."

There's no way Phil could have understood this, if you hadn't told her. Those were your words, and you weren't only describing the Island. We both fought hard to get where we are, but I know what I have I owe to my folks. I could never have done all I've done if I hadn't been raised a Blythe. And I've always wondered where you found your fight, when you had nothing at all.

I can almost bring myself to let go of that question because in many ways you've answered it. Every time you write about your Little Elizabeth, you tell me about yourself. With her different moods and different names – Betty one hour and Lizzie the next – her loneliness, her dread of being unwanted, and her unquenchable belief in the land of Tomorrow. If you hadn't sent me that photograph of the two of you on your birthday, I would think you had conjured her from memory.

Each afternoon you come to the fence with your cup of milk, as though she was a wild and wounded animal and you were hoping to earn her trust. Each day you tame her a little more, and in return she gives you a little more of herself. And you take it all, you accept her strangeness and her fears and show her that it's safe to love you. I can't help thinking as you tend to that child you wish you had been given the same care, yourself. And I want to believe, or ask at least, if there was ever such a person for you.

It's hard to let that question go, but I know now I am asking it for my sake not yours. I need to know you had someone to watch over you, because I can't stand the thought of that little twig being left to fend for herself. To think the first thing I ever said to you was carrots. Every time I picture your fairy-child next door, I feel my foolheadedness all over again.

Please just do one thing for me, tell Elizabeth to keep a slate handy, she'll need it for all the henhouse roosters destined to come her way.

...

* Phil's letter to Gilbert first mentioned in RD4 chapter XL