Windy Willows, Spook's Lane, S'side
DEAREST AND THEN MORE DEAR
Perhaps you, up to your eyes in a welter of exams in Kingsport, don't know it. But I am aware of it from the crown of my head to the tips of my toes... Just another month and I'll be home for vacation! I keep thinking of the old orchard at Green Gables with its trees full of snow... the old bridge over the Lake of Shining Waters... the murmur of the sea in your ears... a Summer afternoon in Lover's Lane... and you!
I have just the right kind of pen tonight, Gilbert, and so I decided to write this letter in the bath. But my one and only attempt stuck fast to my knees and left inky smudges all over my thighs. So then I had to be sensible ~ have you ever noticed that we don't ever want to be sensible, we are compelled to be so ~ and scrubbed away for a good long while. (For advice on that matter may I recommend salt, my limbs now glow like a milky moon.)
I love to bathe because I become acquainted with my body again. I don't suppose you'd understand, you look down and see two finely trousered legs. Whereas I sometimes have the notion that the female species doesn't walk, so much as hover. Though Mrs Gibson would say otherwise. As if wearing a collarless dress wasn't evidence enough of my reckless morals, she has deemed my skirts far too skimpy and claimed ~ hark this! ~ that she could see a full three inches of ankle! I must have grown, I told her, because I can assure you that the maker of those skirts, the extremely upright and wholesome Mrs Rachel Lynde no less, would turn Methodist before she allowed a woman to appear as if she had feet.
Presently I am covered up, but somehow I think neither Mrs Lynde or Mrs Gibson would approve of my attire (though there's not a toe to be seen) because I'm still in my towel. Pray tell, Mr Blythe, what do you find more morally reckless, writing to you in the bath or in a towel? While you think on that I shall get myself under my quilt...
Hello again. Mmmmm, I definitely feel morally reckless now. Would you like to know why? Because I'm wearing nothing at all. My crisp white sheets feel utterly sinful, I seem to silk all over them ~ silk really wants to be a verb, I think. Have you ever had a sensation that felt like silk against your skin, only it occurred inside you not outside? Because that's how I feel right now. As I write this I'm lying on my stomach, my knees are bent and my feet are making the bedclothes into a sort of tent. When I move them I can feel little flurries of cold air shiver all over me and it's bliss, bliss, bliss, bliss, bliss...
Good morning, my Darling,
How satisfying it will be to say that to you instead of just write it. Just think, Gilbert, one day in our not too distant futures I shall awake to find not a blue doughnut cushion lying next to me but your curly head. Can I say that now we are engaged? Perhaps I should have asked that before I commenced writing. I have just read over what I have written and made myself blush. It was only that I happened to be in a coppery bath sort of mood and did intend to continue writing in that vein.
I had been thinking about a favourite tree of mine ~ you know how I am about trees. The beech by the swimming hole on the Wright's side of the Lake. What is it like to swim there, Gilbert? I always wanted to know. And no, my travails as Elaine don't count! It always sounded delightful but I was certain it must have felt even more so. All that cool clear water on your bare skin... Diana and I often dipped our feet in, but that often required more restraint than it offered relief; I wanted to put the rest of me in, too! I did enjoy drying off, however. We would lie under the canopy of thoughtful tree, our heads in the shade and our calves on the sun. When the sun hit our hips we knew it was time to head home for lunch. Alternatively, when the shade crept down to our toes we would know it was time for tea. But I preferred the sun on my hips, my heavy skirts seemed to soak in the heat till I thought they would ignite.
Where was I? Trees! Yes, I was thinking of sitting in my favourite tree and then Aunt Kate came creeping into my room to buttermilk her face (Aunt Chatty always comes a half hour earlier. How they have never met up with each other ~ though I suspect Rebecca Dew might know the answer.) So I hunkered under the blankets lest she suspect I was as undressed as it's possible to be, and pretended to be asleep. And what did she do? Extinguished my lamp and took the matchbox with her!
Now it's the dawn of the last day of May. The dearest, pinkest rays are painting light upon your letter and I am imagining you coming to my room and whipping the pen from my hand.
"Enough of that." you tell me. Then you kiss every finger just to be sure, because there is no way I could hold anything but you after that.
I am now imagining you laughing at the idea that you could wrestle a pen from my hand. But as I said, this is a (deliciously improper) dream.
But if it was real, Gilbert, if you were lying next to me... what would I do?
It's been years since we've had a whole Summer together, and all that I dreamed of for months. But now that it's nearly here I feel... I feel... I feel EVERYTHING in such gushing amounts I'm almost overwhelmed. Not by you, but by US. There are times when I cast an eye over my neglected writing or pore over my beloved photographs of home and I think, I hope Gilbert isn't expecting to spend every day with me. I am afraid to be near you. I feel so papery thin, so ready to yield to the merest brush of your hand, I'm certain I'll combust the moment you touch me.
Other times I wish I didn't have to share you with anyone. I want every minute of those longed for months to be with you and you alone. I want to walk our paths and talk for hours. I want to listen to you read aloud and breathe in every word you say. Did you know you smell like meadow grass? And birch bark and freshly ironed shirts. And you feel like a stone that's been warmed by the sun, solid, warm and so utterly touchable. Have you ever noticed that my face fits against your shoulder as though it had been made for just that purpose. And when it rests there I can hear your heart beating as if you needed every inch of your chest to contain it.
I wonder if I'll find you changed and whether you'll find me so. Oh, I want to gaze at you for hours at a time, and kiss you even longer...
Mostly, Gilbert, I just want to lie by your side. And if I burn I burn.
Harvey House, Redmond, K'port
…Anne I want that, too. I think back over this last year and it's not what I thought it would be. For one I was sure I would see you at least once. I never quite expected you to take up my dare to come see me on my birthday, but that didn't stop me looking out the window of Patterson street every time I heard a gate swing shut. I had roses for you, too. Fifteen, just like the pearls in your ring, to give you before we went to Christine's engagement party. I wanted to watch you open your Christmas present, not hear about it's opening a month later. And on your birthday I wanted to be the one to place that chain round your neck and see that little heart nestled between your collarbones the way I always imagined it would. I was sure you would have met The Fox by now, and when our crew missed out to St Stephen's at the May regatta I couldn't help hoping you were there at the finish line waiting to give me a consolatory kiss. It doesn't seem possible that in all that time I haven't touched you once, or seen you. And it's maddening because I know that I can. I know that you want me to.
Your letters, they're nothing to the real live Anne but they have become everything to me. I never could have predicted our distance to produce such a gift. I should have known, because somehow out of all our trials comes the most surprising joy.
I found a way to describe you. It only took the best part of the year – and too many akavits and small hour debates with Mr Rasmussen. It's not clever or even pretty, merely true. But as truth is the best part of you, Anne (coppery bath sorts of moods running a very close second) I think it suits you best of all. The Fox and myself were rollicking back from a celebratory night at the Saturday Club – yes I know it's Thursday but it's also the last day of exams. The Fox was feeling particularly pleased because the Chem paper was actually intelligible this year, and I was happy because I could finally fling that 600 page brick into the river now that I can prove how to handle a bandage.
We somehow ended up in our room and I somehow ended up with one of your letters in my hand. He slumped on my bed next to me and said, "For pity's sake, Coop, tell me how it's done?"
I tucked your letter away from his eyes, he was beyond reading at that point but I don't want anyone else to see one word you've written, not even an envelope. I can't explain it, I just feel if I let anyone in I won't hear you anymore, I won't see you, or smell you. By the way, you smell of rosemary, though I suppose you already know that. But what you may not know is that on you rosemary transforms into something else. When I touch your hair it releases a fragrance that seems almost alive, like sun after a big rain, you know the line –
The good stars met in your horoscope, made you of spirit, fire and dew...
That's you, Anne. Though it's not what I told The Fox.
"How what's done?" I asked him. "And this had better not be about Boyle's Law because you can't go back and change your answer now."
"Tell me how you get a woman to adore you like that?" he said.
"You have to adore her first," I said. "Not all your life, but half of it at least. Only you can't let her know, you have to hold it in –"
"Like a belch?"
(It will go some way to demonstrate the how very Saturday Clubbed I was, because I agreed with him. That doesn't make it true, but The Fox is a fellow who needs things explained to him in a way that he can comprehend. You should see the mnemonics I invented in order for him to remember chemistry formulations – actually, you shouldn't.)
"You definitely feel like exploding," I told him. "You try so hard not to, it's all you can think of. In the end you can't help it. You make a mess of everything and then she surprises you –"
"Because she belches too?"
"Because you discover she likes the mess."
"Now you're pulling my leg," he said, "there isn't any girl who likes a mess."
That's when I knew exactly what kind of woman you are.
"Ah, but you see, Ed, she's not any girl. She's an Anne-girl."
My deliciously improper, fearless, and dearest Anne-girl. Please don't worry about summer. After the year we've had I've let go my expectations and decided the world can surprise me. But I promise if you look in danger of combusting I'll do my best to rain all over you – though now I think on it, I'm rather fond of you dripping wet. In which case it might be better if we suffer through the heat. I've done my share of that and I won't lie, it burns.
But then something impossible happens. You are reborn.
* Good stars met in your horoscope... is a fragment from Evelyn Hope by Robert Browning.
Thank you for reading. I had the loveliest time in Anne-land and I hope you did too. I always thought this would be a small story, that four or six chapters would be enough for each year, giving you a short tale you could read in an hour. What I didn't take into account was that if Anne asks Gilbert a question then you would assume he would reply in his next letter, which would be sent the following week not the following month, which meant the year took longer to cover, and is why this story got so big.
More Windy Willows Love Letters is next!