II

Harvey House, Redmond, K'port

October 2nd

My Anne-est of Annes,

If you can write like that without the right sort of pen, I doubt I will survive the result when you do procure one – though I should like to find out. By happy coincidence I am able to dedicate the same dusky hour to your letters. No Doctor or Professor of any salt would dare hold class during tea, which leaves me the wild pleasures of an entire hour to spend as I please from Monday till Saturday. For the rest I am taken up with 18 hours of lectures, 21 hours of labs and a half day at Imperial hospital.

I assumed the latter would be the most interesting (you are familiar, are you not, Miss Shirley, with how hands on I like to be?) Unfortunately lowly first years aren't permitted to do more than trot meekly behind a nurse. The doctors refuse to acknowledge us until we have survived the trial by fire that is second year. Those poor wrecks are wading through a sixty hour week. I used to wonder at the fashion for beards amongst medical students, but I've come to the conclusion they simply lack time to shave. My clean cut mug is looking distinctly provincial, especially compared to the the lavish display under Mr Rasmussen's nose. If I tell you he goes by the name The Fox you might imagine what his moustache looks like. Not only its thickness and flare, Anne, but the colour. Like Viking's blood, he says. The fellow is spectacularly pleased with his flaming red mop (which makes a change.)

My first thought was how much I would like him to meet you, but now I'm not so sure. The Redmond rumour mill has it that he is the reason my beech tree lost half its limbs. No one has been able to catch him at it – he is not The Fox for nothing – but apparently Ed Rasmussen made good use of those branches last year. He is repeating his first year of medicine, insisting he has no head for chemistry, though I suspect the real reason he failed is due to his preoccupation with nursing students. This year's intake have so far resisted his brown eyed, burly charms. Most of them tending to the upright, no nonsense character of Ada Corke.

Did you ever meet her, Anne? Those weeks in July are still so hazy. I can't explain it any better than to say it felt like I was being battered against a door, afraid I would never break through, and even more afraid of what lay on the other side. Then just like that, clear as clear, I could hear your voice. (If you want to know what I heard you say you'll have to wait until I see you, there aren't enough envelopes to keep that concealed.) When I awoke I was as thin as a child, the stars on my ceiling had vanished, and you were no longer marrying Gardner. Gulliver could not have been more surprised than I was. I made Mother read out Phil's letter to me that many times she could recite it by heart.

She is very fond of you Anne, please don't spend another moment doubting it. That wary look that hides inside her eyes – it's clear you've seen it – has been there since Pup was struck ill fifteen years ago. Hers is a watchful sort of love, but it is also unreserved. Remember she has only just claimed me back from the grave. And now I am engaged. To Anne Shirley!

You know, I would have felt the sting of your remark that you need three years to get used to the idea of us being married, if I didn't feel so exactly the same. You ask me to tell you the story of us. I wonder if it would be better to begin with the story of myself, and I hope you will honour me with a tale of your own.

It was curious to read you describe me as left handed, until I realised I always use my left hand when I'm with you. Whenever I sat near you in class or exams, anytime we played word games or planned out our debates, you would have seen my words take on that strange slant I had to master in order to stop smudging the ink. Is that why you were determined that I should have a first rate fountain pen when we went off to Redmond, in hopes I might write something legible? You could have no way of knowing this, but I only revert to my left hand when I feel strained or nervous. And you made me extremely nervous. I never knew from one minute to the next just who you were going to be, or who I would become when I was around you.

At any other time I can pretty well make my right hand obey. I have no option, left handedness is not a trait to be encouraged (much like fiery tempers or lucid imaginations). I have strong memories of my great-uncle David warning Mother to bind up my left hand so that I would come to rely on my right (though I have no memory of her following his advice.) By the time I returned from Alberta with Pup when I was almost thirteen, I could no more write with my right hand than I could my right foot. Enter Mr Philips, the new Avonlea schoolmaster and eternal idiot. It didn't matter to him what I knew, if I couldn't demonstrate it with my right hand then I was considered a dunce. He decided to keep me back with the ten year olds, and I decided to give up trying to prove I didn't belong there. Until you convinced me otherwise.

I could about stand to hear my old chums talk of Queens while I languished on the third reader, and tolerate being babied by girls the same age as I was. I could even endure the prospect of making a farmer of myself. What I couldn't do was see you dare to have a dream for yourself, and not want one of my own. I suppose that's what I meant when I told you I loved you since the day you broke that slate over my head. But I think what really happened was that somehow you and ambition and passion got all mixed up together. It took Muriel Stacey to untangle it all and set me and my handwriting straight. Have you heard from her, Anne? I received a letter from her on Monday, offering her congratulations on our 'incredible' news. She writes:

"I would like to be able to tell you how unsurprised I am. But honestly, I am surprised. I feel like a child who has finally relinquished her belief in faery and then discovered an elf under my hat."

I know how she feels.

Anne, I did want to continue but I have a hike to make in order to get to my last class. Bandaging from 7-9pm. I would forgo part of it in order to keep on pretending that I'm sitting here talking to you. However, Dr Garvey has said the best two students may assist with basic dressings in the clinic tomorrow, and I promised The Fox I would win it for us – did I tell you I spent half the summer at the Glen bandaging Aunt Pearl's spaniel? He's heard there is a new nurse in the burns ward (The Fox not Jiffy). What a strange way to end a letter. But you would engage yourself to a medical student, and as I pass the post box on the way to the lecture hall and have only one envelope on me, I think I will leave it here.

Sending you love, and if there is something even stronger than love I am sending that too. I think you will need a large arsenal in order to deal to those persnickety Pringles. But if anyone can do it, Anne, it's you.

Gilbert

P.S. I forgot to mention I've been invited to celebrate my birthday at Patterson Street. Priss is to be there, too.

Oh that you were.

P.P.S. Would you consider that a dare, Miss Shirley?

Windy Willows, Spook's Lane, S'side

October 10th

Honoured and Respected Sir,

That is how a love letter of Aunt Chatty's grandmother began. Isn't it delicious? What a thrill of superiority it must have given the grandfather! Wouldn't you really prefer it to 'Gilbert darling' etc? But on the whole I think I'm glad you're not the grandfather... or a grandfather. It's wonderful to think we're young and have our whole lives before us... together... isn't it?

I am so burstingly filled with dreams of our future I'd rather not talk of the past. You don't want to know about those days, Gilbert. And I really don't want to remember them. Perhaps one day I will, but for now let me picture out the years that are yet to be lived.

We shall have such a house when we are married. A House of Dreams! But here I come unstuck in my imaginings (yes, it's possible) because I long for a cosy cottage, one that can barely contain the love that we have for each other. Have you ever been in such a house? You may well encounter one on Patterson Street ~

~ by the by, I knew before you did about your invitation to the Blakes. I might have ever so possibly put the idea into Phil's head. And now I am going to put one in yours. Please be sure to observe Priscilla Grant very closely. The Reverend Jo has a certain young missionary staying with them at the moment, who happens to be oh so incidentally mentioned in Priss's letters oh so many more times than I think she is aware of ~

Phil writes so giddily of her little burrow (her word not mine) that you may find yourself squeezed out by the happiness crammed beneath her roof. It is just the sort of house I wish for us. One that throbs with all the love that we have for each other, and leaves no room for anything else. It's a very selfish wish, I know. But when I have you ~ when I finally, utterly and completely have you ~ I want you all to myself.

And what shall I do with you, once I have you? Well, Mr Blythe, this is where my imagination goes into battle with itself. Because I want to love you (finally, utterly and completely) in every room in our little house. But a cottage has so few rooms, so then I begin to wonder whether an enormous rambling mansion wouldn't be more satisfying. One with endless places to love you endlessly.

And how shall I love you in all those rooms? Slowly. So very slowly. I want to spend an hour getting acquainted with the whorls on your index finger. A day introducing myself to the lines on your palm. A week to discover what your other hip looks like.

You said you like to think of me thinking of you. And I do ~ oh I do! I lie against the sun warmed pillows on my window seat and close my eyes and imagine that we are under the apple tree, like that last evening we spent together. You told me how you always adored watching me lie in the grass; the way I cradle my head with my arm and nuzzle my mouth against the soft skin by my elbow. You said you wanted to know what it felt like to place your mouth where mine had been. When you reached for my hand, the tremble in yours went right through me, and the feel of your lips was iridescent. You sucked on my wrist like it was a plum stone and it was bliss, bliss, bliss...

I urged you to take my other arm and leaned against your chest. Truly I was lying on it. I knew it wasn't right, Gilbert, but I didn't care. When you felt the weight of my breast upon yours, I heard you make this sound. It had such heft and muscle, yet was soft as a butterfly's wing. You were looking up at me as though you wanted to be sure, truly sure, it was me you were kissing. And the air was filled with the smell of crushed grass and fallen apples...

Oh I want to know ALL of you. Your letter made me so hungry for you, because you sounded like Gilbert again. And I forgot my woes at work and remembered everything... and then longed for the things I have yet to discover.

Not left handed at all, but both handed! I wish I had known what trials you had been through. To me you were this hen house rooster, with the cocksure swagger of someone who is handsome and clever and knows it. Oh, I had you all sized up, but you would keep disappointing my expectations. Thoughtful, when I pegged you as thoughtless, persistent, when I wished you complacent, in love with me, when you were meant to be in love with someone else. And let me tell you how stupidly happy I am to have all my expectations come to nothing.

Even better, let me show you.

I'm imagining we're lying on the grass again. It's the sort of night that drips with the heat of the day and it pours over us, so our clothes stick to our backs and those little curls at your nape look like wet eyelashes. The ground is delectably cool and the air is hot and heavy. There's just the faintest aroma of the last of the strawberries coming from the barrens and the sound of the waves carried on the wind. It's so quiet I can't bring myself to speak ~ you know how I am about silences ~ until the breeze swells and rushes over my damp skin. I'm so aware of my body, so conscious of yours lying next to me. I can't help myself, and I turn to you and say (here you may imagine where I am pointing)

Kiss me here, Gilbert

and here

and here

and here

and here

and here

and here...

*Gilbert's timetable comes courtesy of a first year medical student's timetable from 1888 (thorough, that's me)

*Ada Corke and the stars are mentioned in chapter XXXIX, RD4

*Pup is Gilbert's father

*Opening paragraph is from a letter from Anne to Gilbert in Chapter 2, Anne of Windy Willows

*The apple tree memory refers to chapter XIV, RD2

Thank you for reading! I am overwhelmed, utterly, totally, completely -to paraphrase Miss Shirley- at the response to my first chapter. To have so many readers come back for more is a crazy and beautiful thing. I promise I will work hard to make this story a good one.

kwak