II

Windy Willows, Spook's Lane

S'side

September 20th

Ah, my mesmeric Mannie,

What you do to me! It is as well we are studying the Stoics this term for this Principal has much to learn from the maxim ~

"True education is learning to wish things to be as they actually are."

I happened to offer that piece of wisdom to Myra Pringle yesterday. She was lamenting how words disobey their own rules and declared henceforth she would spell sufficient 'sufficeint' and dared me argue otherwise. Now you know that I can never resist a dare ~ nor a debate. My initial retort was brimful of "etymological roots" and the "under-differentiation of diaphonemes" which I suspect the little dear thought I had made up. In the end I struck upon the most Anne-ish answer I could think of, which was instead of wishing it wasn't so, why not wish that it was?

It was only said in exasperation. This morning I was up before the sun emerged from the crest of the Storm King, in order to brush up on my Epictetus. I never intended to pass off 1st century philosophy as my own. But something clearly resonated, because this afternoon Miss Myra managed to write two full paragraphs without one spelling error.

If only I could apply the same rule to myself. Because I don't want to wish things as they are. Try as I might I cannot escape the feeling that I should be by your side. Nuzzling your ear while you attempt to take notes on some worthy article, then watching you write the same word over and over...

I hope you are blushing as fiercely now as you were when you wrote to me. I also wonder what I am to make of the question you didn't ask so much as asked if you might ask it. Writing that you promised yourself you would ask me what I thought at a particular moment, is not the same as asking, Gilbert Blythe. But let me put you out of your misery (or exacerbate it) and answer you anyway. It would be cruel to make you wait for my reply only to find I had written nothing more than "Permission granted."

I am not at my desk anymore, Gil, but in my loftiest, loveliest bed. Not only because it's far and away the best place to write love letters (dappled groves excepted), but because my room is cold. I forgot to tend to the fire in my tiny stove and snuffed it out with a too large log. Apple logs too. They always remind me Patty's Place. Promise me, darling, you'll visit Phil soon. She writes that lately she has begun to totter around Patterson St the way a spinning top does when it's about to stop spinning. Now I can imagine lots of things but I cannot imagine that! I suspect Mrs Blake makes confinement look as effortless and stylish as everything else she puts her mind to. I am spilling over with curiosity about the little one she and Jo have made. And Diana's. Wouldn't it be wonderful if the Wrights new baby should arrive at Christmas? It feels right, don't you think, to be snuggled up under a blanket of snow and starlight with your newborn child? Or as Diana put it, "If you're going to be stuck inside you may as well spend it with a babe at your breast."

Do they lecture on that at Medical school, about nursing babies? When I look over the timetable you wrote out for me I notice you have Obstetrics on Mondays and Thursdays and something called Gynae. on Wednesdays. In fact that class features rather a lot (though that may be due to the fact that I was kissing your nape at the time you were writing it.)

I long to kiss you there now. I run my lips over this page and think of your crisp, white collar... how the clipped hair at your neck stood up... the way a shiver went through your shoulders and my name left your mouth in a soft, hot breath.

I remember writing in one of my letters that I was afraid be near you, afraid I might catch fire the moment our fingers touched. And now... Now it's as though you are always touching me. The way these sheets brush over my legs. The way my brush runs through my hair. Even the air itself. The world is so full of you, Gilbert Blythe.

And I am BURSTING open.

September 21st

I haven't read over the ramble I wrote last night. But considering the way my writing went awry I can hazard a guess that I did, too. Instead of a neat, upstanding copperplate my hand took on the style I have come to think of as "copper bath". The things I wrote while I bathed! Still do!

I am imagining you saying in Blythest fashion, "Miss Shirley, you do surprise me." And now I am thinking of you saying, "This is all very well, but I have a three hour lab to get to and you still haven't answered my question."

What was I thinking the night we danced to the Wind that Shakes the Barley? I assume you were referring to our Engagement Party, when we danced a figure eight shaped ditch into the Fletcher's lawn, and I woke the next morning feeling deliciously stiff and sore, so that every time I moved I was certain my whole self was being prized open, and when I went to Blairs the next afternoon Thomasina Blair shifted herself from haberdasher counter for the first time in ten years in order to prevent her son from serving such a hussy? Was that the dance you meant?

I confess I wasn't thinking anything at all. But please don't feel disappointed, Gil, it is the truest answer I can give. There were no thoughts, no words, during those moments in your arms. Only supreme feelings. I don't think there's another way to describe it except, ALIVENESS. So wonderfully, fully alive with you.

Oh! It's already gone two and I promised Lewis I would meet him by the tram stop at two thirty. We are canvassing Dawlish Road this afternoon for the Dramatic Society, and here's me lolloping about in such a smouldering, curling smoke sort of mood. Can you imagine how tiresome it is to get a wisp of smoke into button up boots and my winter-weight coat? I wish I could keep writing to you. Alas time it is against me. Yet what have I to do with time? For this is the sort of day where people feel alive... where every wind of the world is a sister...

With deepest, whimsical love from one who is not a sister.

Your devoted A.S.

September 22nd

It's Sunday and as Rachel would probably consider walking to the postbox and dropping an envelope into it tantamount to work (if not Rachel than certainly Rebecca Dew) I thought I would while away the hours between now and Monday morning by continuing this letter. Needless to say I have read over it now. Though what I should have done is read over yours so that I can give you a coherent reply which responds neatly to each of your paragraphs, point for point. The problem with that, however, the problem, Gilbert, is that each time I come to the end, to the place where you are lying on your bed and feeling my kisses light upon you, I become incoherent all over again.

I realise this is scandalously unfair so I have made myself the bitterest, blackest brew and removed the blue doughnut cushion from my desk chair, and mean to be properly proper for at least an entire page.

Oh, I can't do it. It wasn't my fault. I merely stretched my back for a moment and caught sight of you grinning at me from the photograph taken of us on the night of the Fletcher's party. Your tie is askew and there's one curl standing up like a pigs tail. And then there's me, head tilted toward your chest, left hand on my shoulder so that my pearl ring could be seen. (Though I only agreed to Diana's direction because I was desperate to conceal the damp circles under my arms of my dress.)

That's what I remember now, the smell of you! How thrilling it was to be near you when you smelled so fresh and wild. Is it strange to find that thrilling? Improper? Unbecoming? Perhaps another man (one immediately springs to mind) would find such an admission unnatural, when it is by rights the most natural thing in the world. We spend most of our days on this earth bound by propriety, might we not loosen a button or forgo the lavender water once in a while?

So let us pretend that I have inquired after your folks, offered some intelligent questions about hernias, and some gossipy ones about Mr Rasmussen and Miss Swales; asked the names of your cohort and whether you plan to grow a beard this year. And I'll tell you about the subscriptions we garnered yesterday, about the curious little fellow we encountered on Dawlish Road, and the passage in Meditations I am having trouble translating. Then I shall loosen a button, better yet I shall replace the nib of my pen with a likelier sort, and speak of the things I truly want to say.

The memory of our afternoon in the White Sands cavern beats inside me as surely as my own heart. I was already thinking about it when you drove me home that evening... When you softly kissed me at the gate... All through the night ~ and every night after. I don't think I have had a satisfying sleep since June. You could say to me, Anne, how is it possible for you to think so much about such a small moment? And I would answer that it's in its smallness where the power dwells. Like a seed, all I can see are infinite potentials and they're all living and growing inside me. You see why I say I am BURSTING?

Now I am blushing, not only because of the dreams I have conjured, but for what I am about to propose. I would like to, if it wouldn't offend you, I would like to tell you ~ in letters ~ the sorts of imaginings that moment has inspired in me. I've never asked this of anyone before; I only ever built my worlds for one. But I believe I am ready to share this with you, dearest love, if you believe it's somewhere you would like to go with me.

Leave your window open tonight (but before you do be so kind as to look over the line of Latin I've enclosed.)

Your very ANNE-EST Anne

...

Harvey House

Redmond, K'port

October 1st

Dearest, rarest love,

I'm sorry this letter has taken so long. Truth is I have been writing it in my head from the moment I read the last word you wrote. Because, miraculous girl that you are, what you asked of me is what what I so badly wanted to ask of you. I became so addled headed I punctured a pig's intestine (which had the unexpected benefit of ending the class two hours early) and I ran back to my room and spent fifteen minutes mopping up the ink I spilled all over my desk, and then the rest of the night composing the perfect reply. Yet as soon as I finished it I knew it wasn't what I wanted to say. I was mindful of that letter I sent you last winter and how much I regretted it. I don't know how to express the inexpressible the way you can. But you're the only woman I've met who makes me want to try.

I decided (don't laugh) to try running my lips over these pages the way you kissed my own, as though somehow I might show you what I feel for you; the way I miss you; all the dreams that I have. Which reminds me, the way I read the Meditations passage it translates as:

Dwell on the beauty of life. Watch the stars and see yourself running through them.

Perhaps I should have written you something in Latin instead of kissing stationery, but after taking a papercut to the underside of my nose I wrote out a neat account of life at Redmond so far. How I've been invited to join the Student Medical Society; that The Fox and I are competing to see who can grow his beard the fastest (I am now picturing you laughing because you know the paltry amount of whiskers I have. Hardly anything grows on my jaw at all -I'm going to end up with flaming sideburns and sad little wisps on my chin like Abe Morris); that I have a total of 59 hours of work to get through each week, including 15 hours at Imperial hospital; that Dorelia Swales is no longer a secret guest of the Fox & Coop; that Charlie Sloane is in love with his Ambleside cousin – and that her name is Joane (note the e); that Phil Blake makes an incandescent Madonna; and other less newsy items: Bed still narrow, puddings still inedible, skin disease class fascinating, gynaecology dull... It was the kind of letter my folks would enjoy but I'm not sure I could say the same for the authoress, Anne Shirley.

Anne, why did you describe yourself as a "one time authoress"? Was all that writing you did over summer a mere ruse, said only to conceal the fact you had been counting the hours until I came back from the fields and into your arms? You know, if you don't like Lavender water you might just say, surely you prefer that to some sweaty farmhand? By the way, I want to thank you again for the little bag of rosemary you sent. Please know it's been pressed to my lips almost as many times as you have. But it's not enough, Anne-girl, not nearly.

I know you said you were BURSTING – of all the words in the world why did you go and select that one? – but I feel I've already burst. I walk our streets and look at the conkers under my feet, split open to reveal their gleaming hearts and I think, that's you Blythe. (It's obvious who I spent most of my summer with, I'm sympathising with horse chestnuts.) I wish I could divide myself in two, so that one of me could stay here and the other man could be with you. Instead I feel halved. As though what's good and devout in me has gone with you to Summerside and this empty ache is all that I have left. Then your letters arrive and they fill me so completely and I love you so much, Anne, I love you.

Please write me soon as you can and take me into your dreams. You've dwelt too long in my own. I want to know your world, too.

Gilbert

...

* Copper bath joke refers to chapter 6, Redmond Diaries- the fourth year

* 'What have I to do with time' is from a poem by Emerson, that, and the line about the 'sister wind' are in reference to chapter 19, Anne of Windy Willows

* 'the letter I sent you last year...' refers to chapter 8, The Windy Willows Love Letters

* 'dwell in beauty...' is reminding Gilbert of the starry dreams he had about Anne in chapter 8, Redmond Diaries -the second year

* the Fox & Coop refers to the nicknames Gilbert and Ed have at Med School, first mentioned in chapter 2, The Windy Willows Love Letters