Chapter 5

August, 1891

The phone call from his father left Gilbert rattled. He had witnessed the melancholy his elderly patients develop as they watched links to their past disappear from the mortal world. John Blythe was never one to ask for his son to come home yet he wondered if the phone call was a white flag.

With a quick kiss and stumbling excuse a family friend passed away Gilbert said goodbye to Christine and left the following day with his still packed travel bag. She never questioned him, likewise he didn't ask her to come. Dr. Homglenn who was covering for him agreed to continue looking after his patients.

He was able to sleep the duration of the ferry ride and connecting train ride to Carmody. His body giving in to the lack of rest from the night before. The train conductor had to shake him awake when the train stopped at Carmody to let off passengers and pick up new ones.

"Gilbert Blythe as I live and breath!"

Gilbert looked towards the ticket office to see Rachel Lynde. She looked smaller and older underneath a black travelling hat to big for her head. Her matching attire was loose on her slumped shoulders. Gilbert begins to think what Marilla would have looked like before she passed. Once upon a time Mrs. Lynde and Miss. Cuthbert were two people no one would want to cross for different reasons, and now the elderly woman before him doesn't look like the energetic person that could run half of Avonlea.

As Gilbert stepped towards Rachel Anne appeared at her side holding a ticket. Rachel had given Annee a nudge pointing in his direction. Gilbert saw Anne's gasp at seeing him and he hoped his body didn't reveal his own shock.

"Good afternoon Mrs. Lynde and Mrs. Gardner." Gilbert didn't know whether to acknowledge he knew about Marilla's passing or not. Anne's eyes were red from crying, he could tell that much. His heart sank thinking about how excited Anne would have been arriving in Carmody Station days before only to be told her adopted mother had passed away. "My condolences on the passing of Marilla, I'm truly sorry to hear of your loss."

Mrs. Lyndes eyes narrowed, her nostrils flaring as she sniffed. "I'm not surprised John contacted you. You Blythe's are clannish to the bone." Rachel said in her most matter of fact voice, her tone alighting that she had more to say on the subject. "Your father is the last of the Norfolk lot save his brother in Brunswick. I'm sure he will be glad to see you, and your mother of course. I didn't see them here though?"

Gilbert shuffled with his bag. "No, they don't know I have arrived. It's a surprise."

The train whistle sounded helping break the awkwardness the conversation had taken.

"Well that's me. I'm going to double check with the conductor all my luggage is on the train." Rachel walked towards the office leaving Gilbert alone with Anne.

"Rachel is moving to Moncton now Marilla has passed on. She'll be living with her eldest daughter. I can give you a ride back to Avonlea if you don't have anyone meeting you here."

Anne didn't wait for a reply as she moved past him to follow Rachel. He stood to the side watching as the two women hugged each other goodbye. Anne stood on the platform watching as the train disappear around the bend.

"You don't have to drive me back, Anne." Gilbert said as he put his hat on his head. "I don't think I deserve it."

Anne shrugged her shoulders. "It's of no bother, really."

Gilbert followed Anne to the buggy helping her climb in then put his bag into the back before taking his seat next to her.

"I'm really sorry you didn't get to surprise Marilla. I know she would have been so happy to see you."

"Marilla's health had been slowly declining for some time, unbeknownst to me. I feel so stupid for not sending a telegram or a letter. Maybe she would have held on if she had known I was coming home?"

Anne's hands were shaking as she held the reigns. "I'll give you my handkerchief if you give me the reigns. You shouldn't be driving. How about I take you to Green Gables and I'll walk from there."

Anne nodded, flashing him a smile of thanks. "Your father will be glad to see you. He visited me yesterday to offer his assistance."

Gilbert's eyebrows rose at this. "Oh yes, with what?"

Anne grimaced recalling the conversation with Mr. Blythe. "From circling Pye's. They are already carving up Green Gables land."

Gilbert smiled thinking back to what his father said on the phone. "I didn't know the Cuthbert's immigrated to Canada with my Father and his family. They grew up together. Did you know? It's funny, I never knew this. Did you know Matthew was one of the best fiddlers on the Island? I had no idea he could play an instrument."

Anne turned to meet his gaze. "No, I didn't. But then I'm not surprised we don't know. I guess you get to a point in your life where you stop talking about the past and just let it be." She said the last part with a big sigh.

Gilbert scanned the road ahead enjoying the familiarity of the surroundings. He had always admired how the rich red roads helped give everything its vivid colour. The smallest blade of grass sitting next to the ruddy earth looked a richer green than anywhere else in Canada. Same with the sky and the ocean. His heart already ached for the day he'd have to travel back across the Straight to the mainland.

"I can't blame the Sloanes. Green Gables is still the prettiest house in Avonlea." Gilbert pulled on the reins as they entered the long driveway. "I'll put set you down at the porch then put the horses away."

"Thank you, Gilbert. That would be helpful." Before Gilbert could get down to help Anne had manoeuvred onto the ground with a small jump.

When Gilbert returned from the barn he found Anne standing at the back door holding it open. "Won't you come in and have a cup of tea. I have to admit being on my own is not appealing."

A few minutes later Gilbert was seated at the kitchen table looking around at the boxes and crates of a long life packed up. "Everything has already been put away? Where are Davy and Dora?"

"Yes, not that there is much left. Marilla had been selling off furniture here and there. According to Rachel she didn't want to burden me when the time came. Diana is coming around early tomorrow morning to take these remaining boxes and store them for me. I'll stay with her and Fred until it time for me to go. Davy and Dora are remaining in Avonlea with the Andrews family. I feel so sad they have been uprooted again but relieved they are with good friends."

"When is it that you'll go back to England?"

There was a long pause as Anne shifted around the kitchen. "My ticket is booked in a months time. I could bring it forward but Roy isn't due home for another four months." She sat down beside him giving a small smile as she slid a bottle of preserved apples towards him. "Do these remind you of anything?"

"I don't think I have eaten preserved apples since Redmond! I don't know if I could eat them again."

"I agree with you I don't think I could eat them again. But when you are a poor student with farmers for parents this is what we lived off. But the crunch of a fresh apple from the tree will never tire for me. When I first arrived at Green Gables Marilla couldn't understand how many red russet apples I could eat. I never did tell her that any apples I had previously eaten were left over from others and I only ate my first fresh apple here."

He followed Anne's eyes as she looked out of the window at the orchard beyond. It was too early for the Cuthbert's apples to be ready for picking.

"I bet the tree out past the marsh would have apples. Would you care for a walk to see."

Anne rose from the table taking the the jar of apple preserves in her hands. Her eyes were still looking out the window while her hands rolled the jar between them.

"I'd like to go."

Along they went into the warm air of the late August afternoon, the sound of birds making their way to their nests. As they followed the boundary to the edge of the woods the birds chirps were replaced with cicadas. Trees cast shadows across roots and logs. If it wasn't for Anne's hair he thought she could have blended in with the darkness with her black mourning dress. There was no path to follow as they moved past the forest out into the marsh, heading towards stricken pines and a small valley. Alone sat the tree, it's blossoms all but gone and in their place were apples. Anne took off for the tree circling around looking for one at the right height to take. With a leap she took one from the tree, throwing it at Gilbert.

"Hey!" he yelped.

Anne smiled wildly her grey eyes set with mirth "Well you caught it!"

"A doctor relies on his hands. A warning next time."

Gilbert sat down on the log watching as Anne picked another apple for herself taking a bite before sitting next to Gilbert.

"You never did answer my question the other day. If Green Gables was the soil, Matthew and Marilla were the sun and rain. What part did you play in this trees growth?"

Gilbert stopped eating. He had been looking for an opportunity to apologise for his outburst in Toronto and here it was readily presented to him. "Anne, I want to say sorry for how I spoke to you in Toronto. I don't why I said what I did. It was rude and mean -"

Anne held up her hand. "You were honest. I can't fault you for what you said, perhaps your delivery could have been better. But I do understand why. So much went unsaid between us after you spoke to me at Patty Place." Anne voice went quite her gaze softening as she looked towards Gilbert in the growing dusk. "One moment we are entangled in each others lives, the next I cast you out and kept you at arms length. As for me changing, well I suppose that happens as we grow and mature. If it makes you feel any better I'm still the same old ridiculous Anne getting into plenty of scrapes. My responses are little more quite and guarded, something a woman becomes good at when she marries. Especially when its into high society."

Gilbert gave Anne a tight lipped smile understanding what she said. "You tell me what I would have been to this apple tree. I can tell you what I thought I was but I was wrong, remember?"

Anne stood up walking towards the apple tree. She ran her fingers over the trunk humming while looking towards the sky then back down to the earth. "The pine over there is Diana, the tall one, giving me shelter against the wind. The Girls are the grass beneath making sure my soil doesn't rush away. The tree wouldn't bear fruit without bees – you'd be the bees." Anne was now standing in front of Gilbert looking down at him. The sun had dipped below the horizon colouring everything in a hazy blue. "Without the bees the tree can't make fruit. The bees then make honey with the blossoms. They work well together, like us. Come, we best get back before the mosquitoes get to us."Anne held out her hand pulling Gilbert up then passed an apple to him. "One for the walk home."

Gilbert led the way through the woods the best he could in the low light. Anne shared old ghost stories she made up with Diana as a girl laughing with mirth when Gilbert conceded he was feeling a tad uneasy at the intricate details of the childhood tales. The back laneway to the Avonlea graveyard came into view the stone headstones glowing in the moonlight. Anne pulled on Gilberts shirt sleeve slowing him down. "Let's go via the school yard."

"I see the school house hasn't changed much."

"You mean not as blue." mused Gilbert. "Before you arrived in Avonlea I would break into the school at night to set up pranks on Mr. Phillips. I wonder if the spare key is still -" Gilbert walked up to the east side of the building running his fingers under the windowpane. "- here!" In his hands was a key.

"I should chastise you for breaking in and playing pranks. But Mr. Phillips deserved them."

"Should we go in for a trip down memory lane?"

"Ok, but hurry!"

With two turns of the key Gilbert pushed the door open letting Anne walk in first. The light of the moon poured through the windows providing enough light to see the rows of desks, a new pot belly stove, a teachers desk, blackboard at the front. Gilbert and Anne walked around slowly meeting childhood memories. Anne found herself at the front of the row of desks opening up a lid. "Glad to see Wordsworth is still being enjoyed in this room."

Gilbert looked over Anne's shoulder at the page. "Surprised by Joy, I don't remember that one. I must admit I've always liked the name Joy or Joyce for a girl."

Anne returned the book into the desk. "Do you remember when you gave me the love heart sweet?"

Gilbert chuckled at the memory. "How could I forget. You crushed it under your boot."

"I was a haughty child. Walking around this room all I can think about are the memories that make me cringe, especially when I first arrived here."

Gilbert sat down at a desk in the back of the room. "I think every person that went to school has a cringe worthy story. What about Charlie Sloane spilling a pot of ink on Josie Pye's dress."

Anne slid in to sit next to him. "She didn't throw a slate over his head, that's for sure. Instead she got two new dresses courtesy of the Sloane's."

"How would you react now if someone called you Carrots and tugged on a braid?" Gilbert wore a very mischievous smile not to unlike the one he wore the day they first met. Anne scoffed at his question.

"Would you dare get a persons attention in the same way? Perhaps the slate did more damage than I realised. Here let me look to see if there is a permanent scar." Anne knelt up grabbing his head in her hands rummaging over his head pretending to look. Gilbert squirmed underneath her while laughing at Anne's antics. "Nope, I can't see a scar. Only your ego! My my, it's still as big as ever." She dropped back in her seat breathless with laughter.

"There's my Anne." Gilbert replied in a whisper without thinking. His body tensed waiting for Anne to scold him for being soppy and he hoped she didn't misconstrued what he meant even if he did mean it. His eyes had been drifting over her face before settling on Anne's eyes.

She brought a hand to his cheek and Gilbert lent in nuzzling against the comfort of her unexpected touch. The caress bought a smile to Annes face, closing her eyes she let herself feel the ease the action brought. Gilbert's lifted his palm to Anne's cheek mirroring her own, their eyes never leaving each other. Anne tilted her head down moving her cheek against his hand lips kissing his skin. The space between them was shrinking, free hands resting on the table had found their way onto the others persons arms bracing as noses touched, lips hovering dangerously close.

The spell was abruptly broken by the patter of feet across the tin roof. Gilbert and Anne dropped their hands, moving back from each other. "Possum?" he queried as he went to stand up.

Anne let out a nervous laugh, her face tingling and she brought her hands to red cheeks. "Yes, possums." Anne turned her head to look out the window, the moon was high in the sky. "It is late."

They walked out of the school house locking the door and returning the key. The vibrant chatter that had moved between them was now replaced with silence broken with 'be careful' and 'watch your step' as they made their way to Green Gables. Each of them spinning from the moment in the school house.

They walked through the gate of Green Gables, the house cloaked in darkness. "I'll just get my bag from the kitchen." Gilbert didn't even look at Anne as he opened the front door.

He picked up his bag from the kitchen, repapering in the hall as Anne was lighting a lamp. Gilbert smiled, reluctantly putting on his hat and walking out the door bidding Anne a good night. Anne closed the door and listened to his footsteps move down the stairs, the gate to the yard clanging shut behind him.

Gilbert looked up at the full moon cursing it for what could have happened at the school. He would no doubt be in the company of many blame the moon for leading actions astray.

"Gilbert!" Anne yelled. "Gilbert, wait."

Gilbert turned around squinting into the dark, the sound of light footsteps on gravel moving closer to him. As she came closer Anne slowed to a walk, her chest rising and falling quickly. She stood in front of him, his face searching hers for an explanation. After several seconds that felt more like long drawn out hours Anne stepped forward taking Gilbert's travel case from him.

She paused for a moment holding his case by her side then turned around walking back to the house. Gilbert watched from his spot as Anne disappeared past the gate. He heard the door open but it never closed. With his heart beating fast Gilbert let out a nervous breath, then he walked to the front door of Green Gables with his back to the moon.