14

Dorothy Tremblay had been on the Island for three days before the serious questions were asked. Anne met her as per telegram instructions on the last train to White Sands, and accompanied her to her favourite hotel at the end of the strand. Only the very rich could afford it, and only those with no pressing business remained. The summer season was drawing to a close but Mrs Tremblay's favourite maid agreed to stay on, though the cannery was hiring. She could earn more in tips from Mrs T in a week than she could in a month shelling lobster, and happily sat in the dim kitchen listening out for the bell of the Marco Polo suite where Anne and Dorothy took tea.

That evening they discussed Anne's looks: she had gained five pounds and it suited her; Dorothy's looks, specifically her iron grey hair which she now wore in a bob; then they poked over the remains of Dido and Will's affair.

Echo Lodge was never spoken of, even when Anne mentioned that Mr Irving's grandson had been looking for a pilot to take him round North Africa. Will had left for that interview two weeks ago with Dido's blessing, and was "haunting the letter box" as her mother would say, waiting to hear that he and Walter had arrived in Cairo safely.

Gilbert had gone too, and while Anne did not show the same generous encouragement, neither did she feel a hideous pang of loss. As she stood on the platform at Bright River and waved his train away, she had to admit to a delicious sense of self-possession. She needed him gone because it had become impossible for her to think clearly with him here. All thoughts seemed to come back to Gilbert, which, while neither right nor sensible didn't stop it being true. As was the notion stuck in her chest that she would see him again.

Gilbert seemed to believe it as well because the last thing he said to her before waving goodbye was: 'Promise me you'll hold off on the painting till the sale goes through. I know you, Anne!'

She watched the train round the bend and instead of heading to Lone Willow had driven the buggy to Echo Lodge and felt his presence in every room. There he was on the porch using his sleeve to catch a drop of rain that quivered on her jaw. And later on his knees before the fireplace breathing life into wet wood. And later still, on his back looking up at a ceiling blooming with damp and telling her about his daughter, Joy, and her mother, Leslie Moore.

Anne sipped at the tea she had made from mint leaves and smoky water and listened as he made a footnote from his brilliant career come alive. Against all medical advice Gilbert believed George Moore's brain damage could be reversed and convinced Leslie to let him have an operation. Its success filled every paper and most medical journals, and released Leslie from a life without hope. In the afterglow of Gilbert's success and Leslie's freedom, Joy was made.

'I found out about her in a letter. A letter,' he said, not bitterly but with an incomprehension that had clearly not lessened though more than twenty years had passed. He put the mug to his lips and his breath came out as though a fire was beginning to burn in him, too. 'I went back to the Glen, of course, and the look on Leslie's face when she opened the door, as if I intended to take Joy from her. I told her I wasn't there to break us apart but to keep us together. She simply said no, she'd been married to a ghost once before and couldn't endure tying herself to another.'

Gilbert never looked at Anne as he said this, and she never asked him to explain. She knew what he was telling her: that he had become a hollowed out version of himself in the years since they parted. Anne understood because the same thing had happened to her. She lay back on the cold silk rug and watched the patches on the ceiling flicker as though they were clouds. Her hand reached for his and as the warmth from her body merged with his own, it carried a silent message:

I love you, I never stopped, I never shall...

Anne was reliving that moment when Dorothy came to see her at Lone Willow the day after she arrived. She had taken the new omnibus that journeyed from White Sands to Avonlea at ten o'clock each morning.

'But I have to be at the milk stand by four,' she giggled, taking a city-girl's delight at these quaint Island ways, 'or they'll leave without me. So you must remind me, Anne, or I'll end up having to hitch a lift on a hay wagon!'

Anne peeped out from behind a dripping sheet. Dorothy had a look on her face that said, Well I thought it was funny.

'Sorry, dear, it may have appeared as though I was out here pegging the clothes, but I'm afraid a good part of me was far, far away. What time did you say you had to leave? The Wrights have made such a feast in your honour, you'll need at least half a day to get through it.'

That silvery Saturday passed in a blur of overladen plates and dogs winding about legs hoping for scraps, the violin wedged under Jack's chin, and a quiet cigarette on the porch. Mrs Wright had come at her honoured guest with a saucer from her second best dinner service, then stayed to watch their namesake dance a waltz on the lawn with her barefoot mother.

Anne regretted her lack of footwear when they traipsed in a row to the milk stand. Red dust worked its way under her toenails, and Cora took great pleasure in making Aunt Anne laugh as she placed a brick coloured foot onto her lap and gently blew all over it.

Dido's head was on Dorothy's shoulder, her hand in Diana's, as she peered up the road for any sign of the bus. 'I don't want to be called Dido anymore,' she announced.

'Whatever do you mean–whatever does she mean?' said Dorothy.

'Nor Tash or Dodo either,' Dido continued, proudly lifting her head. 'I want to be known by my real name. Diana.'

'But why?'

'I'll tell you why, Cora darling, because Diana is a great and wise hunter. Dido? Well, she killed herself over some fellow when he went away.'

'Not in real life, those are just stories–none of it's true,' Cora was swiftly reminded by her grandmother.

Still, it made the young girl think.

'Then I don't want to be Cora anymore either. I want to be Cordelia. Cordelia is a grown up name.'

'Well, you've picked the perfect time to start anew,' Anne said. 'Next month when you go to your new school be sure to introduce yourself as Cordelia, you'll find it will soon stick.'

Cora had her doubts, Rose and Jean would never make it as easy for her as that. All the same, she reached up and kissed Aunt Anne's flushed cheek.

'To new beginnings!' Anne shouted into the balmy air of late afternoon.

Dorothy was the only one who didn't second the sentiment.

On the third day of her visit she and Anne met in Charlottetown. They sat in a restaurant with smart silver coffee pots and potted palms. Dorothy pressed her second cigarette into a cut glass dish then began as though there had merely been a pause in conversation.

'So are you ready to stop this ridiculousness?' she said.

She was quite calm. There is even a hint of humour in her voice, one that Anne was quick to emulate.

'You'll have to be more specific, dear. My entire life has been one ridiculous episode after another.'

'I'm beginning to think you like it that way,' Dorothy said.

Her tone revealed a secret disdain for disorder and fancy, and Anne felt it keenly.

'This is not some whim, Dorothy. I'm buying Echo Lodge because I–'

'You're buying? You? And what does Royal say, I wonder?'

'No you don't,' Anne retorted, 'you know very well what he says. I love you, Dorothy, but if Roy thinks he can send you here to bring me home he is mistaken.'

Dorothy lit another cigarette and signalled for a waiter to exchange her ashtray for a clean one. A plume of smoke erupted from her scarlet lips and Anne found herself thinking of Gilbert again.

'Wake up, Anne. It's all very well running away to the Island to play Tess for the summer–'

'Bathsheba Everdene, actually.'

'Spare me, please.'

'I have spared you, but as you insist,' Anne cut in, and laid out the facts, efficiently and without fuss, as though this was just another interview and her sister-in-law was a journalist looking for a scoop. By the time Anne was finished the cigarette had a good inch of ash on it and Dorothy's eyes were wide.

'You mean to tell me that you wrote–' Dorothy coughed and lowers her voice, 'you wrote The Life Book? Why did you never say?'

'I didn't just lie to you, I lied to my daughter, to Marilla, to everyone I love because Roy instructed me to. Now on the strength of that lie he plans to take my book from me and sell it as his own, all for the sake of money.'

'Spoken like one who's never had to worry about where her next dollar is coming from.'

Anne leapt from her chair. 'How little you know me.'

Dorothy was unmoved and gestured for Anne to return to her seat.

'You're going to want to hear this,' she said, with a coldness that reminded Anne of Aline. 'It's time that I came clean, too, Anne dear. I didn't want it to have to come to this, really I didn't. I know my brother is vain and greedy, don't force him to become vicious as well.'

'I beg your pardon?'

'You know very well a woman is not permitted to purchase a property without her husband's approval. The sale requires his signature.'

'That's where you are mistaken. Mr Irving has already sent me the paperwork. The chairman at Syracuse agreed to be my guarantor until the bank releases the funds.'

'Oh, Anne, you're so naïve, you think Roy hasn't been kept abreast of your machinations? He informed your publishers that he would manage the sale. In point of fact he has.'

Dorothy opened her black leather purse and extracted an envelope. Anne slumped back in her chair, her resolve draining from her body and seeping out of her shoes.

'What is that?'

'The deeds to that Lodge. Royal owns it.'

'No!'

'Hush now,' said Dorothy. 'He wants to give it to you as a gift. He adores you, Anne, you must see that.'

'He takes everything from me that is mine.'

'What would you have without him? A middling career churning out children's stories that no one reads anymore.'

'I'd have the most important thing of all, I'd have myself.'

'That's all you'll have. Dido will never forgive you if you publicly denounce Royal's claim to that book. Is that what you want, a sordid dispute playing out in the papers? Think of your daughter–'

'I am thinking of her.'

'Forget Royal's reputation, we all know a man may begin again as many times as life requires. But you. You write wholesome little tales for children. Do you think for one moment that anyone is going to buy the novels of a divorced woman? Syracuse will drop you in a second. And Dido? No family of any merit will let their son near her–here, darling, please, take this.'

Dorothy passed her handkerchief over the table and watched with pursed lips as Anne pressed it against her welling eyes. There had been a moment when she thought Anne would reject her appeals. Dido had been her last resort and going by the tears it had worked.

But Anne wasn't crying for her daughter's chance to become the wife of a Sorrel or a Dudley-Davidson. The families of merit she was thinking of were the Wrights and the Blythes. Would they accept her, love her daughter, if she knowingly brought disgrace upon them both? Besides Echo Lodge would have cost her every cent she earned from her Tree Folk books. Now she could go there every summer, live out her days in Alderley. She could restore it to its former glory, host fundraisers for war orphans. It was enough, more than enough...

'Forgive me,' Anne said, sniffing back tears.

Dorothy patted her hand. 'Go to the powder room and wash it all away, I'll order us a nice burgundy.'

The words summoned a memory. The taste of cherry flooded Anne's mouth, the smell of clipped grass and crusty bread...

'You can't,' she uttered, 'it's forbidden on the Island.'

Dorothy laughed. 'Not if you have money,' she said, lighting another cigarette. 'Everything has its price.'

Anne rose to her feet once more, her hands curling into fists as though they clenched at the knife that was cutting her free. She worked her rings from her finger and positioned them on the envelope.

'But not everyone. Tell your brother he may claim what he likes. He will never have me.'

Anne slipped her gloves on shakily and tottered to the door. It was only when she almost stepped in front of a car that she realised she hadn't the least idea how to get home. The only person she knew in Charlottetown that might be able to help her at eight o'clock on a Sunday night would be Delia's new sister-in-law, Faith. After many false turns Anne finally found the hospital. When she inquired if Faith Meredith was on duty, the orderly asked her if she wouldn't rather see a doctor.

'Yes–no–just Faith, if she's here.'

The lad was about to give her directions, but that redheaded lady was looking so peaky she might not make it without keeling down the stairs. He took her arm and guided through the bowels of the building. Anne heard a baby cry, and an old man, and the slip, slip, slip of nurse's shoes swishing down the corridors. She found Faith chuckling in the nurses station with her feet on a three-legged stool. Soon Anne was sitting there, a strong cup of tea in her hands.

'I don't make it as good as Rosemary,' Faith said, wishing her stepmother was here. Mrs Gardner looked almost frightened, yet all she would say was everything was fine.

'Well, not quite fine,' Anne admitted after the second cup. 'I'm not sure how to get back to Avonlea. The train to Bright River isn't for another four hours and I'd still need a way to get to Lone Willow.'

'Leave it with me,' said Faith with the sort of assurance that made Anne want to weep.

In ten minutes the two of them were bouncing about in a rusted service lorry, and an hour and a half later were home. Dido greeted Faith like a sister and pulled her into the kitchen. Will Blythe's name was mentioned before the kettle had been brought to the boil. Anne left them to it and went out to where Diana was waiting for her on the swing seat.

'Stroll or sit?' she asked her. When Anne shrugged, Diana slipped her shawl from around her shoulders and wrapped it round her friend. 'Then we walk. We walk the way we always walk, until the words come.'

Tears fell first, the ones that had been biding behind Anne's eyes since that wretched moment in the restaurant. Then the words came. Over and over.

'What have I done... what have I done...'

'If I know you, Anne, you did the only thing you could do. What I don't understand is why it's upset you so?'

They were sitting inside Fred's car under the willow, the bonnet was still a crumpled wreck.

'I will tell you, Diana, only please don't interrupt. I say this because what you are about to hear will likely come as a shock.'

Anne looked over at her friend sitting comfortably on the passenger seat. The lights from the house caught Diana's teeth, gleaming between the plump lips of an encouraging smile.

How to tell Diana that she wrote The Life Book, that Roy is now saying it was his? That she told her husband she could never forgive him if he did such a thing, and that he did it anyway. That her publisher deceived her, told Royal everything. That Echo Lodge, and her dream of Fern Wood, now belonged to him. That she had nothing except the ever-decreasing royalties she received from her children's books. That her reputation would soon be in ruins and her daughter might never forgive her. How could she tell this sweet, pure-hearted woman these despicable things? And once she did would Diana reject her, attempt to change her mind…

'How can I look at you and say this?'

'It's all right, Anne, I know.' Diana said. 'You love Gilbert Blythe, don't you?'

...

* Marco Polo is in reference to an infamous Island shipwreck

* The story of Leslie and George Moore is in Anne's House of Dreams

* Diana is a Roman goddess, Dido was Queen of Carthage (from Dido and Aeneas)

* Tess and Bathsheba are Thomas Hardy heroines