XI

Harvey House

Redmond, K'port N.S.

March 8th

... it seems the rumours are true. We were all summoned to the Great Hall and the Chancellor himself made the announcement. Women are to be admitted at Redmond medical school with the new intake in September. It's terrific news, Anne, I know of several nurses who will be especially cheered. They're more than capable, and often put my skills to shame. But most importantly it will address a desperate need. The unnecessary deaths that occur because someone, usually a young girl or an elderly woman, is too ashamed to ask for help, is frustratingly high. When I'm on rounds I don't see body parts anymore, what interests me is the contusion or tumour or cut upon that body part. But women don't know that, they just see a strange man asking them to undress. I do what I can to keep them at ease, and have long stopped blushing myself, but much of the problem could be avoided if we simply had more female doctors.

I thought it made sense and said so to Norcross. Well, not so much said, as looked across at him with an affirming nod, only to see him storming out of the hall in disgust. I didn't bother to follow him, so imagine my surprise when I cam upon him at the boat shed an hour later. He was blubbing! Crying his eyes out because women are allowed to become doctors. Now will you give up on the idea of us ever being friends?

I've been thinking a lot about the letter your twenty-four year old self wrote in January (and how do you find twenty-five, Miss Shirley, it's the perfect marrying age, is it not?) about needing an occupation, and wondered what you thought to this? The Fox finally replied to the letter I wrote him three months ago. In it he mentioned another desperate need, for more children's Homes in Yukon. I know how taken you were with the Blakes transforming St Columba's rectory into an orphanage, and if you'd prefer not write for the public eye, I thought a similar idea might interest you. Hulme has sent me further particulars about my position, and reading between the lines I expect to be spending a good deal of time away from that little log cabin you dream about. But unlike Redmond, women are very definitely not allowed where I am going. Whitehorse will merely be the base. Hulme wants us to travel as far north as we can, deep into the Arctic circle where even horses cannot go. Nor trees grow. I can't imagine myself there, let alone you, sweet Dryad. The thought of you alone in that cabin with nothing to do but keep house, no one could be satisfied with such a life. But if there are children in need of someone, and you in need of something, it may just work...

Windy Willows

Spook's Lane, S'side

March 12th

...funny you should mention waifs and strays. I'm going to confess something that I did last week, Gilbert. I suppose you'll think I'm meddling in other folks' business, but I had to do something. I am leaving Summerside in a few months and I can't bear the thought of abandoning little Elizabeth to the mercy of those two unloving old women who are growing bitterer and narrower by the year. What kind of girlhood will she have in that gloomy place?

"I wonder," she said, "what it would be like to have a grandmother you weren't afraid of?"

So this is what I did: I wrote to her father. I know he lives in Paris, and Rebecca Dew remembered the name of the firm he runs there, so I took a chance and addressed him in care of it. I wrote as diplomatic a letter as I could, but I told him plainly that his daughter longs for him and that he really ought to come back for her. Perhaps nothing will come of it, but if I hadn't written I would be forever haunted by the conviction that I ought to have done it.

Naturally I want him to claim her and love her as she deserves. But if he refuses to acknowledge her, Gil, then I want to ask her Grandmother if she can come live with us. At least I did. Now that I know more about your work with Hulme, I don't know if I wouldn't be swapping one sort of isolation for another. Oh, I could manage well enough. I can make friends with windows and chair legs, and while it's not quite the married life I envisaged, how can I keep you from your dream? You've worked so hard for this, darling. I said I would follow you to the ends of the earth and that is what I intend to do!

...

Harvey House

Redmond, K'port N.S.

April 1st

...sorry to hear Marilla is no better. I've made up my mind to come to Avonlea for Easter after all. No doubt Norcross will take great pleasure at my decision to waste good studying time. He has drawn up an enormous timetable that covers most of his side of the room, in an effort to cram as many hours of revision as he can into each day. The fellow has even portioned out the minimum amount of times he can chew his food so that he may finish his supper in less than a minute. I suppose it makes a change from his constant reminders that I behave like a gentleman. Now it has become known that I intend to work with Hulme, Norcross has gone so far as to teach me how to tie a cravat! No, I don't want one for my next birthday, Miss Shirley – though a sturdy pair of reindeer boots might come in handy.

You know, Arctic medicine isn't what I thought it might be, but then that will only be part of my job. I'll also run a team of dogs (while I always saw a dog at my fireside one day, I never saw twelve!) and live with various Indian tribes. In many ways it will be an even smaller life than I might have found on the Island. Certainly rougher. I'll be looking forward to all the comforts of home when I return to Whitehorse. Mostly I'll be looking forward to wrapping my arms around you. I'm determined to make you proud of me, Anne-girl. There's nothing I wouldn't do for you.

...

Windy Willows

Spook's Lane, S'side

April 22nd

Dear Gilbert,

I've just now had an unexpected visitor! Gilbert, it was your mother. She is insisting that I call her by her Christian name now, and wonders why I always call her Mrs Blythe. I didn't have the heart to tell her that I've never been invited to call her anything else. But now I have, and she is Sarah, and the dearest, sweetest little mother. Oh, forgive me for babbling but I'm so overcome, with happiness at our new found friendship ~ and trepidation about something else...

But let's begin with the happiness first.

It all began this morning. I was out by Little Elizabeth's letterbox; a hideous thing in the shape of a lion, the poor postman has to put all their letters into its gaping maw. The reason I was there was because I was waiting to see if there was a letter for me or Elizabeth from Paris. It's been nearly two months now, more than enough time for a letter to make it way to France and a reply to make its way to Summerside. Yet nothing comes. I was about to kick that horrid stone lion, when who should I see walking up Spook's Lane but your mother! In her best leghorn hat and what looked like a new green coat. She did look lovely, if a little nervous, but all that seemed to melt away when she spied me.

Her arms went around me, a little loosely at first, then a new sort of courage overtook her and she made that joyful groaning noise ~ the one she makes when she squeezes the life out of you ~ and said, "Anne, dear, what a piece of luck to find you like this."

Before I knew it, she was sitting in our cosy parlour. I don't know how it was managed, but she had wrangled the teapot from Rebecca and began pouring out for everyone ~ and Rebecca didn't even mind! I always thought you inherited your charms from your father. Now I know better. We had a chat about home, though having been there recently there wasn't much to tell. The only thing that mattered was knowing Marilla is recovering very well, so well in fact she has begun new pillowcases, in whitework, that most tedious and headache-inducing stitch. But I'm rambling again, aren't I? What do you care about whitework. You'll want to know, as I did, exactly why your mother was there.

I had to wait for the answer to that. The longer she neglected to explain why she happened to be strolling along Spook's Lane at 10am on a Saturday morning, the harder it was for me to ask. Especially with Aunt Kate and Aunt Chatty sitting there with looks on their faces which said, "You might have told us we were expecting company, lucky for you, she's a dear!" Oh and she was, she was the Mrs Blythe ~ sorry, the Sarah ~ I knew from Before. I'm sure you know which Before I mean. And I wanted to be the Anne from Before too, Gilbert. But it was hard to be her, when I was always waiting to be told why she had come. If I didn't know you had my chemise with you, I would have been close to tears I think, expecting her to bring it out at any moment and ask me coolly what I meant by leaving such a garment in her son's bed!

It wasn't until after lunch when I offered to show your mother ~ that is, Sarah ~ the lovely grove across the lane, that she revealed her intentions. And now I come to the real reason for my rambling. Because I cannot reveal why she came without first telling you something about myself.

It happened when the Wrights were visiting Allwinds, the afternoon you were due to leave at Easter's end. You were talking with Diana about the efficacy of gripe water, and you took Small Anne-Cordelia and lay her wee body over your shoulder and swept your hand in circles over her back. Your eyes never left Diana, and yet the way you held her baby spoke less of the doctor you are becoming, and more of the father I always knew you would be. Small Anne made the tiniest sigh and lolloped her black head into your neck with the sort of contentment babies hardly show their own fathers, let alone a virtual stranger. Later I told you I was up in your garret seeking out an old quilting pattern. In truth I had snuck away to have a cry. I suppose I was tired, what with being up late the night before and nursing Marilla all hours. I needed a moment to gather myself.

That's when Sarah found me.

She simply said, "Oh love is a terrible, wonderful thing."

I nodded and took her handkerchief. I thought she was talking of you. How you'd sacrificed so much for me, not once but many times over, while she had to sit by and watch you dote on an ungrateful wretch. Turns out ~ as you Blythes like to say ~ she was talking about me.

We were walking through my favourite sprucey patch, right where I like to write my letters to you, when she said, "So, Anne, how are we going to talk Gilbert out of this nonsense idea of settling in Yukon?"

You can imagine how surprised I was. Everyone I know is proud of you. To hear your prospects described as nonsense was astonishing. I didn't know what to make of it and I'm afraid my reply was rather frosty. I know she is your mother, Gil, but I wasn't going to let anyone make sport of you. Fortunately, Sarah Blythe is a wise woman.

She said, "Anne darling, it is nonsense when you don't want it and neither does he. Oh, he's convinced himself that he does, because he believes it's what you expect of him. And he almost convinced me, till I saw you that afternoon, watching Gilbert with Diana's little girl. You want children, that much is clear. But I also think you want a father who will be with those children every day, not one taken up by work and travel."

"But Gilbert needs to work, he needs to explore," I told her, "And I love every part of him, not just the parts that suit my own self."

"I know you love him, Anne," she said. "You love my son so much you'd give up everything for his happiness."

She didn't seem to be asking a question so much as discovering an answer. Then she made me promise to write you just as soon as she had gone. She said that she would write too; that she'd written many an interfering letter in her time, and didn't mean to stop now. I couldn't help think of my letter to Elizabeth's father, then I thought of the man himself, how he spent so much time away from his daughter they didn't know each other anymore.

Oh, Gilbert it would break me if our children felt the same way about you. Writing, exploring, wealth, it means nothing to me if the cost is not having you in my life. You are my adventure. You're the only place I want to go. And when I get there, when I have you, finally, utterly, completely, I don't want to go anywhere else. I want to plant down roots and watch life spring from my fingertips, shelter our children and grow tall with you.

...

Harvey House

Redmond, K'port N.S.

22nd April

Anne,

I don't know how to tell you this except to explain what happened as it happened, and hope you understand.

Norcross accosted me this morning just before chapel, holding your chemise and screaming, "What are you doing with this? It's mine! How dare you!"

You can imagine how flummoxed I was. While I hardly liked to say the chemise was yours, I couldn't understand how such a mistake could be made. Norcross has NO friends, let alone a lover who might leave such a garment in his room. But I had no chance to respond before the screaming continued in a fashion even less sane than before.

"Was this your plan, Blythe? Your means to get me out of the way? You'd do that to me, ruin my chances out of spite, out of jealousy, because I'm better than you!"

No sooner was that said, when Norcross bolted. I have to tell you, in all out time together, I have never seen Robin Norcross run before. The gait wasn't like any fellow I'd known, nor with the grace of you. Truth to tell, Norcross ran a good deal like Diana did, when I would chase her with frog around the Avonlea school house. That's when I hit me. The small hands. The soft voice. The fact I had never once seen him shave; the fact the fellow never once looked in need of a shave, though we'd been on 48 hour shifts at Imperial before.

So I took chase and in less than a minute had pinned my room mate to the boatshed door.

"It's time for you to tell me who you really are," I said.

"I'm Robin Norcross, soon to be Dr Robin Norcross, and if you dare to stop me Blythe, you'd better hire yourself a professional taster. I'm top of chemistry and pharmacology, I could make you very sick, I could take your life and no one would know!"

I laughed then because I finally saw this whole meanspirited act had been exactly that, an ACT. It was just as you said, Anne, a way to keep people away.

"And I can lift you by your ankle and dangle you over that river till you tell me the truth," I said. "So out with it."

Norcross hated that and tried to wriggle away, I thought I would be spat at next. Instead I watched pale blue eyes fill with tears as the most incredible words were uttered.

"I am Robin Norcross... Miss Robin Euphemia Norcross. I live with my grandfather near Lake Ontario... He thinks I'm studying nursing."

Anne, I have been living with a woman and I didn't know it. The chances of me passing third year anatomy are mighty low, I'd say. I'm sorry to make a joke, but in truth I feel like laughing.

All this time Norcross has been pretending to be something she is not. But then so have I.

I've spent so much of my life trying to be good enough for you, I'm afraid to stop trying. But living away from you when we've already been so long apart would break me. I want to be with you, Anne. More than I want to explore. More than I want to heal. I want to come home to friends and a fire and you. And I want that every day. For the rest of my life. You, in my arms and in my bed and carrying our children. And if that isn't enough for you, then you have a right to know it before we marry. Because I don't want you tying yourself to something I'm not. You deserve so much, Anne. You deserve everything. But I know now that can't give you everything. All I can give you is me.

...

* First two paragraphs of Anne's March 12th letter to Gilbert taken from ch 9, The Third Year in Anne of Windy Willows

* Sarah's interfering letters feature in the third and fourth years of Redmond Diaries

* 'finally, utterly and completely' is from ch 2 The Windy Willows Love Letters.

* the line 'not just the parts that suit my own self' is something Gilbert says all through Diaries and Letters.