As ever, the idea may be mine but the characters belong to L.M. Montgomery, and the ones that do not were inspired by her.

I would be remiss too if I didn't begin by acknowledging the debt of various writers here whose accounts of Anne's children at Redmond have inspired this story. Thanks too to Formerly Known as J who has patiently been encouraging me to write and tell this story.


Swallowgate

Kingsport,

Sept 1914

Dear mums,

If you've had Walter's letter you'll know we've settled beautifully into Swallowgate. This includes the two fellow first years who answered Faith's advertisement to share the house with us –and not to worry, you can reassure Miss Cornelia and the others that Poppy and Mara couldn't be more race of Joseph-y if they tried. Poppy –she's called Penelope really but not by friends we're told, and hence not by us –is as sleek and dark as a seal, with great grey eyes like an owl's. Mara is tall and yellowy as a golden birch in high autumn. Standing in the garden waiting to show us the house they were all light and dark, and I suppose in a fairytale they'd be divided into contraries, good and ill or day and night, or something Victorian and moralistic . This not being a fairytale -as we are perpetually reminded between the war news and the mundanity of setting up house - they are both radiant with warmth. Poppy especially is sweet, but there's a sparkle to Mara that is subtler, like a champaign bubble. It only surfaces occasionally, but when it does we're always glad. We've only known them weeks, but it feels like always. What was it you used to say about kindred spirits, they were the coming together of souls who had already met? It's that sort of feeling I have about them.

Now about the house, as you made me promise faithfully to send you a detailed account of it. No one is sure how Faith got it, and we don't dare ask lest it break the spell and gremlins appear on the doorstep to turn us out. It's not Patty's Place but I venture you'd forgive it the crime if you saw it. It's a funny round house covered in ivy and full of inviting nooks for curling up in and chairs for burrowing. It has a deeply blue door that you would cherish, likewise a wrought-iron fence that looks like sculpted ivy, and a window seat that Faith has taken possession of, I think by asserting her right to it as the person who found us Swallowgate to begin with. Whatever the reason, none of us have tried to wrest it from her as it suits her; whenever she curls up there be it with book or mug of tea or even to tackle ungainly hospital gowns –our latest endeavour for the college Red Cross –she looks as if she was grown there.

The woman who let it –a Miss Adelia Lacey – has left behind an old harp, to the delight of Poppy, who can play a little, but won't yet out of a deep-rooted belief she isn't much good. The same woman has gifted to our use a whatnot brimful of green and white china painted with cherry-blossoms. It makes me think of Houseman whenever I see it, you'll know the verse;

Loveliest of trees, the cherry now,

Is hung with bloom along the bough,

And stands about the woodland ride,

Wearing white for Eastertide…

Faith said she took it as a matter of course that I should find verse in something as ordinary as chinaware, Poppy was charmed and Mara bemused. She is really strikingly practical for someone reading drama. I suppose living so feelingly and theatrically all the time would become exhausting.

The last of our treasures, though by no means the least, is an absurd pair of porcelain dachshunds. They aren't nearly so dignified as Gog and Magog, and are blue Spode rather than are green spotted, but we still think them sweet and are determined to get their names out of Miss Lacey. Rather less charming is an overwhelming collection of china shepherdesses that inhabit the side-tables. They are decked out in parasols and pastels, and we live in perpetual terror of overturning them. Faith came very near to doing just that the other day, as she whirled through the house draping apple-leaf quilts over the backs of chairs and straightening cushions. Whatever else came of the Merediths' Good Conduct Club, it indisputably made Faith a terrifyingly efficient housekeeper, if not exactly a careful one.

The garden more than compensates us for the shepherdesses on their end-tables, or so I think. It is positively peopled with a host of Sycamores. They look like so many women clad in gold at this time of year, and they sigh whenever the wind strikes up. I know this as our room –Di's and mine –overlooks the garden.

It's by far the nicest view, bar the turret room. Faith and Poppy, who have the room just next to ours –as the rooms practically trip over one another for inclusion in the house –overlook our eaves and some of the neighbour's garden. We haven't met the occupants of Next Door yet, but already they are the bane of Mara's existence as they don't seem at all fussed about keeping the garden up and its brambles will keep infiltrating our side of the fence. Poppy, who can't be gloomy for more than two minutes together, has pointed out that this probably means brambles for us come summer, but in the meantime it's about trebled the garden work for Mara, who is the only one of us to have much knack and inclination for gardening. She has already bedded down a quantity of herbs in a window box and the time she doesn't spend getting to grips with her parts (it's Feste this term), she is coaxing them to life. Not without success, I hasten to add.

The turret room I spoke of is of course Mara's. No one quarrelled with her for it, though it is quaint and circular, and has windows that lay Kingsport at your feet. But if she is isolated away up in that tower the rest of us shan't be kept up while she works late on speeches and character studies for plays, or that's the theory. Certainly so far I've only been faintly aware of her walking the floor as I drift off to sleep at night. Theatre, it turns out, mums, involves a good deal of pacing, and is therefore, or so I conclude, not so different to writing.

Di has just looked over and reminded me to reassure you, and therefore Susan, that we have come to an amenable arrangement with regards to the kitchen. It's by far the biggest room in the house, and gets the most light; it is also the draughtiest, and Walter says we have all been having the usual argument backwards. He would have it that the custom is for friends to fall out over who cooks due to collective apathy for it, not as we seem to have done out of an excess of inclination. He may well be right. I spent a solid hour our first day here setting everything up as Marilla Cuthbert had used to order things. No sooner had I turned around to start on my trunk, Di was taking it to pieces and reassembling it in the style of Susan Baker. That lasted until Faith got hold of the kitchen and organised it after Mrs. Meredith's habit, which arrangement was short-lived as Mara thereafter went through the cupboards before bed. Poppy had a good go at reassembling it still further, and we were back to the Susan Baker method by breakfast the following day. By lunch it was Mara's kitchen again, and Faith's by dinner. At this juncture Poppy and I bowed out, and by the time the Susan Baker system had reasserted itself, Faith had followed us. If you hear from aunt Diana that Avonlea has been laid low by an unholy whirring sound, it is Marilla Cuthbert spinning in her grave over my lack of fortitude in affairs of the kitchen.

We have since been here three weeks and come to a more settled arrangement, to the immense relief of all. Having established that none of us sets or bakes bread to rival Poppy, we leave that chore to her; I'm no good for anything besides baking, as you and Susan know, so have ceded the kitchen completely unless there's a clamour for monkey-face biscuits or lemon loaf; Faith keeps out of it altogether on the basis that in spite of Rosemary Meredith's best efforts it was Una who got all the culinary talent and the best she can do is scald the milk and over-boil the odd egg. (This revelation rather left Poppy and I wondering why she had ever minded so much about which cupboards held what, but it seemed better not to ask.) Di and Mara, who can cook, have between them pulled to pieces and reassembled the kitchen so many times as to make the average person dizzy, and in so doing appear to have reached a tentative agreement about whose territory it rightfully is. There's a sort of rota in place –I think –but none of us dares ask too many questions lest their house of cards be revealed for what it is and come crashing down around our ears in consequence. I know the battle at Marne is grim, but I think the outcome of that particular crisis might well prove worse.

Tell Susan I was sorry to hear Doc got into her pantry, and that Poppy reckons he might be kept out if she'd humour with the occasional saucer of milk (in his Doc moods naturally –as Jekyll I don't doubt he'd curdle the milk into next year). Tell her too that whatever the opinions of Cousin Sophia, we at Swallowgate are of the opinion that 'Jims' is by far the most natural and normal thing anyone has called that wee laddie of Rilla's since she brought him home in that soup-tureen! I'm not so silly as to think that will reconcile Susan to the name, but it might appease her.

Must bolt now, poor Di has been fussing with the wick of her light for the last five minutes at least, and I hope I know my twin well enough to be able to tell when she wants nothing so much as to curl up and go to sleep. I don't blame her –we've had a long week.

Much love ever,

Nan