This story is inspired by something a half-past sixteen year old girl told me last week. She said she lost interest in Anne books after Anne of Green Gables, because the Anne in the later books wasn't like Anne in the first book. This got me wondering if there was another Anne of Avonlea story I could tell, one that would keep her reading, and just like that Anne of Anotherlea was born. I hope she likes it, and I hope you do too.
With thanks to all my readers, especially PB who always seems to know when my imagination needs some scope, to FKAJ for being the E to my I, and to Julie who sent me the poem below just because.
How I go to the woods
Ordinarily I go to the woods alone, with not a single
friend, for they are all smilers and talkers and therefore
I don't really want to be witnessed talking to the catbirds
or hugging the old black oak tree. I have my way of
praying, as you no doubt have yours.
Besides, when I am alone I can become invisible. I can sit
on top of the dune as motionless as an uprise of weeds,
until the foxes run by unconcerned. I can hear the almost
unhearable sound of roses singing.
If you have ever gone to the woods with me, I must love
you very much.
There she is, walking hand in hand with that boy – though he would hate being described as such. At eighteen he feels he's in the full plume of manhood, and walks like a rooster next to her, struts a little, aware of her eyes on him before she hastily turns away.
She'd like a good look, but she would hate to be caught looking. Her head bobs up at intervals like a little red hen, but not the eating kind. At sixteen, she's all eyes and legs; her body grows in spurts. This week her feet are longer, yesterday it was her fingers, before that her lashes, her clavicle, her smile...
The last one hurts because she shouldn't feel like smiling yet. Matthew died in June. Why did it have to be June? Death belongs to November. June is for lilies and cherry blossom and hot buttered lobster and the day she first came to Green Gables. The buggy had carried them over the bridge and she closed her eyes and said to Matthew:
"Don't tell me, don't tell me, I'm going to live... there!"
Her eyes opened wide, and Matthew wasn't sure if he didn't prefer them closed. There was something almost witch-like about her. The word he was searching for was enchanting. Instead, he said charming. In his head, not out loud. Out loud he said to his sister:
"There wasn't a boy, only her. I think we should keep her."
Marilla knew straight away the girl had worked some unholy magic on him, and was no more inclined to keep her than a two headed stray. She looked like a pale stringy chick back then, the yellow winceyette she wore like half-formed feathers that hung from her tiny frame. It wouldn't cost much to clothe her at least. Three plain dresses were run up smartish to cover those arms and legs. Dresses as achingly plain as the room she was put in.
"I was hoping for at least one pretty thing,' she said. One was supposed to tell the truth, after all. "But ugly things have their uses too. There's more scope for the imagination!"
She adores exclamation marks, italics, Octobers and nomenclature; collects kindred spirits the way old women gather mushrooms (you have to know where to look) and ambitions like beads on a string. That particular treasure she keeps in her pocket. Ambition must wait. Though she likes to stroke it sometimes, feel the click and the coolness curled up in her hand. One day, she'll don them again and head out on that far reaching path. But for now, she has come to her bend in the road.
The two of them reach the gate of Green Gables. Marilla stands on the porch. Against doctor's orders she strains her eyes in the violet light of a high summer evening, and sees the familiar shape of her girl and the surprising shape of someone else. Not the eternal Diana but a young man, whose shapely arms are waving at odd angles as though straightening an invisible picture.
Shapely. Why ever did that word come into her head? To punish herself she leaves the porch and goes for the brown sugar she stores in cellar. Her doctor has warned her not to go from bright light to dark in quick succession, or it will bring on another headache. But what does he know? Marilla has the batch of cinnamon rolls getting fat under the teacloth and the temperature of the oven just hot enough to bake them, and there are yet no pains behind her eyes. There are also no feet flying up the path, no voice filling the empty house with greetings to the geranium or farewells to the sun. Marilla goes to the porch again. What is that blessed girl doing, talking at the gate for going on half an hour?
Anne's listening to Gilbert explain proof by contradiction by way of the square root of two, and feeling a fool. Not because he can explain axiomatic method with the same ease in which he can round the leeward wind, but because it might have saved her a lot of bother if she had simply forgiven him years ago, and asked for his help. But no, she had to stand there with her shorn head dripping pond water onto her pointed face, and tell him what he'd done to her was Un. For. Give. Able. His face flushed red. She remembers because he was so brown, none but the brightest blush showed on his cheek. He's blushing now, but she doesn't know that, she hasn't looked at his face for a full minute. Anne has been following his hands as they fly about the purple light; can still feel his touch, the way his fingers reached past her wrist to the gold hair on her arm.
"I can tell I'm boring you," he says. "Ruby's always telling me to change the subject."
"Not at all," she says, but there in her eyes, in the way her brows shoot over them, proof she isn't being completely honest.
What happened to the girl who always told the truth? She argues silently with herself, unsure if it's what Gilbert says that is interesting, or if it's Gilbert who makes it interesting. Well, if not interesting than necessary. The new school term starts in five weeks and she has a lot to learn before then: how to not look like a dunce in geometry for one. She is determined to be the kind of teacher who inspires a love of learning, hopes of leading one or two of the Avonlea fry to greatness. If she isn't destined for great things, it must be a comfort to know you helped someone else get there. Anne is all for comforts. She's been dreaming them up since before she could talk.
No words come to her now, however, as Gilbert slides his hand over the top rail of the gate and says, "I guess perhaps maybe I should probably go."
She gives him the, Oh yes I've got a thousand things to do too, nod. And before he can unlatch the gate she does the unthinkable, and begins climbing over it as though she was eleven. She lands gracefully enough, though she can't stop fussing with the back of her skirts, anxious they have caught in the stiff black crepe at her hem and her waist. If he should see her stocking tops... But Anne needn't worry. When she half-turns and half-waves, she spies him hunkered down on the other side of the gate, probably tying his boot lace.
The girl laughs at herself as she jogs up the dusty red drive; grabs fistfuls of purple verbena without dropping her pace, whilst whispering:
"Vervain and dill hinder witches of their will."
The result looks like a firecracker. Not good enough for the table, perhaps the outhouse could do with some cheer? Anne hunts out the narrow-mouthed jar, the one too small to admit even the smallest spoon, thinking of witches and Euclid and the heart shaped opening in the outhouse door, and is happy her head is tucked away when Marilla asks who it was that walked up the lane with her? Anne can feel heat collect in the cupboard space, and she holds the jar against her mouth.
Her lips kiss against the glass with what feels like the murmuring of innumerable Bs. Who knew? She laughs again when she stands, and observes Marilla's dry smile.
Today has been a Good Day. No headaches, no blurs, no worrying sheen to her eyes, as though the promise of Anne not taking the scholarship and remaining in Avonlea, had already begun to work upon her.
And Anne is determined to see it though. Oh, she has plans, this one, to be a good teacher and save Marilla's eyesight and follow this bend in the road all the way to the end.
Who knows, perhaps she may even come to love Euclid?
* 'the murmuring of innumerable bees' from Tennyson's Come Down, O Maid. I named each chapter after one line in the poem. It's about a shepherd calling for a maid to come down from her lofty mountain and find love in the valley.