There is a room at Green Gables unlike any other, and it belongs to Anne Shirley. She calls it her White Room, though the only white thing in it is the ceiling. It wasn't always this way. When she first arrived it was little more than a plain box, with a narrow bed, a washstand, and a cupboard. It reminded Anne of the punishment cell at the asylum, except that didn't have a window. Her room at Green Gables does, looking out to the east and the rising sun, to the friendly light of Diana's house and a stately cherry. In mid July she wears a brilliant green dress dotted with ripening shades of red, but Anne always pictures her in the thick white blooms she wore the day they met. Which is why she is known as Snow Queen.
Anne's room is always blooming, too. At the entrance is a conch the colour of a sunrise that she uses as a door stop – or Neptune's horn, when she wants to summon the mermaids. Above a washstand smothered in decoupaged roses, there's a mirror surrounded by illustrations of the latest hair designs. Anne is going to wear her hair UP next birthday, so updos are practised with passion. On the shelf above her desk is an old blue jug to hold some bit of green. This week it's a two foot branch of willow, and beneath its weeping leaves are two frames displaying Anne's first samplers. MOTHER in a chain stitch underlined with eleven french knots, and FATHER in a back stitch with a herringbone border. Her most beloved possession is the cedarwood box that Matthew made. It holds the choicest treasures from her chums, a poem from Miss Stacey, a brass key with no known door, a seed-pearl necklace, and a lock of Diana's black hair.
The box sits on a cloth inset with Swedish lacework from Rachel Lynde. It's said no one else on the Island knows how to make it, not even Mrs Lynde's daughters. She has ten children living and none dwell closer than Fredericton. Mrs Lynde used to give Anne their postcards, and the choicest of these decorate her cupboard door. Every day before she decides what to wear, she catches sight of the frontier town of Arden, Grey Bear with a head dress made from fifty eagle feathers, a long boat on the Lachine rapids, a mountain vista in Banff. Sometimes she steps inside, and imagines she smells an alpine air instead of an orange set with cloves, or pretends she is Grey Bear's daughter gazing out at the beauty of the creamy knitted counterpane, a pale green rug, and apple-blossom wallpaper. The room is everything a girl might dream of. Until she visits Orchard Slope.
Anne's belongings always seem like shabby counterfeits compared to the actual treasures in Diana's room. Matching walnut furniture, lemon damask curtains that go all the way to the floor, a dressing table with a skirt and a stool, and a three foot mirror with wings. Best of all, is the voluptuous cream satin quilt presided over by pristine Miss Polly. The doll is more than ten years old, yet her bows are still full, her ringlets still curled tight. Only her lips have blurred, where Minnie-May tried to feed her pineapple one Christmas.
This afternoon Miss Polly endures another indignity, as dress after dress is piled upon the bed and inevitably over her.
"Forget everything I said," Anne says, plucking a pale pink gown from the armoire and holding it against her. "This is the one! The organdie is so fine, like the perfume of a blossom bud." She holds it to her face and inhales. "Why do you never wear it?"
Diana looks past her reflection to the girl behind her and the dress in her arms, and screws up her nose.
"Because I'd faint before the first dance was through, that's why." She tosses a silk lily that has spent uncertain moments tucked behind left ear and right, into a box of hair adornments, and falls back onto her bed. "I'm so fat even the bed-springs know it, so I don't see how it's escaped your notice."
Anne returns the offending garment to its place of shame in the depths of the closet, and kneels at Diana's bedside.
"Diana Barry, you are not fat."
"I am," Diana says, smoothing her hands over her petticoat and the great round belly she imagines beneath it. "It's all your fault. If you hadn't gone off to Queen's, I would have had something to do besides eat. That's all they ever do at these ladies circles. If you have a slice of Mrs Sawyer's pie, you have to have a slice of Mrs Wright's pie, too, and Mrs MacPherson's and Mrs Bell's. I can never manage more than ten stitches together before someone's offering me 'another teeny tiny slice, Diana dear'."
Anne climbs onto the bed, slipping her arm under Diana's neck and pulling her close.
"And what do all those fine, upstanding women have in common do you think – besides a badly concealed competitive streak?" Diana shrugs, impatiently. "They all have sons who want a wife!"
Ordinarily, Diana would squeal at such a comment. She is considered the belle of Avonlea. Her dark-eyed loveliness rivalled only by the bright beauty of Ruby Gillis. The Gillis girls are favourites with the Avonlea boys – and the Carmody boys and the Newbridge boys and the White Sands boys. There are five of them and they all want marrying, and Mrs Gillis isn't too particular about how they manage to snag the necessary husband. Had they been plain, their elders would no doubt have prayed over their flirting ways. As it is, their sky blue eyes and thick gold hair excuse their every fault.
"We should pity them really," Josie Pye had said to Diana this morning. "Since that bank went under, yellow hair is the only gold they've got."
When the Abbey Bank foreclosed last spring, Avonlea became a land divided between those who lost their savings and those who did not. The Barrys are a member of the latter, and while many lads like their chances with Ruby, their mothers are supremely fond of that well brought up (and well fixed-up) Diana. And Diana knows it.
"Not you too," she says. "I thought at least you would see something in me besides marriage material."
"Diana!" Anne exclaims, wrapping herself even tighter about her friend. "I am the last person who wants to see you married off. If Lysander Galashiels, himself, should ride into this room and vow to have you for his own, I would fight him off with a hat pin before I allowed him take you from me. Though I must admit," she adds, "I am surprised to hear you say 'marriage material' as though it was a bad thing. You always said –"
"I might have always said, but that's not all I meant!" Diana snaps, before making a pathetic sigh. "I guess I'm still in a stew over Tilly. The airs she puts on now that she lives in Charlottetown. I wish you could have seen her, traipsing about as though there was a bad smell under her nose. Why, that fallen down wreck on her uncle's property is the biggest eyesore in all Avonlea, but you never heard her say one peep about that. All she could say was how small the blacksmiths looks, how tired the school house looks!"
"I thought –"
"So, I walked her past the graveyard because who'd have a bad thing to say about that? And she said the headstones looked as though they sprang up with the weeds!"
"Well, you've often –"
"And you know that wildernessy patch by Lynde's Hollow, where our road meets the ones to Newbridge and White Sands? Well, Tilly declared it an evil smelling swamp and said any visitor who saw it would likely turn around and never come back. Have you ever?"
"Yes I have. You've said the very same thing."
"But I live here, so I'm allowed to. And I'm not the only one who says so."
Diana sits up and wraps her arms around her knees, squeezing a discontented sound from her throat. Anne knows Diana's mood isn't really about her summer length sleeves cutting into the tops of her arms, or the big-headed comments of Tilly Boulter. They have not been bosom friends all these years, for Anne not to know that. So what is bothering her? Anne does not push, but rather waits for Diana to continue. It takes a while, almost as if Diana is afraid to speak. When Anne hears what comes next, she knows why.
"You know I used to think Josie's idea of starting an Improvement Society a nasty, snobbish one. But I have to admit she has a point."
Anne clutches Miss Polly in shock. The only point of Josie Pye is to make the afflicted feel worse. Anne still isn't talking to her, after she heard her tell Ephraim Penhallow that all that black Anne Shirley was wearing made her hair look even redder. But Diana was talking to Josie. Diana was agreeing with her. Anne looks down at Polly's porcelain face and is filled with an urge to snap off her prim little nose and say, That's what I think of points, Diana! In the next moment she brings the doll's cold brow to her lips, and kisses her sorrowfully.
"Of course, Minnie-May says I only want to go because the boys are going. And we all know the boys are going because Josie is insisting that the meetings are convened at her place, which means they'll be plenty to eat."
"What meetings?" says Anne, untangling one of Polly's ringlets from the crepe at her collar.
"For the Improvement Society. The first one is set for tomorrow, right before the dance. Of course, I wouldn't dream of going without you, and you won't want to go because Fred says Gil will likely come, in case it turns out to be interesting."
Diana's black brows arch in expectation. This is where Anne says, Don't mention that boy's name to me! or, Josie Pye is welcome to him!
Instead, Anne stands and goes to the dresser. The lily sits in its box and she picks it up and twirls it. "As it happens," she says, carefully, "Gilbert and I have made up our quarrel so –"
"Last evening, no – the day before last, anyway we're chums now, so if you want to go to this Society thing it's fine with me." Anne turns slowly, her eyes on the lily. "You might have gone anyway, Di –"
"You and Gil have made it up – are chums – and you never said a word till now! Is this because he gave up Avonlea school for you?"
"Not entirely. After Matthew... Well, I made up my mind to say something because I thought Matthew would have wanted it. But the opportunity never came till last night – I mean the night before."
"Goodness, a world where Anne Shirley and Gilbert Blythe are speaking to each other. I don't know what to say."
"Don't say anything!" Anne says, more severely than she means. "Or if you will, say you'll go to this meeting tomorrow."
"Not without you, I won't."
There's nothing Anne wants to do less. There is so little time left to her these days. The farm at Green Gables is to be rented out in September, and though Mr Barry means well by his offer, he's also a businessman and expects fences and gates to be mended, and fields to be cleared, before the lease begins. This means a lot of extra work and there is only one hired man to do it. He's the kind that always waits to be told what to do, often times shown, and it's usually up to Anne. Between that, and taking over the chores Marilla can't manage; fine work like sewing and heavy work where she is expected to lower her head – the scrubbing, the washing, blacking the stove, tending the garden – Anne's summer has been a frantic one. She hasn't even thought about the paper she wants to take, or her teaching plans, and now her bosom friend wants them to join some weary sounding Improvement Society so they can – what – dig up weeds? Diana must have been so bored playing housewife while all her friends were away at Queens. Always saying no to any event Gilbert might come to; leaving Anne be when she needed to grieve.
Anne tucks the lily behind Diana's ear. "Of course I'll come. Just not to the dance."
The squeal sounds in earnest now, Diana leaps from the bed and claps her hands together. The lily tumbles from her hair and into the front of her chemise. She is about to pull it out, when she laughs. It does look rather nice tucked in there – though Mamma would never allow it.
"Well, I can't see Matthew minding," she says, "but rules are rules – oh! Here's something to look forward to. Fred said his folks will be away this Christmas, and he and Rob mean to have a bonfire on New Year's Eve! Doesn't that sound thrilling?"
"Di, I'll be still in black."
"But you'd be in half-mourning by then, surely. You could wear white, or lilac –"
"No. I couldn't."
Anne's face is a mix of high-minded feeling and utter disbelief. Diana knows she's gone too far.
"Oh – I... no. Of course, you couldn't, darling. I don't know why I said that."
Secretly, Diana can't think of anything worse than being confined to the same two black dresses with that horrible scratchy crepe. It seems the worst way to remember Matthew, who always liked to see his girl in pretty gowns with the puffiest sleeves. Diana marches to her closet and pushes dress after dress along the rail. Out come a lawn shirtwaist (too tight) a grey blouse (too dull) two twill skirts (too short) and the organdie gown.
"Are you still planning on dying your cloak?" Anne nods. "Then do me a tiny favour and dye these too."
"Di – no! They're too lovely."
"And too small. Let's face it, darling," Diana says, placing her hand on her flaring hip, "I am never going to fit them again and I hate to think of you wearing the same thing over and over. You know Matthew wouldn't have liked it."
"Whoever heard of black organdie?"
"Whoever heard of a girl who topped the Island in the Entrance exam, qualified a first class teacher in one year, won the Avery scholarship – and turned it down!"
"I suppose when you put it like that," Anne says, holding the sheer pink frills against her cheek.
When she returns to Green Gables an hour later, the store bought finery of Diana's room has lost its allure, but she cannot stop touching the organdie gown. Anne has an old fashioned dress made of the stuff, if not as fine. It was worn for her recital at the White Sands Hotel and again for Ruby's sixteenth, and is tucked away in the garret with all her other gauzy things. Convention has it that a grieving daughter mustn't attend any sprees or parties for a year. And Anne has it in her head, that if she abides by that dictum and wears black all year long, Matthew will know, and Marilla and all Avonlea, that he was like a father to her and that she loved him as one.
Here in her White Room, however, there is no harm in trying on Diana's dress – just to see if it needs taking in – and oh! So, this is what it feels like to wear pink, as though she is enfolded in the petals of a tea rose. Anne scrapes back her hair, pulls a black scarf from the its hook by the mirror and drapes it over her head, letting the long ends fall like ebony tresses around her shoulders.
When the door sounds below, she hurriedly tackles the tiny buttons down her front and gives up after three. There are not many people it could be at four o'clock on a Sunday, everyone she knows will be preparing afternoon tea or waiting for it. The only person who would knock that loud would be Martin. He'll wake Marilla from her nap in a minute. It doesn't seem to matter how many times she tells him the kitchen door is always open, he unfailingly comes to the front like a fellow coming to court.
"Martin, you know you can come round the back –" she says, swinging the door wide and tugging the scarf from her head. "Oh... hello Gilbert. I thought you were the hired man."
"Didn't realise Green Gables had a servants entrance," says Gilbert, taking in the unbuttoned collar and the bare feet, in the time it takes him to remove his cap. He puts it on again. "I've come at a bad time, you're expecting company."
"No, I – oh, this?" Anne says, looking down at her dress and her toes peeping out beneath it. Thank goodness the scarf is in her hand and not in her hair. "I was just trying it on for size," she says, attempting nonchalance.
Aside from the way the bodice gapes at her chest, it fits her perfectly. Not that Gilbert could say that, though it might have been better than what did come out of his mouth.
"There's something not quite right about it –"
"If you mean why am I not wearing black," Anne retorts.
The scarf is dropped and her chin juts out, in the same way a filly's ears flatten before she bucks. Gilbert slowly backs away.
"No – that's not it – forget what I said. I can't stay, tea's almost ready, I just came to give you this." He digs into his pocket and drops a folded piece of paper into her hand. "It's a recipe or a remedy or something, Ma said you were asking last week." It's his turn to try for nonchalance, but he isn't half as successful and he knows it. "You coming to the meeting tomorrow?" he asks from the bottom step, and when she nods he says, "Good, I'll see you there, then."
Anne watches him sprint up the drive and take the gate in a single leap. She is reading the recipe when Martin appears. It's for dandelion beer and it looks like he's copied it out himself.
"What was that you said to the Blythe boy to make him run like that?" Martin asks her, unlacing his boots.
"I've no idea," Anne says.
* Josie's comment about Anne's red hair from chapter 37 in Anne of Green Gables