Timeline - Anne's House of Dreams, the first winter together.
Special thanks to MrsVonTrapp and Oz-Diva for their beta work.
And now we continue, Being a Blythe...
Chapter 43: No Guarantees
Avonlea Village, PEI
House of Sloane
It's your old buddy Charlie Sloane announcing some very exciting news.
I've expanded my business to insurance sales. I'm an agent for the Maritimes Insurance Company with headquarters in Halifax.
Have you secured a life insurance policy to take care of Anne and the baby should you die before your time? What about medical malpractice protection?
If your answer is 'no' then I can help you with your bottom line. And, if you do have coverage, I'd be happy to comb through your policy and find ways to secure the lowest possible premium when you switch. I've included a couple of my business cards and will send you our brochures highlighting the benefits of our financial products.
Why take a risk when you can underwrite it? Life is uncertain and there are no guarantees. The Maritimes Insurance Company has been in business for sixteen years and has a large portfolio. Having insurance assures a good night's sleep. Talk to my current customers, Mr. and Mrs. Amos Morgan, if you need to know more.
(Honestly Gil, my initial plan was for Helen to twist your arm a bit on this one before approaching you, but she's been very distracted. I'm not sure what's wrong, but her feathers are all ruffled.)
There is a second reason I write which is not necessarily more important, but certainly a concern for my small family.
Gertie tells me her sister Josie has a growth in her breast and Dr. Spencer said it was cancerous. Now, you being as educated as I am, you know I can't sell my life products to her until you take care of her pesky lump! Isn't healing your game? I'm sure you can get this fixed lickety-split.
On that note, I'm willing to cut you a bonus to any customer of mine that uses you as their primary physician—what do you say? It sounds like a win-win to me!
Please don't delay. Gertie is so upset that it's sad times for me at night. You know what I mean.
Your old buddy,
Four Winds Harbor, PEI
Mr. John Blythe
Care of Mr. Raymond Blythe
The weather warmed up enough the last two days that I venture to say post for the mainland will be collected from the village office. I am well and send you and mother my regards. Please let Uncle Ray know Anne and I are praying that he has a happy death so he can bless his home with the magic he leaves behind.
As you know, Anne and I are expecting a very special springtime delivery. Our Joy is a witch, and like her Papa, she seems to favor healing powers. Anne can channel Joy's magic and has made potions for our unknowing neighbor lady, curing her of a variety of female complaints and bruises.
Potion-making is a trick that I've recently picked up on. It's been handy too with my rounds.
Anne is struggling with being pregnant and my concern grows. She becomes so dizzy she cannot stand. The potion-making alleviates that feeling for a while, but then her discomfort is worse than before. I know Mother was ill when I was expected. Was this her ailment?
Anxiously awaiting your reply,
Mr. John Blythe
Care of Mr. Raymond Blythe
Dr. Gilbert Blythe
Four Winds Harbor
My brother is a stubborn old man and lives yet. Amazing! Uncle Dave keeps saying it shouldn't be much longer. I have a feeling Ray's holding out to see Helen one last time.
Ray hates how he has treated Helen. Now that his life is almost over, he wants both his little girls near his side. Emily is here with her husband and children, but he keeps asking for Helen. Even if there wasn't strife, you and I know that Helen is too afraid to get into a boat. She thinks the ferry will sink and she'll be drowned.
Poor Ray, he can't muster the energy to bi-locate and apologize. He doesn't say this but I know he wants to. He doesn't want to leave the world with regrets.
Anyway, tell Helen something, don't let her think her father stopped loving her, as it's not true. You know this yourself now that you are to be a father. You never stop loving your child. He's tried writing but knowing that girl, she's donated those letters to the fire.
As one Blythe witch wanes another is coming into the world. Life is a circle and keeps repeating itself. Son, I am delighted beyond all reason my granddaughter is the next Blythe witch.
Perhaps you don't remember, but your grandmother predicted a very powerful witch descending from our branch of the tree. But, I cannot advise you about Anne. Yes, your mother had a difficult pregnancy with you, we've told you this many times! But she never channeled your powers. That doesn't seem safe to me. Anne's not a witch after all.
I have no answers. We were older when you came into our world, and your mother became barren after you were born, so there was no second child to test any theories. And, your Great Aunt Katherine never had children, so no help there. It is a puzzle, to be sure!
Happy New Year just the same.
"You're just tired, Anne. Come, forget it all and take a walk with me—a ramble back through the woods beyond the marsh. There should be something there I want to show you." *
Gilbert grunted into his downy pillow as the anxious memory stirred. He was circling back in time to a place as dog-eared as his favorite novel. His throat contracted as he almost slept-spoke the next words aloud.
"Come on. We'll pretend we are two children again and we'll go the way of the wind."
Once more, a strange tingle shimmied over his skin as he awaited her answer. He watched the wheels work behind her green eyes. Discovery was her favorite sort of adventure and Gilbert knew how to tempt her. He grinned, not to pressure her, but to remind her they were friends first.
His lure of 'something' was a lie and his stomach knotted whenever he thought back to this small deception. Playing to Anne's romantic nature was the surest way to convince her to walk with him.
"An apple tree—and away back here!"
"Yes, a veritable apple-bearing apple tree, too, here in the very midst of pines and beeches, a mile away from any orchard. I was here one day last spring and found it, all white with blossoms. So I resolved I'd come again in the fall and see if it had apples. See, it's loaded. They look good too—tawny as russets but with a dusky red cheek… Most wild seedlings are green and uninviting."
Gilbert tacked on that last sentence, giving Anne an even bigger hint to his duplicity. The quality of the fruit bore a strong witness the tree had had help at one point.
"C'mon, Anne," he had thought. "Work it out!" It makes no sense it should be here.
If she had just asked the right question, he would have told her everything about being a Blythe. He was responsible for the tree. He had put it there years ago, only to rediscover it.
"I suppose it sprang years ago from some chance-sown seed." Anne had deduced.
Gilbert's heart fell under a wave a disappointment, an emotion he actually re-experienced in his slumber. Instead of testing him, Anne had accepted his thin story. She had failed to see his supernatural interference.
He ached to share this part of his life with someone he trusted. They were such good friends, surely now was the time. They were headed off to college.
Charlie Sloane's laughing face cut-in. Gil was dragged into a different memory. He was a boy once more, standing at the edge of Barry's Pond, trying to tell Charlie he had powers.
"A witch? Gil, that's the stupidest thing I ever heard of." Charlie's googly eyes protruded more. The expression might have been comical if it were not for Gil's crestfallen hopes. "Look, if you don't want to tell me why you're leaving with your Pa, I guess we're not best friends."
Gil forced his thoughts back to Anne at their tree. Back then, he couldn't bear the idea that she might laugh too, especially since Anne liked to used Charlie to punish him. He said nothing about his lost powers and stuffed his hands into his trouser pockets. The secret could keep. He needed to be sure Anne wouldn't laugh or be afraid of him. She chose to ignore what would be plain to anyone else. Anyone else except...
"Charlie," Gilbert muttered.
"Gil?" Anne hummed into his bicep. "Wake up. You're dreamin'."
Gilbert opened his eyes as Anne changed position. She draped her warm leg upon his own, allowing her knee to rest on the top of his thigh. He responded by rolling to his side and wrapping an arm over her waist. His thumb stroked one of her ribs.
"I was talking again, wasn't I?" Gilbert asked, knowing full well that he had, but not remembering much of it.
"You said Charlie's name," Anne reported. She gave him a quick kiss before gently moving his roaming hand.
Even in the darkness, Gilbert knew his wife's eyebrow was arched as she questioned him. He felt her fingers slip into his hand and he gave them a reassuring squeeze. He might be a man today, tall and educated, but Anne knew his vulnerable soul.
"Is this about the letter he sent? You know Charlie. He's just so—myopic."
"The dream wasn't about his letter." He pulled his hand away from Anne and pinched sand out of his eyes. "I had that nightmare where Charlie laughs at me when I tell him I am a witch. Sorry if I woke you."
"Well, I wasn't asleep. And, hearing Charlie's name didn't help my insomnia." Anne paused as she searched for her husband's hand once more before giving up to rub his chest instead. "Gil, I get so green thinking about you healing Josie." Anne placed her palm on his sensitive nipple and felt it go stiff. "I know you'll touch her like this to do it. I don't like it at all."
"You don't want her to die, do you?" Gilbert gently asked. It was only a hypothetical question. He rolled back into his pillow. Anymore touching was not going to end restfully and he needed rest, he was traveling the next day to Avonlea.
"No," Anne rolled back too. "Of course, I don't. I've never liked Josie and her nasty remarks to me, but, I don't want her to die."
"You know, Diana will be there. Does that help ease your worry?" Gilbert reminded her that he was headed to Fred's house where Josie would wait for him. "Diana's pregnancy makes a good cover for my trip back."
"I do find comfort knowing you'll heal Josie under her critical eyes." Anne invoked her own ability to imagine. "I really miss Diana. I can almost see her dimpled cheeks as she marvels at your powers. Charlie is right to ask and you must do it."
Gilbert mumbled through a yawn. "I've known Josie all my life. She's too young to die. Our acquaintanceship alone demands I go. I don't want another Ruby. You know I would have done the same for her, had things been different."
"Speaking of going, I don't suppose you could use some of that extra energy to help me stand?" Anne attempted to sit up but found herself tilted and laid back down to stop the spin.
"Oh, Anne! Not another dizzy spell!"
Anne nodded and she did her best to inform her husband and not complain. "I don't understand it, Gil. I felt fine over Christmas but now they're worse than before and more frequent."
"Stay still and I'll come 'round to your side of the bed."
Gilbert braced himself for the sudden drop in temperature as he slipped out from under the afghan quilt. His scrotum shrank into his hips as he found his nightshirt on the floor. He was pulling it over his head as Anne pushed the cover off of her body.
"Anne, please stay still," Gilbert repeated.
Anne disobeyed and sat up. The spinning stopped when her feet touched the floor.
Gilbert bowed down before Anne, assuming a position where she could use him to launch herself up and out of bed.
"I don't know how you do that, Gil." Anne gripped his collarbone and pushed down to support her back. When she was erect, she loosened her hold and balanced. Her toes were spread wide, gripping the wooden floor.
"Sleep naked, of course." Anne took one tentative step towards the door. "It's so cold."
"Well," Gilbert teased. "My sleeping partner doubles as a furnace."
"Gil, really!" Anne rebuked. "That jab was dangerously close to being mean. 'Pisen mean**, as Phil might say."
Gilbert hadn't meant to be irreparably harsh. He couldn't read Anne anymore with his powers, so he calibrated how Anne felt by testing her temperament. If she took his verbal pokes without response, he knew she was truly ill, but if she got her back up, she was fine.
Gilbert's lips stretch across his chin and into a smile when Anne added, "I might say you're ice, Mr. Blythe. When I feel too warm I don't give you my blankets, I just put my feet on your legs."
"So I've noticed." Gilbert chuckled. "But I don't mind."
Anne shuffled into the water closet and turned so she might sit on the toilet.
"Your throne, m'lady," Gilbert said as he lifted the lid. He lowered himself again, allowing Anne to use his body as she adjusted her posture, not to mention her nightgown.
A little gurgle from her throat was enough to tell Gilbert she was biting back a new laugh.
"What were you going to say?" Gilbert lifted his head and connected to her gaze. He remained in his squat as Anne voided her bladder.
She threaded her fingers into his hair, playing with the curly tips. Not every husband would help their spouse use the pot.
"You really do love me, don't you?"
"Ever since you cracked that slate on my head," Gilbert confirmed. He never grew tired of their story. "You knocked sense into me. Woke me up from the grief of losing my powers. Started my life all over."
"I did, didn't I?" Her face was flushed pink in sweet memory. "All because you pulled my braid."
"Looking back, I had no idea what came over me at that moment. It was like I was possessed." Gilbert mused. "But you avoid my question. Why were you snickering?"
Anne squirmed against the back of the lid. "Oh, it's nothing, Gil."
She looked to the little window meant to ventilate the room. Her gesture prompted Gilbert to rise and open it for fresh, winter air.
"The last time you pointed a throne out to me, it was at our tree."
"Our tree!" Gilbert exclaimed. This was the trigger he needed to remember his entire dream and not just Charlie Sloane's laughing face.
"Anne, oh Anne." Gilbert prostrated before his Queen once more. "I must tell you something about that day. This has nagged me for ages now. Every time I thought I ought to tell you, it felt wrong, but, no more secrets. I just hope you will forgive me."
Anne lurched forward and tightened her gown into a ball.
"What about that day in the woods?"
Gilbert screwed up some courage. He knew how Anne treasured that day as much as he, albeit, for different reasons.
"Anne, I'm responsible for planting the apple tree there when I was a boy. I did it before you were even at Green Gables. It is not a fluke of nature, a chance sewn seed, as you once said. Although, I did forget about it for several years." Gilbert hitched his breath as Anne's face grayed. "If you really think about it, Anne, you know fruit trees of quality just don't happen. Matthew taught you better than that. They require care and maintenance. I transplanted the rootstock and helped it grow. I even used my powers to heal the grafts I made."
"Oh Gil no, you mean..." Anne's voice was strained. She was about to say he took the magic out of that moment, but she saw the irony and rambled. "It's not our tree? It's your tree and you let me think that..."
"I wanted it to be our tree and still do. Anne, I only fudged the truth so you'd agree to spend time with me that day." His voice quivered as her jaw dropped in disappointment. "You have to remember how crazy I am about you, Anne. And, a small part of me was hoping you might see those things I couldn't tell you, like the supernatural nature of the tree's existence. I'm sorry."
Anne sighed as she reviewed his saddened face. She could not give him vinegar when he was so contrite.
"Even back then I knew there was something special about that day. And, I also knew that the answers to my questions pointed to you." Anne could not be upset with her husband a second longer. "Why else would I have kept prayerful vigil at that spot when I thought you dying?"
"So, I'm forgiven then?" Gilbert tilted his head, mimicking a puppy.
"Of course I forgive you! I only wish you'd have told me this sooner." Anne pulled the chain that released the water from the overhead tank. The noise punctuated her acceptance.
Gilbert moved her hands to his shoulders, indicating that he would help her stand now that she was done. Together, after hand washing, they headed back to their bed-chamber.
"Gil, I hate secrets. I hate even more knowing you worried as long as you did. It wasn't that bad of a fib."
"No, but as time passed my dishonesty gnawed at me more and more," Gilbert explained. "When you know you've done wrong, and you don't make it right, the guilt can feel like a much bigger problem... Here Anne, let me help you back in."
"All secrets should be forbidden." Anne decided as she reclined back into her pillow. She manipulated the afghan quilt until she was comfortable, pressing it down along her sides.
Gilbert resumed his sleeping position next to her stretched body. "We don't have a choice but to keep secrets. Doctors have to keep information confidential and discretion will always be a part of our lives. We will know things about other people that must never leave our lips. It's something we will have to teach our children to do too."
"Gil, that's not what I'm talking about," Anne yawned. "Apples and oranges, don't you think? Keeping Dora's pregnancy secret from Owen, Leslie, and Captain Jim is a lot different than Owen asking us to not tell Leslie about your powers. I mean, if everyone knows you're a witch, I don't see why she can't too. Not telling Leslie has a tang of malice, don't you think?"
"Owen has his reasons, whatever they are." Gilbert defended his friend's decision, even if he didn't like it either. "It's evident to me he wants to protect her from any additional harm. If it's any comfort Anne, it's not just us that has to keep the secret, he made Captain Jim promise as well."
"It's wrong Gil and I should tell Leslie anyway. Owen left, who knows when he gets back? Her visits have been so awkward. She knows there's something she's not been told."
"Anne, we promised." Gilbert reminded her. "We gave Owen our word."
"So we did." Anne sighed in defeat. "I wonder why Owen is so adamant that we not tell her? Leslie knows that Owen's grandfather was a witch. She mentions Owen's connection to me from time to time, as if she's proud of this distinction."
Gilbert woke the next morning with little memory for the conversation the night before. On Anne's side of the bed, the blankets were smooth and flat. She was puttering through the endless list of household chores. Gil swallowed back a moment of worry and trusted in her decision to get up without his aid. Anne would ask him for help if she thought she needed it. He told himself she must be feeling better and to be happy.
He missed Dora and the reassurance knowing she was around to help Anne. He wanted to hire a housekeeper, but whenever he mentioned it, Anne convinced him otherwise. She was glad Dora had gone home after Christmas and that they were alone again. He couldn't deny Anne's argument had unmentionable perks.
Gilbert laid on his back and observed his surroundings. Near the door was the washstand. Anne had filled the ceramic pitcher with hot water and left a fresh towel and his razor in its matching bowl. The water fogged the mirror as it waited to be used. In the corner, on the other side of Anne's wardrobe, was his wooden valet and a fresh-pressed suit.
He was headed back to Avonlea today and would see many old faces. He liked looking sharp. It pointed to his success as a doctor.
Josie's scare might be a false alarm, but he assumed that Dr. Spencer's diagnosis was correct. The older physician had decades of experience with both cancerous and benign growths and most likely could recognize the difference by appearance and feel alone, even with non-magical hands. Gilbert had the advantage of his powers, but either way, he was going to remove the thickness with his touch.
"Gil?" Anne's voice beckoned him from downstairs. "Breakfast is ready. Come down and have a bite before Captain Jim skedaddles."
In a moment of bravery, he ripped off the covers and exposed himself to the chilled air. He drew back the curtains on his way to the basin and a beam of light splashed the room. As he washed he heard chatter from downstairs. Anne's laugh coupled with Captain Jim's jolly guffaw. The old sailor was usually strung out on coffee at this hour, having watched the light all night long.
Gilbert poked his head out of the bedroom door. "Go ahead and start without me, please. I'll be down in a minute."
He was glad Captain Jim was there with Anne. He thought once more about her shaky health and how leaving her alone was becoming a risk. His efforts to find a cure for his beloved were not working. His father's answer had been a disappointment.
Dressed and groomed, Gilbert was headed downstairs when he heard a wrap on the front door. From the peephole, he saw the severe posture of Katherine Brooke. She was a tall figure in the icy wind with her back to a cloudless expanse of ocean.
"Oh," Gilbert said as he remembered his proposal from a few weeks back. He shut the peephole and opened the door, the metal hinges creaked and clanged as he gestured for Katherine to hurry inside and out of the wind. "You're free today?"
"Quite, now that you have Helen working for you over at the Morgans, I have nothing but free time." Katherine pushed past Gilbert. She unbuttoned her long, red coat and draped it on the oak coat tree. "I'm tired of Mrs. Morgan trying to teach me to crochet. Might as well earn some money typing for you."
"You didn't walk here from the village, did you?" Gilbert said as he examined Katherine's bright pink cheeks and frosted lashes. Helen and Katherine were boarding at the Morgan's now that Leslie and Dick Moore had returned. This served several purposes. Helen saw the Morgan place as a real estate opportunity and Gilbert's nurse needed help with Amos. Helen had volunteered herself to learn by example.
"It's only two miles away Gilbert, plus, Helen said you needed me here today." Katherine finished unwinding herself from her thick, wool scarf.
Gilbert nodded. Helen's powers picked up on the needs of others, often giving her a chance to provide before the beneficiary could even ask.
"Helen saw my anxiety about Anne, didn't she?" Gilbert lowered his voice. "Anne has fainting spells now."
"Helen didn't elaborate on her reason, I just did what she asked." Katherine gestured towards a door that was on the other side of the staircase. "Is your office here?"
"Yes, that's it," Gilbert said. "Let me show you what I've got."
Gilbert opened the door. His desk was a pile of papers and around him were more records from his uncle's time as village-doctor stored in old wooden crates.
"I see I have my work cut out for me." Katherine furrowed her brow and sat down at the typewriter. "Where's the clean paper?"
Gilbert shuffled a few piles at the far corner of the unkempt desk and found a stack of paper and cards. "There's not much too it. If you work newest to oldest you'll get a feel for how I like to keep my files. There's really no standard format, as long as records have a last name, first name, and date of birth in the upper right, I can file them easy enough."
Katherine was already threading a sheet into the machine and flexing her fingers.
"Katherine," Gilbert stopped her from proceeding. He needed to ask her opinion. "Anne's dizzy spells. I think it's because the baby is a witch. Have you ever heard of anything like this?"
Katherine shook her head and imitated Gilbert's serious tone. "Anne's the first pregnant-with-witch-woman I ever met."
"Yeah," Gilbert's Adam's apple bobbed in his throat as he agreed. "There's not enough of those around to make any concrete conclusions."
"Gilbert, you might talk with Mr. Ford, when he comes back from Toronto. Ask him if he knows anything." Katherine kindly suggested. "Or, write him a letter. He's the Grandson of the original Four Winds witch, a man that definitely left his mark around this harbor and neighboring village."
Gilbert placed his hands on his hips as he considered her suggestion. "I might do that, thanks for your advice."
"Certainly, Gilbert," Katherine raised her chin as Gilbert remained frozen to the ground, his mouth half-open as if he wanted to say something else.
"Is there anything else I can help you with? I could boost your powers, let you travel magically if you like."
"Katherine, I'd be lying if I said the thought never occurred to me. I do have an idea to brighten Anne's day and the help would be appreciated. I think Anne's starting to feel isolated. She can't venture out unassisted."
"What's your plan?" Katherine narrowed her stare.
Gilbert leaned forward and shared his secret idea.
"That would make Anne very happy," Katherine said. "And, it might let me leave early too. How about I send you to the railway station, then you can recover your powers during your train ride to Bright River."
"Agreed." Gilbert turned and saw his wife lurking in the corridor.
"Katherine!" Anne inched her way into Gil's office. "I thought I heard your voice. Come have breakfast. You can take Captain Jim's place, he just left.
"Oh Gil-dear, before I forget, he's fed Monty and the cows, but you'll need to muck later"
Returning to Katherine, Anne cheerily inquired, "What brings you by?"
Katherine smiled. "I'm going to see if I can help Gil with some light typing."
"Light?" Anne widened her expression and pointed at the metal contraption, "That typewriter weighs as much as the parlor stove, maybe even as much as the entire house. But first, you need sustenance. I have some plum puffs and tea waiting."
"It's hard to say no to your plum puffs," Katherine said with a faint smile.
Anne did not look well, she was pale and moved slowly. Katherine glanced quickly at Gilbert, and, somehow told him with a twitch of her mouth she understood his concern. Anne should not be left alone.
"You make them just like Marilla?"
"I try to, but, you know Marilla is gifted when it comes to baking," Anne said cheerfully. "They're still nice. Come and see."
Katherine extracted herself from the chair. She knew Anne would try to force her out by tugging her arm. Together, they went down the hallway.
Gilbert walked a foot behind them, listening to them laugh. If nothing else, Captain Jim had put Anne into a hospitable mood.
Later that afternoon, after a simple dinner of meat and potato cakes cooked in bacon fat, Anne welcomed Leslie Moore into her parlor. Leslie's comings and goings were unpredictable. She wouldn't visit if her husband was awake, as his handicap required constant supervision, but when he took his afternoon nap, he would sleep for hours.
The wood-burning furnace was in full force and the aroma of cedar and apple-wood filled every corner with fragrance. If it were warmer outside, Anne would have wrapped up and leaned on Leslie's arm. She missed visiting the woods and Leslie was an excellent escort.
The trees whispered in her ears promises of spring. They might be dormant now, but soon new life would bud on their boughs, flower, and reach up to the summer sun. Anne shared with the woods her spring secret, that she too would bear a new branch, her very first.
Anne watched the trees' poetic sway from her picture window as she worked on her sewing. She was making a very practical and old fashioned baby bonnet from a pattern Marilla had left. Leslie, meanwhile, was curled up on the sofa with a book from Anne and Gilbert's library.
It was cozy and quiet with the exception of short metallic taps of a typewriter from the other end of the house. Katherine was still working through the piles of old medical records from Gilbert's great-uncle.
"We're sure it's a girl and we've decided to name her Joyce," Anne mentioned as Leslie turned a page. "We'll call her Joy though. It's a fitting name for a much-wanted child. Joy, that is."
"You do have a thing with names, don't you?" Leslie remarked. Her words were spaced out with several pauses. Her mind was divided between Anne's comments and the narrative she held. "You're so much like Owen, Anne. He has a thing for book titles and chapters."
"We're both writers." Anne offered an explanation. "But you're right, we do have a lot of similarities, especially when it comes to our craft. We're not about the number of words, but the flow of them. I'm different in that I'm more inclined to write the pretty***. I suppose that's why my fancy is predisposed to name the things I love, like trees."
Leslie poked her eyes over Gilbert's copy of Frankenstein. "Is that why you named all the trees around here?"
"Trees are my friends." Anne raised her eyebrow as she defended her actions. "But, there's one tree I think Gil and I ought to rename now. I named him when I was in a sour mood, and that's not fair to him."
"Which one's that?" Leslie then looked out the window to see if she could spot all of Anne's "friends".
"You can't see him from here," Anne explained as she observed Leslie. Leslie moved her eyes vertically, measuring the distance between the sun's position and the horizon. She was trying to ascertain the hour.
"You know that tree at the start of our avenue? The one with all the bumps and knots?"
Leslie nodded when she turned her head back to Anne.
"Gilbert and I have been calling him Charlie," Anne's face colored. It didn't seem like a very funny joke anymore. Anne wanted to clean-up her manners before she became a mother. Children were the greatest imitators.
"Charlie?" Leslie snorted in amused disbelief.
"Are you talking about Charles Sloane?" Katherine asked as she stepped into the room and found the last squashy chair. She had to shoo Lilly the calico cat away to claim it.
Lilly spiked her fur and ran into the kitchen, hissing in protest.
"Do join us, Katherine," Anne endorsed her interruption. "I should have fetched you when Leslie showed up, but I find the sound of typing relaxing. I can't believe Gilbert got you to work for him during your vacation."
Leslie placed her bookmark and closed the volume. She had a bookmark in just about every book at the House of Dreams, but The Modern Prometheus had become Leslie's favorite. She longed to learn what happened to the ugly, hideous creature that was forced into existence. To her, it was a story about science going too far. Having such power over life terrified her. There was no remedy to stop supernatural assaults other than sacrificial blood. And even though her father had tried, it still hadn't worked.
Katherine leaned forward in her chair and gained Leslie's attention. It was hard for Katherine not to stare at Leslie, she was the most comely woman she had ever seen, surpassing Helen in beauty.
"Mrs. Moore, what do you think of this tree naming practice of Anne's?"
"It's delightful, but I've learned most unorthodox things are." Leslie radiated back to Katherine such that Katherine had to divert her eyes. "Anne finds beauty in everything. I find I no longer say 'the woods' but use the names she has bestowed, Shadowmere, Mossy Baum, and Skyscraper. It's so nice. I couldn't imagine some of her designations even if I tried."
"Leslie, you're forgetting Bruce, the Spruce, as Gilbert named." Anne pointed out.
Anne hadn't even bothered to look up from her work as she set a ruffle.
"Oh that… that is a terrible name," Katherine said. "Don't you think so?"
Leslie wasn't given a chance to reply. Anne cut her off.
"I wasn't even going to let Gil name the baby after that. I told him, 'She will get your last name, so I get to name her first'. He just blinked at me and said, 'Joy. Her name must be Joy, Anne'. And, I had nothing to say after that. Gilbert proved to me he could do it. Joy is perfect. After Bruce, the Spruce, I was dumbfounded."
Anne put down her sewing and flexed her sore hands and fingers. As she did so, Anne realized she was doing a fair imitation of Katherine. When she had wandered into the parlor, she was exercising her fingers in the same way.
"Katherine, forgive me, do you need any refreshment?" Anne used her question as a reason to get a good look at Katherine's hands. Her wedding band was gone, but maybe it was normal to remove one's rings before typing. "You've been working hard, I see you have some ink on your fingers. Is the machine alright?"
"The typewriter needs more oil," Katherine complained. "My fingers haven't ached like this for a while. I'll need to come back to finish up."
"Oh, I'm sorry," Anne said. "It's secondhand. We bought it because Gilbert's penmanship is terrible. I'll be sure to tell him to purchase some grease for it."
A ray of warm light moved across the room as Leslie returned the book to its place in the glass cabinet. Anne caught Katie Maurice looking back at her. Even in her House of Dreams, poor, impoverished, powerless Katie Maurice still haunted Anne in panes of glass.
"I should leave soon," Leslie announced as she sat back down. "But I have a few more minutes to visit if you want to chat."
"Leslie, if you like the book take it with you." Anne generously offered. "I'm not reading it anytime soon and Gilbert has no time to reread anything."
"And let my creature destroy it in one of his fits?" Leslie shook her head to disagree. "No, I think not. I can't guarantee its safety. Plus, it gives me a perfect reason to visit you and Miss Brooke tomorrow."
"Call me Katherine, please." Katherine implored. "Miss Brooke makes me feel as if I'm back teaching. When I left Summerside High to study business arts, I left that moniker too."
"You must call me Leslie then," Leslie returned the offer. "What is it like, being a secretary now? Is it very different than teaching?"
Katherine chuckled because she didn't know how she endured those years at Summerside High. They only way to look back was with a laugh.
"Leslie, It's much better than teaching. I type, take dictation, compose memorandums, and generally make my employer's life easier. I travel with the Premier and I love it. In fact, I've been offered a chance to stay in England and work for a prominent paper."
Anne pursed her lips together, worried. Helen would never leave the island. Not when her powers once warned her the ocean would be her end.
"Katherine, are you going to accept the offer?"
Katherine shrugged. "I haven't given an answer yet. It is nice to be noticed. I said I would think about it."
"I wonder if …?" Leslie said to herself. Her eyes illuminated with an idea and then dulled. She had allowed herself a hope only to dash it in the next moment. "I loved teaching the short time I did it, Katherine. I'm sorry that your experience was negative."
"Leslie, If you are thinking about acquiring secretarial skills, I would encourage it," Katherine said, trying to rekindle that fleeting hope Leslie displayed. "There is so much opportunity for women in the world of business. And, I still have my course books and I'd be happy to lend them to you. You can self-study as your time permits. And, Gilbert has a typewriter. I don't want to speak for him but you could probably borrow it to practice."
"As long as there's oil," Leslie smiled.
Anne laughed and even Katherine grinned at Leslie's lighthearted mood.
Leslie stood and crossed the parlor where her cloak and scarves hung on Anne's unnamed coat-tree and started to dress for her trip back home.
"I can't work. I have responsibilities. Dick requires so much of my attention with Owen gone. But, it is something I might add to my prayers. A chance to learn something new. No school board will ever let me teach again, even if Dick turns well by magic. Not that I want the old Dick back."
"Say 'yes' to Katherine's offer, Leslie. Teaching is not for everyone, even if you do adore it." Anne huffed. "Especially married women."
"Well, what about motherhood, Anne?" Leslie asked as she adjusted her soft, woolen hat. She reviewed her appearance in the mirror on the door and waited for her hostess' answer.
"Yes, I suppose motherhood can be a type of unpaid teaching career," Anne replied. "It's strange, though, no one would say that about fathers. Just because you become a mother or a father, that doesn't mean you'll get to teach your child. My parents Walter Shirley and Bertha Willis were teachers too, but they passed away when I was a small baby. They never had a chance to do much more than name me."
"Willis?" Leslie loitered at the door at Anne's statement, her mittened hand was on the knob. "You're mother's name was Willis? Why, you've not mentioned that before?"
"I'm not keeping it a secret," Anne said. "I don't think we've ever discussed it though. Why? Does the name mean something to you?"
"It's just that I haven't heard that name but forever." Leslie closed her eyes, trying to remember the old lore her father once shared. "There was a shady family over-shore that used to pray on shipwrecks. Nasty scavengers. They rescued the cargo before they would the crew. They kept the best bits for themselves and would sell the rest. Rumor is Owen's grandfather helped that outfit."
"Do you know where these Willises relocated to?" Anne's face peaked with interest. Over the years she had collected a handful of possibilities of her mother's family. They proved to be all dead ends.
"No, I'm sorry, Anne." Leslie apologized. "I do have to leave now. If Dick wakes up before I get back he will be in such a mood."
"You go then, come back when you can." Anne sent Leslie off with a smile.
Katherine stood at the window, watching Leslie make her way up the lane.
"Willis is a common enough name," Katherine pointed out to Anne. "There are Willises everywhere."
"I know," Anne answered. "It's too common, that's what I think. In all the imaginations I have nursed over the years about my mother, she being related to pirates was not one of them. She was a proper teacher, Katherine. I have evidence of that in my hope-chest.
"But you Katherine, I can't believe you're thinking about taking that position in England!"
Katherine returned to Canada hoping beyond all hope to convince Helen to come back to London with her. London was a city where Helen could make a real statement with her fashions. As much as Helen liked selling real estate now, sewing was her fortè. Katherine wasn't making any progress convincing Helen to leave Prince Edward Island. Helen held onto her position she could never leave. They were at an impasse.
"We're discussing it." Katherine didn't know how much to tell Anne. Helen didn't like holding back information about herself, not when she could read the minds around her. "I think it's possible Helen has confused someone else's fate with her own."
"That's my theory too." A new voice called from the kitchen. The figure was in the shadows but moved forward with confident steps.
Anne swiveled in her chair to see the face that had to belong to that voice. A woman stepped into the room and glowed at Anne with shiny black eyes. Her dark hair was a neat knot on her head. She turned to the side and pulled the waist of her dress taut against her body, showing off her protruded baby bump.
"Diana!" Anne girlishly squealed.
Anne had to remind herself not to stand quickly or she would trigger a dizzy spell. She couldn't wait to feel the embrace of her bosom friend and teared up when Diana kissed her cheek. After Diana was done hugging Anne, she also squeezed Katherine Brooke.
"You look very well, Mrs. Wright," Katherine complimented. "The last time I saw you, you were showing off your newborn baby girl, Anne Cordelia."
Anne dabbed her eyes with her cuff, still overwhelmed with the wonderful surprise of seeing her dearest friend.
"Diana, how is it you're here? I assume I have that witch husband of mine to thank."
"Why Anne, Gilbert said he had a new ability, that he could sling me into his house so we could visit. How could I say no to that?" Diana's jolly laughter pealed throughout the House of Dreams such that even the white, plastered walls started to shimmer. "Freddie and Anne Cordelia are at Mother's, and Fred doesn't mind. I left him a sandwich in the icebox. Gilbert said he'd sling me back once he got home. Imagine that! I was in my parlor and in the next eye-blink, your kitchen."
"Gilbert is such a dear," Anne beamed. "I really didn't think I could love him any more than what I do but I find myself in error." Anne attempted a step and stumbled.
Katherine cleared her throat. "Anne, sit down before you lose your balance."
She took Anne's hand and led her back to her chair, picking up the dainty bonnet that had tumbled out of Anne's lap in her haste.
"Oh Anne, are you alright?" Diana flanked Anne's chair and deposited a comforting hand on Anne's upper arm. "Gilbert hinted that you weren't feeling your best these days. Of course, I cheered when I got your letter announcing the news. I dream that maybe one day our children will be friends, maybe even more than friends."
"Such sweet dreams," Anne answered with an equally bright grin. "Although, I would say that we're putting the cart before the horse right now. We should have the babies first."
"Anne," Diana stood and put her hands on her hips. "Since when do you temper your imagination?"
Anne rubbed her front, caressing Joy's home. "Since the day my real life exceeded my musings. I don't want to spoil anything."
"What's your neighbor's name again?" Diana didn't look back at Anne but kept her place at the parlor window. She held the curtain aside and used her other hand to wave goodbye to Katherine.
"Leslie Moore," Anne said. "She is as every bit blonde as you are brunette, my sweet Diana. Perhaps the most beautiful woman that walks the Earth."
"That's very high praise," Diana said with a wistful smile. She removed her hand and the lacy curtain dropped. It did little to block the sun but added a layer of shadow to the room. The intricate netting was a spiderweb of dark circles on the wall.
"Underneath all her beauty is a suffering soul." Anne tapped the chair's arm with a fingernail, making a clicking sound. "I want to help her so much. I see how much pain she hides every day. I wrote to you about her husband, didn't I? He requires constant supervision. She is impoverished from the responsibility. Her only income is the land she rents."
Diana looked down and away. "You did. He left her for a long time to live in Cuba, didn't he? And then, he came back sick. It's a very sad story."
"There's more though," Anne added. "She's been hurt terribly by that man and I've been trying to get her to talk about it. I suspect Dick, back when they were first married, and before his accident..." Anne hesitated to vocalize her suspicion. Saying it aloud made it real. "I believe Dick forced her to be intimate with him. He definitely beat her. We've talked about the abuse we've suffered at the hands of drunks."
Diana didn't say anything but only shared Anne's gaze before pacing the floor.
"You're saying that Mr. Moore raped his wife?" Diana dried her hands on her skirt and looked back to a nodding Anne. "Well, if they're married, it's not rape."
"It's always rape when there's no consent," Anne stated.
Diana agreed, her bobbing head told Anne so. Diana explained her position with two words. "Not legally."
"True," Anne looked down to hide the flash of anger she felt crawl across her face. Leslie really had no one on her side if the law couldn't do anything.
"I'll never know for sure what happened before Dick left. But, he wasn't a very nice man. His family lives over in Nova Scotia, did they look for him when he was missing? No. And, now that he's back, they don't even bother to check in on him. Nova Scotia is not so far away. What sort of people are they if not terrible?" Anne concluded.
"Maybe they don't have means to help," Diana speculated.
"No means for even a letter?" Anne shook her head. "They never responded to Leslie's request. That's wrong. You know how awful the Hammonds were, yet even Mrs. Hammond's family came to help her when Mr. Hammond died."
"More tea Anne?" Diana crossed the room to the tea cart, helping herself to another cup.
"Diana?" Anne needed her old friend to acknowledge her line of thinking.
"You've always had a knack for believing a situation differently than what it is. Unless Leslie confirms it, then I would assume the very best of these people. Even good people can make mistakes."
Anne flicked her eyes up and to Diana's direction, sensing a shift in Diana's thinking.
Diana resumed her seat at the sofa-couch. She continued to hold her teacup and saucer but didn't drink. She only stared back at Anne.
"Diana, is something wrong?" Anne quizzed, forgetting the wealth of problems Mrs. Moore had and focusing on her friend, whose happiness was fading fast.
"I'm just worried about you, Anne," Diana said. "Put more effort into feeling better. I wish you and Gilbert would get help. Trust me, dizzy spells or not, you're going to need it with a baby to care for."
Anne shook her head. "No, not yet. Marilla said she would return when I needed her. I just hope Gilbert doesn't interfere with my decision and take on someone anyway."
"It's a lot of work to take care of a baby, even before it's born." Diana's mood lifted with an unexpected chuckle and her cheeks plumped over the upturned corners of her mouth. "Anne, I can remember you scolding me once for getting pregnant so soon after Freddie."
Anne threw a hand over her face in shame, thinking back to their shared buggy ride so long ago. "Oh, Diana. I can't believe I said those things now. No matter what I thought!"
"It's over and done with," Diana said. "And, you were right. If you don't want to take my advice then take your own. I'm so glad Minnie May plans on staying with us this summer. She says it's to help with the baby, but I know it's to get away from Mother. She thinks that Minnie May would be a good match for Moody. 'A traditional man to knock out some of her modern notions.' I think Mother said."
Anne made a disagreeing face. It was very like Mrs. Barry to pick the worst possible man to match her daughter to.
"Well, while she concentrates on fixing Minnie May, she leaves me alone." Diana lifted her brows which lengthened her smile. "Living so far away from the village has it's pluses, even if it can get a touch lonely."
"It's too bad you don't have more siblings for your mother to dote upon."
Anne cupped the small curve below her waistline. It wasn't big enough to show like Diana's, but the bump was there.
"Anne?" Diana placed her teacup down. "I always found it funny that Gilbert was an only child. Do you know why?"
"His mother was very sick when carrying him," Anne explained. "Mrs. Blythe, Geraldine I should say, she was older at the time. Age makes the process more difficult."
"Perhaps she suffered as you do now."
"She suffered enough she didn't want to have anymore and, according to Gil, there were other problems in his parents' relationship. I think when they got it worked out, it was too late for more children."
"Before Gilbert healed me, back when I was carrying Anne Cordelia, I spent a lot of time thinking about miscarriage. Dr. Felder said even though no one talked about it, miscarriage wasn't uncommon. One day, I asked Mother if she had miscarriages and she admitted that she had several between me and Minnie May. I knew then why she was so understanding when Fred and I quarreled over it. I wondered if Mrs. Blythe also had problems."
"I'm not going to ask her that," Anne answered with a shake of her head. She loved her mother-in-law but Anne knew her place. Geraldine would freeze if Anne requested such personal information. "I always got the sense she couldn't after Gil."
"Because of the magic?" Diana concluded.
Anne stiffened with worry. "I hadn't thought of that. You're saying the magic did something to Gilbert's mother?"
"Oh, I'm probably wrong." Diana went back to her tea. "I'm not educated like you are. And..." Diana almost spilled as the thought came to her, "Helen has a witch sister, doesn't she."
"Yes, Emily is her name." Anne exhaled with relief. "I've never met her."
"So, my theory is bunk." Diana finished her cup. "I'm sorry if I worried you."
"So, tell me how you are doing?" Anne asked Diana. "I'm well aware I'm not the only pregnant lady in the house."
"To be honest I feel great," Diana flashed some teeth Anne's direction. "This baby has been the easiest."
"So far, that is."
Diana's face quivered. Anne touched an unexpected sore point.
"I'm pretty sure this is the last one."
"What makes you so?"
Diana broke eye contact for a moment and cleared her throat. Her upper lip trembled with nerves as she asked. "Anne, have you? What I mean to say, do you enjoy being with your husband?"
Anne grinned, "You know perfectly well that Gil and I are meant to be together. It was an inevitability I fought against for years and years."
"No," Diana interrupted. "I mean sex. Do you enjoy it?"
Anne had never been asked such a bold question by anyone, but a personal question from Diana wasn't unanswerable.
"Not at first," Anne admitted, "Gil was so eager and it was uncomfortable. Things are much more tender and meaningful now."
Diana nodded slow, understanding. "The honeymoon period is a period of patience."
"Yes," Anne added. It was hard not to elaborate. "I wish I could say more, but.."
"You don't have to," Diana answered with a hand up to stop Anne from giving details. "My question really isn't about you. And it is definitely not about Gilbert. This is about me."
Diana ran a hand over her front, stroking the baby she carried. "Fred has become a dull lover. It's the same thing each time. 'Diana, brace yourself.'"
Anne sensed a sadness consuming her friend. She pushed off out of her chair and joined Diana on the sofa-couch. Anne brushed a stray hair of Diana's behind her ear before patting her hand.
"But he still gave you children."
"That's true." Diana then turned and looked into Anne's gray eyes, "He's given me two."
Anne shook her head as she tried to contain her smile. She wasn't sure why Diana was so dour. "The teacher in me points out in a few months it will be three."
Diana shook her head and whimpered out. "No Anne, it will only be two."
Anne drew back her hand and fought off the dizzy spell swimming in her head. Anne couldn't puzzle out what Diana had meant. Freddie Jr was the very image of his father and Anne Cordelia had the Wright brow.
"Diana?" Anne swallowed as she realized what Diana had told her.
"I didn't plan for it to happen." Diana let a tear drop down to her plumped and dimpled cheek. She gripped the napkin in her lap, keeping it at the ready for more tears. "Fred was away for a few weeks on the mainland. With Fred gone, our hired man brought his twenty-something nephew one day to help. He was French, but he spoke some dialect I didn't know. Pierre was on his way to Quèbec and was staying only a few days. Anne...we...we…."
Diana closed her eyes and let the tears glistened under a fringe of black. All she could do was sigh.
"You cheated on Fred?" Anne voiced what Diana could not.
"I was so attracted to Pierre," Diana admitted, still not able to explain the drive she had felt. "Like a moth to a flame. I knew he felt the same the second he touched me. Oh, Anne, he made me feel so alive. I was putty in his arms."
"Diana," Anne widened her eyes and she watched guilt take over her friend's countenance.
"He knew how to touch a woman. He caressed and adored every curve of my body. I couldn't resist him." Diana wailed now and she lifted the napkin to dab tears off her face. "But, I wished I had. As soon as Fred came home, I threw myself at him and tried to forget my indiscretion. He was too tired that night and the next. Eventually, he came to me, but I was already late."
"Diana, this is serious. Does Fred know?"
"No and yes," Diana said, "He's doing the same thing he did with Gilbert, back when he was pretending that he didn't know that Gilbert was a witch."
Anne huffed as she forced herself to think back. The frosty politeness between Gilbert and Fred had been intolerable. It took time, but they overcame it.
"Diana, Fred accepted Gilbert and his powers. Maybe he can accept this too?"
Diana shook her head and wept, "I don't think so. He's supportive and very vocal about how happy he is with his family anytime someone asks, but with me, he's sullen and withdrawn."
Diana got up and walked to the window, lifting the curtain once more to stare at the horizon. Anne saw a thin reflection of her friend mirrored in the glass.
After a deep breath, Diana explained. "His love for me goes only as far as not divorcing me and taking the children, but if I make him see, so we can talk about it, he'll stand up for himself and ruin me."
Diana burst uncontrollably into tears and could not dry her face, no matter how much she tried. "He's never going to love me again. And I do love Fred, I do. I don't know what I was thinking that day."
Anne stood on her own, found balance in putting her weight on the sofa, and then a hand against the wall, to reach Diana's shoulder. Anne couldn't get her friend to look from the window.
"Diana, I still love you." Anne shared in her tears until at last Diana turned and held Anne once more. Into Diana's ear, Anne whispered, "Nothing you do will change the fact that I love you."
"Oh Anne," Diana answered as she tightened her squeeze. "I needed to hear someone tell me that. You are the most perfect friend and I miss you so much."
"You're never going to tell Fred, are you?" Anne exhaled next, her nostrils flaring.
"No," Diana answered. She was more composed after releasing so much emotion. "Now my purpose is to care for our family the best I can. And even though I've made a mess of things, I know Fred will provide for this baby too. He loves children. Always has. He will treat it as his own, even if deep down, he knows it isn't."
Anne thought back to her lofty ideas about keeping secrets and the consequences of not communicating important information between spouses. Bile rose in her throat. What Diana had done was wrong, but the price Fred might force her to pay was too steep.
"What is the old proverb, Diana? 'Time heals all things?'" Anne rubbed Diana's back. "I don't know how or when, but one day, God will solve this. Take heart and give it to Him. And, I will keep your secret."
to be continued
*Anne of the Island, Garlands of Autumn
**Anne's House of Dreams, November Days (but Miss Cornelia's coinage)
***Anne's House of Dreams, A Four Winds Winter