Liberty, equality, fraternity

The shore of White Sands is set out like a tricolour. As the train rounds the headland and enters the bay, Anne is struck by the red of the cliff face, the white of the sand, and a sea of December blue. She looks a bit like a French flag herself, except her coat is more indigo, and her skin, while white at her secret parts, is weathered from her time out west. The result is a strange sort of alchemy: copper eyebrows are gold, copper lashes are bronze. Only her eyes hint at what she has seen. Worn to a verdigris – all the grey gone to green.

Diana Barry does not notice. They have been friends for so long they see each other as heart sees heart, everything else is just wrapping. Besides, she always considered Anne exotic, from her elfish looks to her bold opinions. The fact she is as brown as a gypsy comes as no surprise.

'You poor thing,' she says, from the iron clinch of Anne's arms, 'what a day to come back. You must be frozen.'

Anne barely feels it, and when she gets to the tearoom her raw silk jacket and best kid gloves are given to the waitress along with her coat and scarf. Beneath it she wears a matching dress with a mandarin collar and a bustle-like bow, all in a sky-bright blue.

'Prairie blue,' says Anne, sipping her cocoa.

She takes it with only the merest drop of cream. She has always been comforted by that colour, and it now occurs to her why. Diana's eyes are the same rich colour. Her skin is as fine as the teacup she holds, down to the rosebuds on each cheek. She's very much the girl Anne pledged her heart to when she was eleven; tender, dimpled, merry, modish – though perhaps not the last one. Diana's hat and beaded purse are very much last season.

'I missed you, how I missed you!' Anne declares, so loudly those who made a point of not staring at the radiant girls at the corner table feel justified to do so.

'I'll believe that when you answer one question,' Diana says, leaning forward to pinch Anne's pointed chin. 'Tell me true, Miss Fontaine, are you really back for good?'

'You Islanders, why is it you're all so greedy for your own?'

'All? You only just got here, who else have you seen to ask you that?'

Anne studies her hand for a moment. Now that she has removed her gloves she has spotted a smudge on her skin. 'Just Gilbert,' she answers, working on her finger. 'I wired him in New Brunswick to say I would be home for Christmas, and he met me during my stop in Kingsport.'

'And so, does medical school agree with him?'

The question takes Anne to the moment she alighted from the train and saw Gilbert by the news stand. Strange, she cannot recall what he looked like, only what she felt: a quick disappointment swallowed by a singular joy. She doesn't say this. It wouldn't make sense and Diana would use the rest of the afternoon trying to work out her meaning. Instead Anne smiles, a wicked one, and raises her brows.

'I should say so. He's more handsome than ever – and clever and good. I sometimes think it's a shame he went into medicine. When he strode down the platform yesterday, the crowds parted for him like the Red Sea. If he'd gone for the church he'd have people queuing to hear him.'

'Gilbert Blythe was never interested in drawing crowds,' Diana says primly.

It was all very well being worldly, but that sort of talk is bordering on Methodist.

'Oh Anne, I nearly forgot. You'll never guess who left the seminary?'

They discuss the broken heart Moody Spurgeon McPherson inflicted on his mother; how Jane got fat after bearing a son for Charlie Sloane, and Josie reed thin since delivering twins.

'They're calling the girls Saphronica and Thisbe Harrison-Pye.'

'Harrison Pye,' says Anne, tasting the words. She thinks of the man who once tried to sack her, his creased purple face and gaudy ties. 'Now that's what I call "just desserts".'

'They deserve each other, if that's what you mean,' Diana agrees, and goes onto describe the house Mrs and Mrs James A. built in a newly developed suburb south of Summerside.

'More gilt and glass you have not seen. Ugly bowed windows and the drapes always open.'

'How else are the neighbours going to see their excellent taste?'

'But the fuel costs, Anne! And then there's mean old Charlie Sloane, who keeps half his house shut up to save him heating the rooms.'

'I suppose a headmaster earns less than a School Inspector.'

'Well, they both earn more than a lowly female teacher,' Diana grumbles.

This complaint has nothing to do with pay parity, she is all for men earning more; that way the women can stay at home. Until that happy day Diana is saving every penny. She lives at a boarding house across the road from this tearooms, and is saving for a marriage that her mother does not want.

The unsuitability of Fred Wright has only grown with each year. Along with the sins of seduction he has two more strikes to his name. Mr Wright lost the farm which means Fred is now landless. Worse than that, Mrs Wright has Acadian kin. According to Diana's mother, the woman offered up a prayer for that Grit Laurier, when he practically called for revolt!

Not until they retreat to the boarding house, and Diana's narrow bed, does Diana open her heart to Anne about this. She might be twenty-one, but when it comes to her mother she always feels like a child.

'Mamma barely spoke at Sunday luncheon, and when I said goodbye she wouldn't say it back.'

Anne wraps her arm around her friend and kisses her thick black hair. 'That's what happens when we force people to choose, we end up pushing them in the one direction we don't want them to go.'

As she says this she hugs Diana tighter. Diana gently shifts away.

'Why are you always leaving then, what pushes you?'

'My own stubborn will,' Anne says. She lifts her head and rests her cheek on her hand. 'But I have no plans to leave the Island this time. I've missed home horribly.'

'I don't know what home you think you're going back to. With Marilla and Martin gone to Sweden.'

'But I wanted them to go,' Anne says, softly. "Marilla deserves to hold at least one grandchild.'

'Dora declares her next child is be named for her brother, whether it's a boy or not.'

'Davy?' Anne splutters, and flops on her pillow. When she touches her cheeks they feel hot.

'What's wrong with that?' Diana says, 'Davy Rossi a naval hero. Hunting down those opium smugglers.'

'Yes – no – of course, I'm only surprised because – because that means Dora must be expecting again.'

'But Anne, you don't mean to tell me you didn't know?'

Anne lets go a sigh. 'It's my fault. They don't know I've left Regina, there's probably a letter from Sweden waiting for me. So, another child... I suppose that means –'

'Fred says Marilla and Martin won't be home for another year at least. They asked if he would continue to manage Green Gables till the spring that follows this one.'

'I see,' Anne says, her voice like a bone that had all the marrow sucked out of it.

'Now you know why I wanted to be sure you were staying,' Diana says, running Anne's braid through her curled up fingers. It is as heavy as rope, and thick with the smell of coal smoke and rosemary. 'They say eight thousand took to the streets in Montreal when that traitor was hanged. I just know you could never resist a story like that.'

'I know all about it,' Anne says, 'Gilbert and I talked of little else.'

She'd been so angry when they talked at the station. Talked? She'd come very close to shouting. Pouring out her bitterness as she told him all she knew. And he took it, every drop. By the time she left, Gilbert was as angry as she was, fired up with a cause that was not his own.

Gilbert wasn't really her brother, but when Anne saw him like that, she could swear her blood flowed through his veins. As he ran alongside her train and called out, 'If I don't see you in Avonlea, I'll know where to find you!' Anne knew he meant the wild streets of Montreal.

The next morning Diana gives Anne a tour of the new addition to the White Sands school house. A Miss Eloise Andrews (first cousin to Jane) now takes the senior pupils, leaving Diana to dote on her infants. Inside there is a brightly upholstered armchair and a braided rug where the children sit at Miss Barry's feet.

Anne smiles when she sees this, but this one is bittersweet. The school house looks more like a cosy home than a classroom.

'Diana, it's delightful. You'll break your children's hearts when the time comes for you to leave.'

Diana purses her lips the same way Mother Hannah would.

'That day is a long way off.'

They make their farewells before Anne goes onto Avonlea and her beloved Green Gables. She likes Frederic Wright. They became friends some time ago, when he delivered her mail in hopes that one of Diana's letters might be for him. His three younger brothers live with him, and when Anne finds them in the kitchen shovelling ham hash down their throats, she laughs. They remind her of meal times on the prairie, except the men all stood up when she entered the Mess.

Here only the Wright boys eyebrows stand to attention. That canny Anne Shirley came in so quiet, even the hound didn't hear it.

'Welcome Anne!' Fred bellows. 'You wanting some tea? Claude make some fresh tea.'

'Just water if you have it,' Anne says, as though this wasn't her home.

She stares hard at the sampler Dora made when she used to live here. Hebrews 6:19 Hope anchors the soul, hanging above the pot stand. She remembers the way Marilla had drawn her fingers over the needlework. Reading the length and tension of each stitch, before giving the small girl a satisfied nod for minding her instructions.

Anne saw this in Marilla's letters too. They might be written in Dora's hand but they are every inch Marilla. In her last one, Marilla said she suited life where it was dark for half the year, and knew the Blomqvist's cottage as well as her own home.

Marilla Rossi would not know Green Gables now. Wet socks are hanging from the fire guard, a there is a dog beneath the table. But it makes Anne happy because it feels like a home.

Home. That word would keep haunting her. When she lies in the spare room that night and listens to Fred snore, she tries to remember when she last felt safe. And an image – or was it a sound – comes to her: the drip, drip, drip of the rain that fell inside Riel's cell. Except there was no rain, so what was it, the water that seeped through the rotten walls and pooled on the cold stone floor?

Riel should have been shaking with his shorn head and prisoner's garb; should have begged and unravelled. Yet he was calm as a pond of ice. He told Anne he forgave every man that wronged him, but there was one he never mentioned. Anne had written in the margins of her notebook, Why did you kill that man? Why? and in her muddled exhaustion typed it up for the pressman. She wonders if the line ever made it to print. Mr Muir refused to proof-read, his job was to set the story in sixteenth-inch type. Like the stitches Marilla taught her girls to make for their samplers. Perfect little letters all in a row...

Then it comes, all the missing Anne never lets herself feel starts seeping into her. If she isn't careful it will leak out her eyes. Green Gables looks like home and it smells like home, but where was Martin's lamp showing under the door? Or the one in Diana's window? Even the moon hid behind banks of cloud.

In the morning Anne sees it, hanging above the Snow Queen's bare branches, a crescent so fine the sky showed through. Anne doesn't recognise its significance until she squats over her chamber pot and sees the rag in her hand go red. Instead of hunting out her menstrual belt, she seeks out the ring Gilbert's mother gave to her. An oval of carnelian with bands of white, like the growth rings of a tree. She slips it on and opens the window as the first snows of winter drift down. Catching them in the palm of her hand till her skin goes a mottled blue.

Henri knocks a half hour later, rubbing the reminder Fred kicked into his rump.

'Sorry Anne, I was supposed to tell you there's breakfast if you're wanting it.'

'You needn't run after me,' she assures him, and roughs up his hair that is fairer than Ruby Gillis'. On the way down she asks after the Gillis family, then carefully brings up the Blythes as she sits at the table with the Wright boys.

'You can go there if you like, you can knock all on the Blythe's door all day long. Just wear something warm while you do it,' Fred says, 'because Ro Blythe's not answering to anyone.'

Anne suspected as much. When Gilbert said his mother had been keeping to herself, Anne had an instant picture of what he meant. After breakfast she goes knocking, not at the Blythe's house, but at the little stone cottage which lies behind their orchard.

'Open up Ro Blythe, I know you're there, I can see the smoke from the chimney.'

The curtain twitches, then the door swings open.

'So, you're back, are you?' Rowena asks her.

'Yes,' Anne says, and her eyes shine with tears. 'I promise you I'm back.'


* Acadian refers to people of primarily French descent who settled in Canada from the 17th C (fun fact: in the States they are known as Cajun)

* 'the Grit Laurier' refers to Wilfrid Laurier who would later become Prime Minister. A Grit is a Liberal, you might remember the scene in Anne to the Rescue where she and Matthew discuss a political rally, and Anne says she is glad she is a Conservative because Gilbert is a Grit.

* 'Hope anchors the soul' is paraphrasing 'Which hope we have as an anchor...' Hebrews 6:19 KJV