The wind bloweth where it listeth
She's dressed in black. He stands in such a rigid, upright fashion he might be a post. The train is taking on more coal, and a sharp wind spiked with sleet funnels between the engine and the buildings that make up Bright River station. Everyone else who wants to board is sheltering in the waiting room. But for reasons best known to themselves the two figures on the platform choose to stand in the snow. Not till the final whistle sounds do they realise the train is leaving, and they dart to the nearest carriage and reach for the door.
'After you,' he says, stepping away.
Anne thinks he intends to try his luck in another carriage. Perhaps he had been, but as the train starts to move he leaps inside and ruffles the lapels of his coat. The gentleman seated opposite Anne gives him a pointed harumph. Gilbert can't decide where to sit. In the end he takes a seat by Anne, at least then he can avoid her eyes.
'My condolences,' he says next, and tips his hat. 'I didn't know you were bereaved.'
'Thank you,' Anne replies. 'I don't believe you met him.'
The man opposite would struggle to believe these two young people were anything more than nodding acquaintances. Their mannered air impresses him however. Particularly the girl in black. She's an arresting creature with stark green eyes and cheeks like russet apples. He'd like to gaze at that himself, but he has that smuggler story to catch up on, and he opens his paper with an enthusiastic crack.
The other two begin reading the front page, until Anne realises they are craning to make out the same article. After that she peers out the window, watching sleet collect on the glass then scatter with the wind. It doesn't absorb her the way it usually does, but what did she expect? Those feelings aren't about to fade just because he... She closes her eyes against the thought, but she can still see Gilbert's face. The vivid expression of bliss he felt as his body moved against hers.
She senses him shifting uncomfortably, as though he is reading her mind. He sits forward in his seat, legs wide, arms dangling between, leather gloved fingers threaded together. She notices his shoes. They're not the boots he usually wears, these are narrow toed and shining, the laces tied in even bows. His trousers are a fine wool in a becoming charcoal colour, his coat is old but it has definitely been brushed and hugs his broad shoulders just so. The crisp collar of his shirt cuts into his neck as though he knotted his tie too tight. Anne can't make that out but she can see his throat and his bobbing Adam's apple. The skin there has been carefully shaved, as has his jaw and his upper lip.
Anne can't help it now and glances at the rest of his face. Light bounces off his brows and lashes they are both so thick and dark. His hair is too, almost black with hair oil and not one strand out of place. Only the merest bits can be seen beneath his hat. She's never seen that hat before, then she remembers it used to be his father's. John Blythe had never once dressed this carefully; Gilbert looks untouchable. Whatever has happened between them Anne is determined he stay that way.
She feels shabby and dull in her old blacks; alarmed that something she wore so long ago still fits. Her throat is choked by all the things she wants to say. If the man with the paper doesn't leave soon she this close to pushing him out. He finally departs at Rustico and offers his paper to Gilbert.
He barely has time to unfold it before Anne plucks it out of his hand.
'Were you going to leave without saying goodbye?'
'I thought my letter said that,' says Gilbert briskly. As an afterthought he adds, 'I'm not due back at school till the eighth. There's a course text I need before I go back. I'm stopping at Charlottetown.'
Anne nods, eagerly, the wax berries on her hat nodding with her.
'So am I. It was Mr Keats – Mr Keats who died. His lawyer summoned me to his office on Yarmouth Street. I'm not sure what to expect, I imagine there are some books Mr Keats wanted me to have.'
'Books?' says Gilbert, 'I thought he was blind?' then silently curses himself. As sorry as he is for Anne's loss, he doesn't want her thinking he knows every particular of her life. His question embarrasses him, but it must touch Anne because she squeezes Gilbert's fingers briefly. If he is grateful for anything at that moment, it's that he's wearing gloves.
'I used to read to him,' Anne says. 'Though he liked books for themselves as much as for the words they contained. He knew all about them. Paper grades, ink types, kettle stitch, butterfly... recto, verso, belly, flap –'
Anne cheeks go from russet to crimson. 'I don't know where that came from. I was remembering him. Forgive me.'
'There's nothing to forgive, Anne. I said that in my letter, too.'
The train enters Darlington Station and they both wait to see if the other will excuse themselves and seek another carriage. If someone else enters and he has time, Gilbert is resolved to leave. But no one comes and there are no more stops until Charlottetown. He turns the tiniest fraction toward her. He can just make out her jaw, and the muscles tight beneath it. Her hands are in her lap, and though they're still buttoned she keeps pulling at the fingertips of her gloves. He pictures the ring she might have been wearing; what they could be doing alone on a train. And it hits him gut deep, the chance he took. Another might have been he can't stop thinking about.
The train hisses as it departs. They pass Miltonvale and Brackley before either can bear to speak. Anne begins first, her voice so low he can scarcely make it out above the pounding engine.
'I didn't like that letter much.'
'I didn't like writing it much, but as I behaved so appallingly –'
'So did I.'
'Yes, you did,' he says simply. 'We both did, but there's no need to punish my mother into the bargain.'
Anne turns to him, she can't help it, not if she had been bound to the spot. She pulls off her gloves and flings them onto the opposite seat.
'Are you referring to Batoche? Your mother is perfectly capable of taking care of herself!'
'My mother has lived in Avonlea all her life. She has no idea what it means to be among strangers, to have no one to call on if something goes wrong.'
Anne had in fact given Mrs Blythe the names and addresses of many who would be happy to assist her, not least Mother Hannah, who would welcome such a woman into the fold. There is no way Gilbert could be ignorant of this and she tells him so.
'That's all well and good, Anne, the thing is she wanted you.'
He trusts himself to look at her now. Her eyes are downcast, her brows tilted in yet another frown.
'I never told her to go, nor encouraged, nor hinted. I was as surprised as you were when she told me her plans.'
'Then go!' Gilbert urges.
Anne begins to see why. He wants her gone, but it won't square with his principles so he appeals to her sense of honour instead. She sits a little taller, her slender neck rising from the collar of her cloak.
'Why not? I don't understand you –'
'Yes you do!' Anne fires back. 'You know exactly who I am – only now you don't like it.'
Gilbert leaps up and flings himself onto the other seat. Anne has lowered her head so that all her can see is the crown of her hat. The berries she had trimmed it with were so blue they almost look black. He thinks of the day he fed one to her and daubed red juice on her finger. In his heart he had promised himself to her that day. The night they made their blood oath he had marked her as his own.
Anne shoots a look at him, as if she can hear his thoughts. The eyes that peek out below her black brim are serious and grave. There's a queenishness in her demeanour that reminds him of the girl who always held herself apart. He used to admire that about her; the way she refused to change herself in order to fit in. Her iron will, her independence, her fierce need to explore. But he knew where she was going then, because he was going that way too.
The train pulls into Central Station. Gilbert plucks Anne's gloves from the bench seat and lays them in her lap. As she grabs them he crouches down on one knee, his hazel eyes unyielding.
'Just tell me one thing. Does this have anything to do with the Convocation dinner last year?'
'Gilbert, no –'
'Those people at our table – Dr Evans and his colleague – what they said about Claire Fontaine was vicious and crude.'
'Gilbert, I excused myself for your sake not mine.'
Anne thinks of Fred and Mrs Lynde – and now Gilbert's mother. She has only been home a month and is already causing trouble. It seems to follow her everywhere and probably always will. While she might be used to it, Gilbert never would be.
'For my sake, huh? So if I had to quit school for some reason you wouldn't change your mind?'
'You better not,' Anne says. 'I'll hunt you down if you do.'
He bends his head in an effort to swallow the rocks in his throat, his hand brushing over the skirts on his feet. She wore black for a whole year when Matthew died and no one could talk her out of it. Anne never did a thing she didn't mean. She always knew who she was.
'You told me you don't want to be a doctor's wife, but maybe you don't want to be anyone's wife.'
Anne smiles faintly. 'You sound like your mother.'
'Do I? I guess we're more alike than I want to admit.'
'Gilbert, believe me, I would give you both what you want if I could –'
Gilbert stands abruptly and brushes down his trousers. 'I have to go, my Aunt will be waiting. I'd introduce you but I'm sure you'd had your fill of Blythes.' He tips his hat at her once more. 'I wish you well, Miss Shirley.'
Gilbert leaves the door wide open and strides along the platform as if expecting the crowds to part. Anne leans against the window in order to watch him go. His tall, upright figure crumples unexpectedly as he bends down to greet a small boy. The next moment he has swung the lad onto his shoulders, and twirls him round about.
Anne watches them jog to the east exit and disappear down the stairs. The whistle shocks her out a memory, and she hastens out of the carriage.
'That was lucky!' says a porter, clutching the filthy brim of his hat. 'You nearly ended up in Frenchfort. Got a connection? Best hurry, young Miss!'
The young Miss smiles briefly. Not at him, but for the wind that threatens to take the porter's pillbox and her berry trim with it. The locals call it The Cat, for the way it claws and thieves anything that is not tied down. It also carries tales of this town. Secrets and stories that are hidden to the eye. Anne could close hers and know by smell and sound alone exactly where she was.
Seagulls shriek and fight each other, as do children, red nosed and barefoot, picking their way through blackened slush. Bells chime out from St Marks and St Pauls, the Catholic Basilica, the Lutheran church. The paperboys bawl, the nut-sellers chirp, shore leave sailors belt out bawdy verse. Tittering ladies highstep it in pairs, hanging off men with wives at home.
Another woman all in white preaches hellfire from her barrel with a bible in her hand. It was coming, she could smell it, in the sulphur of coal smoke, in the stacks at the hospital throwing up ash. The smell fights with the resinous scent of newly made crates, timber, sawdust, pine sap, straw. With the scent of oily chestnuts, baked potatoes, pickled whelks, salt water taffy, and two penny broth. The flower sellers posies, carnations and pinks, petals trod into manure and muck. And the stench of the gutters writhing with rats, the scraps that even the poor wouldn't touch. The warm yeast of the bakehouse, the hot tang of the noodle house, the odour of liniment, leather and horse. The smoulder of smoked fish, the reek of the canneries, the spice of the Gypsy boys selling fortunes and curses. In the blood, grease and sweat of the harbour, all of it seasoned with the salt of the sea...
Anne takes a deep breath and welcomes it in.
'No,' she says, lifting her head. 'I'm for Charlottetown.'
* chapter title from John 3:8 KJV (listeth in this sense means 'wherever it wants to go') If you're wondering why I always reference KJV it's because it's likely to be the bible that Anne knew
* recto, belly, verso, flap are bookbinding terms
* 'the girl who held herself apart' is a reference to the line 'Anne held herself apart (from pettiness) not consciously or of design, but simply because anything of the sort was utterly foreign to her transparent and impulsive nature' Ch 19 Anne of Avonlea
* berry scene and blood oath in Anotherlea, the 27th chapter and the 34th chapter respectively
* 'The Cat' wind first mentioned in Anotherlea, the 21st chapter