Mea culpa, mea maxima culpa. My apologies for leaving this story dangling for so long. I just lost my way with it. But finally, with some advice from AnneWithAnEStory I have decided to round it off for you. It has gained some traction since Anne finished on Netflix and I hated to keep you all waiting.
(Some people may have briefly seen an earlier edition of this chapter a few hours ago, but with some advice from the ever helpful MrsVonTrapp I took it down to work on it some more.)
And so, without further ado here is the Epilogue
How wonderful to hear from you after such a long while. I must admit it was a lovely surprise to receive your letter this morning, it has been too long my darling boy. I don't think I've seen you since Matthew's funeral when you were such a comfort to me. How the time has passed.
Well I don't want to make you feel guilty, I am sure you have a busy schedule in Toronto and PEI is such a long way away. Our life must feel very small and insignificant to a man of the world such as you. Sometimes Anne sends me notices of your upcoming concerts and my heart swells that I had something to do with that.
Do you remember that first simple fiddle I bought you from the pawn brokers when we rescued from Hopeless all those years ago? Little did I think that small thing would take you away from me. If I had, perhaps I would not have gifted it to you, but then the way you caressed that little instrument made my heart sing at the time. No doubt you have got rid of the old thing by now, but I do like to think how it set you on your way, Joe.
We are all keeping well. Rachel had a slight chill the other day and I put her to bed. She chafed at it as always; annoyed at missing out on life as anything. However, she had a nasty cough and I determined that good rest was in order. I am pleased to report that she was up and about after a day or so and is back to her usual loquacious self. She sends her best regards.
Anne writes that she is doing well. She sounds very pleased with herself. I am happy that her career as a newspaper columnist is progressing. She and Gilbert are doing well over in Glen St Mary, and I am so very pleased for her. It is good for a wordsmith like our Anne to have an outlet for her ideas.
I shall close now Joe. Don't be a stranger, I would love to see you again sometime, son.
Your ever-loving mother,
Joe Franklin former resident of Avonlea, Prince Edward Island and before that Hopetown Asylum; now residing in cosmopolitan Toronto refolded Marilla's worn letter and tucked it back into his wallet. She loved him, that much was true, but her upset came through strong. Joe's remorse got the better of him; but it had been so long and in truth he longed to see Marilla again and hug her close.
My apologies, you are correct it has been too long. I would love to see you again. Here is some money for you to make the journey up to Toronto to visit me. I have a concert coming up and I would be honoured if you would come and see me play. I have a spare bed made up here, so there is no need to worry about accommodation. Please tell me you'll come.
Your loving son
Before he really had too much time to think about it, he had sealed the letter and dropped it off at the post office. Still he reflected later, it would be fine. So much time had passed after all, and Marilla just hated leaving PEI. The only time she'd made the trip she'd rescued him from old Hopeless and Anne told him later that she practically had a conniption managing that. Joe hardly thought she'd ever summon the courage to come all the way to Toronto particularly at her age.
But when Joe received Marilla's heartfelt and glad tidings that she would be pleased to come he really panicked. His accommodations were not set up for an elderly, conservative woman with its louche wall hangings, mood lighting and well, not to put too fine a point upon it, the other inhabitant. "I can move out for the week," Maurice said as he sprawled on the settee. "You just have to make up for it now and I suppose later," he grinned wickedly.
Joe licked his lips as he looked across at Maurice in all his magnificent glory, but then remembered himself. As wonderful a lover as Maurice was, now was not the time. He had plans to make.
The journey to Toronto was long, first the train from Bright River to the dock, then the ferry ride followed by a further train ride to Toronto changing trains a couple of times along the way. Marilla was exhausted from the nervous energy; not for one moment could she relax, missing a connection was the last thing she wanted. Knowing her luck she might wake up in Winnipeg, halfway across the country. Having plenty of time to think though was rather a blessing.
Anne had been a shock there was no two ways about it, but Matthew's suggestion that they also get a boy had merit and really in for a penny in for a pound she had thought at the time, half forgetting that these were children she was thinking about. When Joe arrived, she felt this was a boy she could really understand. Anne was a child of a different stripe, but her Joe was a gentle soul. That first day he looked as though he might keel over, Marilla thought with a tender smile. But he soon relaxed into his new arrangement. He'd had some problems with his classmates, Marilla recalled that Josie Pye had been particularly troublesome at some point. Those Pye's she frowned, what a family. How clever she had been to buy that fiddle he had really adored it. Though she grimaced as she thought back, his first attempts were nothing to smile at wounded cats would have sounded better.
Marilla would not have recognized Joe's apartment if she had come a few days earlier, but Maurice had helped him feverishly tidy up, and had left with an array of spare clothing and furniture; returning later with a spare bed and clean sheets which he had appropriated from some friend or other. Really, Joe thought as he had made the bed, Maurice was a wonder. He always knew just where to go to find the most obscure objects. If it had been left to him, poor Marilla would have been sleeping in his dishevelled bed while he slept on the sofa.
"These rooms are barely adequate, Joe," Marilla looked around in shock. The furnishings were an odd mixture of shabby and smart. An old sofa adorned with lumpy cushions covered in fine fabric set the tone for the entire place. A painting must have hung above the mantlepiece in some prior life, she could see the outline where it had been on the wall. She was pleased to see that his old fiddle still had pride of place by the front door. When Joe's back was turned, she traced her fingertip along the mantlepiece and was somewhat dismayed by the dust that she found there. The last thing she really wanted to do on her visit was clean, but the place was filthy.
"Well it's no mansion, but it does." Joe knew that his fastidious mother would not approve, but the landlord was discrete and the rent low. While Marilla put her clothes away and freshened up in the other room. Joe sat and recalled the party he and Maurice had thrown the other week. Their friends had arrived bringing food and drink. In his usual style Maurice had even procured a pipe from somewhere and they enjoyed a most debauched evening in a haze of opium smoke and whisky. The image of his friends sprawled about the room in various poses and stages of undress flashed before Joe making him smile in remembrance. "What are you smiling about?" Marilla interrupted his reverie.
"Oh," Joe jumped, he had half-forgotten her presence and was just thankful she had not entered two minutes later. "Nothing really. Come, let me show you around."
Marilla fetched her hat and took Joe's arm when they reached the street. The dirty neighbourhood shocked Marilla. For one the houses were too close together and there were few trees something she felt she would never get used to. "Tell me where you attend church?" she asked, and Joe had to think hard to recollect where the closest one might be. As they walked along Joe seemed quite popular as many people, mostly men Marilla reflected later, called out greetings across the street. Joe explained who they were and how he knew them, mostly Marilla noticed they seemed to be friends of friends. One name seemed to be mentioned frequently. Later over a pot of tea she pressed him on it, "who is this Maurice you talk of so often? He sounds like a close friend."
"Oh, um, yes," stammered Joe, "Maurice was one of the first people I met here. He's an artist." He stopped there having said too much. There was no way Marilla would approve of Maurice's work. As part of their preparations for her arrival they had removed Joe's portrait which had him clad only in a skimpy white loin cloth from its place over the mantlepiece. When he had told Maurice of his plans, they looked around the apartment and both pointed to the painting simultaneously and between laughter said, "well that'll have to go."
The concert was a fine affair. Marilla was given pride of place and she sat amongst Toronto's select feeling very out of place. But her diffidence disappeared when Joe began to play. His skill was so far removed from the old jigs he used to play in their kitchen all those years ago, but even in her ignorance Marilla recognized his familiar style. If she shut her eyes she could still picture her little boy in short pants with his second hand fiddle stuck under his chin squeaking out a new tune. She had been proud of him then, as he learnt his new skill and she was just as proud of him now, playing to Toronto's finest.
Joe received a standing ovation, Marilla initially felt subconscious standing up, was it too boastful? But it seemed the audience was struck by the talent of this young impresario and as one they stood up in applause. Joe stood on the stage, bowing over and over but he only had eyes for Marilla.
Later they were taken out for drinks and that was where his sham came apart. Friends bought them champagne and Joe got a bit drunk. Marilla sat in the corner nursing a glass of water watching him in his element. Joe had always been so shy at home, but here surrounded by an eclectic group of equally tipsy people he seemed to come out of his shell. Marilla watched in shock as one large very dark man walked right up to Joe and kissed him full on the mouth. Worse Joe seemed to enjoy it and kissed him back. This was no chaste peck such as the one John Blythe had bestowed upon her lips all those years ago, but a lascivious kiss such as lovers might enjoy. Marilla shifted in her chair uncomfortably. Who was her Joe? She sat back in her chair the party forgotten and reflected on the pieces of the puzzle before her.
He had disappeared when he was just a young man, but even before that there had been tell-tale signs. His sheets for instance always stained. Matthew had said it was normal, but every night? Then there was his close relationship with Ben Trickleback and his aversion to Josie Pye. Marilla had wept when Joe disappeared without a trace, but but but. She looked at him closely; in all the time she had been here he had not mentioned one woman.
Marilla took up her bag and stole away collecting her coat at the door. She let herself into his apartment, wrote a short note and left hailing a cab to the station. She preferred to spend the night at the station rather than one more night with her licentious son.
Joe didn't see Marilla go, he thought she must have made her own way home and was dismayed to find her note on the mantlepiece when he arrived. 'Good bye Joe, I am leaving, Marilla'. No mention of love, just this curt note.
Picking up his old fiddle he sat down on the lumpy sofa and looked around the room then sat thrumming the old strings absentmindedly thinking back to his time at Green Gables.
He had never thought he would be lucky enough to find such a wonderful home. How joyful he had been when he realised Anne had picked him out of the crowd. Anne! What a girl to have as sister. The only time they fought was when he realised they both had a crush on Gilbert Blythe. Well, Joe smiled as he picked out an old tune, Anne got the best of that argument. She married him after all. Gilbert never gave him so much as a second thought.
Then there was Matthew, that sweet and gentle man who was always so kind to him; the father he needed. A tear trickled down Joe's cheek as he thought about Matthew. He had been so ashamed when he realised he couldn't manage the dust at harvest time and would have to leave all the work to the old man. But they fetched him back when he ran away and really, they never looked back. When he received word that Matthew had collapsed his tears were real and prolonged. To honour Matthew he went back for the funeral but had kept apart from their neighbours not wishing to associate with any of them again. Indeed, at that point of his life the gulf between them yawned widely.
And Marilla, oh Marilla. His friends only knew her as an elderly spinster, a harsh stickler for manners lurking up the end of the lane. He'd had more than a few comments about his welfare. Yet Marilla was easily the kindest, most warm hearted woman he knew. She welcomed him into their home and into her heart. From the very first he knew he could trust her and that he never confided in her about his deepest troubles was his fault not hers. He was just so worried about disappointing her. And now? Now he'd lost her for good. He may not have seen her for years, but he knew she was there at the end of a letter, but it looked as though she'd forsaken him now. Joe looked blankly into the middle distance unseeing as his last connection to Green Gables, to family fell away.
He smiled again when he thought of the exploits they had gotten up to, the time the horse bolted, the pranks they played at Halloween, skating on the pond, picnics at the beach, dancing to his accompaniment around the fire at home; and then there was Ben Trickleback, the man who practically saved his life. He wondered where Ben was now, married with a few kids probably.
Ben had kept his confidence when Joe had spilled out his deepest fears and for that he would always be appreciative. But now it seemed Marilla had gotten wind of it and he expected he'd never see her again. The odd tear had already escaped, but at that thought Joe broke down. He loved Marilla with all his heart and just hated to let her down. If only he hadn't invited her. What a fool he'd been to think he could keep up his pretence.
Anne was happily married to Gilbert now and they had four children, despite that with their house keeper Susan Baker's assistance she managed to keep up a part time role writing opinion pieces for the Glen St Mary Advocate. She had a broad brief and so long as she kept to the deadline she could write whatever she liked.
"Marilla!" Anne greeted her at the door. "We weren't expecting you. Are you all right?"
"Oh Anne," Marilla dropped her suitcase, collapsed into Anne's arms and let herself be led inside.
Over a pot of tea, the story came out in muffled whispers lest Mrs Baker hear. "It had been so long, Anne. I had no idea." A thought occurred to Marilla, "did you know?"
Anne took a while to answer. She refreshed her cup and spent a long while stirring in her sugar, so long in fact that Marilla was pretty sure it was cold by the time Anne sipped. "I had an inkling," Anne said eventually.
"You never said anything to me."
"Well it wasn't based on much and I knew you'd be upset."
"I am upset! Very upset. He's living a life of sin. He'll go to hell."
"Um, I guess."
"You guess? Don't tell me you don't believe in hell now?" Marilla urged.
"Well this is Joe we're talking about. I mean surely he'll be safe. He may not obey all of the Church's scriptures, but at his heart I am sure he's a good man."
Marilla looked at her bluntly shaking her head. "Well I'm exhausted, I think I might go and lie down."
"Did you not sleep well?" Anne enquired.
"No, I spent the night in the station waiting room. I couldn't bear to spend another moment in that den of iniquity."
Susan had prepared Marilla's usual room and it was to this that she went now, laying on the bed then crawling in after she had taken her shoes off and untied her stays.
Marilla had been distraught when Joe had disappeared all those years ago. Matthew had sent out search parties and they had spent many sleepless nights wondering where he had gone. Eventually he had sent them a note to say that he was safe and not to come looking for him; that it was better this way. Marilla had read it tearfully wondering how it had come to this. Sure, Anne reflected, Joe had been withdrawn in those last few years, but she never thought he would leave them.
Thinking it all through, Anne picked up her pen and began to write.
Forgiveness. Such a simple word...
Anne poured her heart out onto the page. When she had finished, she checked it through for errors and popped it into an envelope for dispatch to her editor in the morning.
Marilla returned home a few days later, weary in spirit and mind though physically well rested. A week later she was surprised to receive a thick envelop from Anne. All that was in it was a copy of Anne's latest article, an opinion piece this time.
Forgiveness. Such a simple word but it means so much and is often so difficult to achieve.
When one you love has strayed from the expected path it is all too easy to point fingers. But is that the Christian thing to do? Is anyone beyond redemption?
It was all too obvious to Marilla as she read, that the article though published in a public masthead was directed to her alone.
Never mentioning a single name Anne described their family story of love and charity, faith and redemption. How close their exceptional family became and how torn apart it was when Joe departed. She finished: some might live an unconventional life, but does that mean they are not worthy of love? Does that mean they are beyond saving? Does that mean God will no longer love them? Are they unworthy as a result of their choices? Whether it be familial, maternal or forbidden. Love is love.
Marilla cast aside the article and was out the door before it fluttered to the ground.
Joe answered the knock on his door and opened his arms to his beloved mother and they sobbed in each other's arms, "will you ever forgive me?" Once he had recovered Joe helped Marilla to her feet and said, "why don't you meet my friend?"
Marilla was led into the sitting room to her astonishment the place had been transformed. She looked across to Joe, "I see you've done some redecorating."
He gave a nervous laugh, the place was a tip. Maurice was sitting upright on the couch and he got to his feet as Marilla approached. She found her hand taken by the same chocolate coloured giant she had seen kiss Joe the week prior. "Er, Maurice Bisset may I introduce my mother, Miss Marilla Cuthbert," Joe said.
"Miss Marilla," drawled Maurice in a deep southern accent kissing her hand in greeting.
Marilla gulped, she as much felt his greeting as heard it, his chocolatey voice turned her toes to water, "pleased to meet you, Maurice," she gasped.
"Love to stay and chat, Miss Marilla," said Maurice, "but I gotta run. Please excuse me."
"That was interesting," Joe said later as he lay with his head in Marilla's lap like he loved to do in the old days. "I never knew Maurice had that effect on women too."
"He does that to you too?" Marilla said.
"Goodness. Well Joe, this has been a revelation, there's no two ways about it. But I all I ever wanted was for you to be happy, I guess," she stroked his head lovingly. "Does Maurice make you happy?"
"You were so good to me, Marilla. You and Matthew and Anne, between you you plucked me out of Hopeless and gave me the love I needed. Knowing that you're still living at Green Gables is a source of great comfort to me. But once I realised what I was I knew I couldn't live there anymore. Here I am amongst my own kind and I've found another kind of love. Another community, different to Avonlea but what I need right now. And to answer your question, yes Maurice makes me deliriously happy."
"Well no need to go into too much detail, Joe," Marilla chided him gently.
"Sometimes I wish I could return, but I can't," Joe continued. "There's no place for me there now."
Marilla made as if to contradict him, but stopped short. In truth he was right; Avonlea would never accept him. He was safer here with friends who understood him. "So long as we stay in touch, Joe. I will be content."
"Will you come to my next concert. There should be one later this year?"
"That would be lovely. But Joe," she added after a pause.
"Next time I'll stay at a hotel, if that's alright with you," she said gazing up at the lewd portrait above the fireplace.
"Yes Marilla," said Joe feeling very much relieved.