You know how it is when you've been building up to something, and then the result falls pathetically short of your expectations? That's what happened with this chapter. It seems that while I can make a character suffer fifteen kinds of pain, I have rather more of a problem when it comes to the softer side of things. You don't want to see my first attempts at the middle section of this chapter (and thanks to my brilliant beta reader, kslchen, you don't have to!).
As ever, I've tried to stick as close to cannon as possible - and fortunately, LMM makes it pretty easy, giving us virtually no details of Walter's week of leave. We know only that it happens in mid-July, and that "In spite of its sadness, it was a beautiful week, full of poignant, unforgettable hours."* Here you go, then - let's hope this is "poignant and unforgettable" enough for LMM :)
21 July, 1915
It was just a ramble.
Nothing more, nothing less.
Should he bring flowers?
No, flowers would arouse suspicion. But maybe… that was the point. Not to arouse suspicion, exactly, but to send a message.
It was Walter's third day home, the day he and Una had agreed to meet for a noontime ramble through Rainbow Valley. And Walter stood in his room, tying himself into knots over whether or not to bring flowers.
He'd never given her flowers. Well… not exactly. The Blythes had always given Una a bouquet on her birthday, and occasionally he had been the one to hand it over. But he - Walter Blythe - had never given her - Una Meredith - flowers, in the italicized sense of the word.
No flowers, then.
But what else could he do? Before they had gone their separate ways in Charlottetown, Edgar had taken him aside with the reminder that women, perceptive though they might be, were not mind readers. If anything was to happen, Walter would have to do something about it.
And so Walter came to be standing at the Merediths' gate shortly before noon, with a bouquet of larkspur in hand and a rock in the pit of his stomach. He had no idea why - it was just Una, after all. She was probably the least nerve-inducing person he knew. Well, he thought, he couldn't be seen simply standing outside her gate, waiting for the heavens to open and a voice from above to give him the all-clear. He pushed open the gate and wound his way up the path to the Manse, the house itself obscured by a large lilac bush. Rounding it, he saw Una on the porch swing, her large straw hat on her head, a covered basket beside her.
She smiled gently and stood. "Hello, Walter," she came down the steps to greet him. "Oh, it feels like an age since I last saw you. I mean, I did see you at the station, but I haven't greeted you properly. How - how are you?" There was the slightest catch in her voice as she asked him, her eyes fixed on his.
One look at those eyes and Walter felt his shoulders unknot. There was just something about Una that enveloped her and anyone in her vicinity in peace.
"I'm quite well," he said, "although Susan swears I'm wasting away from that Army food."
Una smiled more broadly, sending a sparkle to her eyes. "Well, I've packed provisions, so she needn't about you wasting away for the next few hours, at least."
Walter suddenly remembered the flowers. "These… these are for you," the words came out rather hoarser than he had intended.
A blush stole up into Una's cheeks, staining them a most becoming shade of tea-rose pink.
"Larkspur! How lovely; thank you very much, Walter." Giving the dark blue flowers a deep sniff, she gently tucked them inside her basket. "I think I'll take them with us - we can always put them in the brook if they start to droop."
She took his proffered arm, and the two set off for Rainbow Valley, the breezes dancing around them, carrying their words and laughter with them as they went.
They did not speak of his impending departure, having an unspoken agreement to leave the subject alone. Una looked over at Walter over her latest baby blanket for one of her father's parishioners. He was lying on his back with his arms behind his head, face upturned towards the sky, his eyes closed, his lashes curving out impossibly for a man's. There was a small smile playing around his lips, as though some pleasant thought had just occurred to him. Moving away from his face, she noticed a few crumbs from their picnic still clung to his shirt. No matter, she thought, they would likely be dislodged when he stood.
With that thought, she returned to her shell stitch. Looking up again a few moments later, she found his eyes firmly fixed on her, taking in her every movement as though he were recording it for posterity in his mind.
Una wasn't used to being stared at - she was rather more used to doing the staring, in fact - and the thought of it flustered her. She reached the basket, prepared to offer him whatever might be left. "More tea?"
Walter shook his head. "No, thank you." Then he fell silent again.
She looked like a Madonna, seated there in the grass, her tilted-back straw hat making a halo behind her. With her eyes cast down at her work, she ought to have been painted by Botticelli, or perhaps one of the Dutch Masters.
In that moment, something kindled inside Walter. It wasn't an emotion, but something more akin to a certainty. The closest point of reference he could think of was the time he resolved to fight Dan Reese, or the moment before he stepped into the recruiting office in Charlottetown.
He didn't want to lose Una Meredith.
Whatever that meant.
He took a breath. "Una, I -"
Una gasped, and he thought it was because she knew what was coming. But wait - he didn't even know what was coming, so…
She looked up at the sky, then at him. "Walter, what time is it?"
Dazed, Walter fumbled in his pocket before pulling out his watch. "Half past… two."
"Oh, dear," she leapt up, stuffing the yarn and blanket into the basket, 'the Ladies' Aid is having a prayer meeting at three, and I promised I'd play for them."
Still feeling rather like he'd stood too near an artillery exercise, Walter stood. "I'll walk you."
She smiled, the flustered look leaving her momentarily. "That's very kind of you. We'll have to hurry, though."
Having deposited Una at the church, Walter turned homewards, disappointment nagging at him. He'd been about to… what had he been about to do? Propose? Certainly not - tell her he thought of her as more than a friend, perhaps? The trouble was that such things couldn't be spouted willy-nilly; they required some degree of preparation. Maybe he should write her a letter, he thought.
What was it that Edgar had said?
"Just come in with some flowers, tell her you love her, and sweep her off her feet with a kiss. Nothing to it!" Spoken with the confidence of a spectator, thought Walter.
Una had seemed pleased about the flowers, although she certainly hadn't been swept off her feet. However, short of turning around and scandalizing the entirety of the Ladies Aid (which included his mother and Mrs. Meredith), he didn't quite know what to do.
The thought stayed with him for the rest of the day, through a quiet dinner, and into the evening. Finally, after sitting at his desk for a good hour, alternately staring at the blank paper before him or out the window at the darkening sky, he'd had enough. A walk, Mother's favorite panacea after a cup of tea, was in order.
For the second time in as many days, Walter was in Rainbow Valley at night. It wasn't quite as dark as it had been the night before, and only the brightest stars stood out against the violet sky, streaked with apricot in the West. Walter settled down on the same rock he and Rilla had sat on the night before, propping himself up on his elbows. As a child, he'd lain here, looking at the sky through half-shut eyes, pretending to lose himself in the infinite depths. Sometimes he had succeeded, falling asleep, only to wake up again with a nasty sunburn.
There was a rustle at the edge of the Valley, but Walter paid it no mind. Probably a fox, or some other creature of the night, going about its business while the rest of the world went to bed.
Another rustle, louder this time. Whatever it was, it was bigger than a fox. Walter turned his head to see a dark head of hair over a pale smudge of a dress.
Had Nan followed him? Unlikely, but still possible.
He called out. "Nan?"
The form froze. Then, a small voice called out, "Walter?"
Definitely not Nan. "Una!"
The white smudge rustled towards him, finally taking the form of Una Meredith, for once hatless. "Heavens, Walter Blythe - you've given me a proper fright!"
What a coincidence that she was here, Walter thought. "My apologies," he said, holding out a hand. "Join me?"
She waited for him to make room on the rock before sitting, tucking her legs up, her skirts pooling around her, picking up the last violet light from the sky.
Walter tried to think over his heartbeat, finally coming up with the most inane phrase available to him: "What brings you to Rainbow Valley?"
Una seemed to overlook his lack of brilliant conversation, running a hand over her tired forehead. "Oh, I lost my crochet hook somewhere back there when we set off - or at least I think I did. I thought I'd come look for it, but I ran out of light." She sighed. "You?"
"I… couldn't find the right words."
"For a poem?"
"Or a letter. Or a speech. A confession of sorts… I just haven't worked out how to go about it yet."
The moon was now shimmering through the trees, giving off a silvery light that lit Una's delicate profile, her lips tilted into a minuscule smile. "And it was something you couldn't confess in church yesterday?"
It was said so quietly she almost missed it. Walter cleared his throat and spoke again. "It was love."
So he had found someone. Una felt her heart crack. "I see," she said quietly, willing any sort of tremble out of her voice, forcing herself to look up at him. "Well, if she doesn't know, you might start with flowers. Violets - I'm told violets are well-received."
Walter saw the large sapphires of her eyes turned up at him, and realized that the veiled grief he saw in them meant something very different for her than it did for him.
"I - I did. Not violets, though. Larkspur," he said softly, taking her small, cool hand in his. "Larkspur as blue as the blue of your eyes."
Una looked up at him, her body trembling from head to toe. She did not allow herself to speak, as if any word might break the spell and this wonderful, wonderful dream she was having would be shattered.
Walter clasped her hand between his, but did not utter a word. He, who had poetry running through his very blood, suddenly found that words were insufficient. What he felt could not be expressed in words, not even using a thousand of them, and so he did the only thing that could express everything that was in his heart - he drew her close to him and kissed her.
Edgar would have been proud of him.
He kissed her again and again and they remained on the rock as the evening gave way to darkness, their soft words lost in the hush of the silver dew, until they parted for the night with a final kiss.
It was dark when Walter returned to Ingleside, the moon high in the sky and lighting his way up the walk. The first floor of the house was dark, with a few flickering lights in the upstairs windows signaling that the Ingleside occupants hadn't all gone to bed yet. He decided to wait outside on the veranda, not until they had retired, but until his heart slowed a little.
He'd kissed her. Walter Blythe had kissed Una Meredith down in Rainbow Valley, and for the time being at least, the world felt boundless, full of possibility.
He sat down on the bottom step, unlacing his shoes to let his toes work themselves into the cool grass, leaning his head against the railing and inhaling the last of the honeysuckle. All thoughts of tomorrow wiped from his mind, he could only see that moment in Rainbow Valley, when Una had looked up at him and he…
Barefoot and startled, Walter levitated off the step, turning to see a white nightgown with a red braid hanging down the side. It took him a moment to register that the voice was not Mother's and had in fact belonged to Di, whose face now held a look of smug amusement.
"And just what, I wonder, could have Walter Blythe coming home at this hour?" She grinned, sitting back down in her rocking chair and pulling her feet up under her shawl.
Di may have been the spitting image of Mother, but she was Dad through and through. A twinkle in her eye told him she knew exactly where he'd been and what he'd been doing, but was going to wait for him to say it himself.
She said nothing, spinning out the silence as she rocked, waiting for him to crack - a technique learned at Dad's knee. Finally, all it took was a single raised eyebrow for him to give up his secret.
"I was in Rainbow Valley."
Still nothing from Di, who looked out over the countryside beatifically. Soon, however, she broke the silence.
"And, so I assume from the light that has just turned on at the Manse, so was Una Meredith."
The involuntary twitch of his mouth answered for him. He knew Di wouldn't tell - she was the keeper of all his secrets, after all, and had never betrayed his confidence.
"And judging by your face right now, you didn't discuss - oh, I don't know - the Apocrypha?"
"Master of deduction."
"Elementary, my dear Watson," she gave him a self-satisfied little smile, patting the rocking chair beside hers. Once he was settled, she turned to him, her blue eyes boring into him with their intensity.
"The trouble is, Walter, that you're about to march off to fight for God and country - and anyone with a lick of sense can see that this war is only getting started in earnest. You're leaving behind the sweetest girl I know, who loves you dearly. And you, Walter - well, I think you love her, too, but it's taken you far longer to realize it."
"That obvious, then?"
She snorted. "A blind man could see it, Walter. Your problem was that you couldn't see the forest for the trees."
They were quiet for some time, then Di spoke again. "I know you expect to die. You've as good as told me so. You think that the Piper of your old fancy has come at last.* But I need you to promise me you won't try and get yourself killed."
"It wasn't a fancy," said Walter slowly. "It was a presentiment—a vision—Di, I really saw him for a moment that evening long ago.*"
"Have you no choice, then?" She looked at him, her eyes piercing. "Think of Una. It will fairly kill her when the news finds her."
He took a deep breath to steady himself, trying to find a way of explaining his convictions to her. "I have seen my death, Di. I know how it will come, what it will look like, feel like - I just don't know when it will come. I cannot promise you something I believe to be impossible; that would be lying, after all, and I don't want to go with that on my conscience. What I can promise you," he held out his hand for her to take, "is that I will keep myself well and whole until I follow the Piper. And I need you to promise me that when I die -" he saw her lips tighten at the finality of his words, "when I die, you will go to Una. When I begin to get the idea that my number's about to be called, I'll send you a letter that'll include one for you, and one for you to deliver to Una. She'll understand; she's of what Mother and Miss Cornelia call the race that knows Joseph."
Di looked away, and he saw her swallow, then nod. She knew there was nothing she could do to change his mind once it was made up. And Walter Blythe had made up his mind that he was going to die.
She got up to go inside, turning back at the last second to give him a long look. He didn't look back, his gaze firmly trained in the direction of Rainbow Valley; and in later years of the war, Di would let herself believe that in that moment, she had heard the faint sound of bagpipes over the next hill.
This chapter's title is taken from the song "Roses of Picardy" (lyrics by Frederick Weatherly, music by Haydn Wood, 1916). Fred Weatherly, by the way, is also responsible for the lyrics to "Danny Boy."