This story spent the first 19 chapters in the main section. It wasn't until chapter 20 that things went M side, so if you're wondering why the first half seems a little tame, that's why.
Gilead begins where Anotherlea left off, with Anne and Gilbert returning to the Blythe place on Christmas Eve.
As always I am writing this by the seat of my pants, there is no plan, except to entertain you all. I love my Anne-girls and I always will.
With heartfelt thanks to fkaj, who is the best writing partner I could ever have, to Cate who encouraged me to write this story.
And to Maud of course ~ everything is hers, only this idea is mine.
There is balm in Gilead to make the wounded whole.
It's good to love a heart
Who surely understands
The coming of the day
And the beauty of the land
The act of being sorry
And the breaking of a man
On their way home that night they don't gaze at each other, nor do they stare straight ahead. They watch their boots plunge into the snow and make a sort of game of it. First, they weave their prints together and when they get bored they make words. She starts first and he follows, mirroring every letter.
Leaping into virgin snow they each begin their G with a flourishing curve at the top, before crossing into each other's path and stomping out the tail. There's a jump into the next word, which starts with a looping L. They race through this haphazardly, and quickly leap onto the A. When they get to the end of her name, and her e and his kiss together, they pause for a moment in the skeletal orchard, dressing bare branches with clouds of their breath.
The Blythe place is just visible between the rows of trees. The door to the covered porch must be open, for lamp light spills from the house and paints a path a light on the snow. He takes this chance to look at her for as long as the light holds out: wild grey eyes peeping out from under her hat, the way the apples of her cheeks rise to meet them. Beneath her scarf she is smiling, and she rocks back and forth on her feet.
'Does he now?' says Gilbert, his snow-dusted boots touching hers.
Anne tosses her knapsack to the ground, and rocks toward him again. Her nose brushes over his chin and her chest fills with a hot hard breath as she waits to see what he'll do. She doesn't wait long; in the next moment he grabs her arms and drives her into the trunk behind her.
Grey eyes darken with excitement and she shakes one arm free, flinging the glove from his hand before plunging his thumb into her mouth. His fingers cup her jaw; stroke the downy red hair at her nape. Then he draws his glistening thumb down her chin, hips pinning her to the tree.
'Wait,' Anne says, loosening her cloak, 'I want to feel you,' and shoves her mittens into her pocket before unbuttoning his coat. 'Thank goodness for the light,' she murmurs, then suddenly she frowns. She looks up to see Gilbert frowning too, and he looks in the direction of his house.
'That light –' Anne begins.
'Something's wrong –' Gilbert says, and yanks hard on her hand.
There is no way his mother would leave the door wide open for more than a minute, not on a cold winter's night. They sprint toward the Blythe place, Anne lagging behind. Usually she can match his pace, sometimes even best him, but a nagging fear has Gilbert now and it pounds through his limbs and works them like pistons.
'Let me go –' Anne gasps, 'you'll run faster without me!'
Gilbert grips her harder still. Her arm feels like it must leave its socket by the time they reach the covered porch. Bright light bleeds from the house, and there near an upturned tin bath, is the crumpled figure of his mother lying face down in the snow.
Gilbert falls on his knees and grabs his mother's hand.
'Ma – dear God, what happened!'
Ro Blythe lifts her head. Despite the cold her face gleams with sweat and there is blood in the corner of her mouth.
'Gilbert – Anne, thank the Lord you're both safe.'
'Can you move, are you hurt, what has happened, Ma please?'
Ro catches Anne's eye. 'A-Anne dear,' she stammers, 'could you go inside and fetch me a pail – No!' Her eyes widen and she squeezes Gilbert's fingers. 'Best you go in; there should be one in the kitchen. Be careful!' she calls after him, as he hastens into the house.
'Mrs Blythe,' says Anne, bending close. 'Where's the girl who was staying here, the girl you took in – what was her name – Margaret?'
Her question goes unanswered. Gilbert returns with the pail and is instructed to fill it with snow. Ro gets onto her knees, placing her weight on one hand, while the other is held out in front of her.
'Don't touch it!' Ro pleads, when Anne attempts to brush the snow away. She takes a sharp breath as the pain in her hand hits anew. 'I've been burned,' she tells them, 'it was Margaret…'
Gilbert's body goes rigid; her words piercing him clean through.
'Where is she?' he utters, rising slowly to his feet.
'She fled – Gilbert, please,' his mother begs, 'just help me get inside.'
It's long after midnight when the lights at the Blythes go out. Before that they have a houseful; the Reverend, the doctor and a constable provide what help they can. The latter is stationed five miles away in White Sands. Gilbert offered to fetch him but Ro wanted him close, so he raised the neighbours north and west to their property, and asked them to go in his stead. Sam Gillis went to the police station, George Fletcher to Dr Spencer, and Adam Wright to Charlottetown where John Blythe was visiting his cousin.
'It's a blessing she didn't come to us this year,' says Ro, weakly.
'It's always a blessing,' says Gilbert.
He smooths her dark hair over her pillow and waits for the reprimand; harridan or no, his mother would never allow him to sass an elder like that. It doesn't come. Instead she makes a grimace then gives into the pull of the laudanum Dr Spencer dosed her with.
'I'm going to fetch Anne,' he tells her, though he knows she is already sleeping. 'Don't worry, I'll come right back and make up a bed on the floor.'
He finds Anne in the kitchen working brick dust and vinegar into a pot in order to get it clean. Ro had used it to make Christmas candies with Margaret, a girl about Anne's age who had been thrown out of home when she could no longer hide her pregnancy. While the syrup bubbled away Margaret had strayed into the room Anne was staying in and discovered a keepsake from Davy Rossi. A moment later she appeared in the kitchen demanding to know where the scrawny redheaded girl had got to.
Ro thought it wise not to answer that, though she would certainly be seeking one from Davy the next chance she got. She left the kitchen to empty Margaret's bath and barely had time to protect her face from the boiling sugar that was flung at her. Three fingers had been burned to the bone; though Ro had been less worried about that than she was for Anne's safety. She made Gilbert promise not to let her out of his sight.
He watches Anne carefully dry the pot; the wild look she wore mere hours ago replaced with one of quiet reflection. Silently they go to his room, then the spare room, and remove the quilts and pillows from the beds.
'I'll sleep here,' Anne whispers from the foot of Mrs Blythe's bed. 'You sleep there,' and she points to Mr Blythe's side.
'We're both sleeping here,' Gilbert says, and pulls her close. 'At least until Margaret is found.'
'Then blow out the lamp,' Anne says softly.
He lies down on the comforter he had spread on the floor and listens to Anne unfasten her buckle, her blouse, her corset, and finally the buttons of her itchy wool trousers. She had worn them for their hike this evening, hidden under her long wool cloak. Now every man of consequence on this part of the Island had seen her in them – though only the constable looked surprised.
'Gil?' she whispers into the dark.
'Here,' he says, his hand outstretched.
She is kneeling, trying to feel her way, and his fingers brush over her breast.
'Sorry –' he mutters, and pulls away.
Anne lifts the blankets and slips in next to him, her slim body trembling.
'Are you cold,' he asks, 'should I make up the fire in here?'
'I'll warm up in a minute,' she murmurs, and then, 'how strange. I'm colder now than I was in our snow cave.'
Something about that memory makes him turn toward her. He takes her face in his hands the way he did when they lay on his great-grandmother's blanket.
'I want to say something,' he says, 'but I don't know if I should.'
'Is this about Margaret?' Anne cuts in. 'Just because she knows Davy it doesn't necessarily follow that he is the father –'
Gilbert's not so sure about that, but now's not the time to say so.
'It's not that. It's – I don't know if I can explain, but when we were in the orchard and the light came from the door… Anne, I'd seen that light before.'
'I don't understand –'
'I have these dreams where I'm shrouded in darkness and a light comes from an open door. Sometimes I'm filled with such peace when it happens... other times it scares the tar out of me.'
'Are you afraid now, are you afraid to go to sleep?'
Gilbert doesn't move his head nor say a word; his hand has found the satin ties on the collar of Anne's chemise and he rubs the silky ribbons over the pad of his thumb.
'I'm thinking about it.'
He isn't, he's fighting the impulse to pick her up in his arms, lay her on his bed and take refuge in her body. Such a feeling is throbbing in his gut, matched only by the notion in his head, that this is the one thing in all the world that will quiet all his fears. But it won't end them. He's smart enough to know that. The moment it's over he'll have fresh fears to face. And Gilbert isn't one for making it worse. All he's ever wanted is to make things better. Help. Fix. Solve. Heal.
It all seems possible – except the last one. He had seen his mother's hand and she would never use it again. Her right hand, he realises, and feels anger rise inside him.
I can do this, he says to himself. I can set all this to rights. I can do this, I can do this, I can do this…
The words pulse inside him till that throb starts again, and he lies on his back and shuts his eyes tight.
I can do this
I can do this
I can do this
I can do this…
If Anne had shifted her head to his chest she would have heard it sound from his heart.
* first lyric from traditional Spiritual, There is Balm in Gilead
* second lyric from Seasons Change by New Zealand songwriter, Nadia Reid
* the music for this story (because you know I can't write until I find the music) is Thanksgiving Waltz performed by Jay Ungar and Molly Mason.