He works furiously for the next few days, though he knows this will annoy her. Charlie Sloane has already left, eager to begin his sophomore year, and Anne knows Gilbert can't leave it much longer. He told her he had some last minute things he needed to get done, and Anne believes it. They have been so busy this summer she often wonders how she and Ro will manage without him.
It's a delicious challenge to have, however. Anne thrives on the work. The little stone cottage is brimful of heat and steam and odours, woodsy ones, leafy ones, the bitter and the sweet. The clatter of jars being boiled in the enormous copper pot, the soft scratch of her pen writing down notes and recipes in Ro's big book.
Claudine is coming tomorrow to help her with some further translations. Anne is working on another story, about the bird and the medicine tree. She can see the bird in her mind's eye, though Nespe never described it. Something small with bright inquisitive eyes, its plumage white as May's napkins drying on the line in the sun.
Tap tap, goes May, banging a clothespin doll against the flagstone floor. Tap, tap, tap.
Without realising she is doing it, Anne smooths back the flossy strands of hair by her ears, and fluffs out her apron. May's tapping often precedes someone knocking upon the cottage door. It's as though the little girl can feel approaching footsteps through the earth.
Anne scoops May onto her hip and parts the faded curtain. No, it isn't Gilbert (where is he?) it's Laurie waving a letter at her. Before she can open it, Ro arrives, back from her forage in the untouched bit of woods near the Birch Path. Her basket brimful of Joe Pye and lobelia, sage and wild garlic.
The latter makes Anne wince and waving her letter at Ro, she takes herself to the oak tree outside, and sits against the trunk. Her grey eyes widen with excitement, and just as quickly narrow. The letter is from Marilla – shouldn't she and Martin be on the steamer by now?
Gilbert is delaying his return to Kingsport until he can speak with Marilla and explain his intentions. But how much longer will Anne have to wait before she can wrap herself in Marilla's arms again? What Marilla decides to do with those arms once she hears the news, Anne isn't sure: squeeze the life out of her, push her away? Whatever her reaction Anne's wedding is set now, two days after the Rossis are due back. A small celebration in the Blythe's verdant orchard and only the Blythes, the Rossis, the Wrights and Diana in attendance. The rest of Avonlea will no doubt speculate that such a modest wedding means Anne is pregnant – and the rest of Avonlea will eventually discover they are absolutely right.
'We'll just keep you tucked away, working and writing,' Ro kept assuring her. 'You put Avonlea on the map with your story, my dear, folks might not be so quick to judge as you think.'
It wasn't the thought of being judged that worried her, Anne was used to that. It was what Ro had said about being kept tucked away. Just the thought of it made Anne's legs twitch restlessly, she wasn't made to be tucked away; she was made to roam...
'Gilbert!' she exclaims, tucking the letter into her pocket, 'wait, what is that on your face?'
Gilbert rubs at his cheek as he strides through the opening in the hedge, at the red paint he knows is smudged there.
'Come see,' he says, his hand held out to her.
Anne frowns. 'I don't understand.'
'Just come,' he says again, then, 'keep your apron on. The paint is still a bit wet.'
'Paint?' Anne says, and ducks through the hedge with him.
No more words come for quite a while after that.
Her hand goes to her mouth, which gapes widely with surprise, while a small tear trickles down her cheek. The little caravan that stood in Fred's new property stands between the apples trees, gleaming and bright. Gone is the faded, blistering paint, replaced with an emerald green. There is a round window at the back painted buttercup yellow, the little door at the front a deep and sticky red. A sturdy bay mare is hitched up and snorting proudly in a new harness of leather and brass. So this is what has kept Gilbert so busy? Anne can barely breathe she is so surprised.
'Come inside, sweetheart,' says Gilbert, taking her hand. 'It gets even better.'
He steps back proudly and watches her step over the traces and clamber up inside. His heart about to burst from his chest as he hears her heartfelt, 'Ohhhhh!'
The little iron stove is near the door now, and a squat blue cupboard next to that. A large enamel basin is hanging upon the gently curved wall, freshly papered with tiny leaves, darting birds, and pomegranates bursting open. Opposite this are two armchairs, covered in a velvet of soft sage green. Between them is a half moon table of waxed larchwood, a brand new lantern and a bowl of long matches sitting atop it, companionably. What catches Anne's eye, however, is what lays at the back. Nestled beneath the round window is a cosy double bed, Gilbert's green and yellow quilt tucked over it.
He leaps in behind her, unable to hide his excitement.
'See here,' he says, pulling out one of two large drawers under the bed. 'A trundle bed, for our little pearl. And here,' he adds, 'another drawer for clothes and towels and napkins and whatever else a baby needs. I thought we could tuck a small closet here,' he says, pointing to the space between the armchair and the bed. I haven't been able to find something the right size, but I couldn't wait anymore... Anne?' he says, darting round to face her now. 'What's the matter, don't you like it?'
He doesn't get the next words out as Anne tackles him onto the bed. The pillowcases smell of lavender and rosemary, Ro must have helped him with that. The little round window, that would have been John's work. The wallpaper and the armchair choices had to be Diana. And there, above the lantern, Anne only now notices, Matthew's little Constable print of a blue and billowy sky.
'Oh Gilbert, this is... this is...'
She rolls on top of him and lays kisses all over his face, a smudge red smearing her chin.
Gilbert lies back, giving into the pleasure. It is over, he has done it. The thought of doing exactly what he is doing now, was the one thing that got him through. Trying to keep this secret from her, trying to source just the right furnishings in the shortest amount of time, trying to think up fresh excuses for why he couldn't make it for a picnic lunch or a late evening stroll. It was worth it, of course it was, and again his chest swells with pride. He had given Anne her little house, he had kept his word.
'It's beautiful, it's perfect, but oh!' Anne sighs, 'I wish we had more time to enjoy it.'
'That from Marilla?' says Gilbert, sitting up.
He smooths out the crumpled envelope that had fallen from her pocket, and studies the stamp, expecting to see an English postmark. The Rossis were supposed to set sail from Southhampton last week, and were due on Sunday evening.
Gilbert thought if he could show Marilla that he had already provided a house for Anne it might go someway to allay her fears; show her that he could take care of her girl, that he loved Anne with all of his heart.
Marilla would still skin him alive, of course, but if Gilbert knows anything about himself, he knows that he can heal.
Anne takes the letter from him and curls up on their bed. Her cheeks have suddenly gone as red as their front door.
'It is,' she says, shyly, 'Martin wrote it for her.'
'I can tell,' Gilbert jokes, noting all the ink blots.
'I think they had a difficult time writing this,' Anne admits. 'Here, read this bit,' and she passes him a page.
Gilbert sits up next to her, crossing his long legs.
'Starting here?' he asks, putting his paint splattered finger on the phrase "unexpected news."
Anne nods, looking for all the world like someone who is trying to swallow down a laugh.
...just about to leave, the trunks were packed and our passage to England booked, when Dora ran back outside, and declared she had some news. Soren appeared next, looking sheepish as you please, and placed his arm round his wife...
Gilbert reads on silently, his brows wriggling as he does so, then he looks up and blinks.
'Ah yes,' Anne says, her laugh very nearly out now.
'Why couldn't Marilla tell us this when she gets home, why is she delaying her trip?'
'It might have something to do with when Dora expects the happy event,' Anne deadpans. 'Keep reading.'
Gilbert frowns now, and returns to the letter.
'December! But that means –'
'That means we now know why Miss Dora was so keen to marry Mr Blomqvist before she turned nineteen.'
'They did seem in a bit of a hurry,' Gilbert recalls, his teeth flashing in a lazy smile. 'And is Soren still alive?'
'Marilla didn't say. But the fact she wants to stay till the baby is born would suggest she and Martin took the news well.'
'Little Dora,' Gilbert muses, falling back on the pillow. 'Who knew?'
'Not even Martin, it seems. She kept her bump behind her shawl, determined to hide it from them until they day they were due to leave, when Dora suddenly decided to couldn't keep it from them anymore. They're going to stay on in Trintorp until March, when the sea ice has melted again.
'March? But that's when –'
'I know,' Anne's bright face clouds over. 'Even though I had doubts about how Marilla would take the news, I never thought I would bring our baby into the world without her. I had only just made peace with the fact that you would be in Kingsport preparing for exams when our Pearl is due to arrive. Diana will be at Queens, and Ro is so busy with the cottage and May and–'
She sounds forlorn, resigned to being alone and taking care of this by herself. Gilbert had been so flush with pride at his humble offering he hadn't even told her what mattered most. This was far more significant than a pretty yellow window hung with honeysuckle curtains, and a thickly woven rug on the floor. More crucial than the blue and white jug, the gargantuan conch, and the books – his and hers – on the shelf. He had thought long and hard about of all of it, tried to imagine all the dreams in her heart. Yet he had forgotten the most important surprise of all.
He gets up on his knees, his curly head almost touching the ceiling.
'Anne, I.. I have something to ask you?'
'Gilbert, you look worried, I thought Dora's news would make you laugh.'
'Forget the letter for a moment, I wish I had said this before you opened it. I want you to know,' he says, his hazel eyes brimful of love, 'I was always going to say this to you, even before I knew your folks were delaying their trip home. I made up my mind the night of the engagement party, maybe I should have said something then, but I thought, well I thought if I showed you I could give you a home...'
'Blythe,' Anne cuts in, her grey eyes tinged with green, 'if you don't come clean this instant I'll –'
'I'm not going back to Redmond,' he blurts, 'I want to be with you. Just hear me out, I have a small income now from the Balm, and Sark wants to go into business with me. He says with his knowledge of where to find plants and my knowledge about how to prepare them, we could make more than just wart creams, we could create something astonishing. Travel round the Island, and the rest of Canada too and...' Gilbert pauses, alarmed at the realisation that Anne does not look as pleased as he thought.
'So you're still leaving,' she says quietly, regarding the caravan anew. It was perfect for life on the road.
'That's what I wanted to ask you,' says Gilbert, his heart beating fast.
He knows he shouldn't feel this way, but it makes him want to cry to know that Anne would be bereft without him. She loves him, she truly does, she wants to be by his side. Knowing this makes the next words so easy to say they almost fly from his tongue.
'Anne,' he murmurs, cupping her face, 'will you... will you come with me? Will you marry me and come with me and live with me in this little house?'
'Oh!' Anne cries, 'Oh, oh, oh, oh!'
She clasps her hands under her chin, tears shining in her eyes.
'Yes, Gilbert, yes! Oh yes, yes, yes, yes, yes! I will come with you! You've made me – oh but this... it's a dream come true!'
He wraps his arms tight around her, their hearts thudding in their chests.
'So Anne likes the idea then?' says Ro poking her head inside, little May burbling in her arms.
She ducks inside the caravan, Anne and Gilbert leap from the bed.
'I shall miss you two,' she says, tearily.
'But what about all the work at the cottage? You're run off your feet as it is,' Anne says.
Rowena settles into one of the armchairs and strokes May's hair with her scarred and mangled hand.
'Work'll wait,' she says softly, 'All I ask is that you savour this time together - and bring me back every interesting specimen you find! I confess it'll be hard without you, I'll be counting the days till you both return. If only Dora was coming back with Marilla on Sunday...'
Anne laughs, and digs out her letter again.
'Oh, yes. About that...'
Marilla and Martin return to Green Gables just two days before the caravan rolls into the Blythe's orchard. The driver is presently white with panic as he leads the bay mare into the barn. His wife has been having contractions for two days now, mild niggles in the small of her back. They had twenty miles to cover before they reached Avonlea when her waters broke with a gush.
She leans against the cottage door, breathing through another rush. John has taken May to the Gillis' before going to fetch Marilla. Rowena gets the water on the boil, ordering her son to tear up strips of linen as he dashes through the cottage door.
Happy to be doing something, Gilbert washes his hands and sets to work. Rowena will need the hot cloths to hold against Anne's back and belly to counteract the pains, and later when she is pushing the baby out, to soften the opening so that she doesn't tear. Tearing must be avoided at all costs, once the skin is broken that's when trouble starts.
'I can help you with that,' Anne says to him, a crooked smile on her lips.
'Anne Blythe, get out of those dirty travelling clothes and get yourself some rest,' Ro tuts. 'You should have been back here weeks ago, before the confinement began.'
'We got snowed in,' Anne explains.
She gets no further as another contraction builds up.
'Are you having another rush, dear?' Ro queries, trying not to sound as worried as she feels.
The last one was only a minute ago, if it keeps going this quickly she'll be wanting to push very soon.
'Gilbert, strip the bed,' Ro commands, taking the cloth from his hands. 'We'll need arnica for the shock,' she adds, quietly, 'this baby might arrive any minute.'
'So soon,' Gilbert's face goes whiter still, 'what makes you think that?'
Ro nods her head in Anne's direction.
'Oh!' she cries, 'I have to push!'
Anne falls to her knees, resting her head on her folded arms, and her arms on top of the bed, the chill March wind whistling under the door. Rowena gives up trying to unbutton Anne's shirtwaist and pulls down her sodden drawers.
'What should I do, should I go?' Gilbert asks his mother.
He has read up on several accounts of how to deliver a baby. They all covered different problems and outcomes, but they were all agree on one thing: when it happens the only man who is allowed to be in the room is the doctor.
'You're not going anywhere, not till Marilla arrives. Is that water hot? Then dip the cloths in, I don't care if you scold yourself, I need them now.'
His mother's voice is calmly assertive, Anne is focused and alert. Gilbert mutters to himself: I can do this, I can do this, I can do this...
He plunges the cloths in the pot, wringing them out and handing them to his mother, who wads them up and holds them between Anne's legs.
'I know you want to push, Anne dear, but try to pant through it.'
'Ohhhh, my baby, she wants to come out, I have to push!' Anne groans.
Ro lifts Anne's skirts up round her hips, and lays her ear against her back.
'You're doing wonderfully well,' she croons, 'I promise you can push real soon.'
She then turns to Gilbert, her face impatient, as he realises he is supposed to hand her another hot wet cloth.
She sets it against Anne's taut skin, who sighs with the brief relief. Gilbert wants to ask if he can carry Anne onto the bed, when she lets out such a bellow his ears start ringing.
'I have to push, please I have to push right now!'
'Yes, Anne, yes, it's time. Push girl, push with all of your heart!'
Gilbert squats by the fire, another cloth dripping from his hand, as he watches Anne shake all over with the effort of it all.
What has he done to her, this doesn't seem right, he is afraid she is going to split in two, and swears he will never touch her again. Then it's over, Anne's head slumps and tries to catch her breath.
'Gil, are you there?'
It is the first time she has been aware of him since her labour began in earnest.
'Yes, oh sweetheart, I'm right here.'
'Our baby is coming, Gilbert,' she says softly, reaching out to him. 'Our baby is on the way...'
He tells her yes, he realises this, but his voice is drowned out as a bone deep sound emerges from Anne's throat.
'Try not to push, try not to push, I can see the baby's head, oh Anne, it's covered in dark brown hair. Now dear, make little panting breaths.' Ro makes short shallow puffs, as though she is going through this herself. 'Dear girl, you're doing wonderfully, the head is almost out!'
Gilbert had been mopping Anne's face, and wonders if he should look, but before he can make up his mind Anne screws up her face and Rowena instructs her to push again.
Anne does not need telling, and with one last deep groan, the baby shoots into Rowena's waiting arms.
'It's a girl, oh thank the Lord! A perfect little girl!'
Ro sobs, and signals for Gilbert to pass her one of the towels she had warming on the rack by the fire. Gilbert expects his mother to swaddle the baby tenderly and is surprised at the rough way she rubs the towel over the wrinkled, creamy body; wiping her eyes, nose and lips as though she was blotting a stain.
'There!' she says after snipping through a rubbery looking cord. She passes the infant to Gilbert. 'Hold her against the warmth of your chest.'
Gilbert studies the strange little bundle. Her eyes are wide and grey, and her mouth opens and closes as she tastes the air for the first time. It's a baby, it's his baby, she exists, she is in the world. He wants to hold her, but surely Anne should see her first. The little girl is so tiny she fits against his forearm, and he carefully, oh so carefully, holds her out for Anne to see.
'Pearl, you're here, you're finally here,' Anne murmurs, and a smile Gilbert has never seen before blooms on her face. A mother's smile, full of tenderness and fierce protection and unconditional love. 'Oh, let me hold her –'
'I need you to wait a little longer, Anne. I must check the progress of the afterbirth.'
The afterbirth, of course. Gilbert had read dozens of passages about the mechanisms of birth, but he had completely forgotten about this part. The delivery of the afterbirth was almost as important as the delivery of the baby. Only when that was out, whole and unmarred, could Ro be sure that Anne was in no danger of haemorrhage or puerperal fever.
'Oh, I have to push!' Anne bursts out in surprise and sticks her bottom high in the air.
Ro places a basin under her, and feels about between Anne's legs. At first she frowns then her eyebrows shoot up, as she sends a telling glance to Gilbert.
'Pass me another towel quick!'
'Oh-oh-ohhhhhh!' Anne moans, her forehead pressed against the bed, as her daughter makes her very first cry.
'It's coming, oh my goodness!' Ro cries out. 'A boy, you have a little boy!'
'Twins?' Anne croaks, while Gilbert looks on disbelieving, at a curled up infant with startling red hair.
'You two never do things by halves, do you?' Ro says, and bursts into laughter as the baby boy pees all over her.
Their wedding might have been small, but they made up for it at the christening. Everyone in Avonlea, Jo Blake and his father, Mr Keats and Mrs Captain, Josephine Barry and Mr Oliver, Paul Irving, Sam Sark, Claudine, Uncle David, Aunt Jen, Eggers and Curlow all came to attend.
The girl was baptised Marilla Diana though she would never be known by any other name but Pearl. The boy was given the name Rowan John, and it suited him so well folks forgot his last name was Blythe.
'Ooh, let me hold Rowan John,' Diana pleads, scooping him up to her bosom, 'he's the most beautiful boy in the world.'
'The most beautiful boy until we have a boy,' Fred adds, chucking the chubby lad under his chin.
'Ten boys!' Diana laughs, as Fred almost chokes.
Pale April sun bursts through the clerestory windows in bright white shafts of light.
'It looks like God,' says Laurie, and tries to catch it in his hands.
When the warm light hits Marilla's upturned face she smiles. There would be no need for scurrying about for umbrellas, the April shower had ceased. Though she is glad she asked her husband to go home before the crowd arrived at Green Gables, to make sure the house is warm.
Martin Rossi was a good man, and had been an unexpected source of wisdom when Anne's news came quick on the heels of Dora's.
'Those girls walked their own paths,' Martin had told her, 'we can't simply call 'em back. No use tryin' to make 'em into something they are not. I did that to my Davy, and I vow I shall never do it again.'
What could Marilla do but agree? Oh she could judge, threaten, lecture the young fools about her disappointed hopes, at the way they had made life even harder for themselves. But had they? Was there a more settled, decent husband than Soren? A more doting and determined father than Gilbert?
She catches his scent as he walks up to her, a sharp whiff of lavender, and the milky sweet smell of one of the babies.
'Mrs Rossi – Marilla?' he says shyly, and places his hand on her shoulder. 'Would you like to hold my girl?'
As he lowers Pearl into Marilla's arms she leans her face close to his.
'And you hold mine, Gilbert Blythe. You hold her close as you can.'
Gilbert looks across the church to the radiant woman standing in the shaft of light, her red hair aglow. She catches his eye with her luminous grey ones, and sends him a silent smile. His heart beats faster the way it always does, and the vow he made never to touch again melts like snow in the sun.
'I promise you,' he says, softly, 'I will never let her go.'
Ten years later...
They run in two lines down the hot fine sand, the boys against the girls. Pearl thinks this is unfair. Rowan John is carrying Samuel on his shoulders, and little Lavender can hardly run at all.
'Come on!' Pearl urges, clasping tight on Lavender's chubby hand.
'We'll catch them,' Mama vows, and scooping Lavender under her arm she races out ahead.
The shoreside visitors to Four Winds shake their head at this display. For such a respected family they really were unruly. Not that anyone would say so to their faces. He was a famous botanist, and she had written that book, The Collected Tales of Canada – even the Prime Minister owned a copy.
There was much excitement when they moved into Glen St Mary. The old Doctor's widow was in her eighties now, and doted on the Blythe brood. She was waiting by the finish line, a fancy handkerchief in her hand, egging on Rose-Alba and Matty who at five and six, came up at the rear.
Pearl turned her head to see where Rose-Alba was, just beyond her mother's skirts, and knew the race was lost. Matty would get there before her, the boys were going to win.
Then just before they get to the line, Papa blocks Mama's way and when she tries to dodge him, throws her over his great big shoulder. Mama squeals and then Lavender squeals and he tucks her up under his arm, and he carries them both – Papa really is very strong – up to the finish line.
Pearl is bent and panting, and pokes out her tongue at Rowan John.
Her brother has already forgotten the race and settling Samuel in Aunty Jen's arms, scuttles off to the rocks to look for anemones. Matty scoots after him, little Lavender starts to cry. She is not allowed to go out to the rocks until she is older, and her bottom lips begins to wobble, until Aunty Jen pulls out a plum from one of her pockets and offers it to her. Now Rose-Alba wants one, or would she rather see what the boys are up to? Or perhaps she can find out what her lovely Mama is drawing in the sand?
Mama runs barefoot, the sea spray drenching her skirts. The big stick of driftwood in her hand digging words into the damp sand.
Papa watches her closely, then he grabs her in his arms and twirls her round until they fall onto a soft white bank.
'Are you sure?' he says.
'Positive,' she answers, 'are you ready for number seven?'
'Do you really need to ask, he responds, 'don't you know what you mean to me?'
The waves wash over Anne's words before Pearl and Rose-Alba can read them. But they can watch while their Papa writes something out, in his tall and loopy script.
'Come Rose-Alba, sound out the letters, see if you can make them out.'
'D? No P, yes P,' she utters, slowly, her hazel eyes darkening with a deep concentration.
'It says Papa,' Pearl interrupts, 'see? P-A-P-A. Now what word will he write next?'
'Mama?' Rose-Alba guesses, Pearl shakes her dark curly head.
'A good guess, Rosie,' Gilbert says encouragingly, and gives his little daughter a wink.
Anne stands up and shakes out her skirts, then reads the words out loud.
'Papa loves Mama,' she recites, and laughs. Mama is always laughing.
'Papa loves Mama, Papa loves Mama!' Rose-Alba cries and runs off to tell her brothers, who have left the rocks and returned to blanket where Aunty Jen sits, in hopes of a plum of their own.
'Does he?' says Mama, and sends out a look that always makes Papa act strange. His eyes go all goldy and his mouth goes all grinny and he pulls her into his arms. She falls back into the sand again, the stick flying into the air. Pearl catches it, but her parents don't see, they are kissing again!
Pearl carries the stick to the end of the sentence and adds a word of her own.
'You wanna plum, Pearl?' calls Rowan John, and he runs up to where she is standing.
He puts his arm round his twin and recites the words aloud.
'You're right,' he mutters, eyeing his parents, and adds his plum pit to make a full stop.
'What's she right about, what's she right about?' Matty wants to know.
Pearl screws up her freckled nose.
'Papa loves Mama CONSTANTLY.'