Author's note: And to think this was the story I was supposed to update regularly.
To think I almost managed to succeed.
Well, I clearly failed this time and miserably. I hope you will forgive me, however and that this chapter (even though it's no longer than usual) will still redeem me in your eyes in some way. I can't promise a quick update - but I will make sure it won't be as ridiculously as this one. Also, finishing this particular story is one of my goals for 2020, so fingers crossed! There is hope.
That would be all for now I guess; thank you for your patience and willingness to stay with me even after such a long break. You are wonderful.
God bless you all,
Doctor Spencer's Word of Wisdom
"Now this is just plain ridiculous."
Gilbert's voice echoed in the air, the angry note in his tone caught by nobody save for the Harrisons' new cow. The animal raised its head with interest now, intrigued by the fact that the so far quiet man had decided to speak his thoughts out loud after all; though engrossed in his own musing, the man himself failed to see the movement, nor would he have paid it any mind if he had. His eyes were fixed on the old fence while his thoughts swirled, stubbornly returning to the one place he did not wish to visit right now.
He had no business thinking of that cursed kitchen of theirs.
"Come on, Blythe, it's time you pull yourself together at last," he muttered spitefully, all the more vexed with the realisation that he was once again talking to himself – a habit he'd assumed during his last lonely months at Redmond and one he'd been fighting desperately ever since; and yet at this moment he could not bring himself to stop. "Don't be the fool everyone expects you to be; don't be as weak as they expect you to be. Just do the job, clean the mess and for the love of God, don't think of her."
Hardly looking at the nail in his hand, he hammered it forcefully, only by some miracle hitting the metal piece and not the fingers that held it in place. Seconds later, it was firmly dugged into the wood.
Knowing it would take much more than that to calm his nerves, Gilbert reached for the next pole, determined to continue with his work until they were so.
Not so deep down, he felt that he could mend every fence on the Island and it still wouldn't be enough to bring as much as a shadow of serenity to him.
Not after the chat he'd just had.
"It was just a talk," he grumbled, moving his hand against his face before resuming his work once more. With more than a little difficulty, he willed himself into silence, not at all wishing to be caught during yet another one of his needless speeches – not even by the curious cow whose presence he had finally acknowledged with a nearly murderous glare – hoping that he could somehow channel his anger in the right direction and finish the job even more quickly than he had planned.
Truth be told, he wasn't really sure if he wanted to finish it.
He kept working, however, and bit by bit, the far corner of the Green Gables farm regained the traces of its old glory. A pile of old, moss-grown planks grew higher at his feet, while he replaced them with new ones, pondering idly just how long it would take to renovate the fence completely; and if, by any chance, he might find enough time to repaint it.
And yet, even this busy, he could not successfully chase away the one thought that had upset him so.
For despite his otherwise nonsensical comments, Davy had got a very good point in one regard.
"Why isn't he here now?"
Tired and confused, and more disappointed with himself than he had been in a while, Gilbert let out a long sigh. He had to admit: the question was not entirely unfamiliar to him. Even if he had done his best to push it away whenever it had invaded his mind, it kept coming back, to the point where he had almost given up his fight against it.
Now… Now he was far too exhausted to even try to do so.
So as he bowed down to collect his tools and then straightened up again, ready to set out towards the pump, he also decided it was high time he gave the matter some thought at last.
Was it really possible that Roy didn't know? And if so, what could have possibly been the reason for such neglect? True, they had not had much time before they'd left Kingsport – he had hardly found enough to explain to his astonished landlady why he would not be staying for the two more weeks as planned, not had he bothered to answer Charlie and Moody when they'd asked him about it on their part.
But surely, his position had been nothing like Anne's! She had Aunt Jimsie, taking care about the house, and the girls were certainly eager to help her pack. If she had wanted to contact Roy about the sudden change of plans, they would have made sure she reached him in time, even if Anne herself had been too distraught to do much.
Could it be that she had deliberately left him in the dark?
Well, yes – that was an option, and one that would at least give some explanation to Roy's absence during a time as trying as this. Then again, why should she even consider that? What reasons could Anne possibly have had to withhold such information from the man she supposedly loved – from the one she was most likely engaged to? Did she think Roy wouldn't understand, when she had so explicitly shown that she believed that he, Gilbert Blythe, could?
How on earth could anything of the sort as much as cross her mind?
With a low growl he kicked a pebble that had the misfortune of laying too close to his foot, not even sure how he managed to stop himself from spitting out some of the nastier curses he'd had a chance to pick up while training with the famous Redmond football team.
Another miracle, he supposed.
Of course, he was being a fool again, and an arrogant one at that. What right did he have to assume what was on Anne's mind, when it was obvious that it was his own pettiness that had inspired such rumination in the first place? Surely, Anne was smarter than that – surely, she knew better. And she surely wouldn't have compared the two of them in such manner, not when he could for once take the lead.
Gilbert snorted derisively, the very idea of bettering Royal Gardner in any way making him want to laugh openly at himself.
He had lost to Roy long before the latter had even walked onto the scene.
He'd neared the pump by then and in his vexation, he hurdled his tools on the ground beside it. Even though he was much closer to the house now, it was still too far for the sound to travel from one spot to another – or so he thought, until a sharp cough tore through the air, in this one moment causing all of his smallness to dissolve into nothing.
In no more than a second his entire body tensed, perfectly responsive to the sound he had learnt to recognise so well over the years. He could feel his heart speed up, as if to prepare the rest of his organism for a run that wasn't needed, to fetch the help that had already arrived. A strangest mixture of emotions flooded his mind, mercilessly reminding him of the times when such favourable circumstances would have seemed a paradise to him.
As brave and relentless as Gilbert Blythe could be, he could not deny that there was nothing that could trigger him more than a heavy coughing did.
With a few resolute inhales he managed to calm down a little, not at all wishing to add to the already heavy burdens of the household with his own irrational trepidation. His success could hardly be deemed complete, however, as the feeling of fear was soon replaced by that of shame, as he apposed his hardship with the tragedy that loomed over Anne.
How could he waste his breath and strength on pointless comparisons to Roy now, when Marilla was so very sick – and of which he was so painfully aware?
What did either of them mean to Anne compared to her?
Even more angry with himself than he had been before, he began to use the pump in the vain hope than the cool water would help him in the way his own resolutions couldn't. Thus occupied, he did not hear the steps coming from behind and nearly choked in shock when he finally spotted doctor Spencer standing not three feet away from him.
"Doctor!" he cried out as soon as he regained his voice, together with his balance. "I didn't expect to see you here."
"And I you," the older man answered with a mischievous twinkle in his eye that matched neither his reputation or age, and a grin he barely tried to suppress. "Although I have to make a confession and admit that I'm hardly in a state of astonishment now; I saw you through the window upstairs and thought I may just as well come and exchange a few words."
Gilbert's expression was rather sheepish as he tried to comprehend that unusual statement, while simultaneously wiping his hands with an old towel, so he could at least shake the hand that had been offered to him.
"Thank you, sir," he said after he took it eventually. "It's very kind of you; but don't you have other patients to see?"
The old doctor laughed wholeheartedly. "My, my, you really are a doctor in making, aren't you? And that's even before you've started the actual medical course! But to ease your mind a little: no, I don't have anyone else waiting – no one that requires any haste on my part, anyway. Oh, and apparently there is something wrong with the wheels of my buggy, so even if I wished to, I can't really leave until Martin has done something about it."
"And you're sure you wouldn't rather spend your time trying Green Gables specialties inside, sir?"
"And miss the chance to talk to the most recent winner of the legendary Cooper's Prize? I think not!"
Gilbert's eyes widened in surprise at this sudden praise he'd had no reason to expect. He had not shared the news of his achievement with anyone save his own parents yet. So unless in some fit of graciousness Charlie Sloane had mentioned the issue in his letters, there was no sensible explanation as to how the good doctor had learnt about the fact.
All James Spencer needed was a glance.
"News travel fast, Gilbert," he cleared up with a knowing smile. "And even though most people here haven't got a clue about what all the fuss is about, I certainly do. I also know how much work has to be done to as much as near it. After all, there is a reason why the Board haven't granted in for the past five years."
"Have you tried for it, sir?" Gilbert asked with new interest, finally regaining his usual equilibrium.
Doctor Spencer shook his head vigorously. "Heavens, no – I'm sure I would have lost my mind halfway along the preparations. My close friend did, however, so I've got a fairly good idea about the stress and obligations such a race entails. I often wondered when he found the time to sleep between one assignment and another."
It was Gilbert's turn to chuckle, albeit awkwardly. "To be honest, sir, I don't think he got much of that. They say that's the paradox: you want the scholarship to become a doctor and improve people's health, but to achieve that, you need to sacrifice a good deal of your own."
The doctor clicked his tongue disapprovingly.
"I suppose that's true. You do look terribly run down, however, my boy; and even though I must admire your dedication, I also need you to promise me that you won't make it a habit in the future, or all of that knowledge will go to waste simply because you'll be too tired to make use of it."
"I'll keep that in mind, doctor."
"Well, I suppose it all comes at a price. And looking at it in retrospect, it surely was worth the effort, wasn't it? Money aside, it must be awfully satisfying to achieve something like that academically. The prestige of the Cooper is a very real thing after all – it means something on its own."
Unsure how to answer, Gilbert frowned in thought – and then they both started at the sound of coughing that once again came from the house. In a moment, Gilbert's thoughts were back on their old track, leading him to the red-haired girl of whom he never could forget for long, it seemed. His jaw tightened in pain; his gaze grew wistful again; his memory once more reminding him of how much he'd have to lose to gain what he had gained.
The sudden change of his expression was not lost on the wise doctor who, having heard more gossip than he had asked for, easily solved the mystery behind such a shift. He was not the one to pry, however; a simple "Son?", meant to bring Gilbert back to reality rather than to prompt a confession was all that he was going to ask.
Gilbert heard the invitation but did not shift his gaze. Then he closed his eyes and with a shake of his head, he said:
"It was merely a consolation prize."
A few more moments passed in silence before Gilbert trusted himself to look at his companion again. He half expected doctor Spencer to contradict him then, to tell him what a fool he was to misprice his achievement, of which his fellow students had accused him so many times already. And yet, the older man said nothing of it; and only his wise, keen gaze spoke of how well he understood him.
"Is it really so bad, doctor?" Gilbert asked quietly at last, his voice heavy with hesitation. "Is Anne… Is Anne right to be as worried as she is?"
The good doctor sighed, only slightly surprised by the shift in their conversation.
"Worried is a mild word for her fears, even though our dear Miss Shirley is doing a remarkable job hiding them from the rest of the world. I wish I could say she's overreacting, but that would be a lie. Marilla's state is severe, more so than most of the cases I've come across during the thirty years of my practice. And her age certainly isn't helping the matter."
Gilbert felt his pulse quicken at the admission. "Does this mean she will -"
"She may live – she may die," doctor Spencer cut him off before he could finish the ghastly sentence. "Her state is good enough not to require a miracle to improve, and for now I'd say we can still trust in medicine before we decide to leave it all up to Providence, as Rachel Lynde would say – although far be it from me to turn down His help in this case. Still, Marilla has a good chance of surviving. Then again, since the crisis is obviously still ahead of us, it would be arrogant to make any serious assumptions at this point. It surely isn't over yet."
His young companion answered with a nod, and once again, he let his gaze shift back to the white house in the distance and rest on the curtains which now hung motionlessly on the other side of the window. A flash of red seemed to appear behind it; whether it was a real thing or just an illusion created by his overworked mind, Gilbert couldn't quite tell.
And yet it was enough to push his thoughts in the only possible direction, back on the same track they'd been travelling before… But also with generosity and selflessness that replaced the jealousy from afore.
Good God, please let her live, he begged the Creator in his thoughts. Don't make Anne go through that pain again, not when she's so not ready to say goodbye yet. Not when the twins are still the children they are now. Not until -
His heart seemed to stop for a second, a most painful moment in which he gritted his teeth and clenched his fists, not able to even think of doctor Spencer's possible reaction tot his disturbing sight. The words, "Not until she has a home of her own," rang in his brain, a cruel epilogue to his already hurtful thoughts. He pushed them away like the malevolence he had fought before – and yet, his endeavours were in vain.
After all, when had he ever been able to control his musings about Anne?
He shook his head at his own lack of focus and forced himself to look at the doctor again, inwardly hoping that the latter had not noticed his momentary absence. Gilbert was sure he would find out soon enough; and so he would have, had Mrs Lynde not chosen that exact moment to call out to them through the kitchen window, announcing that the wheel had been repaired and that doctor Spencer may leave whenever he so wished. The proclamation was immediately followed by an offer of another cup of tea, undoubtedly dictated by her never dying hospitality.
While the poor doctor was doing his best to decline the proposition politely (a task all the more difficult, given the distance separating him from the house), Gilbert used the time to regain his composure and prepare for the possible questioning that might still come after his companion's discussion with Mrs Lynde was over.
This calmed, he was happy to realise that no such interrogation was to be had, and that the words, "Impossible, that woman is," were the only ones he was going to hear.
With a slightly lighter heart, he walked with the older man to the front of the house, where the buggy was waiting. Once again, they were joined by Mrs Rachel – once again the offer of a longer stay was made and declined.
As authoritarian as she was, Mrs Lynde certainly wasn't going to ask a man for anything three times.
She left with a mix of gratitude and discontent reflecting on her face. A long and not particularly discreet sigh was an answer to her disappearance, one that would have made Gilbert doubt doctor Spencer's manners, had he not been tested by Mrs Lynde's antics so many times himself. A small smile brightened his countenance again; and it only grew wider when the doctor decided to supplement the sound with words.
"In moments like this I really have no doubt that the patient will get well after all," he said with confidence. "A woman like Rachel Lynde could scare away all sickness if she tried and if not, she will make sure the Providence takes care of it for her. She could shame an angel and a devil both into doing things her way, I'm sure."
"She's failed to shame you into staying, though," Gilbert suggested with a grin. "What is that saying about you, doctor?"
Doctor Spencer laughed good-heartedly.
"Only that I'm neither of those, and there's hardly any surprise in that," he answered as he reached out his hand and shook Gilbert's.
He was up in his buggy the next moment, taking the reins from Martin and seating himself comfortably. Once the other man was gone and back to his duty, the doctor turned to Gilbert for the last time.
"I' know it may seem indiscreet of me, but I've been told you can be quite influential yourself, Gilbert, especially when it comes to a certain red-headed girl we both know," he said unexpectedly. For a moment Gilbert was certain that his companion was still joking and nearly grimaced at the impropriety of it – until he realised that the doctor was not only perfectly solemn, but also far from finishing his thoughts. He swallowed uneasily and listened carefully while doctor Spencer continued, "I have no reason to disregard such judgement as untrue, and I believe I know you well enough to put my trust in you. That's why I want to ask for your help. I believe you won't refuse."
Gilbert raised his eyebrows, surprised. Those certainly weren't the words he'd been expecting to hear.
"My help?" he asked hesitantly, as if he wasn't quite sure if he had heard correctly. "How can I help you?"
"Take care of that girl of yours," the doctor answered simply. Again, his voice bore no trace of humour, and the words clearly were not mean to tease the young man before him. "Make sure she gets her share of rest. Support her mentally and see to it that she knows she may count on you. But first and foremost -" he paused for a moment, as if to ensure that this final order really would be understood as the most crucial one, "- make certain she doesn't let grief consume her prematurely."
He straightened up in his seat then and in a much lighter tone, he added, "Easy chat about unimportant things and as much fresh air as possible is what I suggest. You know Anne well enough to figure out the rest yourself."
He gave Gilbert no time to respond, much less protest against his request. He clicked his tongue at the horse and drove away, leaving the young man behind and smiling to himself with content.
He had no doubt that the plan he'd just come up with was a perfect arrangement indeed.
For more reasons than one.