Grown ups act real strange sometimes
Vanity was getting the best of Gilbert Blythe, but only because when he looked in the mirror he didn't see much to be vain about. He must have lost fifteen pounds, and tried on everything in his closet until he found something that didn't look like it was a size too big.
Anne was peering into a mirror too, though this one was being held up by Diana Wright, who wanted to know what her bosom friend thought of her handiwork. Anne was due to meet with the Board of Directors at Summerside High the following Monday, and Rachel being Rachel sent word for Diana to come 'swifter than Jehu' to help with a styling conundrum. Nothing could have made Diana come faster, for she was famed throughout Avonlea and all the way up to White Sands, for having a real eye for style.
She arrived in her buggy just after luncheon, baby Fred in his Moses basket beside her, and was immediately shown up to Anne's little white room.
The problem, of course, was Anne's hair – or rather the lack of it. Not that Diana was too concerned. Short hair looked pretty on Anne when she was twelve, and it looked just as fetching today.
"Now, we'll just wrap this lovely velvet snood around your head and –" Diana paused as she took her friend's face in the mirror. "You don't like the snood?"
"No, I do, I do," Anne reassured her, "I just wonder if it doesn't look a little too –"
"Chic?" Diana suggested. "Dainty? Cute?"
"Fashionable," Anne finished, lamely.
Diana's hands went to her hips. "Why wouldn't you want to be fashionable? You're the first lady High School Principal the Island has ever had!"
"Exactly," Anne said. "I want them to take me seriously."
"By serious I suppose you mean Marilla's tight little bun. Well, it's too late for that," said Diana marching around Anne's bed. She saw the thick hank of hair Marilla had cut off, lying on Anne's desk, and tied with the short piece of ribbon. "You kept it?"
"Rachel thought I could sell it, but I think Dora wants it for her doll."
"Ooh, I saw that poor wee thing in the hallway." Diana had a soft spot for all things small and baby-sized now; Anne thought she might start to cry. "Davy did that, I suppose, pulled out all its hair?"
"He was playing barber shop," Anne said, trying to hide a smile. "He thought it would grow back."
"Hmmm," said Diana, the length of hair in her hands, "perhaps ol' Davy-boy has a point." She shifted up behind Anne again and coiled the hair on top of Anne's head.
"Why ever not?"
"Diana, I am not wearing a hairpiece –"
"But your hair is long enough, we just need to draw it up into a pig's tail, and then I'll braid this length and fasten it on top."
"I'm not going to meet the Board in a wig!"
Diana sat back on Anne's bed. "It sounds like you don't want to meet the Board at all… Oh my goodness, you don't, do you?" she said, when she saw Anne's shoulder's slump. "What's made you change your mind, darling?"
Anne retrieved a parcel of letters from a dresser drawer and shuffled them in her hand.
"Oh my goodness!" Diana said again, but with a much more hopeful tone. "Are they what I think they are? Is he still writing to you?"
Anne's brow crumpled as she looked at Diana, whose eyes were wide with excitement.
"He hasn't written to me for the longest time…"
"Oh Anne, everyone knows Mr Gardner left a letter for you just a little while ago. Mrs Gillis said Mrs Blythe said he was ever so dashing."
Anne sat back on her little stool and tried to summon a laugh. It sounded like a cough. She cleared her throat and managed to smile.
"Uh yes – but no... I wasn't meaning Roy. I was meaning these."
Anne held up her letters quickly before Diana had a chance to ask any more questions.
"This one is from a Mr Pringle, this from a Mrs Pringle, this from a Pringle-Smythe, and another Pringle, and another and another…"
Diana wrinkled her nose. "And I thought we had it bad in Avonlea with all those Sloanes. I suppose they all object to having a lady Principal, do they? I've heard they're very proper over there."
"And even more clannish," Anne continued. "It seems a Pringle was also up for my job –"
Diana was indignant. "So they wrote to you to say you should turn it down! What snobs! I hope you write them back and give them a piece of your mind. Why you won the Thorburn for goodness sake, and you're a published authoress. There is no one on this whole entire Island more qualified than you!"
"I was all ready to tell these Pringles the exact same thing," Anne said, staring at the topmost letter. "Until I got this one, and then – I don't know, Diana, I'm beginning to think there's someone more qualified after all."
"More qualified than you?" The idea seemed as impossible to Diana as baby Fred not being the sweetest, most adorable baby in all the world.
"She's a woman too," Anne went on, "so I can't even console myself with that. Her name is Katherine Brooke. She's been the Vice at Summerside for some time now. She has a B.A., she's even an orphan."
"But how would you know such a thing, did she tell you that herself?"
"No, that was Mrs Myra Pringle. And Miss Agnes Pringle too, come to that. They don't think much of Miss Brooke by the sounds of it, but that only makes me like her more. I feel… oh, I feel –"
"That you want to turn the job down?" said Diana in hushed tones.
Anne could not tell if Diana was shocked or disappointed. She had been looking at Miss Brooke's letter, then turned resolutely to her friend.
"Of course I'll take the job, I have to, I must."
"If you say so, Anne." Diana left the bed, the hank of hair in her hand. "I'd just as soon you stayed here, but I know better than to try and change your mind, even though I couldn't think of anything worse than taking a position in a town full of people who look to be dead against you."
"I managed quite well when I came here all those years ago, didn't I?" Anne smiled at up her.
"Except in Summerside you won't have me – or baby Fred – or even Fred – or Marilla – or Mrs Lynde – or anyone who loves you."
Anne sighed. "Then I guess I won't have anyone to embarrass either when I make a total fool of myself." She grabbed the length of hair from Diana's hand and held it against her chin like a long coppery beard. "All right then, Di, show me about this braid idea."
Like the loving friend she was, Diana swiftly turned the conversation and asked Anne what excited her about the new job. Anne immediately became more animated and began waxing lyrical about the texts she planned to select. As Principal she had final say, and her heart thrilled when she thought of all the poetry, novels and eminent essays she would be teaching her new pupils.
"Byron, of course, and Keats and Marlowe and Shakespeare's sonnets and a good many of his plays. I thought perhaps some Dickens too, and Mary Shelley and at least one of the Brontës, and Wordsworth and Coleridge and Jonathan Swift and of course my beloved Tennyson!"
Diana was putting in the last few pins at Anne's crown when she took a step back and shivered.
"Ooh, I can never think about Tennyson now without thinking of how you nearly drowned. Remember that day you played Elaine?"
Anne grinned at Diana through the mirror. "I'm not likely to forget."
"Remember when the flat sank?"
"Remember when we found each other again?"
"Remember when Gilbert Blythe rescued you!" Diana said, sneakily.
"Remember Ruby howling?" Anne retorted back.
Diana sighed now, and tucked her chin against Anne's shoulder.
"Dear Ruby. I still can't believe she's gone. Poor thing, she sobbed buckets for days after."
"But why?" Anne asked her. "I couldn't have been in the water for more than half an hour?"
"Oh, it wasn't that. I mean yes, at the beginning it was, but Ruby caught a lot of trouble when she got home. You remember the little paste brooch with the handsome red glass stone, the one she said you could use to fasten the piano shawl you wore?"
"Y-e-s," Anne was beginning to feel uneasy again.
"I didn't learn this till later," said Diana, through the pins between her lips, "but it turns out it wasn't a paste brooch after all –"
"You mean the stone was real?"
Diana nodded solemnly. "Ruby had no idea. A favourite aunt had bequeathed it to her when she was small. It was after Ruby's funeral that I heard about it. Mrs Gillis was upset all over again because she wanted Ruby to wear it in Heaven."
"Do you think it's still there, at the bottom of the Lake of Shining Waters?"
Diana shrugged, as she tucked in a red curl. "Unless some trout ate it. Now, Miss Principal," she said, placing her hands on Anne's shoulders, "you have to admit, there is nothing the least bit wiggy about that!"
Anne peered at herself in astonishment. Diana had fashioned a thick scroll at Anne's crown with finer braids weaving around it, disguising all the pins. Soft wisps of short curls framed Anne's pale oval face. It looked like something a Greek goddess might wear.
"Oh Diana, it's exquisite! You can't even tell it's not my own hair!"
"That's because it is your hair, you ninny," said Diana, and gave Anne a kiss. "Now excuse me, darling, but I must claim little Fred back from Mrs Lynde. He was due a feed half and hour ago and my bosom is about to burst!"
In the spirit of that Greek goddess Anne changed into her old white organdie, then took her beloved copy of Tennyson out to the porch. Leaning against the porch post she idly flicked through the pages as she waited for Diana to feed baby Fred. Just inside she could hear her friend coo and whisper to her little one, and again Anne was stricken with the realisation that she would never know what it was to be a mother.
A lady principal. How fearsome it sounded; how much it suited this Katherine Brooke. A different sort of ache afflicted Anne then, but this one felt almost like regret. It wasn't Tennyson she wanted by her now. For some reason the book Anne missed most was Mrs Blythe's copy of 'The Doctor at Home.'
Diana came out into the porch, a sleepy Fred in her arms and a large puddle of spit-up milk down the front of her shirtwaist.
Anne immediately offered to drive Diana back to Lone Willow. On the walk home she stopped off at the Lake of Shining Waters, and strolled over the old bridge. Hardly anyone used this bridge now, the piles were rotting and the middle sank. A newer, stronger, straighter bridge had been built about forty yards from it. It was in a far more convenient position nearer the road, but Anne thought it didn't look half as romantic as the gently curving bridge she stood upon now. The silvered wood and friendly creaks seemed to welcome her like a friend.
Gilbert meanwhile was strolling slowly to Green Gables, reciting the speech he would make to Anne. He would ask for some water, expecting Anne would lead him to the kitchen where there would no doubt be some Green Gables doyenne, fixing to make afternoon tea. There he would tell Anne, simply and without fuss, that an old chum of hers was set to marry one of his friends. If Anne took this badly – and Gilbert was of the strongest opinion she would – Marilla Cuthbert or Rachel Lynde would be there to offer comfort. When this happened Gilbert planned to drift out to the porch. He would linger awhile in case Anne had any questions, but if it looked like they had forgotten about him he would simply go back home.
As he walked up the long drive he saw Davy Keith on the front porch, peeling a huge pile of potatoes with a dangerously outsized knife.
"Hey there, Davy, is Anne about?" Gilbert asked, keeping his voice light.
Davy wiped his nose on his arm and stuck his knife into the porch post. Gilbert noticed it was a switch blade, and almost identical to one he used to have.
"Gee," said Davy squinting up at him. "You look like you've been all stretched out. Tall and scruffy, but skinnier too, like a whole lot of bolting beans."
Gilbert coloured and patted down his hair. "And you look like you're in disgrace." He eyed the pot next to the boy. "How many do you have to peel?"
"All of 'em." Davy huffed. "I don't see what the big deal is. Anne chopped all her hair off, and everyone keeps sayin' how swell she looks. I thought Dora's doll would look swell too."
The colour left Gilbert's face and he crouched low next to Davy.
"Sorry, Davy-boy, what did you say?"
"Anne. She cut all her hair off, and she cries all the time... Well not all the time, she laughs a bit too, but not nearly as much."
"Why – when – I thought Anne was well?"
"I dunno why exackly," said Davy, screwing up his freckled face. "But I do know she wanted it gone. As for when... well, I guess it was around the time all those flowers stopped being delivered, that's when the crying started too. Hey Gilbert, are you all right? You look about as white as a peeled potato. Don't sit there, that's Anne's best book."
Gilbert had been about to sit on the porch and took the book in his hand. It was lying open at 'Lancelot and Elaine' and he shut it with a clap.
"Where is Anne now?" said Gilbert, he was serious now.
"Mrs Wright came over to cheer Anne up, then the baby sicked all over her and Anne took her home. She should have been back here ages ago."
Davy gave a petulant shrug as he said this. Anne had a gift for getting him out of these punishments, or at least helping him out for a bit. If she didn't get here soon, it looked like he would be finishing the lot. He was about to ask if Gilbert would give him a hand with the potatoes, when the man stood up and looked down the drive.
"I – I've got to go..."
"Aw come on, Gil, why don't you stay here with me? I'll let you use my knife."
"No... I – I think I know where Anne might be."
Gilbert dug his hands in his pockets, then just as quickly brought them out again and crossed them against his chest. Davy was beginning to agree with Milty Boulter. These grown ups act real strange sometimes.
Gilbert strutted purposefully down the drive, when he got to the lane he broke into a run. By the time he saw the pond he was a little out of breath, and bent his head when he reached the bank and tried to clear his head. When he lifted it again, he caught sight of a gauzy white skirt flapping low in the rising breeze. A closer look revealed a shapely red head, and a long pale arm reaching down to the water. Time seemed a stop and his breath caught in his throat as he watched Anne lie flat on her stomach, sliding further toward the edge of the bridge until she was hanging over it.
"Anne, no!" Gilbert shouted, bounding through the reeds and long grass on his way to the bridge. "Stay where you are!"
Anne looked up for a moment, her face one of fury. Gilbert heard a sickening plop as she fell into the water.
Throwing off his boots and jacket, he waded into the pond, silt rising with every step. When it reached chest height he began a simple breaststroke, his eyes never leaving Anne. At first she was bobbing up and down like an otter, then she paddled over to a bridge pile and clung to it stubbornly. The look on her face was the exact same look of the unfortunate lily-maid from all those years ago. But Gilbert wasn't fifteen anymore, and grabbed Anne hard around her ribs.
"Let me go!"
"Are you out of your mind?" Gilbert cried, as he tried to untangle her arms from the pile.
He looked panicked, his wet face mottled with red, while his hazel eyes burned with a fury of his own. Anne was almost frightened by his strength as he flung her against his chest and proceeded to paddle them back to the bank.
"I don't need your help!" she said, breathlessly, trying to wriggle out of his arms.
Though Gilbert was panting hard, he almost grinned when his feet touched against soft clay. Anne's mouth gaped wide and spots of pink bloomed on her cheeks as they suddenly stood up. His arms were still clamped tightly around her ribs; his heart and hers, thudding into each other. Gilbert glanced downward as though he could hear it. Anne's moon-white breasts were rising from her collar, and the still, cold water circled her throat. He knew in his bones if he held her much longer he would crush her mouth with a desperate kiss.
Anne's chin tilted upward and her breaths were jagged, as her eyes flared with great streaks of green.
"I know..." she murmured.
"What do you know?" he said hoarsely.
Anne could feel his heat penetrate her chilled skin as Gilbert clutched her closer to him. She couldn't bear to meet his eyes and looked down at the space where their bodies met.
There was a drip drip drip of water from his chin and a yearning, primal throb in her heart. No, not from her heart, this came from further down, warming her belly and loosening her hips. The instinct to wrap her thighs around him was becoming too strong to ignore.
A low moan escaped her lips as Anne tore herself away. The cold she felt when she left his body hit her like a slap.
"I know – how to get myself back from here," she said faintly.
Then turning, she waded back to the bank.