Well, here I am and there you are. Having completed one story it made perfect sense to begin another. In fact, I have no trouble attempting to begin at the beginning… it's the go on till you come to an end: then stop part I have difficulty with.
Whilst trying to recover my writing mojo some months ago I toyed with the idea of writing something as far from canon as possible. They say every action has a reaction and my usual reaction to writing something for a long time is to then long to write the opposite – and so it is here. I'm sure many of you have felt the same. It was quite challenging keeping within the limitations of canon during Let Love clasp Grief, and it made me wonder what would happen if I decided to Not Do Any Of That Anymore. And so Down the Rabbit-Hole we go…
Like Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, from which I take some anarchic inspiration (and my story and chapter titles) this will be slightly batty at times. Most likely it is my own brand of lockdown lunacy. I hope it's a fun, quick and relatively short ride (cut to: oz diva, shaking her head despairingly). I know she, and you, have heard all that before, so hopefully the proof will be in the pudding. This time.
DOWN THE RABBIT-HOLE
One can't believe impossible things
"Will someone tell me what the devil is going on?" Roy Gardner blustered, with all the amazed insolence he could so easily draw upon when rankled. His handsome, melancholy looks were made almost comical as he darted a dark-eyed glance of irked incomprehension at the assembled throng. "What the blazes are you all doing here?"
He had chosen the lovely little pavilion, of course, for its romantic seclusion – oh, the irony now! - and for the merry memories it conjured of his first meeting with Anne Shirley. He enjoyed such obvious symbolism, knowing how much his titian-tressed love would undoubtedly appreciate it. Now the quaint structure was busier than Kingsport's main thoroughfare at lunchtime. The dreamy dusk had descended upon them as they mounted the steps and admired the view of the harbour, before he had taken his future bride's small white hand in his… but then his word-perfect proposal had been drowned out by the boisterous interruption of this breathlessly blundering quartet, running up the stairs in ridiculous convoy; the three women he knew vaguely as Anne's friends and housemates, preceded by that damnable interfering Blythe.
"Roy, wait!" Philippa Gordon now interceded with dramatic fervour. "We're terribly sorry, but – "
"Forgive me the intrusion, Gardner," Blythe was now staring from himself to Anne with the wild look of a madman. "But may I just have a quick word with Miss Shirley?"
"May you just have a quick word with Miss Shirley?!" Roy's dulcet tones were rising octaves in his incredulity. "Do you have any idea what I'm doing here?"
"Unfortunately, yes…" Blythe grimaced, shamefaced, shoving his hands into his pockets.
"Maybe we should go…" the blonde one vacillated, looking uncertainly to the others, before giving Anne an apologetic smile.
"I think Anne needs to hear Gilbert first…" the other one interjected, her look more potent than a maritime warning on the high seas.
All eyes turned to the lady in question, whose hand was still in his tight grasp, though Roy had scrambled up from his gentlemanly kneel at their insulting interruption. Her wide grey eyes were surveying the scene in an astonishment he wished was slightly more horrified, or at the least a little more offended. These clowns were ruining her moment, too – the one she would recount to their children with starry-eyed charm on their every future anniversary, and the fine story she would soon share with his mother and sisters, currently waiting up at home for his happy news.
"Anne?" Gilbert Blythe now stared at her forcefully, as if attempting to plead his request of her in some unspoken telepathic communication. "I am most sorry to do this. Please believe me. But before you give answer here, I beg of you to –"
"Well, she has answered!" Roy sneered highhandedly, creeping anxiety beading the sweat on his brow, for he was not entirely sure, even as he made the assertion, that this had actually been the case. Well, no matter. "Have a care how you address my fiancée, Blythe!"
"Fiancee?" Gilbert paled.
"Oh, Anne," Stella sighed her disappointment.
"It wasn't exactly a surprise…" Priscilla offered, perhaps unhelpfully.
"Gilbert really needed to be half an hour earlier…" Philippa lamented to no one in particular.
Half an Hour Earlier…
"Where did they say they were headed?" Gilbert demanded in desperation, a determined look crossing his handsome features. His incessant knocking had resulted in his surprise entry moments before, asking for Anne with an impatience that almost bordered on incivility, if the ladies making up his astonished audience hadn't been so fond of him to forgive such behaviour, or so swayed by the agonised expression he wore.
"Gilbert!" Phil answered in exasperation. "I think Roy mentioned a walk. To the park? Or in town? I really can't be certain. You know I never can. And even if I were, what are you intending to do? Head them off at the pass?"
"I think you may be too late, Gilbert," Pris offered as kindly as she could. "How would you even find them?"
"No he's not," Stella advised calmly. "Too late, that is. He just needs to think like Roy."
"I think, then, his mind has gone blank," Phil deadpanned, to Pris's appreciative titter.
"No, Stella, you're right!" Gilbert paced the parlour of Patty's Place like a tiger unleashed, raking a hand through his hair to further underscore his agitation.
"I often am," she smiled benignly.
"Think like Roy… Think like Roy…" Gilbert repeated in unlikely mantra, hands on slim hips as he marched distractedly. "If I were Roy, where would I take her?"
"Roy is unusually sentimental," Phil observed. "It will be a place they've been before."
"And somewhere that would make a good setting for his proposal, in order to regale everyone with the story of it later," Stella added insightfully.
"She first met him in the park, you know…" Aunt Jimsie piped up suddenly. "That time it was raining. I told her it would, on account of my rheumatism. When you were all at the football match."
"Yes, indeed. They talked for an age in the pavilion there, so Anne told me."
"The pavilion!" those remaining chorused together, looking about to one another in sudden excitement.
"I could kiss you, Aunt Jimsie!" Gilbert grinned winningly, and that youthful-minded lady, watching them all depart as if the hounds of Hell were on their tails, was not altogether averse to keeping him to his promise.
One hour earlier…
The hammering on the door kept time with the incessant death knell of his dying heart. Gilbert knew he could ignore it and continue to allow the world to ignore him, but after several minutes his patience – and his resolve - was wavering.
"Gilbert! I say, Gilbert!"
The disembodied voice through his boarding house door sounded vaguely familiar, and his curiosity was just enough to stir him. He shuffled over and opened it warily, hazel eyes widening in astonishment.
"Hello there, Gilbert," Moody Spurgeon MacPherson greeted affably, as if he hadn't just spent many prior moments out in the hallway cooling his heels. "Fancy a stroll about the town? It's a lovely time for it."
His mother would never forgive him for scowling at a future man of the cloth, whatever the state of his ears, and his old classmate's incessant cheerfulness put paid to a more cutting answer.
"Sorry, Moody, it's a kind offer but… I'm not really up for it."
"I'm having no luck lately," Moody continued with a smile, his chipper good humour hardly diminished. "I missed the girls over on Spofford Avenue last night because I clean forgot it was the Convocation dance, and when I went back there earlier today they could only chat for a while because they're all packing up and then Anne had to get ready."
At the mere mention of her name Gilbert's stomach shifted queasily, and he leant his broad shoulder against the doorframe for support.
"Ready?" he enquired weakly, though he knew he really, really shouldn't. Glutton for punishment, Blythe.
"Yes, for that Gardner fellow. He was going to call round for her. I think there was a rather big question he was planning to ask, if you get my drift…" he grinned, tapping the side of his nose. "I'm real pleased for Anne, of course, though a shame you and she never seemed to make a go of it."
Gilbert rubbed a heavy hand across his lean, tired face, squinting in his effort to make out Moody's meaning.
"Moody, are you saying that Roy was planning to propose today? That he didn't propose last night?"
"Aw, Gil, I'm sorry. What an idiot! I spoke out of turn there, I'm afraid. Mother says I've got to stop doing that if I'm to – "
"Moody!" Gilbert seized his arm in an iron grasp, as if a buoy in the ocean he was clinging to. "Let me get this straight. You say that Anne wasn't engaged when you left her?"
"Ah, no…" his visitor answered confusedly.
"And how long ago did you leave them?" Gilbert took a painful breath that seemed to burn his lungs as he inhaled.
"Well. Let me see. I came straight here, more or less, though I took the long way round because it had a more pleasant aspect, and it took me about half an hour to reach the campus and then I – "
Gilbert was already pulling up his wayward suspenders, immediately galvanised into action, regretfully realising he was still in last night's clothes, though he grabbed at the first jacket he saw and shoved sockless feet back into his best shoes. There wasn't time for anything more.
"Moody my man, you're an answer to my prayers," Gilbert clapped him on the back, hazel eyes suddenly blazing again with life, though Moody sincerely hoped it wasn't nervous exhaustion. "I can't take a walk with you, because I have to run for it!"
He slammed the door, politely pushing past his stupefied visitor.
"Can't explain now, but hopefully I can name my firstborn son after you!" he was halfway down the hall before he turned abruptly. "I'm presuming you weren't actually christened Moody?"
"Er, no…" his small blue eyes seemed to twinkle in his large face. "I can't even remember how all that came to be, but I was originally named Walter." *
"Oh." Gilbert contemplated, smiling, though he could have been biting back a smirk. "Well, maybe the second son."
The previous evening…
Gilbert Blythe, newly minted Bachelor of Arts and feted Cooper Prize recipient, slumped sullenly onto his bed, feeling his heavy, hopeless despondency rivalling the weight Atlas shouldered in holding up the celestial heavens for an eternity or so.
Well, that was it, then. Anne was finally lost to him. The spark of hope that had flashed in his eyes upon seeing her loveliness accompanied by his lilies at Convocation that morning had smouldered as an unquenchable fire that night at the Convocation Ball. She had darted daggered looks towards him as Christine clutched his arm and his many friends and classmates took time to congratulate him on his achievements, though her own offerings on this score had been in the company of the Patty's Place girls and disconcertingly perfunctory for an old friend. But then the moment his attention was diverted, particularly by the woman he was escorting, Gilbert became convinced he was interpreting the not-so-subtle signs of Anne's jealousy in the way she engaged that infernal Roy Gardner in a dance, making certain she swept past him whilst beaming at everyone but himself; and as he tried to conduct many a conversation all he heard was the golden peal of her laughter ring out above the hubbub, as if she was determined he should note her having an extraordinarily wonderful time.
So he had harnessed his courage and steered a course towards her, determined if nothing else they should share one dance at least, and whilst in his arms he would regale her with memories of their shared dreams in reaching this very point, and he could properly gauge whether it was a genuine or false hope he still carried in his heart with regards to her.
Her refusal of a single dance – not one measly dance! – was so breathlessly incomprehensible, even spiteful, that he was gobsmacked. After everything they had once meant to one another… to have been friends and comrades down through countless years… to have even once told her he loved her… and to now not even be ranked equal to, well, even Charlie Sloane, who himself had at least gotten in a two-step for old time's sake… was soul shattering. He insisted upon leaving soon after that, upsetting Christine and undoubtedly disappointing the venerable members of the Cooper Prize committee, but he was long past caring, evidently even for his own wellbeing, for he saw Christine home and then spent the entire night roaming Kingsport like some poor vagrant without a bed.
He staggered back to his boarding house as the dawn broke, knowing with a sick certainty that the sun was rising on Anne's first day as the future Mrs Gardner, for surely Roy would have sought to secure her last night, in the joyous glow of their graduation celebrations.
He slept the sleep of one uncaring if he ever woke again, and opened a bleary hazel eye around lunchtime… looking as he felt, unfit to be seen, before gulping down some water, and returning to the cocooning embrace of the covers.
Gilbert thought his heart was seizing to see Anne staring back at him with an expression both wondrous and wondering, her haunting grey eyes housing none of the fire he had noted last night. She stood, still and poised and perfect, whilst he was made suddenly and sharply aware of the audaciousness of his actions in coming here, and the wretched knowledge that he had just made a spectacle of himself, their friends, Roy… and her.
Damn it all to damnation, but at least he'd tried.
Though he would never, now, have the opportunity to explain to her, to implore her, to lay his heart at her feet like the cloak of a medieval knight, though he hardly knew what blundering attempts to right all their wrongs he would have tried… because he was too late, and she'd said yes.
"No…" Anne said now, in a voice soft but certain, pulling her small hand from Roy's.
"No?" Gardner repeated.
"No, I haven't actually answered your question…"
"Oh," Roy fumbled for the right expression, settling on a rather uneasy-looking bemusement.
"And… no… is also my answer."
Roy turned pale - and also looked rather foolish. He had - small blame to him - felt very sure.
"What do you mean?" he stammered, patently bewildered.
"I mean that I can't marry you," repeated Anne desperately. "I thought I could - but I can't."
"You can't marry me? Why can't you?" Roy asked more calmly. It was a deathly, unnatural calm.
"Because - I don't care enough for you. Not in that way. Not as I should do. I'm very, very sorry, Roy."
A crimson streak came into Roy's face. He turned back to a stupefied Gilbert, his expression contorting in pain.
"So you've just been amusing yourself these two years?" he said accusingly, though it was uncertain whether this was directed at Anne or Gilbert. "The pair of you, just toying with me? A mouse between your paws? A hapless pawn in your evil chess game?"
Gilbert had to admire his string of metaphors in the moment, even as he shook his head vigorously in denial, and the girls around him seemed to make ineffectual murmurs of protest.
"No, no, I haven't," gasped Anne, who appeared to be struggling with her own explanation, her fine words fleeing her. "I did think I cared - truly I did - but I know now I don't."
Roy backed away from Anne as if she'd stabbed him, and even Gilbert winced at her words and the echoing agony of his own long-ago rejection. She was really going to have to work on her bedside manner with regard to refusing perfectly fine marriage proposals.
"This is your doing!" he turned again on Gilbert, finger pointed, the lashing out of a wounded animal. "I could never be rid of you, even in this!"
"Roy!" Anne interceded. "It was nothing to do with Gilbert, or anyone else! It was me – just me! I didn't understand myself till now! I'm desperately sorry!"
"Frailty, thy name is woman!" **Roy turned back to her, quoting with extravagant theatrics, though there was a disturbing edge of menace in his tone that made Gilbert's blood run cold. It certainly did for Anne, who went pale as a ghost, her bottom lip trembling.
Gilbert's instinctive reaction was to take a step towards her, but he was cautioned by several shakes of the head, Phil even tugging at his sleeve for good measure.
"You have ruined my life," said Roy bitterly.
"Forgive me," pleaded Anne miserably, her cheeks flushed crimson.
"I can't understand it - I can't believe you are not the woman I've believed you to be."
In slow motion, Roy wheeled around to stare scathingly at everyone in turn.
"You all deserve each other, do you know? You can all live out your days together in that tiny little house with the mad aunt, fighting over the cushions and the cats. I take my leave of the lot of you."
He took a hoarse breath, saving for Anne his parting parry. "And you, Miss Shirley, I gladly bid goodbye forever."
They parted for Roy as the sea for Moses, watching as he descended the steps of the pavilion and walked away with firm strides, chasing after his remaining dignity.
Back in the pavilion, the stunned silence was broken by the gulls along the shoreline, and Stella's affronted reply.
"To be fair, the cushions really aren't our fault."
This was met with muted laughter, even from Anne, before she collapsed on the circular bench behind her and began to sob.
This first chapter title comes courtesy of Alice herself. Naturally.
All italicised sections are from Anne of the Island Chapter 38 'False Dawn' unless otherwise noted or employed for emphasis.
*I have no evidence that this is Moody's actual name whatsoever. Moreover, I could be rightly accused of making the entire thing up just for the sake of Gilbert's punchline.
**William Shakespeare Hamlet (Act 1, Sc 2)