Hello dear, long-suffering, ever patient friends,

Shamefully, this update has been five months in the making. A flurry of sincere apologies all round. This year has not exactly gone to plan, unfortunately. Lots of intensive times family-wise, three months of house renovations, and Covid, after zig zagging us for two and a half years, came calling as well.

Though I can't lay all the blame on outside pressures… back in March I had a milestone birthday and it encouraged me to think about my interests and passions, particularly around my writing, and any ambitions in that direction I harboured for myself (how Anne of me!) I hope there is a novel in me, somewhere, someday, but in the meantime I started to test the waters regarding writing competitions, both short stories and poetry, and wow, what a rabbit hole that was to fall down! It quickly became all-consuming, much in the way my first forays into fanfiction did, but gratifying too, and I have had some modest but thrilling success. I have learned much already and I hope it will help me continue to grow as a writer.

It is, however, a rather cutthroat world as well, and coming back here has been like wrapping myself in the softest, snuggest blanket, calming and cozy and comfortable. I won't readily forget that the encouragement and skills I have gained through being a part of this community have given me the confidence to put more of my writing out there in the first place.

Thank you also to lovely readers and reviewers who have responded to this and my other stories in the interim, or left encouraging private messages. I hope you know how bolstering that is when life takes you away from this world for a time. If you are waiting on a reply, please be assured you will receive one, and to all here, you carry my best wishes and continued thanks with you.


MrsVonTrapp x

Chapter Seventeen

The King and Queen of Hearts

Anne's ruby engagement ring flashed fire in the fading sun, and she intermittently paused to contemplate it, her cheeks blooming with color to match the stone, Gilbert's grin splitting his face as he thrilled alongside her.

The ruby as a stone she knew herself symbolized love, and moreover a passionate love; an appropriate talisman from the man who had spent half his life, and a goodly part of the last three hours, demonstrating this devotion to her. The elderly jeweler had seen many a hopeful couple enter his shop but rarely a pair who glowed as his gems, his curiosity about the lone young gentleman and his regular pilgrimages finally sated in seeing the lovely young lady at his side, radiant as her hair and trading adoring looks with her intended.

Anne was charmed in turn by the trader and his stories; of how he told them rubies were traditionally the stones of royalty, how they symbolized purity as well as passion and were a protective stone for the wearer. How soldiers prized rubies and wore them to protect them from harm. How ancient mystics thought rubies possessed an inner light, as if they glowed with their own fire.

It was a color that had always followed her, from the very moment a boy had tugged her titian braids, to the dread night when literal fire had almost claimed them both. Gilbert had seen the ring and had seen her; her passion, her vitality, the very life that pulsed from her and had stirred the blood in his veins. She couldn't have conceived of a ring more perfect.

"Well, my darling…" Gilbert grinned at the endearment, sharing it openly and frequently for the first time, "I'm sorry it's too late to get off a telegram to Green Gables, but I don't know if I can hide this happiness from my parents until we are back on the Island…"

"I don't want to hide it, Gil! I don't want to hide our love – I want to yawp our glorious news over the roofs of the world!" *

"Roofs, Anne?" at his bemused grimace she realized her error.

"Sorry, Gil! Bad choice of words there…"

"Don't worry, my love…" he stopped them to kiss her soundly, ignoring the affronted look from some matronly ladies of leisure as they passed them, "there is no hiding this. There is only exalting in it… luxuriating… celebrating…"

"How does the heart of a poet beat in the breast of this studied man of science?" she queried between kisses, pausing for breath to smile up at him.

"Well, Anne-girl, a poet is only as good as his muse."

This earned him a pleased blush, and they continued on, back down the street, round the corner and past a bellowing newspaper boy holding aloft the afternoon edition of the Kingsport Chronicle. Front and center of the front page was a series of images that stopped them in their tracks, and they both stared at the photographs and especially the captions beneath, horribly transfixed.

Gilbert fished around in his pocket for some change, handing it over silently. Once in possession of his copy, they both leaned in closer, their stomachs dropping.

"Just as well we are not hiding our love after all, Anne," he shook his head slowly.

The Kingsport Chronicle was widely read throughout Nova Scotia, and promptly delivered every afternoon with their tea to the newlywed honeymooning couple, Reverend and Mrs Blake, in their current hotel of choice, so they might keep up with local news. They had made excellent progress through the land of Evangeline ** and were a week into their travels, cherishing their time together and naturally not much thinking of those they had left behind, although Phil was either lamenting that her mother was expecting a letter or fretting that she had not yet committed her married salutations to paper.

It was just as well that the attractive, merry Mrs Blake was sitting down, and that she had not yet had a sip of her tea, for she may have spat it out or even worse, invoked some terrible blasphemy that really wouldn't be becoming or politic for a minister's wife. Instead she yelped to her husband, currently in the washroom, who came running with some urgency to see her brandishing the paper in the air, her merry brown eyes showing her shock and surprise.

"Jo! It's Anne and Gilbert!"

Mrs Gardner didn't think much of newspapers and even less of that rag the Chronicle, although she may have been known to have the maid save any clippings featuring her beloved Royal or mention of one of her daughters in the society column. Admittedly she despaired of all of them of late – that scatterbrained upstart redhead refusing her son; Aline secretive and sulky; and Dorothy off till all hours and occasionally given to incomprehensible bleating about the state of the sofas at the hospital. Jeremiah's presence was a tonic, when he wasn't galivanting around with some banker's daughter – and getting himself trapped in infernos. All told it had been a rather taxing summer.

It was, possibly, about to become more so.

Mrs Gardner stared, speechless, at the front page accosting her, and then rang the bell to furiously summon whomever of her household had deigned to be home.

Roy Gardner, in the well-appointed study that had been converted to his office, scanned the front page of his own copy of the Chronicle, only just delivered, and threw it down on his desk with a sigh.

Anne really had no cause to look so lovely, given all the grief of the previous days, and now obviously he knew why – they had been hiding their news all this time? No wonder Blythe looked so damned pleased with himself, insultingly good looking for a man not long before found dangling from a guest house roof, though Jem at least had made a good showing for the family.

It had been a taxing summer – Anne's refusal; his mother's nerves; Jem's near escape; Dorothy's defiant and damnable newly discovered civic mindedness, seeking his position on the hospital board, no less, which had been her not-so-amusing revelation barely an hour ago when she had swept in. It all made him long for the simpler times at Redmond, before his entire world had upended itself.

Down the hall and through several doors he heard his mother's bell shatter the silence; he rubbed vigorously at his temples for several moments before moving, reluctantly, to answer it.

Josie Pye spent a week at least of every summer in Kingsport with her mother and sister, perusing the ladies' boutiques, having fittings for her new wardrobe, partaking of the tea rooms and generally delighting in city life. The habit had first developed when all those insufferable swots had made the journey to study there four years previously, and Josie had felt her provincial limitations rather too keenly. She wasn't going to stand for any of them going on about a place without seeing it for herself, and the notion became an annual pilgrimage.

Though the sisters and their mother were not ones for general news they did enjoy the letters section and society columns, and usually had some available mainland newspapers delivered to them in their rooms, the Kingsport Chronicle amongst them.

Josie's mouth had just clamped around a tea cake when she glanced at the front page of that very newspaper and very nearly choked on it and her tongue to boot.

"Gertie! Mother!"

The three women were soon digesting the generous article and scandalous accompanying photographs, agog and perhaps even aghast.

"Wait till Mrs Harmon Andrews hears about this!" Mrs Pye conjectured, "let alone Mrs Sloane!"

Josie nodded eagerly, trying to calculate how many days it might take for a few choice newspaper clippings to reach the Island ahead of them, and whom it would be best to send them to.

"We might even send a telegram…" Gertie mused, in startlingly insightful fashion, and the obvious benefit to this plan made Josie wish she had thought of it herself, though she certainly led the mad scramble of Pyes back out onto the streets, the newspaper safely tucked under Mrs Pye's arm for ready reference.

Jem and his young lady made a handsome pair that afternoon as they promenaded the paths of the park and along the inviting shore. Not for the first time did he consider the vagaries of Fate. If he had not miscalculated the day his aunt and cousins would be returning to Kingsport he would never have found himself seeking alternative accommodation. He would not have been in the path of that dreadful fire, certainly, but he would also not have made some new realizations about himself; that he could be brave and resourceful, that he was capable of independent decisions, that he could even make friends such as Anne and Gilbert outside the orbit of his family, and especially that he need not be clandestine in his intentions towards Lily, or worried that a respectable banker's daughter would not be considered quite respectable enough for a Gardner.

In short, he felt he had finally made the leap from boy to man.

Perhaps others finally recognized this, too; a few gentlemen, looking up from their newspapers, nodded and tipped their hats, and the occasional woman seemed surprised to encounter him, before bestowing a wide, approving smile.

"Good luck to you, young man!" a perfect stranger actually stopped to pump his fist.

"Th-thank you, much obliged, Sir!" he stumbled, looking askance at Lily, whose own eyes had darted to the front page of the Kingsport Chronicle now in full view courtesy of an avid reader parked on the nearest bench.

"Jem, I think you'd better get yourself a copy of this edition!" Lily indicated, turning back to him adoringly.

Dorothy, still energized by her conversation with Dr Johnston and even more so by the one she had just had with her brother, bed awash with papers and her newly collected hospital board application, decided to ignore Mother's bell at first. Thankfully Roy, her obvious favourite, couldn't do so himself for long, though even Dorothy couldn't ignore the raised voices emanating from the sitting room and was drawn downstairs after a time to investigate.

A newspaper article – the front page no less – was soon discovered to be the source of Mother's ire. Dorothy sidled up to catch a glimpse of the offending images now thrown down in disgust and in full display on the side table. A quite startling series of images, actually, dramatic against the stark background of a hospital room. Gilbert Blythe's hospital room, to be exact.

And Gilbert himself, pictured on his own, dashing even as hospital patient in that scarlet robe… with his loving, relieved parents… and with Jem and new fiancée Miss Anne Shirley.

Oh, gracious.

Dorothy quickly scanned the article as best she could, tying not to wince on Roy's behalf as Mother continued her affronted diatribe.

They had actually been secretly engaged all this time? The reporter had appeared to think so, if his slightly sensationalistic tone was anything to go by. There was a breathless recounting of Anne and Gilbert's history including the rather surprising connection with that young Nurse Chalmers, and a more than generous mention of Gilbert's Cooper Prize and upcoming medical studies. Luckily the reporter had redeemed himself slightly with a fair representation of the events of the fire and Jem, Gilbert and Anne's escape, not to mention aiding the Burke family into the bargain. And all this was posited within an admirably scathing review of the condition of several guest houses in the greater Kingsport area and of fire safety standards throughout the province.

The latter was patently lost on their mother, who was now accusing Anne of having been involved with Gilbert whilst still with Roy, which was an obvious sore spot for him, judging from his flushed cheeks.

"Now, Mother…" he protested ineffectually.

"Don't you now, Mother me, Royal!" the older woman countered. "There will be no Gardner having anything to do with that dreadful Anne Shirley or that half-dressed, dark-haired reprobate shamelessly flaunting himself from this day on!"

"But Mother, Anne Shirley is my friend!" Dorothy finally found her voice.

"She is no friend of ours!"

"Mother, that dark haired reprobate rescued Jem from the fire, with the full help of Anne," Roy protested quietly, with a new thread of steel their mother was not mindful of. "He risked his life. Indeed, he nearly lost it."

"And you all risk your reputations! Every day the pair of you are tainted by your association with them. I forbid any more of this ridiculous fraternizing! And that goes for you too, my girl," she shot a scathing glance to Dorothy herself, "traipsing about the hospital at all hours in the most indecorous fashion!"

"Mother, I hope to do important work at the hospital!" Dorothy found herself bleating, no better than a cowed child.

"The only work you'll be doing is finally finding yourself a husband! And if you are incapable, I will!"

"Mother, enough!" Roy's deep, dulcet tones were now employed in full, commanding force. "The rush to find myself a wife served me no better than it would if you tried to marry Dorothy off tomorrow! We both of us are better than that. Whether Anne is engaged or not to Gilbert Blythe can make no difference to our family anymore, because, clearly, she is not engaged to me. That does not mean that you or I or anyone else in this family has leave to disrespect her. As to Mr Blythe, Jeremiah will wish to maintain a connection to him that is understandable given what they went through and we in turn will respect them both." Roy paused for breath, and perhaps also for dramatic purpose, flicking her a glance.

"And you had better start respecting Dorothy too, Mother. She will be spending a great deal more time traipsing about the hospital because she will likely, with my full support, be elected to the board of the hospital come September."

Dorothy was dumbfounded. Her talk with her brother had not exactly gone to plan, and she had resigned herself to going it alone.

"Oh, Roy, you really mean it?"

"You mean to give away your father's place on the board of Kingsport Hospital?" Mother looked to him, astounded.

"I believe Father will know that the best Gardner for the job has put themselves forward," he gave his sister the tiniest of smiles, full of a new understanding of himself and a newfound respect for his sibling. "At any rate, I'd hardly have the time, and I have a desk full of ledgers and accounts to prove it."

"To say I am disappointed beyond words at the both of you is an understatement!" their mother huffed in unacknowledged defeat, as Dorothy bounded across the room to give Roy a kiss and hug in gratitude.

"Oh that she would be 'beyond words' for a while!" Dorothy whispered, for her brother's ears alone, to Roy's answering, secretive smirk.

John and Clementine Blythe had spent an enjoyable day imagining themselves merry tourists in the city that had been a second home to their son and set to be so for three more years. They felt a great deal more connected to him through being here, though the initial circumstances around their arrival had been so fearful and fraught. The journey across would not really be so arduous, they were sure, when Gilbert was not in imminent danger. It would not be such a strain, financially or otherwise, to attempt to visit him once a term.

Though they would be rather exacting about their choice of future accommodation, it had to be said.

They were finally on their way back to the hotel when John paused them to pick up a newspaper, lest they miss a copy of the small story on Gilbert that might appear today, but the boy was clear out of the Chronicle, unfortunately, and they would have to make do with the copy hopefully sent up to their room.

Anne and Gilbert had hurried back to the hotel at pace, worrying over the inevitable explanation they would need to give his parents about their newfound nuptials, and virtually fell through the door, hand in hand, to find an empty room, to their great and glorious relief.

"Well, that's a lucky break," Gilbert huffed, his increasingly painful shoulder finally stealing some of his breath. "It gives us a chance to get our story straight!"

"Well, Gil, when you unravel this mess let me know, so that I may practice for Marilla and Rachel," Anne exclaimed with a sigh.

"Oh, good God, I never even thought of them!" Gilbert raked his hair with frustrated fingers. "Everyone will think we've been hiding it from them. I never indicated to the reporter that we were anything other than good friends, Anne. I'm so sorry."

He winced, crestfallen, until Anne remembered herself and the proper joy they deserved to feel about their circumstances, regardless of how their news had emerged.

"Well, he wasn't too wrong in his prediction," she offered quietly, cheeks heating with a pleasure that couldn't be suppressed.

Gilbert paused, catching her gaze, softening at the sight of her.

"No, he wasn't," his voice becoming smoky and low as he neared to take her hand, adorned with the embodiment of their promise, kissing it passionately.

The kiss soon migrated to lips, and as they embraced Anne felt him tense despite himself.

"Gil…" she breathed. "Your shoulder!"

"It will be all right, my love…" he declared, leaning in again towards her, determined to make the most of this precious time alone.

Anne permitted one more kiss, before her inner schoolmarm took over.

"Gilbert Blythe! You're still recovering, and you need rest! Not to mention probably needing to minister to that shoulder. Where is your liniment?"

"Anne, I am not going to spend our first night as an engaged couple stinking the place out with my lotions and potions," he protested. "It can wait till bed, at least. If I just give it a rub…" he reached around ineffectually, contorting himself, until Anne stepped in with a light hand on his own.

"Gil," she smiled softly. "Let me do that for you."

His cheeks heated. "Anne-girl, I'd like nothing more, but I need to get to the source of the knot, and that's under a few layers."

"So…" there was a decided gleam in her eye, "let's get rid of a few layers."

When he gave her a hazel-eyed look of surprise, her grin grew wide.

"It's not as if… I haven't glimpsed a little of what's beneath those layers…" she offered more than a touch suggestively, hearkening back to their magical intimacy in the guest house room the night of the fire, when only his undershirt and her nightgown had offered any covering at all. "And we are engaged, now. We've even got a semi-official record of it in the paper."

Her look was decidedly coy, enough to make his hair curl anew.

With a chagrined shake of the head he wordlessly assented, Anne guiding him to a chair, swiftly divesting him of his jacket and assisting with his tie, pausing as he took over his own shirt buttons. The air seemed completely still around them, and they both took a collective breath as his shirt was also divested, leaving him in an undershirt which did nothing to hide his sculpted lines and defined muscles, nor the dreadful grazes and the wrenching yellowing bruise which seemed to wrap itself around his beleaguered shoulder.

Anne sucked in a tremulous breath full of sorrow, kneeling beside him and laying her soft cheek against his injury.

"Oh, Gil…" she murmured.

"It's all right, Anne. It looks worse than it is, now, love."

"My brave beloved…"

He laughed softly. "Your words are all the balm I need…"

"Let my fingers help at least, Gil."

Remembering herself, she had him sit forward and, after a few amazed moments as her skin connected so intimately with his, began a thorough examination of his shoulder, using deft massaging movements to relax the knotted muscles and soothe his tired sinews. His rhapsodical sighs gave way to groans of pleasure and relief, so much so that Anne blushed delightedly to hear them.

"A-Anne…" Gilbert stuttered after a time. "That feels marvellous. You are a marvel…"

"You are only just realizing this, Gilbert Blythe?" she grinned, wiggling tired fingers that had been kneading his skin for ten minutes.

"I am pleased to be reminded…" he smiled sleepily, and then stretched languorously. "Thank you, my most excellent fiancée!"

"You are very welcome, my wonderful fiancé!"

Sealing their new endearments with a kiss, Gilbert's good arm soon snaked around her waist, holding her fast to him as he deepened the kiss and felt Anne's slim arm slide around his neck as she leaned over and into him, a tender moment becoming more fevered by the second. Lost to the stirring of new sensations, another fire could have swept past them and they would have been insensible to it… the earth could have quite literally opened up at their feet…

… or, simply, the door to the hotel room could open upon them, with an audible gasp that might have been heard all the way back to Avonlea.

Chapter Notes

The King and Queen of Hearts first appear together in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland Ch 11 'Who Stole the Tarts?'

*Walt Whitman, of course, specifically Leaves of Grass 'Song of Myself'

**Anne of the Island Ch 39 'Deals with Weddings'

And some very overdue correspondence….

Bright Promise: Thank you so much for your comment and for checking in with this story again! Anne and Gil are my favourite literary couple as well, and I feel so fortunate to be able to read so many versions of them and have an attempt at creating my own! What a gift LMM gave us in them x

Guest of April 29th: I love your enthusiasm – thank you! Yes, there is definitely more, and so very sorry for the wait!

Whitewave: Thank you so much for your lovely notes left on this and my other two current stories – I was thrilled to know that you are eager for me to continue and thank you so much for your kind and encouraging words!

***There are a few lovely readers who have sent me private messages in recent months. I am so sorry to be so late in replying and want to give you the response you deserve, but thank you so much in the meantime for your beautiful words x