A Bend in His Road
for MrsVonTrapp Jonathan Crombie fan. He's who I, and no doubt she, will picture as this story unfolds.
Black did not become her. That was Gilbert's first thought when he saw Anne standing by Matthew's graveside; fine droplets suspended on her veil like a cascade of tiny diamonds. Don't be ridiculous, he tamped his mind down hard. It's a funeral, fashion doesn't come into it. Yet there was a truth to it; Matthew who loved Anne in pretty dresses would never have approved. Gilbert said nothing then or ever, even when it took Anne months to graduate back to her usual wardrobe.
Standing in the unseasonal drizzle Gilbert's thoughts were for his friend first and foremost. The minister, Mr Allan, dolefully intoned the funeral rites while Anne and Marilla clasped each other for comfort, dry eyed and shaky. Gilbert had heard that Miss Cuthbert had been awful cut up about Matthew's passing, but he supposed she had managed to pull herself together for the service.
Gilbert had never thought much about death; its icy fingers had never laced around his heart, but he knew how close Anne and Matthew had been and had an inkling of how his death would affect her. Matthew Cuthbert had always been a sweet quiet gentleman. Gilbert had vague memories of him before he and his father had gone to Alberta and he knew that Matthew had helped his mother while they were away. Perhaps most memorable was how his eyes lit up whenever he saw Anne. In her presence he quite transformed, Gilbert wondered if anyone else had ever truly noticed.
Word had gone out across Avonlea when Matthew had collapsed. Never before had the quiet Matthew Cuthbert been the object of gossip but he was for that one brief moment, albeit in death. His passing and Marilla's dramatic response surprised the town folk. "Never thought dry old Marilla Cuthbert had any emotions," said those who did not know her.
They talked about it over the Blythe dinner table that night. "Marilla's emotional all right," said John Blythe ruefully.
"What do you mean Dad?" Gilbert asked.
John glanced at his wife Cora, "it was a long time ago, son but there was a time when I suppose folks called us beaux."
Gilbert's cutlery dropped to the table with a clutter, "beaux? What went wrong? Er sorry Ma," he looked at her fondly and she smiled back.
"We quarrelled," John explained. "We both thought the other was at fault. She thought I'd come back and beg forgiveness, but I never did because I fell in love with your mother," he pulled her hand towards him and stroked it lovingly. "I admit though I did feel a bit sad for Marilla over the years, she could have found someone else."
"No one could replace you, John," said Cora with a smile.
He preened openly and replied, "obviously not." Then more seriously he added, "feel right sorry for her now though. She and Matthew were so close, all those years living up there together just the two of them. It'll be awful lonely for her now that Anne's off to Redmond."
"We'll have to offer what help we can," Cora said.
"She's proud, that's the problem, will she accept it?"
"Well we have to offer, whether she accepts it isn't the point."
"I suppose so," John nodded.
It had been a shock, no two ways about it when Gilbert's parents had sat him down the night he returned from Queens. After a wonderful year in a stimulating environment, with parties and dances and freedom he thought he had his life mapped out. He was off to Redmond to learn how to be a doctor. It was going to be a lot of work, but he'd be rewarded at the end. So, his father's dreaded words, "we can't afford to send you, son," sent an icy shiver through his heart. He'd had to be brave in front of them, he knew they were upset too so he'd said, "that's fine Dad, I completely understand," and shakily made his way upstairs to put his head in his hands as he sat on his old bed.
What were his prospects without school? He'd watched his father toil over the orchard year after year and never wanted to follow him down that path. When they heard the news that Miss Ames planned to leave the Avonlea School, he had a glimmering of hope. He could stay at home and save the money for Redmond next year.
The old school room still had the familiar smell of dried ink, chalk dust and boot polish. Gilbert sat crammed into a desk opposite the school trustees feeling very strange to be back in the old place. How many hours had he spent in it over the years? First with the lamentable Mr Phillips who spent all his time mooning over Prissy Andrews and then being inspired by Miss Stacy who shared her love of learning. He honestly hoped he could emulate her in some small way. Gilbert laid down his credentials and the trustees shook hands on it afterwards. It wasn't as good as Redmond, not by a long shot, but at least that establishment wasn't going anywhere. Once he'd saved enough money, he'd be able to catch up with his education. It wasn't what he'd planned when he left Queens, but it would do.
The next thing they heard Marilla was thinking about selling the old place to Mr Sadler from Carmody. "Can't believe it," John said. "There's been a Cuthbert living at Green Gables for as long as I can remember and more besides. Be mighty queer to have them gone."
I can't let that happen, Gilbert thought. Poor Anne has just lost Matthew, I can't let her lose her home as well. With that he contacted the school board and put his case before them.
"Mum, Dad," he said to them that night. "I have something to tell you. I hope you don't think I'm crazy, well I suppose I am a little bit. I'm going to teach at White Sands."
"White Sands?" said his mother. "But you were going to stay here with us and save up for Redmond. I was looking forward to having you here again and you'll have to pay board at White Sands you know. I thought the Avonlea school wanted you. What changed?"
"I did Ma. I asked to be moved. I heard that Anne Shirley decided to stay with Marilla and needed a job, so I spoke with the trustees again," he continued rubbing his knees ruefully, those desks were really uncomfortable. "I just couldn't let them lose the house so soon after Matthew. It wouldn't be fair."
"That's awfully generous of you son, it's not like you have money to splash around. I suppose," John looked at his wife. "I suppose we can help next year. Perhaps we can go halves on the fees even if we can't afford the whole lot."
Gilbert's eyes misted with tears, "are you sure, Dad? It's a lot of money. I know I must have disappointed you Ma."
"Disappointed me? By being a perfect gentleman. No indeed not, I was a bit shocked is all. But I think you've done a noble thing, son. I'm proud of you. Except you've put me into a bind now," she added jokingly. "We'll have to get you set up over there, that's something I hadn't envisaged."
He saw Anne a few days later, her distinctive her black mourning dress contrasted against the bright green grass. Interesting how stunning she was despite it; and nearly walked by her feeling a little embarrassed. She approached him saying, "Gilbert I want to thank you for giving up the school for me."
"I hope you don't mind me going behind your back, Anne."
"I admit I did get a bit of a surprise. I thought I had it all sorted and then Mrs Lynde told me you had swapped."
Gilbert watched her carotid artery pulse, it always made him swoon a little. "Sorry about that, I knew if I told you my plans you wouldn't let me go ahead. I had to do it this way."
"Very sneaky, Blythe. Very sneaky."
Gilbert grinned, "I can be when the mood strikes. I just couldn't let you and Miss Cuthbert be parted. I knew she'd need you near after everything that's happened and I hoped I could help."
Anne softened, "yes, she feels Matthew's loss keenly. She always complained that he was so quiet, but he was always there even if he didn't say much. When you think about it, they lived together longer than most married couples."
"Poor Miss Cuthbert," Gilbert murmured. "That's why I couldn't force you two apart. One day I guess you'll want to leave home, but let's give her some time to adjust."
"It's awful good of you Gilbert, we really appreciate it," she laughed shyly.
"I hope this means we can be friends, Anne? Can you finally forgive me?"
"We were always friends, I just seem to have forgotten it. I forgave you that day by the pond landing though I didn't know it. What a stubborn little goose I was. I hope you can forgive me. I admit I got a shock when I heard you weren't going to be at Redmond this year. I need our competition to drive me forwards."
"I'm planning to study by correspondence," Gilbert admitted.
"Why I am too, so the rivalry can continue," Anne clapped her hands with glee. "That makes me so happy. I have to go, Marilla will be missing me, I hate to leave her alone in the evening, she gets awful lonesome."
"Where've you been son," his mother asked as he strolled in the gate looking like he'd just swallowed the moon.
"Chatting with Anne."
"How did she take it? Is she happy?"
"She thought I was very devious, but I think deep down she's happy. No, I take that back, she's delighted. We had a real nice talk Ma. The sort we haven't been able to have for years. We're going to work together to plan our lessons."
"Not nervous, are you?"
"Well a little, I never taught before. I reckon it might be easier for me being in White Sands they won't know me. Whereas Anne will be teaching children she studied beside a couple of years ago."
"Oh, yes, that's intimidating. I'm sure Anne will do a wonderful job of it though, don't you think?"
"Of course, Anne can do anything she puts her mind to." They walked arm in arm down the path and sat on the veranda under the wisteria.
"I'm so sorry we had to upend your plans, son. You've taken it like an adult. It just cut your father up that we couldn't afford it. Once he'd done the sums, he just realised it was impossible and he was so upset. We knew you had your heart set on it."
"It's fine Ma. I admit I was a bit upset at first."
"We know, when we watched you leave the room, I thought you might faint."
Gilbert smiled wanly, "I nearly did at that. I thought I had my life all set before you and Dad spoke. I prefer to think of this as a bend in the road, rather than a calamity. Now that I think about it, bends keep life interesting."
"You are so wise Gilbert," said his mother stroking his hair fondly. "not to mention generous. You've done us proud son."
"Oh Ma," Gilbert leaned in and hugged his mother tight.