Strange to be outlived by a dog but when Dog Monday joined Walter merry was the meeting and warm were the licks. Henceforth wherever Walter went his homely four-legged companion shadowed him. Anne mused that she hoped Jem's arrival wouldn't upset their relationship but Bertha explained it for her, "it will be fine. Pets get special treatment. Each owner has a different relationship with their pet so another version of Dog Monday will be here to greet Jem when the time comes."
"Anne!" In all the italics it was possible to scream, Ruby Gillis flung herself into Anne's surprised arms one morning. "Oh Anne, I've missed you so much. One shouldn't say it, but I was so looking forward to your arrival. I've been keeping an eye on you, but tell me everything. I know you married Gilbert. I mean I knew you always would; you two were destined to be together. I wonder who I would have ended up marrying? Some dashing young man no doubt." As ever Ruby barely drew breath despite jumping from one subject to the next; the one thing that hadn't changed was her obsession with boys.
Anne laughed with joy as she hugged her old friend tight and gazed upon her once they drew apart. Ruby looked and sounded very immature. Anne guessed that was because she had stayed the age she had been when she died. "Ruby, how wonderful to see you again, you look so well."
"You look a little older, but I see you still have that hair. Did you come to terms with it eventually?"
Anne laughed again, "I did. Gilbert always loved it and while I can't say I would go that far, I decided there were more worthy concerns in this world. If all I have to worry about is my hair, I'm doing pretty well."
"I suppose so. Say look over there, see that chap? I've never seen him before." Anne followed her gaze and realised with a shock that Ruby was staring at Walter.
"Ah Ruby…" Anne called after her friend, but Ruby had already moved off.
Marilla drew by her side as they watched Walter politely greet Ruby. "What do you think of that then?" Anne didn't know how she felt she gripped Marilla's hand and said nothing. "I expect you're torn. You know Walter is a sad soul who's due a bit of company but he's also your lost son. Ruby might be just the sort of companion he needs, you know."
"It just seems strange the two of them, they belong in different ages."
"Remember time is meaningless up here."
"Yes, but I compartmentalise them differently. They existed at different stages in my life."
"But not in theirs. They're similar ages are they not, only a few years apart?"
"That's true, it's just..."
"I do understand, but think Anne does it really matter?"
Anne looked sideways at Marilla, "I suppose not."
"If Heaven has taught me anything, Anne it's the need to be happy. If we can be with people that bring us contentment isn't that what Heaven is all about? Let them enjoy each other with your blessings, Ruby missed out on so much dying so soon and Walter, well he had an even worse time of it. Even up here I've sensed his loneliness, Ruby might be just the panacea he's been seeking."
Upon their initial meeting Walter thought Ruby slightly dense but her gay demeanour was infectious. She exclaimed with delight every time she spied someone new or who she'd known before and Walter found her joy strangely grew upon him. Marilla had described Walter as lonely and she was not far off the mark. Most of his local peers were still on earth living their lives while his had been tragically cut short. There were naturally masses of his fellow soldiers but like him they were traumatised by the sights they had witnessed and while no one else understood what he had endured he found his mood deteriorated if he spent too long in their morose company. Ruby's optimistic outlook on life was a welcome change and he enjoyed getting acquainted.
One evening as heaven's fireflies gently illuminated the landscape they sat around a bonfire chatting. Walter and Ruby were holding hands slightly apart from the main group but still within earshot. Gilbert wrapped his arm around Anne's shoulders while they sat agog listening to Matthew weave his yarn. "We was just young as you recall, Marilla."
Marilla rolled her eyes, "don't you be telling tales Matthew Cuthbert."
"Anne asked me about our adventures when we were young. I figure this was a good 'un."
"Fiddlesticks!" Anne smiled and Marilla retorted, "what on earth makes you smirk now?"
"It's just I never knew what you meant when you said that Marilla," Anne replied. "But eventually I worked it out."
"And what pray tell does it mean?" asked Marilla leaving herself wide open.
"It means 'I love you'," Anne replied with devastating simplicity.
Marilla's mouth opened and closed a few times before she got to her feet and strode off leaving her friends and family shocked in her wake.
It was John who found her gently weeping in her favourite spot on the veranda. Marilla sensed John's presence, but she couldn't yet talk. She felt exposed as though another chink in the carapace she'd built around herself over the years had come away. When John opened his arms, she leant in. John held her for some time until his arms began to cramp. Eventually she said, "thank you." Clumsily John swept her hair out of her face and looked at her quizzically, but she shook her head. It was Anne with whom she needed to speak, not him.
Anne was alone watching the fireflies the others having melted away to leave her to her thoughts. Marilla approached warily but she was relieved to see Anne's face light up upon her approach. "I'm sorry," they blurted out simultaneously, pausing and then laughing.
Marilla took a seat and drew breath gathering her thoughts. "No, I apologise, I behaved poorly. You did nothing wrong. I was just caught by surprise I suppose I never thought of it that way."
She watched as Anne's expression changed. Instead of blurting out her thoughts as she might once have done Anne considered how to express herself. "You know once upon a time I did lament your lack of affection Marilla. I wished you'd bestow upon me the sort of love I saw Mrs Gillis confer upon Ruby, more demonstrative I suppose. But later I grew to understand how your form of love suited me better. Two Annes would have cancelled each other out. And then I realised that every time you said, fiddlesticks, and let's admit you said it quite a bit which was probably my fault as much as anything. When you said it, you meant 'I love you' then I felt cherished. Even though you didn't use traditional words to say it, the sentiment was there." Once again Marilla found herself speechless, all she could do was hold Anne tight in wonder.
Later around the same fire or at least a different iteration thereof, Matthew had a chance to recommence his tale.
"It was cold as I recall, winter had set in some weeks earlier and the cows were struggling to find any feed in the pasture. Pa and I were doling out hay and he were contemplating when to bring them into the barn for the winter. Pa always waited at bit longer than some folks to save money as much as anything, but this was the last year he tried to eke it out. Of course, we still had to bring them in for milking each day. Usually, they'd be waiting at the gate mooing to get in. That was always one of my favourite chores you know. I wonder if I can conjure a cow up here, we always had a good relationship my ladies and I."
"Only tits he ever squeezed," Thomas Lynde quipped to Rachel who hushed him with a smirk.
Oblivious Matthew continued his story. "Anyways on this occasion they were nowhere to be seen. Pa was cross, more from frustration than anything I expect. But we needed those cows, we drank their milk and Ma turned it into cheese and butter. They were necessary to get us through the long, cold winter. He sent me up to the house cos we'd all have to go out to find 'em. I found you and Ma baking as I recall, Marilla."
"Ma was cross with me I'd just burnt the pie. I got a bit caught up day-dreaming," she shot a look at Anne and then across at her own mother, "and I forgot the time."
"Had you? Anyway, the breech in the fence was easy enough to locate but the cows were nowhere to be found. Pa swore as I recall, something he hardly ever did. He sent you and I out in one direction while he and Ma took another. It had been snowing during the afternoon so any tracks the cows may have left had been obliterated and we were walking blind. I don't know how long we would have walked we knew we needed to find those animals but honestly, we had no idea where they might be."
"In the end it didn't matter did it," Marilla remarked.
"No. For I fell down a hole."
"I was slightly ahead of you as I recall. I looked back, and you were nowhere to be seen. I admit I did panic at that moment."
"But you rallied."
"Had no choice, "Marilla replied. "Not like there was anyone else around."
Matthew took over the story. "I found myself in a largish space and I thought I could hear a sort of noise, but I couldn't work out what could be making it. It was pretty dark, but I could sense a large being in the tunnel close by. It didn't sound like a man, and I could only think of one animal that could make a sound as loud as the one I was hearing." Matthew paused and looked up at the rapt faces staring back at him. He nearly faltered but Anne's eyes shining in the firelight were encouraging. "It was a bear," he said after a pause. "The smell was terrific, but I expect it would have been far worse in warmer weather. I don't mind saying I nearly wet my pants, but something held me back, perhaps the thought that my scent might wake the beast.
I couldn't move even if I had wanted to, my fright had frozen me in more ways than one. I honestly believed I would freeze to death and be snacked upon when the winter thawed. Then to my considerable relief I heard a new, welcome sound, that of Marilla calling my name. I hissed back to her to be quieter lest we wake Mr Bear."
Marilla explained it from her perspective, "I couldn't work out where you had disappeared to. You'd been behind me and then you weren't. I retraced my steps and found a big hole in the ground. The white of the snow giving way to red mud and I could just make out the top of your head, Matthew. Your hair didn't even seem wet. I too could hear snoring now and I knew without him saying a word what he'd done. I admit my blood ran cold but I had to rescue him."
"I may not have been very brave, but nothing would deter you, Marilla."
"Of course not, you're my brother. Still, I wasn't about to take on a bear if I could help it. Remember I asked you if you could raise your arms?"
"I don't think I could move; I was terrified I'd wake it if I dislodged any more soil."
"I knelt at the edge and dug out the hole he'd made with my bare hands. Oo it was cold, after a moment or two I could barely feel my fingers, but I wasn't going to be deterred. Eventually I had made the hole wider, and I managed to reassure you that it would be alright, do you recall?"
"I do. It was still terrifying, but I knew I had to be brave, or I'd be stuck there forever. You were so good to me, your encouragement helped me find the fortitude to move."
"Never knew I'd be strong enough to pull you up, but fear does amazing things you must understand and soon enough we were hugging each other while the bear snoozed on."
"Never loved you so much," Matthew said huskily, and Marilla patted his hand.
"And what happened with the cows?" Bertha asked.
"We had found them quickly enough and then our two bedraggled children turned up a while later," Mrs Cuthbert explained. "As I recall they took a while to thaw, we put them in a bath by the fire."
There was a silence when the tale finished. Anne looked at Marilla with renewed respect, fancy her mother taking on a bear. The party broke up then with people withdrawing in dribs and drabs. Anne and Gilbert watched as Walter took Ruby's arm and they walked off together chatting quietly. "What do you make of that then Anne-girl?"
Anne looked at Gilbert, Marilla's words echoing in her mind. Eyes shining, she said, "I think it's wonderful, just wonderful." Gilbert relaxed by her side and nodded; he was happy too.
A/N The last black bear was found on PEI in 1830