This idea has been rolling around in my head for a year or two, but I only figured out how to begin it a couple of days ago. In true kwak fashion I am making this up as I go. Nothing is pre-written, but give me a week and I should have thunk up chapter two!
So, just to set the scene, the story begins about ten years after the rightful boy came to live with the Cuthberts. Gilbert won the Avery scholarship, went straight to Redmond at eighteen, and is now in his final year. As to what happened to everyone else, you'll have to wait and see...
for Maud of course, and FKAJ (because YOU KNOW, J)
meant to be
"Don't look now, Gilbert, but there appears to be a bear on the train."
Gilbert dropped the suitcase and pressed his nose against the window. He expected to see a wet nose, maybe some sharp yellow teeth, definitely a mess of torn up upholstery. But inside the compartment it was neat and quiet, save a round, furry shape tucked up on one of the bench seats.
He stood back and shoved his hands in his pockets. "Huh."
"Huh?" said Josephine. "We were seconds from being ripped to pieces and all you can say is 'huh'? Go fetch the porter. I don't see why we should have to deal with this."
The porter was passing by with a trolley and Josephine put herself in his path. After a brief, unsatisfactory conversation, she was assured that it was no bear but a passenger in a thick fur coat. No, the passenger could not be moved on. No, it was within the railway's terms and conditions to allow occupants to sleep should they wish to. No, there was no other compartment available for third class ticket holders like herself. That settled, the porter hastened down the platform while Josephine glared at his retreating back.
"Can you believe that?"
Gilbert replied that he could not, though honestly, he could. The passenger inside the compartment had broken no rules save those against fashion. And say what you like about Josephine Pye, she did know a lot about style. She had taken Gilbert in hand not long after the funeral. He was her 'rough diamond' as she liked to say, and she meant to polish him smooth. Gilbert didn't mind, he was the easy-going sort. Anything to get along, that was him. He avoided bumps when possible–these days he barely felt them. And if Josephine grated, she also served as a reminder that he had not gone numb. And that had to be good.
He went in first, tucked his suitcase beneath a bench and offered Josephine first choice of seat. She chose a place furthest from the offending passenger, which meant Gilbert had to sit opposite the huddled ball of fur. Going by the size of the ball, it looked to be young woman or possibly a tall girl. Her back was to him, her fur coat pulled over her head. The shape of her and the soles of her boots were the only signs that she was human. The boots had maybe one more winter in them, and the carpet bag beneath her seat was missing a handle. He knew a good knot for that, if he had seen her coming over on the ferry he might have known to look for some rope…
"Well this is cosy," said Josephine. Which meant that it was not.
"You hungry?" Gilbert nodded to her basket filled with knitting and lunch.
"After that crossing?" Josephine sighed, then unwrapped a small sandwich. "It might help to settle my stomach."
She felt like a snooze herself, but not with that beast in their compartment. Neither could she rest her head upon Gilbert's shoulder as she had often pictured she would. It was so difficult to find time alone. He was always on the farm with his father in summer, where it was early to bed and early to rise and no time for anything else. Not that Josephine dissuaded him from working. Gilbert was an only child, and the land would be worth a pretty penny one day.
Sandwich finished, she chose an apple and offered one to Gilbert. He ate it core, seeds and all while she cut hers into slices with her silver-plated knife. She asked him to toss her core out the window but he wouldn't. Not until they passed the graveyard.
"Gilbert, you're being morbid. The chances of an apple tree taking root there are next to none."
Gilbert said nothing, it was easy to pretend he hadn't heard her with his head halfway out the window. They hurtled past the graveyard, past the small town of Sinclair and over the river that bore the same name. The apple core scattered some ducks on the water, and when he turned back he saw Josephine was knitting.
Gilbert stood before her and was bade to turn around. He felt her hands at his neck as she measured the yoke of his sweater. Her fingers fluffed up the curls at his nape. It was the sort of touch that should have aroused him; used to arouse him when someone else did it.
"That tickles," he flinched and shifted away.
"You need a haircut," Josephine said, and proceeded to tell him what sort of haircut he should get and where to find the best barber in Kingsport. "If you would only make more of yourself. Why don't you wear that jacket I made you? You need to stop thinking like some hayseed and start thinking like a doctor–"
"Hush, I'm counting the stitches."
"Josie," Gilbert turned to face her and dug his hands into his pockets again. "I don't know if I want to be a doctor–"
"Not this again." Josephine carefully rolled up her knitting, then invited Gilbert to sit. "I know these last few years have been hard on you, but you mustn't let it pull you down, you mustn't let them win."
"It's not that."
"Oh yes, it is. Don't you remember how unstoppable you were? You topped the Entrance exam, got the highest mark in all the Island and you won all those scholarships. The Thorburn, the Avery–"
"What, I can't mention the Avery now, does everything have to be tied up with her?"
"It's not as simple as that."
"Yes, it is, Gil. Ever since she died you've doubted yourself. But you know who never did, even when everyone shunned you. Who was the one person who stood by your side?"
Several people had stood by his side, but Gilbert knew the answer he was supposed to give.
Josephine smiled. She was very pretty when she smiled but it happened so seldom it was easy to forget.
"I've waited for you for half my life, probably more. You think I want to wait even longer? But I will because you are meant to be a doctor. When no one else believes in you, Gilbert, I will."
He kissed her because it seemed like the obvious thing to do. He was aiming for her mouth but her eyes flicked over to the bear-shaped ball in the corner, so he brushed his lips over her cheek instead.
Josephine started giggling. "You've got rouge all over you."
"That's not your real colour?"
Her hand went to his face. "You know for someone with your reputation, you'd think you'd be a bit more worldly. I'm not a fresh-faced maid anymore, I'm nearly twenty. So just you mind that," she patted his cheek, "and hurry up and win that Cooper."
The knitting came out again so Gilbert shuffled closer to the window. By the sound of the clicking needles he knew Josephine was happy and hoped they would pass the next miles in silence. As the train slowed down for Amherst station he suddenly remembered she was there and noticed she was sleeping. She wouldn't like to be discovered that way, not after she had scorned the other passenger for doing the same. Gilbert's eyes darted to the girl. She had rolled over and her nose and mouth were visible. He watched in a trance as the black fur moved in and out with her breath.
The coat wasn't made of bear at all, but seal. He could tell by its thickness and the way the pelt caught the light. It gleamed like a deep black velvet and must have cost a fortune. Yet the girl who wore it had shoes that were coming apart. He wondered if she would be getting off too.
While he wondered, the train whistled and Josephine startled awake. A pink stain from her cheek had left a mark on her the collar of her pale blue jacket. Should he point that out, or pretend he hadn't noticed?
"No, don't get up," she said to him, as she gathered her basket. "I want to remember you just as you are. Looking out the window and dreaming of our future."
"Let me help you with your luggage."
"Uncle can do that, oh look there he is!" Josephine pointed out the window. "Laws, but he's got fat!"
Josephine's uncle was ordering the porter to find a trolley for his niece's trunk. She waved at him excitedly and blew him several kisses. She blew one to Gilbert, and then she was gone.
The instant the door closed, the girl in the seal coat jerked upwards and stretched out her arms. Her wrists were stick thin and old fashioned crocheted gloves covered her hands. He could not see her eyes.
"Do you prefer Gilbert or Gil?" she said with a yawn. "Let me guess, you don't care."
Gilbert sat back in his seat, unnerved by the question. "And who are you?"
"I reckon you can call me lucky."
"Call you lucky?"
The girl tugged her hood down and smiled at him. "Yes. Lucky that bossy bird got off the train!"
Beneath the hood, she wore a mob cap like his grandmother used to wear. The frilled edge drooped around her head and made him think of a shell.
"I think I'll call you Gilbert," she said, "it's is a good knightly name. Gil puts me in mind of a gulping fish flopping about in a net."
He raised his eyebrows at her coat. "Seals seem to like 'em."
"Goodness," she burst out laughing, "do you think I mean to eat you?"
Gilbert was about to say that the first time he saw her he suspected her doing just that, but she was already talking again.
"It means bright pledge–from the Germanic. Did you know that?"
"You study languages?"
"I study everything. I've been studying you if you want to know."
Gilbert did not. He was aware of how he must have come off to this stranger and didn't need reminding. All the same, he sat a little taller and crossed one leg over the other, his boot resting on his knee.
This made her laugh even harder. "I swear I won't eat you!"
"What made you think that?"
"You. Trying to make yourself bigger. Bunch over, would you, I can't see from here," and she squeezed between him and the window. "They're about to turn on the water crane. Poor Abel, he can barely work the pump–he's got rheumatism in his fingers and is always trying to hide it. Listen…"
She turned to Gilbert, her face was very close. Sunburned or flushed he couldn't tell. And her eyes were huge; unsettling somehow. Like smoke from a forest fire, the green flecks in them glowing the way trees do in the golden hour.
"Listen," she said again, "you look hot."
Gilbert's boot slipped off his knee. "Sorry?"
"You look hot in that atrocious sweater, why don't you take it off?"
Gilbert did not feel hot before but he was beginning to feel hot now. His ears were burning which meant his cheeks must have gone red. "Ah, I don't know what gave you the impression that I was looking for… I mean you saw Miss Pye, right?"
"Oh," she winced, "I thought she was your sister–you don't mean to tell me you're married?"
Her breath ruffled through his curls as she sighed with relief. "You stretch that 'yet' out as long as you can, Gilbert. Now, about that sweater…"
He shrugged and peeled it off. "Now what?"
She didn't answer. She stood up, threw back her sealskin coat and stuffed his sweater under her shirtwaist.
"What are you–"
"Call for help, quick!"
Before Gilbert could say another word, she had pushed the door open and called for help, herself.
"Hello, hello there! Please, we've got to get this train moving right now!"
Gilbert watched, half intrigued, half anxious about what was going to happen next. A porter came jogging across the platform, his pudgy hands spread wide with fright as he took in some cock and bull story about his passenger going into labour.
"Perhaps you should alight here, Miss." The porter was flustered. "I'll send the ticket boy for a doc!"
"I can't afford a doctor, just get this train moving. You don't want me having a baby right here!"
"But we need to take on water–"
"You will be in a minute. It'll be mine, all over this compartment!"
The porter dashed away to have words with the conductor. The girl plopped opposite Gilbert with a small triumphant smile. "Is he talking to a short man–massive moustache?" Gilbert nodded. "Good, he likes his liquor, that one, lazy as they come. He'll want us out of here, push us onto the next station."
"And what do you plan to do at the next station?" Gilbert couldn't help ask.
She leaned forward, her eyes slanting with a wider grin. "We won't get to the next station, we'll have to stop for water. This engine has a very small tank."
"So, why on earth did you–"
"Shhh, he's coming back."
Gilbert watched in amazement as the girl clutched hard at his rolled-up sweater and started to groan. Just as she predicted, the conductor ordered Abel away and set his flag to waving. The door had barely closed before the pistons started shunting, and the train began moving again.
The sweater landed on his lap. "Thanks for that."
"Are you going to tell me what this is about?" He frowned at her.
"You're a clever lad, why don't you work it out?"
It wasn't the answer Gilbert was looking for, but he rather liked the question. It wasn't often he was left to draw his own conclusions. All his life, everything had been laid out for him. Even giving up farm-work for the scholarly life hadn't been his idea.
"You must take this route a lot if you know the goings-on of the railway staff."
She rolled her eyes. "Obviously."
"If we stop somewhere between Amherst and the next town, that'll bring us smack in the middle of Kilmuir forest."
"They'll have to take a trolley car out with a tank of water, that'll take a good hour."
"Hour and a half, by my reckoning," she said. "Should give me plenty of time."
Gilbert could tell she wanted him ask her why she needed that time; she was looking very pleased with herself.
"A lot of people in this train will miss their connection because of you," he said sharply. "Who are you, anyway?"
She studied him for a moment, then nodded her head. "I think I can trust you," she thrust out one gloved hand. "My name is Rosamund Cordelia De Vere Montmorency, but you can call me Monty."
Her hand was hard beneath her glove when he took it, and very small. He shook it once and let go.
"Montmorency, huh? Like the cherry."
Monty's smile vanished and she pulled her hood down over her eyes. "Wake me when we stop for water," she said.
He didn't need to wake her, within five miles the engine sounded like it was running on rocks and when they were all instructed to exit their compartments the tracks radiated with heat. Fortunately, it was a shady place they had stopped at with lots of rolling pine-needle beds for the passengers to sit upon. Gilbert was conscious of their grumbling and felt wholly responsible. He could have stopped her, he could have refused to take off his sweater. He checked his watch. It was five minutes to two.
"You have a watch!" Monty clasped her hands under her chin. "This day just gets better and better." She held out one hand to him. "Let's go!"
Part of him wanted to stay where he was just to show her she couldn't just push him around. But a bigger part was curious. He wasn't used to this. Life on the Island ran like clockwork and college had turned out the same. For all his chums at Redmond acted worldly-wise, they turned out to be just as cliquey as the most venerable Avonlea clan.
When he asked her where they were going, he felt like a small boy tagging after his father when he went off on a hunt.
Monty squinted into the forest. "We're looking for a stump that looks like a throne." She took off her sealskin coat and lay it carefully under a tree. "You're safer here," she said.
After that she began rummaging around in her carpet bag and brought out a small tin bucket and a roll of cheesecloth, while her assistant took the hint and hunted around for the throne. Ol' Bossy bird was right, Gilbert was a hayseed. Trusting and obliging with the hardy tough-skinned build of someone who grew up on fresh air and turnips. He was too tall for her, and his curly hair was gauche, but without his atrocious sweater and that bird chirping in his ear, Monty had to admit this Gilbert was almost handsome.
"Almost," she whispered to herself. "I'll always be true to you, dear Remy," and gave her coat a loving pat.
Gilbert came loping over. His teeth were very white when he smiled.
"You found it then?" she asked him, and pushed the roll of cheesecloth into his arms. "Come, Sir Gilbert, we're going on a quest!"