Whoa Nelly! I passed two hundred reviews! I cannot believe it happened so quickly, and the follows and faves are so encouraging. It's rare for me to gain more readers as I write, I usually start great guns and then fall off to a steady rhythm. I'm grateful either way, but it is a nice surprise to find so many new people here. Welcome and thank you! love, k.

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chapter sixteen

The hired-lady was put in the hired-man's room that night. John would have offered the spare room but it was crammed with all sorts of bric-a-brac. It had been since his wife had died. It was easier that way. Easier to keep the house clean and easier to manage his time. Easier not to be surrounded by her samplers and paintings and vases and doilies–anything that reminded him of her.

Anne did not mind. Such a place merely cemented her position in this house. It was a poky room just off the kitchen with a small window that faced straight east. There was no curtain and a freezing draft squeezed through a crack around the window frame at dawn, and shivered her awake. She allowed herself five minutes to wash and dress and make up the chaise that was squeezed under a shelf. The house was dark, there was no fire in the hearth. A quick look at the backdoor showed that John had already gone. His boots were missing, and without a pair of her own Anne had no easy way to find out where he was.

Never mind, she would make up the fire herself, get some bread on, and some oats. When little Lark appeared an hour later she threw off the sweater she always wore over her nightdress, and hunkered down in front of the crackling flames.

Anne had an image of the little girl shivering in the dark by the cinders each morning, waiting for her grandfather to make breakfast. It was no way to raise a child–and she should know. She had lived in some very dark, cold houses and suffered many a growling belly.

Lark took it all in her stride and despite the comforts of a heated room and a warm bowl of creamy oats, seemed less than impressed with Anne's efforts. She was hoping for pancakes. Satty always made oats. And when was she gonna get her overalls, and when was morning tea? It had better not be biscuits again. Satty always made them too.

"I have some errands to run before I can make any plans like that." Anne huffed–not so much from Lark's ingratitude as the realization that taking care of a child was not going to be as easy as she thought. She was not going to be able to come and go as she wanted to, or indeed the way she had lived most of her life. Lark's needs would have to come first. Anne was not used to that.

"Then I'm comin' too," Lark said, dumping a good portion of her porridge into the sink. "Satty's is nicer, he puts maple syrup on top. I want to wear my blue smock today. You can iron it."

"I believe there's a store in Newbridge?" Anne said, trying to keep her voice light.

"You mean Lawson's? We don't go there. Satty says Mister Lawson is a cheat. He goes to Mister Blair's store in Carmody. That's much furvver."

"Well, I'm going to Lawson's," Anne said through gritted teeth. "I haven't any boots–"

"Izzat all?" Lark said, "I can help wiff that." She scooted off to her room and dug about in the closet. "I can't reach!" she yelled. "Hired-lady, come here!"

Anne threw down her scrubbing brush, earning her a splash of sludgy water on her apron and marched into Lark's room. "Lark, I am trying to clean the…" She paused and took an astonished breath as Lark's sticky hands brushed over the dresses, coats, skirts and blouses crammed inside the closet. Anne had never seen so many clothes before, and all in dazzling jewel-toned hues. Tucks and flounces and frills and lace. And in a row on the shelf above, a neat line of delicate boots and slippers. "Oh! They're glorious. Were these Mrs Blythe's?"

"They were Mama's. She made most of 'em. She was a real lady, all golden and good. That's why God took her back."

"Sweetheart," Anne touched a hand to Lark's flossy curls, "who told you that?"

"No one told me," Lark batted her away. "That's what happened. God needed her to make the angels' dresses. No one could sew like my Mama. She would make my overalls. She would have finished 'em by now."

"Lark dear, I will make your overalls but I haven't got any fabric or a pattern. How about we make a deal? You let me do what I need to do, and then I'll have all the time in the world to take care of you?"

"All right," the girl uttered grudgingly, as though this wasn't a very good deal at all. "You can borrow some of Mama's clothes. And her shoes if they fit."

Unfortunately, the shoes did not fit. They were too small and too wide. The shirtwaists were made for a bustier girl too, but they both shared the same neat waist. Anne longed to try on some of the showier gowns, but she was smart enough not to push her luck. In the end she settled on a cream blouse with a frilled yoke and cuffs, a green velvet jacket and matching walking skirt.

"There's a hat that goes wiff it. Here tis!" Lark said after digging through a pile of hat boxes under her bed. "Awww, the little bird is missin'."

She passed up the hat and Anne lowered it onto her head. It looked marvellously chic with her glossy red hair. She really did feel like a lady.

"There was a yeller bird with blue eyes and a red breast that used to be in the nettin'." Lark pouted. "I bet my aunties took it, they was always after mama's clothes. But granny said they was my 'heritance!"

"It's very kind of you to share with me," Anne said, not sorry at all about the missing bird. "I'll understand if you change your mind."

"Oh no!" Lark gave one of her emphatic head-shakes. "I'm not going wiff you to Lawson's in your yucky ol' duds. They make you look awf'l!"

By the time Anne had finished ironing the blue smock, the bread was ready to come out of the oven. She left it on the bench to cool, then added some lentils and an onion into the last bit of stew to make some soup for Mr Blythe.

He still hadn't appeared and Anne still didn't have any boots. She remembered the ones in the hall. Knee-high leather the colour of mahogany and shined within an inch of their life. It took an extra pair of socks to make them fit and they were very masculine in style. But Ruby wore her skirts extremely long, the pleated trim of white satin skimmed over Anne's toes. Forget lady, she felt like a queen, and admired herself in the looking glass a little too long.

Lark was left to look for her cap while Anne went out to the barn. John was there in his shirtsleeves working a plane over a length of wood to fix the side of the cart. He thought Anne looked very well in Ruby's clothes, he did not mind her borrowing Gilbert's boots either. And when he heard there was fresh bread and soup waiting for him he broke into a smile very like his son's.

Lurking in the shadows was Dovey, and he wore a very different expression. It appeared that he did not like a fellow traveller like Anne acting above her station.

"I'm only borrowing the clothes," Anne said to Dovey, "It was Lark that suggested it."

"She's jus' a baby, she don' know any better. But I do… and I don' like it. It's bad luck, Mister Bly'," Dovey said to him. "Make her take 'em off."

John was taken aback. It wasn't often that Dovey expressed his feelings, and when he did they were always benign. The lad had a reputation for being easy-going, a little too easy-going George Fletcher said. Dovey used to work for John's brother-in-law, but he had let him go some years ago because of the hired-man's habit of wandering off. Dovey couldn't help it, he said, his feet they would get the feeling and march of their own accord. But he hadn't done much wandering for a good while now, and had proved indispensable at Mandorla with Gilbert always gone.

"I ain't gonna do that," John said quietly. "It's none of your business."

"S'bad luck," Dovey muttered again and crossed his wiry arms. "I don' wan' any of that soup either."

"Fine with me," Anne said a little haughtily. "I only made enough for one."

Dovey said he was off to check the pigs, Anne told John about her plans. They were going to the store (she didn't say which store) to get some boots and fabric for Lark's overall, and she asked John if he wanted anything. She hoped he did, the supplies in the kitchen while not scant were monotonous. The sorts of things that could make up stew and biscuits and little else.

"Nope," John said and picked up his tools. "That all?"

Anne realized she was being dismissed and told John she would see him for supper. If he replied his words were lost with the screech of the plane across the wood.

Lark was waiting for her on the back porch, pacing up and down. "Come on, hired-lady," she whined. "We got a long way to go."

It was a good mile walk to Lawson's store and Anne carried Lark for most of it. She hadn't noticed Lark wasn't wearing sensible shoes. They were sodden within five minutes and she grumpy and cold. Sunday always put hot potatoes in her pockets to keep her warm.

"Where's your hat?" Anne said, noting the wee girl's red nose and cheeks.

"I couldn't find it," said Lark. "I need to use the outhouse, I wanna see the Barrys, they live on that hill. Can we go there instead, they have a piano?"

On she went. Anne was beginning to have some sympathy with Mrs Lynde's opinion of Lark, but the moment she thought this she chastened herself. She remembered all the times she had exasperated some grown up who ran out of tolerance for her childish needs. It was her fault Lark was cold and wet, and no one else.

Anne tried to cheer Lark, though she was hardly in a storytelling mood, especially now her white satin trim was closer to rust after trudging down the churned-up road. Lark was waving to the housewives and girls sweeping their porches and shaking their rugs. They waved back at first, before narrowing their eyes as they sized up the young woman carrying her. Some already knew who she must be, and others were about to find out about the impudent guttersnipe who came home with John Blythe's hired man. Only she was a lot prettier and a lot more stylish than Mrs Lynde made out.

A homely girl was one thing, no one minded that kind of girl living under a widower's roof. But beauty awakens something in some women. Sometimes envy, sometimes admiration, and often the suspicion that no flesh and blood man could possibly resist such temptation. What was Marilla Cuthbert going to say about this?

Anne's coy smiles didn't help matters. Nor did the tilt of her charming nose when her smiles of greeting weren't returned.

"I'm waiting!" Lark said.

"Sorry," Anne was flustered. "What are you waiting for, Lark dear?"

"I'm waiting for you to start your story. You said you had a good one, you said it would make me laugh. Can I walk now? I've got pins'n'needles in my bottom."

They finally made it to Lawson's. Anne left Lark to look at the jars of candy while she sized up some boots. She could afford them, but she also needed a hat for Lark and another pair of mittens. The first pair were dropped some way back. Then there was the fabric for the overalls–would she need all new sewing things too? Perhaps there was an old basket of Mrs Blythe's in the spare room somewhere. Though going by the tatty lace on Lark's coat it did not look like John Blythe did much sewing.

"Jerry, Jerry, we're over here!"

Anne nearly dropped the scissors she was holding. She looked about her, far too low–she kept forgetting Jerry was a grown man–and heard the shrill voice call his name again. That voice sounded very familiar–where had she heard it before? The scissors fell from her hand as Anne spotted the brightly dressed personage of Josephine Pye.

She shrank back behind the stacks of gingham, her face turning red and her heart in her throat as Josephine started waving wildly. She was giggling too, while the fat man beside her looked at his watch. Then another man strode up to them. Tall and handsome and distinguished-looking, with dark, melancholy, inscrutable eyes. His voice melting and sympathetic as he apologized to Josephine for his lateness.

Was that–her Remy? Anne never got the chance to ruminate on that question as Lark started shouting for her.

"Hired-lady! Where are you! I got stuck!"

Anne wanted to disappear into the floor. No, at the moment she wished Lark would do the disappearing act. Why did she have to call for her now? One eye was on the trio chatting by the molasses barrel, the other was on the hunt for Lark. Anne found her with her hand stuck in a candy jar. It took some time to convince the child that she would only get free if she let go of all the acid drops.

"Lark," she hissed, and lifted the girl in front of her, "those people by the counter, do you see them?"

"Oh yeah, I see 'em all right." Lark blew a loud raspberry, "Thass Josie Pie-face."

"Hush, you mustn't…" but Anne was not inclined to inculcate a good moral lesson just then, her heart was about to leap from her chest. "The other two–I mean the younger man–do you know him?"

Lark sighed. "It's just Jerry Cuffbert. Oooh," she wriggled in Anne's arms and tried to get down. "I wonder if Davy's here too! Jer-ry, JER-REEEE!" she shouted across the store.

Anne's heart had left the building now and her stomach was on the floor. It was Jerry. And he was walking over to them.

Lark squirmed free of Anne's clutches and ran down the aisle to meet him. Anne leaned hard against the shelf. She had always thought of Jerry as a small, thin, wiry boy. Beaten down and robbed of his dreams. But this man… She scarcely dared to look upon his angelic face.

Anne was filled with temptation too, the temptation to run from the store. She couldn't meet him, she was not ready. But little Lark had other ideas.

"Thass her, Jerry, thass my hired-lady," she said clutching Jerry's hand. "Satty got her for me, wasn't that nice?"

"How do you do?" Jerry tipped his hat. "You must excuse me, I'm late for my appointment with the Pyes. But it was good to meet you, Miss?"

"Shirley… " Anne wheezed.

"Ah… " Jerry's perfect brow crinkled into endearing lines and his bottom lip fell just a little. He looked as though he was trying to remember the words of a long forgotten song.

Josie scuttled up the aisle and tried to prize Lark from Jerry's hand. "Let go, Ruby, there's a good girl. We must be leaving–" She paused as she noticed the queer look on Jerry's face, then turned to see the girl who was the cause of it. She was a pretty, fresh-faced thing, nicely dressed if rather old-fashioned, and her hem was terribly muddy. That hat, however, looked sort of familiar. Come to think of it, so did the face beneath the hat. The red hair, the freckles, the big-eyed stare... What in blazes was she doing here?

"Miss Cherry?"

"No, silly it's my hired-lady!"

"It's Miss Shirley," Anne wheezed again.

Jerry's arm shot out and leaned against the shelf as though his legs were in danger of giving way. With Anne's weight against it already it rocked once and toppled with a crash. He barely noticed, much less cared, but every other customer was looking at the mess. Rolls of gingham and calico were spilling out over the floor. Lark was shrieking and jumping about. Josie was shouting for assistance. Anne stood frozen to the spot.

"Golly," said Jerry huskily. His hand went to his heart and he leaned in close. "Is this... forgive me, but I have to ask... are you... are you my Anne?"

...

Yes, there is another Maud quote tucked away in this chapter. But I'm not gonna point it out, it's more fun for you to put it together ;o)