Thank you for reviewing me.

As Monty would say, "that's exceedingly kind of you."

Here's an early Christmas present for all my wonderful readers.

Meri kirihimete as we say round these parts.

love k

...

chapter three

Within hours of his arrival at Green Gables all those years ago, everyone had heard of Jeremiah Nym. A boy who had never seen a cow before–let alone milked one–or felt the touch of grass beneath his feet. It was rumoured that he refused to go further than the Cuthbert's yard; that he ran away from the chickens and cried in fright at the geese.

The Cuthberts were at sixes and sevens over what to do. The boy was certainly a help around the house, he could make up a bed in a minute and catch a mouse with his bare hands. But Miss Marilla was not looking for assistance in that department, thank you very much, the house was her domain. It was her brother that needed a helping hand, he was getting on sixty and not as spry as he once was. It never occurred to either of them that the orphan they ordered would be so citified, and they had no idea how to break him in.

Mrs Rachel Lynde, their very round neighbour with some very pointed opinions, took control of the situation. The Sunday school picnic was coming up, why didn't Marilla take the "little weed" along and introduce him to some likely lads who could better teach him the Island ways.

Gilbert Blythe was at that picnic and looking for some sport because his favourite crow was away in Charlottetown for the summer. He suggested a game of stick ball, but no one wanted the little weed on their team. Gilbert didn't pick him either, but he soon regretted his mistake when the Cuthbert's boy hit the ball so far, it struck the bell in the church tower.

A competitive spirit soon flourished between them inside the classroom and out. Gilbert Blythe was considered by all as the brain of the class, and Jeremiah was a natural scholar. He had known where they kept the good books at the Asylum, the ones that had been donated by well-meaning types, and were deemed too precious by the Hopetown matron for scruffy orphans to touch. But Jerry could squeeze through the broken panel in the matron's cupboard and he had read all those books several times over, he even understood some of it. So, he couldn't tell a Wyandotte from a Plymouth, the boy knew Hiawatha by heart, and even better, had a brilliant talent for mimicry. Handwriting, French accents, a crying baby, a resounding fart. How many times had Gilbert turned purple as he watched all the folks at Prayer Meeting eye each other and sniff the air, after one of Jerry's pranks.

That's what undid them in the end, when the two of them pranked the schoolmaster. The boys were bored by their lacklustre lessons because Mr Phillips only cared about Prissy Andrews, who was as dumb as she was comely. So Gilbert devised a love letter and Jerry wrote it out, and they left it tucked behind the cloakroom mirror which Mr Phillips used to squeeze his spots. The dolt stayed out all night waiting for Prissy to turn up at Silas Sloane's barrens, and was woken by the Sloane's donkey peeing all over him. He turned up to school next day, unshaven and ripe for revenge. First, he took aim at Prissy, who blubbed uncontrollably at being so suspected and vowed she would never forgive him. This drove Teddy Phillips into a frenzy and he yanked all the infants into a line and said he would whip each one until the letter-writer confessed.

Gilbert was out of his chair before the cane came out of the drawer. "We never meant anything by it," he said, "it's your fault for makin' Prissy cry."

He was bidden to come to the front of the class. Gilbert did so, then held out his hand.

"Oh no," said Phillips viciously, "if you're going to play pranks like a baby, you can take your punishment like one too. Bend over, boy."

"But Sir, you can't!" Ruby Gillis piped up. "Gilbert's fourteen!"

Phillips seemed to reconsider for a moment. "All right, Blythe, six to each hand," he said, "if you tell me who your accomplice was. I seem to recall you said we."

Jerry was staring at the cane in Phillip's grasp, his mouth clamped in a tight line. Gilbert felt sick to the stomach. He could not believe his mate was going to let him take the fall for this. He bent his head and bit his lip, but never said another word.

Nor did he make one sound, as he braced his hands upon school master's desk and took lick after lick. After six he went red, after twelve he made his lip bleed, after fifteen the girls were all crying and Fred Wright ran out of the room.

"Tell me who your accomplice was!" Phillips was shouting as Fred pulled his mother into the school house.

Florence Wright was a brawny woman with forearms like boiled hams. She stormed up the aisle, plucked the cane from the schoolmaster's hand and started whipping him.

Teddy Phillips pelted toward the door, screeching as he went. That was the last they saw of him. And the last day of Gilbert and Jerry's friendship.

Sure, they still competed, at least Gilbert did. He wanted to best Jerry in every test and assignment, and he did. But winning didn't have the same savour, it was like running a Derby against a three-legged horse. Gilbert could never shake the feeling that Jerry had stopped trying. He wasn't giving his all anymore, he was letting Gilbert win.

Gilbert topped the Entrance exam when he never cared a jot about Queens, and won the Avery when he never cared a stitch for college. He just wanted to beat Jerry, and ended up getting everything he never wanted. Sometimes he hated his own success. Things just seemed to happen to him–even the girl beside him.

"You know it's very rude to look away when someone is talking to you," she said. "You did that to Miss Pye too."

Gilbert turned back from the window. Monty was sitting Turk style, cradling the book he had brought out before. "Mitts off," he grabbed it back. "That's mine."

"I wasn't going to steal it, it's a rubbish copy anyhow, ten years out of date… So," Monty shuffled closer till her boots touched against his thigh, "how did a smart man like you end up with a woman like her?"

Gilbert's eyes narrowed. "I don't think I like your tone."

Monty's nose rose. "And I don't think I like your taste in women."

"You're one to talk," Gilbert said drolly. "What about this Remy–if he loves you so much why doesn't he come back for you?"

The boots retreated but Monty's eyes–now so very green–stayed pinned to his. "I must have touched a nerve for you to say something so ungentlemanly. You don't like Miss Pye much, do you?"

"Sure I do," Gilbert shrugged.

"Name one thing you like about her."

"I can do better than that, I can tell you the best thing. Josephine is loyal."

Gilbert said it in a way that suggested her Remy was not. But a hayseed could have no idea about true love. He might have been beautiful in a certain light but he had never sworn an oath by moonlight or swapped locks of hair or promised to wait till eternity, Monty was sure of that. Only one thing could be keeping Remy from returning: he had no way to get back to her. All Monty could do was wait and believe, and she had got so used to doing both she wouldn't know how to give up if she had to.

"This has got something to do with your terrific story, doesn't it?" she said. "I wonder what I have to do to tease it out of you–"

The textbook fell to the floor with a slam. "Listen Cherry, just because your tongue is fastened in the middle, it doesn't mean mine is!"

This was the rudest thing that Gilbert Blythe had ever uttered in his twenty-two years. All Avonlea would have gasped had they heard him; Gilbert was very tempted to gasp himself. He was filled with an urgent need to take it back–and almost did. Until Monty did something equally inexplicable and laughed.

"Fastened in the middle! Oh, that's perfect. Is that an Avonlea-ism?" She dipped into her pocket and brought out the slip of soap, a large key, some spectacles (one lens was cracked) and a tiny black notebook. A stub of pencil was tucked in the spine and she licked it, before scrawling down the phrase. "What?" she went on, when she noticed him staring, "I told you I'm a collector."

"You're something, all right."

Gilbert started chuckling, which was strange because only a moment ago he was ready to throw his book at her. He scooped up his knees and wrapped his arms around them, his teeth bright between his smiling lips.

Monty did not return his smile, she was looking very serious. "I am everything," she said to him. "I have to be."

Monty curled up and slept for the rest of the journey, she wasn't particularly tired but she knew to grab sleep when she could. When they got into Kingsport station the stores were closing and the ale houses were opening. It struck Gilbert that while she seemed queen of her domain on that hill, and a giant in their compartment, on the crowded platform Monty was looking very small, like the waif she really was.

He had been all ready to tip his cap and get going and then he said, "I could help you deliver your mushrooms–I'm not in any hurry…"

"Oh?" Her brows disappeared under the frill of her cap in surprise. "That's–well that's exceedingly kind of you, Gilbert, but I won't be selling them till the morning. Mrs Keen buys all I can get, she's a cook for one of the big houses on Spofford Avenue. Her master is partial to mushrooms for breakfast, but she'll only pay if they've been freshly picked that morning. So I was going to go there at sun up and hunt out some Lady's Mantle in the park near her house. It's excellent for collecting dew. Then I simply sprinkle it all over my harvest."

"Nice trick," said Gilbert. "And how much does she pay you?"

"That depends on the amount. But I figured with all those chanterelles I could get at least two gallons of lard–"

"Lard?"

"Uh huh, Jimmy Watts has a doughnut stand by the football ground, and he's always short when the season starts. He pays me in cream–his sweetheart works at a dairy. I could get a whole bucket for two gallons, and that means Miss Frobisher would let me into the good part of her garden. She's a perfect slave to her Egyptian Maus–they're a type of cat, did you know that?"

"Sorry, but there's such a thing as a good part of a garden?"

"Oh yes, Miss Frobisher's roses win prizes, it's because she lives high on the hill. Usually I can only get to her violets and pansies, you know for a gentleman's buttonhole, but if I got hold of some of her roses I could make ten times as much as I could from those mushrooms. At the start of every new term everyone wants roses. The girls because they want the boys to think they all have beaux, and the boys because they want to get a girl. The professors don't go for anything so obvious, they're more the orchid type–hey, watch where you're walking!"

Monty sent a scowl to the tall, beaky women who pushed past her, and pulled her carpet bag close to her chest. The roll of cheesecloth toppled out and Gilbert caught it with the hand that wasn't holding his suitcase.

"You're a flower seller?" he said.

"You sound disappointed."

"No, I'm amazed." He motioned for them to start walking and she trotted behind, her eyes just visible above her bag. "I never realized flower selling would be so hard on your shoes. Going by your route tomorrow you'll have to walk at least seven miles together to get those roses and that's before you walk the streets–"

Monty stopped in her tracks. "I never said I walked the streets!"

"I didn't mean that. I mean your boots–they're almost falling off your feet."

"That's why I'm going to the shoe shop tomorrow."

"So all of this is to buy new boots?"

Monty laughed. "How else would I buy them? For a college boy you don't have much sense!"

As he climbed the stairs to the main street, Gilbert found himself peering behind his shoulder to check if she was still there. She was the type of girl, he was sure of this, who could suddenly disappear. He didn't want to lose her, he knew this now. Though whether for his own sake or for Jerry's, he wasn't sure.

"I'm hungry, aren't you?" he said as they crossed the road toward town. He hadn't eaten anything but an apple for hours. Monty hadn't eaten anything at all. "What I could really go for is some baked potatoes piled high with buttery mushrooms."

He went to smile at her and saw she had stopped again. Her brow crinkled as though she was thinking, then she started digging into her bag.

"But of course, you'll want paying for all your help," she said. "Ah… how many mushrooms do you want?"

Gilbert laughed now. "I don't want you to pay me," he said, tugging on her arm. It was like trying to pull a donkey. "I'm going to buy 'em."

The crinkles in her brows turned into furrows, and her boots remained planted in the ground. "But if I sell them to you, I won't get a quarter what I'd get for my roses, you know that."

"You know what else I know? All the lads from my boarding house will be coming in from the pub in about two hours. They'll be hungry and all too happy to part with their money for a hot spud and some mushroom gravy. It would save you all that running around tomorrow, you'll easily make enough for your boots."

"You mean you want to go into business with me?" Monty set her bag down and spat on her hand before offering it to Gilbert.

When Gilbert did the same he could feel their warm spit mingling. This time he didn't even think about wiping his hand on his trousers.

* Plymouth and Wyandotte are types of chicken

* Hiawatha refers to poem 'The song of Hiawatha' by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, 1855

* Lady's Mantle is a herb with cup-like leaves. It was believed that the dew it collected could turn base metal into gold!