Avonlea's Brightest Son
Author email: laurie078
Summary: After spending three years out west while his father recuperated his health, Gilbert Blythe's life had finally returned to normalcy. With a crack of the slate, however, the Cuthberts' adopted orphan Anne Shirley turned his complacent routine of school, chores and good-natured torment upside-down. Anne's influence, if antagonistic, launches the matter-of-fact Gilbert on a journey of discovery: of self, of Anne, and of the allure of things unseen.
Author's Note: This narrative is an attempt to trace the events of L.M. Montgomery's Anne of Green Gables from a Gilbert-centric, although omniscient, perspective. Thus all the rules and events of canon apply. Naturally, L.M. Montgomery couldn't include every detail of Anne's life; the new events that I will describe are also an attempt to fill in the blanks of what she left out.
Disclaimer: This story is based on characters and situations created and owned by Lucy Maud Montgomery and her heirs, and various publishers, including but not limited to Scholastic Inc., and Bantam Books. No money is being made and no copyright infringement is intended. Only the few characters you do not recognize belong to me. I have taken the most liberties, out of necessity, with the Blythe family, and have striven to keep everyone else strictly in character as dictated by L.M. Montgomery. At times I will extract and build on passages from canon; all of these will be cited from the Scholastic Inc. Apple Paperbacks edition.
Chapter Summary: In which a lot of context and background information is provided. Gilbert and the Blythes return to Avonlea from New Brunswick. There are meetings, greetings, reminiscences, gossip and a few bumps on the head.
Chapter 1: A Welcome Homecoming
"I guess Gilbert Blythe will be in school today," said Diana. "He's been visiting his cousins over in New Brunswick all summer and he only came home Saturday night. …he's used to being head of his class, I can tell you. He's only in the fourth book although he's nearly fourteen. Four years ago his father was sick and had to go out to Alberta for his health and Gilbert went with him. They were there three years and Gil didn't go to school hardly any until they came back."
Anne of Green Gables, "A Tempest in the School Teapot"
Late September 1876
"Bright River, 20 miles!"
The conductor didn't notice the sleeping, curly-haired boy lying on the seat below, head perched precariously atop a battered copy of the Fourth Royal Reader, until his bellow had boomed through the corridor. Then he noticed him with a vengeance.
"Wha?" Startled from his peaceful slumber, Gilbert Blythe shot stark upright, or, rather, would have, had his head not struck the conductor's heavy clipboard first.
The conductor jumped back with astonishment as the Reader flew tumbling down the aisle, nearly dropping said clipboard in the process. Gilbert's hand flew immediately to his head, where he could feel a throbbing bump already starting to form. "Owwwww…," he groaned.
"I'm terrible sorry, laddie, didn't see you snoozing down there," the conductor said, grinning.
"You're lucky we're getting off at Bright River," Gilbert mumbled, continuing to rub his head. "Else I'd…"
But what else Gilbert would do was never to be revealed, as John Blythe's loud guffaws from the adjacent seat presently drowned out all other forms of communication.
The conductor retrieved the Reader from the floor and returned it to a bleary Gilbert.
"What a way to begin your school year, laddie!" he laughed. "You got all the sense knocked out of you before you even started!"
The conductor's chuckles, fortunately fading as he made his way down the train, did not serve to improve Gilbert's already groggy mood.
"Luckily I've got sense to spare," Gilbert said to his still grinning father, in a valiant attempt to make light of the situation.
"Especially if the information in here was seeping into that brain of yours," his father said, giving him a jarring clap on the shoulders that did not exactly help matters. "Is that how you do it, Gil? By using books for pillows?" He took the offending Reader from Gilbert's lap. "No wonder it's so ragged."
"You know it used to be Andrew Fletcher's, father," Gilbert said with a sigh. Keeping his books in mint condition clearly had not been a priority of Gilbert's elder cousin; judging from the rather thorough sketches in the margins, drawing unflattering caricatures of unsuspecting schoolmasters had taken precedence.
"So it did, so it did."
"You're sure you're all right, Gilbert?" Cecilia Blythe asked, all concern now that the latest installment in the Charlottetown newspaper's serial novel had been fully digested.
"Yes, mother. Only a small bump, honest. I'm reasonably sure the three R's are irrevocable, anyway." Gilbert paused. "Although I suppose that has only two R's." He grinned inwardly.
"After all, a nearly fourteen-year-old boy in the fourth class can't afford to lose any sense," Cecilia joked, rather tactlessly. She smiled at Gilbert, reached across the aisle to still more tactlessly tousle his hair, and then turned to face her husband. "John, did you remember to write the Fletchers and tell them when to meet us at Bright River? Because in her last letter Edith said…"
Just barely refraining from flinching in pain yet again, Gilbert forced a smile in return. As the train made its way steadily toward the Bright River station, his own thoughts pushed their way to the forefront and began to drown out his parents' grown-up conversation.
His mother's innocently-meant joke had hit a nerve. It wasn't, after all, his fault that he was so far behind in school.
"It wasn't anyone's fault," he told himself suddenly. "I was glad to go with father."
And he was telling himself the truth, almost completely. Even at age nine, Gilbert Blythe had been a truly loyal son with a precocious sense of duty. Four years ago, Gilbert's great-uncle Dr. David Blythe had been down to Avonlea from Glen St. Mary for a holiday visit. When Dr. Dave noted Gilbert's father's short breaths and pallid looks, he had grown immensely worried and promptly dragged his nephew John to Charlottetown for a full examination. The city doctor had confirmed Dr. Dave's fears, predicting dire consequences if John persisted with the heavy toil of farming in the Island's thick, rather moist air.
Naturally, John had pshawed and prevaricated as much as any self-respecting Blythe of Avonlea would have been expected, but he and he alone knew how weak and dizzy that season's planting had left him. Cecilia, having a sensibility slightly more attuned to the quick, inescapable changeability of health than her husband, had urged him to follow Dr. Dave's advice and travel immediately to the open air of the West to ensure a full recuperation.
Of course all of this had been debated and done surreptitiously above Gilbert's innocent young head, or so his elder relatives thought; however, Gilbert was a discerning nine-year-old. His utter lack of surprise when his mother took him aside one day to ask if he would like "to go on a long vacation with Father" astonished the entire Blythe clan.
"You mean to care for Father while the fresh prairie air cures his lungs?" Gilbert had responded matter-of-factly.
Cecilia Blythe had been speechless. Dr. Dave had raised his eyebrows so high that they nearly collided with his hairline.
"Of course I'll go. Oh, Mother, I'd do anything if Father would just get better. But Uncle Dave…how bad is it, really? Father won't die, will he?" Although Gilbert had practiced saying these words stoutly in his head several times over the previous few days, he was unable to keep a quaver out of his voice.
"Not with someone like you to watch out for him, sonny," Dr. Dave had replied, shaking Gilbert's hand solemnly.
A week later, on the day school adjourned for the summer, Gilbert had walked slowly home from the learning and friends he delighted in. His mother had explained to him that the cure wouldn't be instantaneous, that it could take a long time for rest and the prairie climate to help Father get better. Gilbert had understood implicitly what his mother hadn't said: that he would be missing possibly even a few years of school and of the naïve childhood merriment granted to most boys. That day, Gilbert, as a certain red-headed girl would nine years later, "had looked…duty courageously in the face and found it a friend."* It helped, of course, that all the other boys at school had been jealous of his impending "Western adventure" and educational hiatus. While rather excited to travel and see the prairie and mountains, Gilbert felt sure that unlike his ilk he would indeed miss school, not to mention his friends. But what was that in comparison with saving one's father's life?
Gilbert and John had thus journeyed off to Alberta. The Blythes' small savings had covered transportation and a meager starting board at a rather spartan but nonetheless respectable boarding house. Dr. Dave and John's aunt Ruth in Charlottetown sent what cash they could spare. John's brother-in-law George Fletcher, who lived next door to the Blythes in Avonlea, had taken over running the farm, while Cecilia sewed in genteel fashion to keep up with expenses.
John's convalescence had lasted three years, in which Gilbert, who at nine had been precocious in mind but not quite yet in body, grew manfully while performing odd jobs for the boarding house master and nursing his father. Between the two he had very little time to attend the makeshift local school, and so contented the thirst of his insatiable brain by reading everything he could get his hands on, either to himself or aloud to his father. Pioneer journals there were aplenty, but the remaining tomes Gilbert had managed to collect resulted in a rather sketchy library. There had been an illustrated, encyclopedia volume "D"; Ann Radcliffe's The Mysteries of Udolpho; an ancient medical textbook, possibly written in the mid-18th century; a gardening how-to, with many, if I may be pardoned the pun, flowery passages; a ladies' guide to proper etiquette, and of course the Bible they had brought from home. Gilbert read all of them multiple times, with little else to do after his father fell asleep in the early evening but reread everything over again. He worked out sums in the margins of the pioneer newspapers until they became second nature, he memorized the spelling of possibly every "D" word in existence, and he learned both the official and pioneer slang names for every Canadian town west of the Rockies.
Back in the present, Gilbert glanced past his conversing parents out the window of the train. This was the very same train he and his father had taken upon returning to P.E.I. nearly fourteen months before, after John had made a recovery full enough to satisfy even the most cautious Edmonton specialist. Gilbert had been ecstatic to return to Avonlea, for to him the wild, brown, open excitement of the West paled in comparison to the vividly green, well-worn familiarity of his home.
Of course, even a place where time runs as slowly as in Avonlea had naturally seen some changes in Gilbert's three-year absence. Babies had been born: his cousin Andrew Fletcher had a small daughter, Stella; his friend Fred Wright had two younger brothers, Jimmy and Cliffie; the Barrys had another daughter, Minnie May. People had passed on: twins Jacob and Hiram Sloane had died, of unrelated causes (one a heart attack, the other a dose of bad cabbage…at least, they thought it was the cabbage) on the same day 59 and a half years after their birth. People had married…or not: Mrs. Rachel Lynde was certain the minister Mr. Bentley, a widower, had been going to see Catherine Andrews, or at least had a notion of it, until Eliza nipped such an idea in the bud in no uncertain terms. Even the landscape had changed: the Blythe orchard had grown more scraggly than not, Uncle George Fletcher having two farms to run and lacking John Blythe's particular touch.
But nowhere had the hand of time been more evident, to Gilbert, at least, than at Avonlea School. A new young master, Mr. Theodore Phillips, ruled the roost after kindly Mr. Thompson's long reign ended in retirement. New students, so small that Gilbert had been afraid he would step on one, filled the front seats. Most of his friends, especially those of his age or slightly older, had either graduated to the fifth class or were close to finishing the lengthy curriculum of the fourth, which Gilbert hadn't even commenced.
A few of his older mates, jealous both of Gilbert's western travels and the way his newly tall, sturdy build and bright hazel eyes seemed to impress the young Avonlea females, contrived to cause Gilbert to feel his years of absence acutely indeed. Rob Wright, Sam Boulter and Jerry Bell combined forces to attempt to make Gilbert Blythe, former undisputed leader of their class, as behind and out of things as possible. Poor Gilbert bore their taunts as best he could by trying mightily to put forth a mask of unconcern.
He was helped in this by both a few loyal friends who welcomed him back as if he'd never left, such as Fred Wright and Sam and Oliver Sloane, as well as other, slightly younger boys like Charlie Sloane, Moody Spurgeon MacPherson, Ned Wright, and Arty Gillis, who easily accepted the sharp, agile, mischievous Gilbert as a leader in their little circle. The Avonlea girls – Gilbert had never before noticed that there were quite so many girls in Avonlea – also embraced him with open arms. As one of his favorite victims, Diana Barry, later put it elegantly, they quite readily allowed him to "torment their lives out,"** for all their pretended outrage.
Despite these more loyal classmates, along with his own inner efforts to shrug off these barbs, the snubs of his former friends had hurt Gilbert acutely. A less inept teacher than Mr. Phillips possibly would have noted the special case and given the bright, nearly thirteen-year-old boy extra lessons to enable him to skip ahead and attempt to keep up with his class. Mr. Phillips, however, barely twenty himself, had been somewhat more concerned with the interests of pretty but rather thick fifteen-year-olds like Prissy Andrews than quick-witted youths like Blythe with oodles of promise, and so Gilbert had taken up with the fourth class beginners and led them throughout the year without doing a scrap of homework. Though this produced in Gilbert no great love for his schoolmaster, the time spent caring for his father had endowed him with a maturity in some respects rather beyond his thirteen years, and if he was a bit mischievous after whipping through division problems in a quarter of the time it took his class, he was never insolent.
By the end of last term, even Jerry Bell had rather forgotten the anti-Blythe campaign of the previous fall, and when Gilbert's name had been written up on the porch wall with his sister Julia's in April (to the latter's secret pleasure), he had contented himself with shooting Blythe the required dark glares instead executing the more extreme pummeling. Seeing this, Gilbert wisely kept his expressions of mild displeasure at the turn of events to a minimum, merely commenting teasingly to Charlie Sloane when asked about the latest "Take Notice" that he studied the multiplication table by Julia's freckles.
Although, especially in light of his father's remarkable recovery, Gilbert had borne his three-year absence with no complaints and only a few tiny morsels of regret that he invariably crushed as soon as they cropped up in his mind, he had been a bit upset when his parents informed him of their plans for this summer. John and Cecilia had elected to spend a few months on the mainland, and to drop Gilbert off at his Aunt Emily Stanton's in Turtle Creek, New Brunswick, on the way. Gilbert knew that his parents had been busy getting the farm back into sorts over the past year, and that they were treating this summer as a sort of "second honeymoon" by which to get reacquainted after the three years' separation. But couldn't they have done so while he stayed at his Aunt Edith Fletcher's in Avonlea rather than wrenching him away from his friends and familiars yet again?
Confronted with such a proposal, John and Cecilia, via several ambiguous speeches, had made Gilbert aware that his uncle George and aunt Edith had done too much for them already, thus implicitly conveying the notion that the pride the Blythes were so famous for would allow them to ask for nothing more.
Gilbert, a cheerful, loyal soul in whom the Blythe streak of pride had already noticeably taken root, had amenably acquiesced, and had contrived to enjoy his summer at Aunt Emily's nearly as much as a summer in Avonlea. Such was not difficult to do, for the Stantons' Turtle Creek, N.B., home was always abuzz. Aunt Emily was as jolly and kindly a figure as her elder sister Cecilia, and she and Uncle Frank, a brewer and wine merchant, had the most interesting stories about their previous travels all over the world. These travels, as Gilbert reflected on more than one occasion, perhaps accounted for the rather odd names they had given their six children, who had been christened without rhyme or reason (or so Gilbert thought) after cities. Fortunately for Madrid (Maddie), Montreal (Monty), Athena, Milwaukee (Millie) and San Francisco (Francis), these appellations were not irrevocably harmful, having reasonably normal nicknames. The smallest Stanton, however, six-year-old Turtle Creek, was not quite so lucky. He went by the initials T.C., crossing his fingers as he told his schoolteacher with round blue eyes wide and unblinking that they stood for Thomas Charles.
Gilbert had been rather annoyed when the last week of August brought, rather than his parents themselves as he expected, a letter from Kingsport in their place. As if he weren't behind enough in school already, now he wasn't even to return in time for the year to open! He had wiped all feelings of irritation shamefully away, however, upon reading the epistle, a few rather hastily-written, preoccupied lines from his mother implying that his father was far from well. It had ended up, however, only a nasty case of grippe rather than the relapse the Blythes constantly feared. So now Gilbert, tired from a bonfire thrown by cousins Maddie and Monty the night before, was finally on his way back to Avonlea with his parents, albeit three weeks late.
Gilbert thought the jarring bump on his head had rather killed sleep for him that afternoon, but in crossing the Canadian plains twice he had become rather adept at sleeping amidst jerks and jolts. He didn't realize that his musings had merged into slumber until his mother shook him awake, forced a few carpetbags into his hand, and dragged him off at the Bright River station.
An onslaught of emotions overwhelmed Gilbert as he stepped off the train. He narrowed his eyes slightly at the wisecracking conductor, smiled with appreciation as the bright red and orange and yellow hues of the trees greeted him by exhibiting unmistakably that his favorite Island season, autumn, was beginning, and wriggled in vain as Aunt Edith Fletcher enwrapped him in one of her bone-crushing bear hugs.
"I declare, he's taller than me now!" she said, finally backing away. "And he looks more like you every day, John. Soon he'll be looking down at you." She grinned up at her older brother as Gilbert began to lift the valises and bundles into the carriage.
Everything finally loaded, Edith Fletcher and the Blythes began the same journey that Matthew Cuthbert and a certain red-headed waif had made the previous spring, though the town of Newbridge, the red roads and the Avenue held much less novelty for Gilbert than for Anne.
Aunt Edith, whose tongue would never grow rusty from disuse, was full of Avonlea news, especially, John having prevailed upon her to take a rest and allow him to drive, since she didn't have the added distraction of the reins.
"The Ladies' Aid met at Andrew and Silvia's last week, and I must say that Silvia did the Blythe family proud. Nobody found a fault with her spread excepting Mrs. Jasper Bell, and she's just real aggrieved that Mark Andrews preferred my Andrew to her Edwin for his daughter Silvia."
Gilbert was only half listening to his aunt, being more absorbed in watching the road ahead carefully so he didn't miss Chester Ross' apple orchard as they came into Spencervale. There was this one tree with a branch that dipped over the road, and if one timed it exactly right…
Then, just in the midst of Aunt Edith's tale of old Miriam Sloane's measles scare (after seeing mysterious spots on her back in the mirror, she raised a fuss and the Sloanes brought in the doctor and city nurses and everything; the spots had turned out to be moles and Miriam was advised to look at her back in the mirror slightly more often than once every sixty-five years), Gilbert stood halfway up in the buggy and snatched a juicy-looking apple from the branch overhead. Startled from her conversation with Aunt Edith, his mother quickly pulled him down from the back seat.
"Gilbert Blythe!" she exclaimed, astonished. "What in heaven's name? You could have fallen out and been crushed by the wheel! And what if Mrs. Chester Ross saw you?"
Gilbert inwardly smiled at the way his mother had equated the two possible consequences. Mrs. Chester Ross was known throughout the area as the model housewife who raised a perfect family.
"How could she possibly, mother?" he asked, raising his apple to take a bite. "And I was only up for a split second." But then Cecilia's hand was holding his arm, and though Gilbert had been taller than his mother for over a year, her grip was inexorable as ever.
"I might as well eat it now that I've got it," Gilbert said logically, trying unsuccessfully to free his arm.
"Haven't we enough apples at home?" Cecilia asked, also logically, since the Blythe orchard was well-reputed as the largest in the surrounding villages.
"Not this kind," Gilbert responded. "Plus, if I don't eat it it'll just be wasted."
Cecilia gave up in despair and let go of her son. "You'd think a body could give one a little help, John," she commented sardonically.
John Blythe chuckled. "You know, if I hadn't been holding the reins, I'd have had half a mind to do some like thing myself," he said.
Cecilia turned back to Edith Fletcher, rolling her eyes as if to wash her hands of the entire affair.
"I declare, Gilbert, if you were my son…," Edith began, eyes twinkling.
"Yesh'm?" said Gilbert, mouth full of apple.
"How is little Stella, Edith?" Cecilia asked, giving Gilbert a warning glance.
Gilbert exchanged silent groans with his father, and continued to dig in to his prize. Now they were to hear of every new dimple and the length of curls and innumerable cute little noises. Aunt Edith dearly loved to talk of her first grandchild.
"Oh, she's doing splendidly," Edith replied, warming to her favorite subject. "She's got five teeth now, two more than little Jack Gillis has got. Why, just yesterday she said to me, 'Goo-gee.' I think she was trying to say…"
Edith stopped abruptly, upon seeing Cecilia contort her face into an expression of horror. Gilbert, having polished off every possible bit of his apple, narrowed his eyes, took aim, and fired the core at a hole in Hezekiah Spencer's white picket fence. "Bulls-eye!" he said happily as it sailed right through.
"Gilbert Alexander Blythe!" his mother exclaimed. "If I catch you at such a trick again…why, you're nearly fourteen years old, and…"
"Well, Mother," Gilbert interrupted saucily, "as you reminded me earlier, I am still in the fourth class at school. If you're going to cast it up to me, can't I at least behave like it?"
Cecilia Blythe opened her mouth and then closed it, remembering her teasing on the train. "That'll teach me to ever make a joke about you again," she smiled. "Clearly it comes back to haunt me later."
"Speaking of things that come back to haunt one," Aunt Edith began, transitioning excellently, "Marilla Cuthbert must be regretting keeping that orphan girl of hers."
Gilbert raised his eyebrows. A few weeks before the Blythes departed for New Brunswick, all of Avonlea had been abuzz with news of the extraordinary variety concerning the almost severely ordinary residence of Green Gables. Apparently the incident of what Gilbert had heard some call "the imported orphan" was still dominating the Avonlea headlines.
As Gilbert had understood it, mostly from eavesdropping on his mother's or Aunt Edith's conversations with Mrs. Rachel Lynde, Mrs. Harmon Andrews or some equally didactic, newsy type, the story was this: middle-aged siblings Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert had sent word with someone that they wanted to adopt a boy from an asylum in Nova Scotia to help with the farm. That in itself had been mind-boggling, for even in Gilbert's rather hazy awareness there was perhaps not a house in Avonlea with which one would less associate the idea of a child than Green Gables. But there was more. As often happens with messages by proxy, confusion reigned, and it had been a girl that the Cuthberts received from the Hopetown asylum instead of the desired boy.
"Even without the mix-up," Aunt Edith was saying, "it was a mighty perilous step to take, but heavens! I can almost – almost, mind you – imagine Marilla and Matthew with a boy, but a girl! And such a girl! Even wild dogs could never get Marilla to admit her mistake, though."
Gilbert pricked his ears as they passed through Newbridge. Mostly the "gossip exchange" between his mother and Aunt Edith, as he referred to it, was consistently boring, but from time to time they discussed an item of universal interest; now was one of those rare occasions.
"The Cuthberts have always had a stubborn streak," John commented. "Marilla's got it as much as any of them, I reckon."
"Well it's in full force now, let me tell you. Marilla won't hear anyone speak a negative word about Anne, however well-meaning. Says she wasn't brought up to know how to behave."
Privately, Gilbert thought this made a good deal of sense, but knew to keep his opinion to himself.
"Now, if the Cuthberts were so set on having a boy, why on earth did they keep her when they found out she was a girl?" Cecilia wondered, rather lackadaisical with her pronouns.
"Heaven only knows," Aunt Edith responded. "They felt sorry for her, I expect. Apparently both her parents died before she was a year old, of a fever or some such thing. They were both teachers – decent enough people, I suppose, for being from Nova Scotia and all."
Gilbert rolled his eyes. To hear Aunt Edith talk, one would think the Island was the only place a fellow could be born if he wanted even a chance to turn out respectably. "I guess Anne had lived with a couple different families, taking care of children and doing chores and such, before ending up at the asylum. But no matter how hard her life was before, it seems she's been making life just twice as difficult for the Cuthberts now, let me tell you."
Gilbert frowned. He remembered how worried and upset he'd been four years ago when his father was ill, but what was it like to not have any parents – to never even know one's parents? He suddenly felt slightly ashamed, recalling how sorry he'd felt for himself at times just for having one ill parent.
Aunt Edith had gone quiet and was shaking her head in dismay, as if silently to continue to express her disapproval of the Cuthberts' rash action.
"Now, this all happened nearly three months ago, Edith. Did so little happen in Avonlea while we were away that people are still talking about Anne? Her name is Anne, isn't it?" Cecilia prompted. She had as natural a curiosity as anyone, and an adopted orphan from Nova Scotia, who persisted in being a girl when expected to be a boy, and who was to be brought up by such a confirmed spinster as Marilla Cuthbert – well, that was drama at its most sensational in Avonlea.
"Yes, Anne Shirley," Aunt Edith answered. "And if Anne's name is still on Avonlea tongues, well…it's because the likes of her have never been seen before in this town, that's certain," She nodded vigorously.
"Well, I don't know but that Avonlea could use some new blood," John interjected. As Gilbert had frequently observed, the contrary opinions that his father left unsaid in most cases were aired out more often than not during discussions with his younger sister.
"Well, blood is the right term, I'll give you that," Aunt Edith said, "for Anne's temper is hot-blooded enough, I understand. Mind you, right after you left for N.B., Rachel Lynde went on an errand to Green Gables, and such a reception as she got! Why, Rachel had only just met Anne when she was flown at and insulted as 'rude and impolite' and who knows what else. She said she'd never seen such a frenzy in her life."
Gilbert bit his lip to keep from snickering. Mrs. Rachel Lynde was one of the kindest, most generous women in Avonlea, whose cookie jar was always full and open to boys of all sizes and sorts. But she had a tendency to come on rather strong at times, which Gilbert, whose streak of mischievousness had always been rather prominent, knew firsthand.
"Of course," Aunt Edith continued, furrowing her brow, "Rachel also said that two days later, Marilla marched Anne down to her house and Anne apologized, thoroughly and sincerely."
"So the jury's still out, then?" Cecilia asked, smiling.
"Well, I suppose that's one way to put it," she admitted. "That Anne's different from every other Avonlea girl is certain enough, but exactly what sort of girl she is remains to be seen, I suppose. Oh, Cecilia, if only you'd been in church…let me see, about two months ago! Anne came by herself and sakes' alive, her hat! She'd bedecked herself with more flowers than you'd see at a wedding!"
"What's wrong with that?" Gilbert asked vaguely. Didn't all women's hats have flowers?
His mother and aunt both stared at him a moment. "It just isn't done," Aunt Edith finally replied, turning from him back to Cecilia. "It was a sight, let me tell you. And Pacifique's brother Jerry Buote (Matthew hired Jerry on at Green Gables to help with the farm, you know, in absence of their intended orphan boy). Anyway, Jerry told Pacifique that Anne's always wandering about the fields talking to herself, crazy-like. One day a few weeks back when Jerry was clearing some underbrush out back she spotted a butterfly nearby and stared – just sat there and stared at the same spot – for nearly ten minutes, by which time it had flown off and then some. Then she said to him, she said, 'Jerry, have you ever thought that if you'd just grab on to the bottom of the butterflies' wings, you'd lose all your earthly cares and transcend trifling impediments like weight and gravity and just rise up, up, up? I know that really butterflies die in the winter and their eggs hatch into caterpillars which become new butterflies, but isn't it much more fulfilling to imagine that they rise to a special place in the clouds?' There was more, I'm sure, but it's beyond me to remember it. It's astonishing Jerry recalled as much as he did, though I suppose if someone made such a speech to me I'd not soon forget it."
Aunt Edith paused for breath as they approached Theodore White's place.
"For heaven's sake, slow down a little, John," she said, grinning. "Or else Mrs. Theodore is liable to come running out and promptly sweep up the dust my horse kicks up onto her lawn."
John laughed and urged the horse a bit faster.
"Do you know how old Anne is, Aunt Edith?" Gilbert asked curiously.
"Planning your next conquest, are you, Gil?" his father asked him, aside. Gilbert glared at him and turned back to face his mother and aunt. Some things were simply not to be dignified with a response.
"Around eleven, I think, though my niece Tillie (George's sister Janet's daughter, you know) says she's in the fourth class. I can't imagine that she's had much time for schooling, what with the life she's had. But Tillie says that Anne's real bright and that all the girls at school like her tremendously. She and Diana Barry have become inseparable, and Mrs. Barry is so particular over whom Diana associates with. If Anne meets with her approval she'll meet with anyone's, including mine, I'd say. Tillie says she behaves normally enough in school, though she tends to stare into space a bit too often. But far be it from me to completely criticize the girl," she concluded.
His mother and aunt moved on to less interesting subjects – something about quilts for the heathen – as they approached Avonlea and dusk began to fall. Gilbert had been looking forward to school for its own sake, and now on top of it all there was an interesting new personage to meet. Although Avonlea had many merits, even a loyal son like Gilbert had to admit that diversity in personality, especially among the Avonlea schoolgirls, was not always one of them.
The evening of their return having been spent largely in walking around the farm, catching up on this planting and that new hog with Uncle George, Gilbert opened his eyes very grudgingly the next morning, and only at his mother's most insistent shaking.
"I knew I shouldn't have let you stay up so long at that bonfire two nights ago," Cecilia commented reprovingly. "You're lucky there isn't any Sunday school today, or else I'd have awakened you an hour ago…. According to your aunt, Miss Rogerson went to visit a sick uncle, and they couldn't find anyone to take her class on such short notice."
Though Gilbert deemed it perhaps sacrilegious to thank God that anyone had taken ill, he did consider it a rather fortuitous confluence of events. He atoned for this dodgy thought with a quick prayer for the man's rapid recovery.
"Ohhhhh…," Gilbert groaned as his mother opened the blinds and a stream of bright sunshine beat on his face. He covered his eyes with his hands and clumsily sat up. This proved a rather unwise idea, however – "Ow!" he exclaimed as his head struck the bedboard, a collision rendered all the more painful due to its location at the still-sore spot from the previous day on the train.
"Perhaps," he thought ruefully, "this is a sort of Almighty retribution for my earlier transgression." Such a divine revelation did not, however, make the pain go away, and he moaned again, more loudly this time to induce his mother's sympathy.
Cecilia, however, was more concerned with the state of her son's bedroom than that of his skull. The dresser and suitcase both stood half-opened, with clothes strewn indiscriminately on the floor between them.
"Gilbert Blythe! Did I, or did I not, tell you to put all – all – of your clothes away last night? Dust has been gathering on this floor all summer and now it's made its way onto your good shirts!"
"Oh, but Mother…I was so tired…and I'm in pain…my head…have pity on a fellow, won't you?"
"I've half a mind to make you do all the extra laundry," Cecilia grumbled, gingerly gathering the offending dust-ridden shirts.
Now fully awake, Gilbert's logical side quickly showed itself. "You know, really, if you did that the shirts would surely end up missing buttons, or the wrong color, or some such disaster. Unless of course you showed me how to wash them properly, but then again that would take more time than just doing it yourself, and it would defeat the purpose you had in the first place." He smiled up at her.
"Heaven grant me patience," Cecilia thought silently. She knew better than to argue with her son; his quick wits could circumvent hers, or seemingly so, nearly every time.
"Here, this one looks clean," she said, handing him a shirt that had found its way, luckily, onto the bedpost. "Try to unearth some decent trousers for church in this mess. And be smart about it, won't you? Your breakfast is getting cold."
Gilbert stretched and arose slowly out of bed as his mother swept out of the room, dusty shirts in hand, muttering something about "needless bonfires" and "disobedient sons who think they can get out of every argument with erudite displays of logic." He pulled a pair of trousers from his suitcase, gave them a precursory inspection, shrugged, and stepped into them.
Buttoning his shirt, Gilbert glanced out the window and, in a reaction diametrically opposite to his earlier sleep-deprived grumbles, grinned at the bright, sunshiney day. Though he was tired and his head still throbbed, he was back in Avonlea, and though he'd always thought Mr. Bentley's sermons rather dull, he would get to see his friends.
Thus it was a thoroughly high-spirited Gilbert who wolfed down his breakfast, good-naturedly shrugged off his mother's half-scolding, half-teasing barbs, and set off with his parents on the short walk to the Avonlea church.
"All's right with the world," Gilbert thought as myriad familiar figures drove past them on the road, struggling simultaneously to doff his cap to the bustling, be-frilled ladies and wave at the gruff, starched-up men. Avonlea was where he was most himself, where he felt the most comfortable, where he understood the order of things. In Avonlea he knew where he stood: he was Gilbert Blythe, brilliant student, steadfast farm helper, dutiful son, instigator of innocent mischief, and merciless teaser of girls.
Presently this aspect of his role came into play as the Barry carriage tottered past, affording Gilbert an excellent opportunity to make a horrendous face at Diana (behind his mother's back, of course). Her response of black curl-tossing mock outrage was somewhat subverted by the dimpled blush that followed as he proceeded to grin up at her, realizing that perhaps face-making was not quite palatable on Sundays.
Though only thirteen, Gilbert was not unaware of the favorable impression his sparkling hazel eyes, sturdy build and wavy brown locks made on his female classmates. They practically fell over themselves to partner with him in various schoolyard games, and nearly always responded to his frequent teasing with pretenses of indignation similar to that of Diana Barry. Despite several schoolgirl ministrations attempting to influence him to the contrary, however, his was an indiscriminate teasing – he had never zeroed in on a particular target, preferring to torment the sex in general. Diana and Ruby Gillis were the acknowledged beauties of their set, and he supposed subconsciously that if he were to "like" any one girl it would be one of them (though he secretly longed for Ruby's elder sister Susan to notice him as something other than a little boy whose head she'd like to pat). Nonetheless, he deemed himself rather too young to look at girls as anything other than possible comrades (or potential victims).
Gilbert sat down next to his parents in the Blythe pew toward the front of the church and proceeded to listen to Superintendent Bell, or, rather, to attempt to listen. Even an entire summer's worth of missed prayers didn't render Mr. Bell less boring and long-winded, Gilbert reflected. He tried to unobtrusively crane his neck around and entertain himself by looking at all the people. Though his family's front pew denoted their prestige in the community, it did make fidgeting a lot more noticeable.
He glanced across the aisle at Julia Bell, who was making a valiant show at rapt attentiveness to her father. "Freckles," he mouthed silently, while maintaining a straight face and cherubic countenance. He knew by her reddening cheeks that she'd seen him out of the corner of her eye, though she had to guard her reaction under the watchful eyes of her mother.
Presently Mr. Bell paused, and Gilbert looked up hopefully but in vain, as the Superintendent proceeded to drone on. "I really ought to be listening," Gilbert thought with a sudden flash of guilt, "it's only for my own good." But he was again distracted as his eyes flicked across to the Cuthbert pew, which was empty this Sunday. Remembering Aunt Edith's descriptions from the previous evening, he felt a little trickle of disappointment run through his veins, the result of expectant curiosity unsatisfied.
"I wonder what the orphan girl is like," Gilbert thought vaguely. "I wonder if she likes it here. Of course she must, given what Aunt Edith said about her history." Gilbert suddenly shuddered and looked over at his parents. "What would I be like if I had no family? Would I be bitter with my lot…jealous of all the millions of happy fellows out there with mothers and fathers? Probably so…I wonder if she's like that? She must be grateful to live with Mr. and Miss Cuthbert, if they're a bit stuffy."
Mr. Bell finally having concluded, Gilbert took advantage of the break to squeeze his mother's hand and whisper, "I'm awfully sorry for not fully unpacking, Mother – I'll always be neat and orderly from now on, I promise."
Cecilia Blythe looked down at her son, amazed. "What brought that on?" she wondered to herself. "Could he really have taken Mr. Bell's words about repenting so to heart?"
After the conclusion of the last hymn, Gilbert walked out of the church with his parents staidly enough. With a single grinning glance back at Cecilia, however, upon exiting he rushed off down the lawn toward a small but increasing congregation of medium-sized boys.
"Hallo, Blythe, you're back," Sam Sloane commented laconically as Gilbert joined him and his brother Oliver. "Have a good time in N.B.?" He grinned.
Gilbert grinned back and nodded. "With six cousins, there was never a dull moment, that's for sure."
"You're so lucky to get off this old rock," Oliver said. "Nothing ever happens here. Why, the biggest news lately was old great-aunt Miriam's measles…ceptin' she didn't even have 'em!"
Gilbert laughed, recalling Aunt Edith's tale on the drive home from Bright River. Privately, however, he disagreed with Oliver's assessment. He felt luckier to be back than to have left.
Presently others began to join their party. "Gil!" Charlie Sloane cried, "Guess what? I found this—"
"We missed you this summer in baseball, Blythe," Clifton Sloane interrupted, "the White Sands fellows just creamed us, and—"
"—the frog actually ate the snail, true's you live, at least, it must have done, they were next to each other and I turned my head for a split second, and the snail was gone—"
"—13-2, a total embarrassment…we wouldn't have scored at all if it hadn't been for a remarkable banger by yours truly—"
"—they were actually moles on her back, can you believe it, she didn't know the difference—"
"—and old uncle Josiah Sloane's whiskers are this long…"
Gilbert was beginning to feel dizzy. "It's an attack of the Sloanes!" he thought to himself, glancing at the four Sloane brothers and cousins who surrounded him. They were all good friends of his, to be sure, but all together presented a bit too much of what he'd heard his Aunt Edith refer to as "Sloanishness" for him to bear.
Suddenly, a shrill voice ended the onslaught. "Sam and Oliver," Mrs. Peter Sloane said, dragging them away, "you haven't time to stop and socialize. You know your uncle Bert is coming to tea." She shook her head.
The two quickly said good-bye to Gilbert and scurried off to join their father and sister Sophia in the carriage.
Mrs. Peter sighed, then turned her sharp eye on her nephews. "Clifton, I'm sure your mother's looking for you, too." Gilbert suddenly was glad that he had only the normal amount of relations in Avonlea, rather than the seemingly infinite Sloane connection.
She hesitated, but finally determined that she didn't dare say anything to Charlie. Mrs. Peter and Charlie's mother, Mrs. Silas Sloane, had quarreled seven years ago when it had allegedly been a bowlful of Mrs. Peter's porridge that had made Charlie violently ill for weeks, and neither had allowed the other to intervene with their own children ever since.
Gilbert turned to his friend. "What's the word in school?" he asked Charlie. "Phillips as clueless as ever?"
"As gone on Prissy Andrews as ever, that's certain," Charlie said. "On Friday, he just sat in back with her the entire afternoon. Not that I'm complaining…Tommy found the fittest team of racing crickets that day and they put Jimmy Glover's to shame…'course Jimmy blamed it on the three big juicy flies he'd just fed them."
"There might be something in that," Gilbert said, snickering. Finally he asked the question that had been burning inside him for twenty minutes. "So what's this I hear about this orphan girl the Cuthberts got? What's-her-name, Anne…?"
"Oh, Anne Shirley?" Charlie said automatically. "She's awful nice, and smart, and—"
"Ho there, it's the slacker himself!" Jerry Bell cried, clapping Gilbert on the back.
Gilbert rolled his eyes. "I'm sure Phillips has been drilling you really hard," he said sarcastically, "I'll bet I missed a lot."
"Certainly not," Julia said, tossing her sandy-brown hair as she joined them. "The amount of attention he pays to Prissy is perfectly ridiculous. Anne said that maybe they're planning something romantic, like an elopement, but Tillie said she heard them talking once and all that happened was that he complimented the way Prissy crossed her T's and she blushed."
"What's Anne like?" Gilbert asked curiously. "I've heard stories…"
"They're probably all true, I imagine," Julia said. "The first time I saw her, her hat was overflowing with pink and yellow flowers in Sunday school."
She said this, like Aunt Edith, as if Gilbert were supposed to be horrified.
"I'll never understand women," he thought to himself
Undaunted, Julia continued on. "I've never met a stranger girl. She either can't stop talking or you have to practically clap your hands to wake her up. She's perfectly sweet, though, and thinks of the best games, if she is a bit odd."
"She's not here today, is she?" Gilbert asked, looking around.
"No," Julia said, happy that Gilbert for once was paying attention to her and thus warming to her subject, "she mentioned that Miss Cuthbert was taking her to visit a cousin in East Grafton this weekend."
"See you tomorrow, Gil," Charlie interjected, rushing off to join his parents.
As soon as Charlie was a safe distance away, Julia leaned in closer. Alarmed, Gilbert backed away, crashing into Jerry's shoulder.
"Clumsy as ever, Blythe," he commented. Gilbert didn't dignify this with a response. He was never clumsy…excepting, perhaps, when he was still half-asleep. He rubbed the tender spot on his head gingerly.
"Just like Clifton Sloane," Jerry continued. "To hear him tell it, you'd think he was the hero of the White Sands baseball game, but really, he swung so early and missed so bad that he spun around entirely and then the ball accidentally struck his bat…"
Julia moved closer to Gilbert again. Baseball was of no consequence to her. "Em White heard from Carrie Sloane that Charlie is dead gone on Anne Shirley," she whispered.
"Really?" Gilbert said, mildly interested.
"It's a weight off of Em's mind," Julia continued, "it was her for years, you know—"
No, Gilbert didn't know. "I really ought to pay more attention to these things," he reflected. He'd always thought Charlie had preferred Bessie Wright, if anyone.
"—And she can't stand him, so she's awful glad it's Anne now. Oh, and Tillie told me that—"
"Are you ready for hockey this season, Blythe?" Jerry broke in. His ingratiating tone grated on Gilbert's nerves.
"Not particularly, Bell, since the temperature isn't even close to dipping below 32 degrees," he replied sarcastically.
Jerry looked at him rather blankly.
He'd had enough of the two of them. "I'll see you in school tomorrow," Gilbert said quickly, seeing his parents down by the road and making his escape.
"Bye, Gil!" Julia called after him. "I'm glad you're back!"
John Blythe was chuckling as his son joined them. Gilbert glared at him. "They're—" he began.
"Now, don't say anything uncharitable on Sunday especially," Cecilia interrupted hastily.
Gilbert looked up at his mother, startled, and then began to laugh. His parents soon joined him.
"So are you glad to be back, Gil?" John asked him, putting an arm around his shoulder.
"Immensely," he said, smiling. "I don't care what anyone says, Father…Avonlea is never boring."
As for exactly how boring it wasn't, well…Gilbert was to find that out very soon.
Citations: * ~ Anne of Green Gables, "The Bend in the Road" (p. 364).
** ~ Anne of Green Gables, "A Tempest in the School Teapot" (p. 131).
Author's Note: As always, please review! I'm already at work on Chapter 2, by the way…but I'm also a v. busy college student, so I'm not sure how quickly I'll be able to eke it out.