Avonlea's Brightest Son
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.
Review Responses: Thanks so much for all your reviews! I devoutly apologize for taking so long to finish chapter 3 – 'twas a combination of summer doldrums/lack of inspiration and the fact that this chapter, in that the events it describes are also set down in detail in canon, was a difficult one. It is to be hoped (but not promised, alas) that in the future I can update without so lengthy of a delay.
Chapter Summary: In which Gilbert has his first, shall we say, contact with Anne.
Chapter 3: Enter Anne Shirley – with a vengeance
"Avonlea school always enjoyed a scene. This was an especially enjoyable one."
Anne of Green Gables, "A Tempest in the School Teapot"
Late September, 1876
Gilbert awoke of his own accord the next morning, his mother having forced him into bed at an embarrassingly early hour. He threw on his clothes, dug out a pair of suspenders from his now-organized drawer, and clambered down the stairs – only to realize that it was not yet dawn and neither of his parents had awakened yet.
Feeling rather foolish, he lit a candle and wandered into the sitting room, to the shelf where he normally kept his books and school things. He grabbed his tattered Reader and slate, proceeding to thoroughly polish the latter with the sleeve of his shirt. He'd moved on to sharpening his slate pencils when he heard clattering noises that indicated his father was awake.
"Who's there?" John Blythe called, seeing the candlelight. He made his way into the sitting room, then stopped abruptly. "Oh, Gil! You scared me half to death!"
Distracted, Gilbert shrugged. "I'm sorry," he said, still diligently sharpening.
John looked down at his son and smiled wryly. "You know, I was never nearly that excited to go to school," he commented. "I was lucky if I could even find one of those things, let alone five perfectly sharpened ones."
Gilbert flushed, embarrassed. "I was just bored," he said lamely, dropping the pencil.
"Well, if you're truly bored, you could take some initiative and go do the early milking," John said. "Of course, that wouldn't happen to be one of your assigned chores in the first place, would it?"
He flushed more deeply. "Yes, yes, I'm sorry, I'd forgotten," he muttered, carefully setting down the pencils.
John shook his head. "You forget a simple chore like that, but I'd wager you still recall some silly little fact like…like…like the capital of some no-count country…say, Mexico, for example."
Gilbert frowned. "It's Mexico City, Father," he said, rolling his eyes.
"Well, well, see, then?" John replied, unperturbed. "Now remember, Rosie's still with her calf, don't—"
"I know, I'm going."
By the time Gilbert returned with a full milk pail, his mother was rattling around the kitchen and his father had sat down to breakfast.
"Hurry, your porridge is getting cold," Cecilia said, glancing at him. "Oh, Gil, your hair!"
"What's wrong with my hair?" he asked defensively, taking a seat across from his father.
Cecilia licked her fingers and tried to pat it down. Gilbert jerked away. The process was repeated several times before Cecilia finally left him alone in despair.
"It just doesn't lie flat, Mother, you know that," Gilbert said, digging in to his porridge.
About halfway through the large bowlful, his appetite faltered slightly. Porridge was too…wholesome to eat in such large quantities, he reflected. Now, molasses cookies, on the other hand…
"You know, Charlie Sloane almost died from eating porridge when he was four," Gilbert remarked, breaking the silence.
Cecilia rolled her eyes at the mention of the much-discussed incident. "I hadn't heard," she said sarcastically. "But what do you mean? Are you implying that you don't like porridge?"
"No, no, of course not," Gilbert said quickly. "I'm just saying that if I fall down stone dead in the next few days, you'll know why." He grinned.
"I'll risk it," his mother said. "Besides, you are not four, you have the Blythe, not the Sloane, constitution, and I am most certainly not Mrs. Peter Sloane."
"Thank goodness for that," John said. He kissed Cecilia on the cheek as he arose. "George and I are going over this morning to look at some new contraption Andrew's got – says it'll revolutionize potato harvesting."
"And it'll be a dramatic revolution indeed," Gilbert said under his breath, taking his bowl to the sink. "Well…maybe in Ireland," he amended, reflecting.
"What's that, Gil?" his mother asked, handing him his lunch pail.
"Nothing…. I'm off, Mother, Father," he said as he rushed to the sitting room to scoop up his books and slate. "Wish me luck on my first day!"
"You've always done fine, Gil, you don't need luck," said Cecilia. She quickly swooped in and kissed him on the forehead. He flinched but didn't wipe it off.
He was almost out the door, when… "Gil, what's that on your sleeve?" his eagle-eyed mother called, spying the slate-induced smudge.
"Errr…nothing, prob'ly just a shadow. Bye!" He hustled down the steps before his mother could conduct an inspection.
Having thus escaped, Gilbert tore across the yard, too impatient to waste precious seconds walking properly down the path to the gate. Clutching books, slate, and lunch pail in one hand, he vaulted over the newly-mended fence with the other, landing neatly on his feet.
Clusters of schoolchildren were trudging along the road toward the Avonlea school, some chatting animatedly to each other but none looking quite as excited as Gilbert felt he must. Realizing his near-jog and huge smile were attracting stares, he thought perhaps that it wasn't quite wise to overtly exhibit such school-going eagerness. Therefore, by the time he approached the bridge over Barry's pond, Gilbert had considerably slowed his steps, his cavalier air punctuated by a nonchalant whistle.
It was a good thing, too, for – whoosh! And then – splat! A gob of mud splattered on the road just in front of him, missing his shoulder by inches.
Gilbert halted abruptly and looked around. "Wha?"
Gilbert let out a sudden whoop of recognition and rushed to the bridge railing. Fred Wright waved up at him from the banks of Barry's pond, where he was tying a dory to the few rotting posts and boards that served as a makeshift dock. Fred and his younger brother Ned nearly always rowed to school, except in the winter, when they skated, since both the road and wooded routes from their house were much less direct.
Suddenly another mudball hurtled toward him. Gilbert ducked just in time, then made a triumphant face down at mischievous, ten-year-old Ned, who was stamping his foot in disappointment at the second near miss. "I'll get you later, Blythe!" he called, scurrying up the muddy bank after Fred.
"Well, you'll try, at least," Gilbert smirked, as Fred and Ned joined him on the road. Fred was just a bit younger than Gilbert, and a good chum of his; he was friendly with Ned, too, but more in a teasing, competitive, trying to one-up each other fashion. Imp reached out to imp in each boy's spirit, resulting in myriad mud hurlings and foot-trippings. Gilbert presently stuck out his leg and attempted the latter, in retribution for the former, but Ned hopped over the impeding limb disdainfully.
"Like I'd fall for that," Ned scoffed. Unluckily, however, his left foot chose that very moment to step on his untied right shoelace, resulting in a quite ungraceful stumble. Gilbert and Fred guffawed.
"I don't even need to make an effort if you do that of your own accord," Gilbert snickered.
Ned glared. "Aw, shut up."
"Bet New Brunswick was great fun," said Fred jealously, turning to Gilbert. His travels were much the envy of the Avonlea schoolboys especially, most of whom had never ventured farther than Charlottetown, if that.
Fred glanced down at his heavy stack of books and groaned. "Phillips's been just loading us up with work. S'not so bad for the girls as for us boys though. Doesn't seem to understand that we have lots to take up our evenings besides geometric equations, with harvest time setting in and all."
Gilbert nodded sympathetically
"'Course, it's mainly 'cause we get next to nothing done in school," Ned piped up.
"True enough. Oh well, doesn't matter much anyway, does it? Ol' Teddy can jaw at me all he wants – s'not like I'm going to need to know when the Magna Carta was signed to make a living in this world." Fred shrugged.
"Why, 1215," Gilbert said without thinking.
Fred and Ned both gave him odd looks, but he was saved from formulating a blushing response by the sudden, carrying sound of loud girlish chatter off the road a bit ahead.
"—little boys and girls of nine or ten," someone was saying in a strangely sweet, clear voice. "I got up yesterday spelling 'ebullition.'"
E-b-u-double l-i-t-i-o-n. Ha! Gilbert thought happily.
"Josie Pye was head and, mind you, she peeped in her book," the voice continued. "Mr. Phillips didn't see her – he was looking at Prissy Andrews –" (Ned snickered) "but I did. I just swept her a look of freezing scorn and she got red as a beet and spelled it wrong after all."
Gilbert let out a sudden laugh.
In response to Fred's questioning look he explained, "Oh, it's just…Josie told me yesterday afternoon that—"
"Oh, she's always looking in her book and then acting like everyone else is so stupid for misspelling 'candelabra,' or some such thing" said Ned. "I was glad Anne put her in her place."
"Anne?" Gilbert's curiosity was piqued, but a taunt from Fred to his brother turned quickly into a heated discussion – some unsettled point or another from yesterday's lunchtime ball game – so Gilbert let his attention focus elsewhere.
He glanced up the road again as Diana Barry appeared from a rather winding, narrow path and mechanically climbed the fence to the main road, still talking over her shoulder.
"—put her milk bottle in my place in the brook yesterday," Diana was saying indignantly. "Did you ever? I don't speak to her now."
Gilbert was waiting in some anticipation for a look at the second figure, who he now realized must be Anne Shirley, the orphan at Green Gables whose exploits were at the tip of everyone's tongues. What did this personage, he wondered, this orphan girl who was supposed to be a boy, who stirred up the Avonlea gossip mill for four months and counting, who put both Josie and Mrs. Lynde in their places, and who spoke in such a clear, blithe voice – what did such a personage look like?
Presently she – Anne – materialized from amongst the birch trees, nymph-like – only nymphs hadn't aprons starched quite so crisply or lunch pails twirling energetically in their hands. She was rather skinny and small, and Gilbert could discern, even amidst the birches' shade, that her braids were quite astonishingly red.
"As well you shouldn't," Anne was responding to Diana, nimbly scaling the fence, lunch pail and all. "I saw her wink behind your back at Bessie, for all her wide-eyed, innocent protestations that she's always put her – Oh, Diana!"
Anne had now turned toward him (and the still-debating Fred and Ned), and taken a step from the shade into the sunlit road, so Gilbert first fully saw her as…as something was enacting a transformation over her countenance.
Her face was pale, dappled with numerous pinpricks of a darker hue (it was only later that Gilbert thought to term them freckles), rather pointed at cheekbones and chin but nicely shaped at nose and ears. Her hair was red, yes, but Gilbert had seen red hair before and this was a different phenomenon altogether – sun and shadow seemed to battle and frolic in its ripples – it was a living red. It was Anne's eyes, though, that formed the most distinct impression: large grey eyes that shone, seeming to see through him, to gaze raptly beyond him as she clasped her hands beneath her chin.
"What is it?" asked Diana.
"Look at the sun in the Lake of Shining Waters!" she gasped, pointing across the road and behind him.
Gilbert craned his neck automatically in that direction.
Wait, the what? He cast his gaze around until it fell on Barry's pond, where he spotted the reflection of a bright, perfect orb glittering in the rippled waters.
"Oh, even the Pyes cease to sting in the face of such beauty," Anne breathed.
Gilbert stared out at the water a bit longer. It was rather pretty, he supposed, but hardly the cause for such a reaction.
Evidently Diana agreed with him. "All the same," she said to Anne, "I shan't speak to Gertie today, unless she puts her bottle back in its proper place, of course."
Then Diana spotted Gilbert looking at them. She cast down her eyes and, irritatingly, began to blush, one finger twirling a long dark curl.
Gilbert turned quickly back to the Wrights, who were both looking at him expectantly.
He raised his eyebrows.
"What do you think?" Ned prodded.
Apparently they were calling on him to assess their ball game disagreement.
"Well…," Gilbert began, unsure how to pretend he'd been listening.
Suddenly he grinned. "I suppose I'd have to say that I think you're both Wright."
Fred groaned loudly, and Ned tore up the spruce hill and into the schoolyard after a laughing Gilbert to…er…punish him for the transgression.
After one loop around the school building to the outhouse and back to the entrance to the schoolyard, Gilbert allowed Ned to catch him and clip him on the shoulder. After all, it was a terrible pun, he reflected. I rather deserve it.
Satisfied he'd wreaked his vengeance, Ned began to saunter back toward the school, where several boys were playing a spirited game of catch. But not before: "Not so Blythe now, are we?" He then raced off without a backward glance, assuming Gilbert would tear after him.
Under normal circumstances, he would have, but just then Gilbert was looking again at Anne Shirley and Diana, who'd been joined on the road by Jane Andrews and Ruby Gillis. The latter three were chattering away, but Anne kept glancing back at Barry's pond, or the Lake of Shining…whatsit? He shook his head slightly
Anne looked completely different from any girl he'd ever seen, Gilbert decided. But it wasn't necessarily her hair…certainly he'd known redheads before, even in Avonlea. What was it then? There was something singular about her. Gilbert was too broad-minded and rational to, Aunt Edith-like, cast the difference up to Anne's Nova Scotian ancestry. And it wasn't just that she was an orphan, was it? No, no, that was just as silly an explanation.
It was Anne's eyes that were different, he finally determined. They were larger than other girls'. Yes, that was it, he thought, happy to have hit upon a practical explanation.
Or perhaps – the thought came to him unbidden – Anne's eyes just seemed bigger because somethingdistinctive gleamed in them, shone through them...
Before he had time to fully grasp this notion, however –
"Blythe – catch this!" Sam Boulter shouted suddenly. The ball was arcing high in the air, careening toward him at a rapid pace…no, it was soaring way off to the left. His reverie forgotten, Gilbert began to sprint toward the path of the ball.
"Nice toss, Boulter," Jerry Bell snickered.
"No fair, Sam, that's an impossible throw!" Charlie Sloane yelled.
"Oh, well, he's going for it, isn't he?" Sam shrugged, grinning at Jerry.
"But he wasn't playing before!" Charlie persisted.
"You knew he wasn't paying attention," added Ned.
A chorus of "Yeah's" followed, along with a few others to the tune of "Too late now"; Gilbert himself ignored both sides of the debate, concentrating only on the flight of the ball, legs moving as fast as they could.
Catch among the Avonlea boys was a game of honor. Missing the ball when one's name was called marked one as an object of abject scorn forever, or, at least, for the next few hours. Possible exploitations of the system, in the form of, as Charlie complained, "impossible throws," were controlled by rendering "going after the ball" a sort of binding contract. By doing so, the "catch-er" implicitly acknowledged the throw "possible" to catch. (Conversely, not going for a catch that a majority deemed actually "possible" tagged one as a sissy.)
Presently, this catch was looking less and less "possible," but it was too late to turn back now. The ball was still off to Gilbert's left, and dropping closer and closer to the ground. He knew he wasn't fast enough…there was only one chance…he dove…
"Ohhhhh!" the boys exclaimed, starting to rush over.
"Blythe's tripped and fell flat on his face!" Rob Wright called gleefully. Jerry joined him in derisive laughter.
For a split second it did indeed appear that Gilbert had fallen face-first on the ground, but then they all noticed that one arm had remained above the tall grass – one arm that was cradling the ball.
"He's caught it!" Ned cried.
"He couldn't have caught that," Jerry said, less than assuredly. "He probably just picked it up off the ground."
"Are you blind, Bell?" said Clifton Sloane scornfully. "The ball never went below the grass!"
By then, they'd all gathered around Gilbert, who arose a bit more slowly than necessary so as to milk the moment for all it was worth.
"Piece of cake," he said as he finally stood up, flipping the ball to a scowling Jerry.
"Nice one, Blythe!" Fred said, clapping him on the back.
Gilbert brushed the grass off his trousers. "You might want to put a bit more on your toss next time, Boulter," he said condescendingly, miming a throwing motion. "See, when you do it like this, it's just going to loft…"
"Wow, Gil, that was amazing!" exclaimed Tommy Sloane. Tommy was Clifton's younger brother, who, along with several of his fellow eight-year-olds, thought everything Gilbert did amazing.
He smiled graciously at Tommy, noting at the same time that Susan Gillis and her friends, seated behind Tommy on a rock, had been watching the catch as well, and also deemed him rather "amazing." She smiled at him, then whispered something in Mary Alice Bell's ear. Both giggled.
Just then the unmistakable clanging of a bell sounded through the schoolyard, sending all the students clambering toward the door.
My, but it was nice to be back at school! Gilbert thought as he made his way past decades of scrawled "Take Notices" on the porch wall. The successful catch had reestablished his proper place among the boys; that, along with Tommy's adulation and Susan's smile, worked quite nicely to remove the sting of missing the first few weeks.
Gilbert yawned and looked up from his book. His new vantage point of the schoolroom was much more interesting than the Canadian history Mr. Phillips had set them to read, a passage Gilbert felt sure he'd memorized before.
He caught Moody Spurgeon McPherson's eye at his old desk off to the right. Moody Spurgeon had been shooting him apologetic looks all morning, having in his absence taken over his former seat next to Charlie Sloane. Gilbert waved him off yet again. He'd have rather had a seatmate, to be sure, but he didn't much mind his new location. Situated as it was next to several of his female schoolmates, it offered several fresh opportunities for mischief.
One of which, in fact, was presenting itself right now.
"Em," Ruby Gillis, who sat just in front of him, whispered to her seatmate, "I know this sum is supposed to come out to 4,080, but it just won't."
Em White turned nervously to look at Mr. Phillips, who was hearing Prissy's Latin.
"Shhhh!" Then she shrugged. "I don't know…I already gave mine in."
"Oh, bother," Ruby groaned, tossing her braid over her shoulder in exasperation.
The long golden braid dangled temptingly in front of Gilbert. He slowly reached out to pull it, but then decided against that course of action. No, no, that lacks subtlety, he thought.
In a flash he remembered the pin he'd discovered in his pocket earlier that morning, likely dropped there accidentally when his mother had been mending some rent or tear. He fished it out and observed it: rather long and heavy – perfect.
He shifted his book up on his desk, bent over it as if focusing intensely on the contents, and made like to rest his hands on the top of the pages; really, they began to occupy themselves with subtly sticking the pin through Ruby's braid.
This task required all of Gilbert's concentration and skill, for he had to be gentle enough so that Ruby wouldn't feel any tugs, but firm enough so the pin would stay in the back of her seat. There!
"I suppose this is close enough," Ruby whispered to Em. She picked up her slate and started to rise…
"Oh!" she shrieked, abruptly jerked back to her seat.
It held! Gilbert thought gleefully, snatching the pin swiftly away just as the disturbance prompted everyone to look up with interest.
Prissy's recitation thus interrupted, Mr. Phillips turned to glare at the offending Ruby, who had grabbed her braid confusedly. Pretending to absorb himself in his history until the hubbub subsided, Gilbert felt suddenly aware of Anne Shirley's eyes regarding him from across the aisle.
He turned to look at her. From the expression on her face, he could tell that she'd observed all that had passed, but her grey eyes were dark and unreadable.
She doesn't look like a tattletale, he decided quickly. He grinned and winked at her.
Anne raised her eyebrows slightly, but otherwise her face was expressionless as she turned to whisper something to Diana.
Well, she wouldn't tell, at least, Gilbert determined. He was slightly unsettled by the encounter, though a bit unsure why. Did Anne think him mean for the little prank? Ruby had started to cry…but she was always crying over something or another, and it was just because Phillips had glared at her, not because of him…
Confound it, he thought, it was all in fun! Why should I care what she thinks, anyhow? Besides, she hadn't said anything, or even looked at him reproachfully. His thoughts were growing irrational, was all…for some reason, Anne seemed to have that effect on him.
"But it was not until the afternoon that things really began to happen." Anne of Green Gables, "A Tempest in the School Teapot"
Thus far Gilbert's first day at school had been an unadulterated success. He'd jumped to head in all his recitations, lined his pocket with five large chews of spruce gum at lunch, and been welcomed back enthusiastically by nearly all his classmates.
It's nice to have one's presence appreciated, Gilbert thought later that day, having finished the assigned arithmetic set in a flash. At lunch, Alice Andrews had given him a full quarter of one of her mother's much sought after lemon tarts; Tommy Sloane had entrusted him with his "third best" cricket (who Gilbert had secretly but promptly freed on the other side of the brook); and Tillie Boulter had let him borrow her lucky pebble, saying that it had already gotten her a new lace handkerchief and good marks on her sums this week, and "it didn't do to be too greedy all at one time." Everyone had clamored for stories of New Brunswick. And Susan Gillis had listened to them and seemed interested!
Amidst all this, Gilbert had also found time to begin a few new campaigns of relentless teasing. Supplementary to his more elaborate pranks, Gilbert's most common method of torment was to taunt his female classmates by calling "names." Diana Barry was "Crow;" Julia Bell "Freckles," Carrie Sloane "Mouse," since she was so small; Sophia Sloane "Spider," due to her seemingly never-ending arms and legs; Josie and Gertie he called, in a play on their surname, after different varieties of pie: some days they were apple and cherry, others shepherd's and lemon meringue. And that was only a sampling.
Relatively simple and always innocuous, within his targets these "names" provoked an external indignation which served to mask their inner satisfaction at being singled out. Earlier that afternoon, for example, Gilbert had hit on "Goldilocks" as a new appellation for Ruby Gillis, and made a great show of asking her at lunch if her milk was too hot, too cold, or just right. She'd rolled her eyes and tossed those gold locks in mock outrage, of course, but he could tell she was secretly pleased.
This was how the Avonlea brand of girl that Gilbert knew and understood always reacted, at least. But Anne Shirley, as Gilbert had already observed, was not of this typical brand.
Mr. Phillips was, again, standing over Prissy Andrews at the back seats, attempting to clarify an algebra problem. Heavens, Gilbert thought, listening to Phillips drone on, even I can see now that x equals 12 and ¾, and I haven't had a single bit of algebra.
He leaned back in his seat and stretched, catching Susan Gillis's eye in the process. She giggled and turned to look at Mary Alice, who also began to giggle. He turned again, this time flashing her a smile. Then Mary Alice whispered something and Susan blushed, giggling still more.
Gilbert turned back quickly to face the front. Goodness, did that girl do nothing but giggle? He couldn't for the life of him see what was so funny.
"Oh, that's cruel to the poor crickets!" Ella May McPherson was whispering shrilly. Gilbert hid a smile. Tommy Sloane had harnessed his team of racing crickets (presumably his first and second best) to strings, and was driving them up and down the aisle.
"Shhhh!" Jimmy Glover said. "It doesn't hurt them none, and 'sides, I want to see how fast they'll go!"
"I'll bet it takes ten seconds to get to that second desk."
"Ten? More like 25!"
"Twenty-five? I'll show you!" Tommy cried.
"Oh, boys." Ella May shook her head in dismay.
A quick glance around him confirmed for Gilbert that everyone else was engaged in similar nonsense. Rob Wright had drawn a rather grotesque-looking picture of Gertie on his slate and she was begging him in vain to show it to her; Fred and Sam Sloane had smuggled in some green apples and were merrily munching away; nearly everyone else was talking in low voices or passing notes up and down the rows.
Everyone, that is, except Anne Shirley. Beside her, Diana was busily scribbling on her slate and passing it back and forth with Jane Andrews, but Anne seemed to have no part in it. Chin propped in her hands, she was staring raptly at…nothing in particular, at least as far as Gilbert could tell. He wondered what she was thinking of.
Idly Gilbert decided to get her attention. He slid towards her in his seat and winked at her again.
She didn't notice. He winked yet again. Then he shifted over a bit more and winked a third time, as obtrusively as he could.
"Is something matter with your eye, Gilbert?" Ruby asked, regarding him curiously.
"Oh," Gilbert faltered, "I…er…" (he looked around rapidly) "It's the crickets," he finally said, shuddering. "They make me nervous, with those big bulging eyes. I get all jittery." He began to blink and twitch exaggeratedly.
Ruby giggled and turned back around.
Gilbert glanced at Anne again and frowned. She was still staring off with that same dreamy expression.
He made a face at her. Nothing.
He tried a more horrible face. Still nothing, at least from Anne; Arty Gillis, seated across the room, pulled a grotesque, eye-popper of a face in response, apparently under the impression that Gilbert's was intended for him.
Gilbert was growing irritated. Why wouldn't Anne look at him? He'd never had to go to such great lengths to attract a girl's attention and met with failure.
He leaned over into the aisle and smiled winningly.
And was again completely ignored.
All right, then. Now was time for more drastic measures. He ripped the corner off a bit of paper in his desk, crumpled it into a ball, and pelted it at Anne.
The paper projectile struck her in shoulder, but bounced harmlessly, and unnoticed, onto the floor.
This was unheard of. What could be so interesting that even a thrown wad of paper wouldn't shock her out of her reverie? Perhaps she was ignoring him on purpose. But why? Gilbert had never been so shunned by a girl in his life. She should look at him, that Anne Shirley, whose eyes shone with such a beckoning light…
Finally he couldn't take it anymore. He was done with these passive overtures. Hang subtlety, he thought. Anne Shirley would look at him if he had anything to say about it.
He leaned across the aisle, grabbed the end of one of her thick red braids, and held it up, hissing, "Carrots! Carrots!"
Then Anne looked at him with a vengeance!
Gilbert, taken aback by the fire in her eyes (had he thought them grey? They weren't grey, but green, an angry, brilliant, scorching green), hastily dropped the braid and slid back into his seat.
Anne jumped to her feet, green eyes blazing and sparkling with angry tears. "You mean, hateful boy!" she cried furiously. "How dare you!"
Gilbert's own hazel eyes widened with amazement. Why, what have I done? he wondered in dismay.
And then, with a look of more heightened fury than he could have possibly imagined, she grabbed her slate from her desk. Before the stunned Gilbert could so much as move a muscle – thwack! Anne had smacked it down on his head forcefully enough to crack the slate cleanly in half.
Owwwww! was Gilbert's first coherent thought. His skull was nearly exploding with pain, made all the more acute by the still unhealed bump from the train and his bed.
"Ohhh!" everyone gasped, horror-struck but reveling in the scene. Ruby began to cry hysterically, and Tommy Sloane, gawking, dropped his cricket-reins.
Anne herself appeared a bit shaken; the pieces of slate slipped out of her hands and clattered to the floor, forgotten.
Mr. Phillips strode quickly down the aisle and grabbed Anne by the shoulder.
"Anne Shirley, what does this mean?"
Anne looked up at him, eyes still green and blazing. She narrowed them slightly but kept her mouth resolutely shut.
I was right earlier, Gilbert thought wryly. She's no tattletale.
Both the pain and shock having ebbed slightly, Gilbert stood up. "It was my fault, Mr. Phillips," he said, trying to shoot an apologetic look past him at Anne. "I teased her."
Anne, who was wiping the angry tears from her face, stood up a bit more straightly and ignored him. So did Mr. Phillips.
"I am sorry to see a pupil of mine displaying such a temper and such a vindictive spirit," Mr. Phillips said somberly.
Gilbert rolled his eyes. And if you'd been teaching all the students like you're paid to do, it never would have happened, he thought sardonically.
"Anne, go and stand on the platform in front of the blackboard for the rest of the afternoon."
Anne's face set in a cold, angry expression, but her lip quivered slightly and her skin paled. All of a sudden Gilbert felt absolutely awful. Anne seemed perfectly nice, she'd done nothing to him, and she was an orphan, for pity's sake, and he'd gone and…and well, somehow, he'd apparently made her mad, and now only she was being punished…
"But sir," Gilbert tried again, "I should be penalized too, I…"
Mr. Phillips ignored him again. He stalked past Gilbert as Anne made her way mechanically to the platform.
Gilbert sat down in exasperation. He was admitting a crime, actually asking for punishment and not getting it. What could be more unreasonable?
Meanwhile, Mr. Phillips was scrawling something on the chalkboard above Anne's head.
"Ann Shirley has a very bad temper," he read aloud for the benefit of the youngest students. "Ann Shirley must learn to control her temper."
Anne stood resentfully at the platform, still as a statue. Gilbert tried and tried to catch her eye but was again unsuccessful, although he was fairly certain that this time her avoidance was on purpose.
He stared at her admiringly. Any other girl, he was sure, would have broken down and cried in such a situation, but Anne didn't even hang her head. Her eyes, resolutely fixed straight ahead, were full of stony green wrath, and her cheeks were aflame with controlled fury. He hadn't thought, before, whether he considered her pretty or not (looking back, he found this odd; such a judgment was something he normally made at first glance), but just then, regarding her on the platform, he reckoned her completely stunning.
Mr. Phillips had apparently been shocked by Anne's act of fury into teaching properly again. When he'd called the primer class forward, Gilbert's classmates began to discuss the incident in muted, shocked whispers.
"Did you see…"
"I can't believe…"
"…temper goes with her hair…"
The last comment came from Josie, who was simpering at him sympathetically from across the room. She then turned to smirk at Anne, who ignored her.
Gilbert looked past Josie at Charlie Sloane, who was also trying to catch Anne's eye, nodding indignantly. Charlie noticed Gilbert looking at him and frowned.
The bump on his head was still throbbing somewhat, and he automatically raised his hand up to pat it. Behind him, Jerry Bell and Sam Boulter began to snicker.
Just perfect, he thought. I've somehow made Anne furious, and then gotten her disgraced by Phillips in front of everyone, and I'm a laughingstock, too, for getting comeuppance from a girl.
This day had started so promisingly. Now it seemed, slate-like, to be going to pieces.
Just then Gilbert caught a shift in Anne's statue-esque demeanor out of the corner of his eye. Checking to make sure that Mr. Phillips' head was still bent over little Arty Sloane's shoulder, Anne snatched up some chalk and quickly appended "e's" to the "Ann's" above her on the chalkboard.
Gilbert looked around. Only Diana, who'd been intermittently shooting Anne her most sympathetic looks, seemed to have noticed this rectification of Mr. Phillip's spelling error.
Diana leaned across the aisle toward him. "Anne says that the "e" makes her name look much more distinguished," she explained.
The aptness of this struck Gilbert. Why, it does, he thought, looking again at the chalkboard. How very strange.
"Diana," he whispered plaintively, "what…what did I do? I don't understand. I…I mean, I tease you and call you crow all the time and you don't mind…do you? At least, you don't break slates over my head."
Diana almost smiled, but then stopped upon again glimpsing her suffering friend on the platform. "Anne's a bit sensitive about her hair."
"A bit sensitive?" Gilbert looked down at the broken slate on the floor.
"Well, a lot then."
"But why? I didn't mean carrots as a…a derogatory vegetable or anything, I just…"
Gilbert quickly shut his mouth as Mr. Phillips looked up from the recitation to silence the students' intensifying whispers.
The rest of the afternoon went by in a blur for Gilbert, who was trying to formulate a compelling apology to Anne in his head.
Finally Mr. Phillips dismissed them. The incident was still on everyone's lips, only aloud now rather than at a whisper.
"Did you see her face…?"
"Most awful red – made her seem all red."
"I didn't hear…what did Gilbert say that was so dreadful?"
"Nothing so dreadful at all…all's he called her was 'Carrots.'"
"Katie's going to be awful mad she missed school today, just wait till I tell her."
A crowd began to gather around Gilbert.
"Oh, Blythe, the look on your face!" Rob Wright laughed.
The Pye girls sidled up to him. "Gilbert, are you all right?" asked Josie.
"Yes, that looked so painful," Gertie added.
He paid them no mind and made a beeline for the porch. Anne was marching down to her desk to collect her things. He'd wait for her by the door to set things to rights.
Just then Anne stepped down into the porch, arms full of books but not, he noted, the broken slate.
Gilbert stepped toward her eagerly. "I'm awful sorry I made fun of your hair, Anne," he said, truly repentant. "Honest I am." She didn't seem very receptive to his plea. "Don't be mad for keeps, now," he added, almost desperately.
It was as if Anne hadn't heard a word he'd said, or like she hadn't seen him at all. Head held high, she swept disdainfully by, marched down the steps, and joined a gaping Diana in the schoolyard.
Gilbert was gaping himself. He'd thought for sure that once he'd apologized, explained he'd had no malicious intent, all would be well. None of the girls had ever stayed mad or ignored him like this before.
Jerry came up behind him and clapped him on the back. "Now that was a snub if I ever saw one," he said, snickering.
"Aw, shut your trap," Gilbert retorted, finally snapping. He stalked back into the classroom.
"Mr. Phillips," he began, walking straight up to his teacher. "I think that you treated Anne unfairly. It was my—"
"Are you questioning my methods, Mr. Blythe?" Mr. Phillips asked coldly.
"I – no…that is…" he trailed off.
"Is there anything else, then?"
Gilbert looked down. "No, sir."
"Good. But since you're so eager to be punished, perhaps you wouldn't mind washing off the chalkboard."
He grabbed a bucket from one of the shelves and made his way out to the brook for some water.
Charlie Sloane fell into step with him just outside and regarded him in silence for a moment, blue goggle eyes wide.
"What?" Gilbert finally asked.
"You hurt Anne's feelings dreadfully," Charlie said solemnly.
"Well, what about me? She hurt my head," responded Gilbert, trying to make light of the episode.
But Charlie would have none of it. He frowned at Gilbert, who hastily continued, "I know. I do feel like a prize idiot, especially for making her suffer like that on the platform. I could smash Phillips's owl glasses for that. But honestly, Charlie, you have to admit that she overreacted a bit."
Charlie shook his head. "Everyone knows she's touchy about her hair, Gil. So why—"
"Well, I didn't," Gilbert interrupted, starting to grow irritated with Charlie's pompous tone.
"Don't you know what happened with Mrs. Lynde?"
"Well, yes, I suppose…just that Anne 'flew at her' for something or other. What—"
"My mother," Charlie said, "told me that Mrs. Lynde told Anne when she first met her that she was ugly and had hair as red as carrots. That's why Anne got all mad."
"Oh," said Gilbert, stooping down to dip the bucket in the brook. "That makes sense…I suppose. But I didn't say she was ugly."
"She most certainly isn't!" Charlie flared.
Startled, Gilbert nearly dropped the bucket in the water. "I said I didn't say that, Charlie."
Charlie made no reply…he was acting a little strange, actually, Gilbert reflected. He kept straightening his body up and taking deep breaths.
"I thought I understood girls," Gilbert said, chalking Charlie's peculiarity up to innate Sloanishness and turning back toward the school. "I mean, mostly they seem to like being teased, don't they? But Anne wouldn't even look at me, even after I apologized, nice-like."
Charlie took another deep breath, seemed to gather himself up, and stepped in front of Gilbert. "I have to fight you, Gil," he said with great solemnity.
This time Gilbert did drop the bucket, along with his jaw.
"You" – cough – "have to" – hiccup – "fight me?" he repeated in disbelief, choking back laughter.
"Very funny," Gilbert said, laughing now in earnest. He picked up the bucket and turned around to head back toward the brook to refill it.
Charlie circled around to stand confrontationally in front of him again.
"You're serious." Gilbert's eyes widened incredulously. "But…why?"
"You insulted Anne."
Gilbert began to laugh again. "What are you, her knight in shining armor?"
Charlie stood up a bit straighter. "Tomorrow at four, behind Mr. Bell's shed in the spruce grove?"
The situation was ceasing to be amusing and growing simply preposterous. "You're not going to fight me, Charlie," Gilbert said decisively. "This is ridiculous."
"Why? Are you afraid?"
"Afraid? I'm nearly a head taller than you, Charlie! Besides, I'd never lick my best chum!"
"What makes you so sure you'd lick me?"
Gilbert just looked at him. "Julia was right," he said. "You are gone on Anne Shirley!"
"Nom'not," Charlie mumbled.
"Fine," he said, shoving his hands into his pockets. "So what? She's loads smarter than all the other girls, and more interesting too!"
She was more interesting, Gilbert thought. The crack of the slate had certainly cemented that fact into his skull.
He sighed. "Look, Charlie," he began, setting down the bucket, "There's no need to fight. I didn't intend to offend Anne – I just wanted to get her attention. I had no idea her hair was a sore subject. I mean, it shouldn't be…it's certainly very…I mean…it's not ugly," he finished lamely.
Charlie gasped. "You like her!"
"What? Don't be daft," said Gilbert lightly. "I don't even know her. But I do feel bad, truly. And I apologized to her. So there's really no reason for fighting."
Charlie weighed this for a moment. "All right, then," he said.
They began to make their way to the brook again. Then – "You really think of me as your best chum?"
"Well, I did, but then you wanted to fight me…" Gilbert shook his head, smiling. "Of course I do."
"I'm sorry I didn't save your seat for you. Moody—"
"Oh, that's all right. Besides, if I'd been sitting with you, I wouldn't have had today's delightful, slate-splitting experience…and wouldn't that be a shame." He rubbed the sore spot on his head.
Charlie laughed. "You did look most awful funny," he admitted. "I've never seen anyone so surprised in my life!"
"Can you blame me?"
Gilbert dipped the bucket into the water again. "Anne has the worst temper I've ever seen. And that includes old Abel Fletcher, my uncle George's father, who once got so angry at a rock that wouldn't budge in his fields that in a rage he kicked it and broke his toe."
"Usually Anne's awful nice," Charlie began. "And she—"
"Do you think she'll stay mad at me?" Gilbert asked suddenly.
"Naw," said Charlie. "She forgave Mrs. Lynde after only a few days, after all. Got down on her knees and apologized, Mother said." He grinned up at Gilbert. "And you're only a shade more insufferable than Mrs. Lynde can be at times, so I'd give it about a week."
Gilbert glared at his friend and emptied about half the bucket's contents on his shoulder before he jumped out of the way.
Presently Mr. Phillips came down the path, on his way back to Eben Wright's house, where he boarded.
"Gilbert? The chalkboards?" he said, eyes narrowed in suspicion.
"On my way, sir," Gilbert called. He filled the bucket yet again.
Charlie brushed the dripping water off his shirt. "Maybe I should lick you for that," he said.
Gilbert laughed exaggeratedly as he made his way back to the porch. "Keep practicing your left hook then," he said. "Oh…and be sure to eat your fill of porridge. Heard it helps you grow."
"When it doesn't kill you, you mean," Charlie called as he hustled down the road.
Gilbert ventured into the now-empty classroom. Anne's slate was still lying, in two jagged pieces, on the floor. He picked them up and regarded them for a moment.
This slate isn't a flimsy piece of work by any means, he thought. She must have brought it down with some force to crack it so.
He set the bucket down. Why, there's writing on this, he noted, fitting the slate halves back together.
Anne had, apparently, been doodling before she'd begun to daydream. Amidst the several formless scribbles, however, a few names were scrawled, in loopy, fancy lettering: Anne Shirley, Anne Cordelia Shirley, Lady Cordelia Anne Fitzgerald, Countess Cordelia Fitzgerald.
What on earth? Rather bewildered, and, unsure what else to do, he lifted the lid of Anne's desk and quickly set the slate pieces inside.
Gilbert picked up the bucket again, grabbed a rag from the shelf, and trudged over to the chalkboard. What a day, he thought, dipping the rag in the bucket and slowly beginning to wipe. At least it can't get any more bizarre.
Citations: Anne and Diana's conversation above is fromAnne of Green Gables, "A Tempest in the School Teapot" (p. 132).
This sentence, and some of the dialogue below, is taken directly from Anne of Green Gables, "A Tempest in the School Teapot" (p. 131-136).
Author's Note: Thanks for reading! As always, please review! I'll try my darnedest to get Chapter 4 out more quickly than Chapter 3, at the very least. Up next is, of course, the incident that really cements Anne's feelings Gilbert-ward for quite a long time.