Something a little happier for a change – happy stories are not actually my forte, but I reckon I can't keep writing sad things. They say it's bad for you, anyway.
Oh, and for those not fluent in flower language (as I certainly am not): a lily of the valley represents the 'return of happiness'.
Lily of the Valley
"There is nothing quite like Ingleside in spring," Anne Blythe sighed contentedly.
"Though," she continued a little ruefully with a glance at what had once been the famous Ingleside garden. "It may take a while yet until my poor flowers are fully recovered."
Mrs. Marshall Elliot – widely known as Miss Cornelia and almost as widely esteemed – cleared her throat and took a sip of her tea. She liked flowers well enough, really, but her sensible soul could not help seeing the practical side of growing potatoes and vegetables.
Anne turned towards her, laughing lightly. "I know you do not agree, Cornelia, but this world has seen so many horrible things in the last few years – and well, to me that just makes the beautiful things so much more important. Don't you think so, Rilla-my-Rilla?"
Her daughter Rilla, sitting at her mother's feet on the verandah steps, now turned to her and smiled. For a moment their eyes met and they both thought of the boy with silver eyes. A silent remembrance for him who had valued beauty above everything.
"At any rate, it is much more pleasant now that spring has come. I was almost convinced that horrible winter would never end," Mary Vance declared, trying to change the subject in a diplomatic way – or at least as diplomatic as was possible for her, seeing as she had a habit of speaking in what she thought a sensible and proper way though it often sounded somewhat condescending to others.
She was just rather grand, Mary Vance was.
Rilla bent her head over her knitting and bit back a grin. Anne sipped at her tea and had she been nineteen again she probably would have grinned as well, perhaps even said a thing or two. As it was she just smiled mildly – it had taken her years to perfect that smile – and said nothing.
"At least you garden is in a far better shape than the one at the House of Dreams. Poor Leslie! I went down to visit her the other day and it is completely overgrown. It was almost impossible to get through," Miss Cornelia reported, effectively changing the subject back again.
"It is rather horrible, is it not? I had planned to take better care of it, but there was so much to do and most of the time I simply got caught up in something else," Anne confessed. "I already talked to Leslie though and we will try and fix it together next week. We often worked in that garden, the two of us, back when Little Jem was just a baby and Leslie and Owen were not yet married. It will almost be like in the old days." For a moment she seemed lost in thought, caught up in memories of times that were no more.
Miss Cornelia, well aware of her friend's romantic tendencies, just gave a nod. She had learned to tolerate Anne and her moods even if she did not always understand them. And, Miss Cornelia though, as fond as she was of her, sometimes Anne really did not carry herself as a wife and mother in her fifth decade ought to.
Which was most likely true, reflected Anne, guessing the other woman's thoughts. Most of the time Anne did not feel 53. There were days, even, when she almost felt like a young girl again – never completely though, for there were two eternal lights, deep within her, never faltering, which had aged part of her forever.
"Talking about Jem," Miss Cornelia allowed herself a knowing little smile. "When does he intend to marry Faith?"
Anne shook her head, laughing. "As you very well know, dear Cornelia, Faith is still in England. The Merediths do not expect her home before September. I am aware that you have been hearing wedding bells for years now but I am afraid you must be patient a while longer."
"But they will get married?" Mary enquired. She did not have Cornelia's flair for pairing people off but possessed a fine instinct for the latest gossip.
"Why, of course they will," Rilla remarked casually from her place on the verandah steps. "I reckon there is no-one still doubting that, is there?"
Mary, feeling rebuked, thought that Rilla Blythe was really not entitled to talk like that to an older and, more importantly, engaged woman. For a moment she considered withdrawing in refined silence as she really ought to do after such a snub but in the end her natural inclination to gossip won over her bruised pride.
"Well, if he does intend to marry Faith he'd better make it public," she declared with a little side-glance towards Rilla. "Poor Arabella Drew still has hopes of marrying him herself."
"In that case, I shall inform him of your concern presently. After all, it is of utmost importance to prevent poor little Arabella Drew breaking her poor little heart over him, is it not?" Rilla managed a smile so sweet and innocent it took Mary a moment to realize she was being made fun of.
When she did realize it, however, the opportunity for a sharp reply had passed and Mary had no other choice than to quietly reflect that Rilla Blythe really did not know her place anymore!
"From what I have heard Jem should not be too worried," remarked Miss Cornelia. "At least not as long as Ken Ford is strutting around Glen. Leslie says he is positively mobbed by enamoured little girls."
Quite suddenly Rilla appeared completely fascinated by her knitting. The next stiches were done so meticulously and she was bent so deeply over the needles that even Mary – struck by a sudden memory of a lighthouse-dance and a pot of goose grease – missed the mirth dancing in the younger girl's eyes.
"Is it that bad, Cornelia?" Anne was clearly amused but she too glanced questioningly at her daughter – though with no more success than Mary.
Smelling a good juicy gossipy story, it was Mary who answered in Miss Cornelia's stead. "Oh, it is even worse. You should have seen these little geese hanging off him yesterday after church, hoping he would accompany one of them home. Quite shameless, if I may say so."
"But you have to give it to Kenneth, he handled it very well" said Miss Cornelia, taking it upon herself to defend the son of her 'dear friend Leslie'. "A few years ago he would have taken advantage of them quite as shamelessly – now, do not look at me like that, Anne, you know I am right. Even his mother would admit it – yesterday however he was almost embarrassed by it. It really did not think it possible but he seems to have grown up."
Mary, having long ago decided Ken Ford to be a hopeless brazen little heartbreaker and definitely not willing to give up an already formed opinion, wrinkled her nose disapprovingly.
"Well, we will see about that," she declared. "I think it will go to his head quite quickly, all those stupid little girls making sheep's eyes at him. You should have heard them talk about him! How Hazel Lewison went on about that insignificant little scar of his. As if one scar would make a hero out of him. May I remind you that Miller has lost a leg?"
The latter was said with an accusingly look at the other three woman – quite as if one of them had actually doubted Miller losing a leg in the war.
Anne and Miss Cornelia hurriedly took another mouthful of tea.
Rilla, having quietly amused herself listening to Mary's tirades, now allowed herself a small smile.
Apparently it did not escape Mary's eagle eyes. "And you should know better than to grin like that, Rilla Blythe! I saw you making eyes at him during service. Quite hard not to notice all those glances, really. And he could hardly keep his eyes off of you either. In church, no less. Everyone has seen it!"
Mary sniffed with all the righteousness of an engaged and thus respectable woman.
Rilla on the other hand kept her expression carefully neutral, concealing how amused she really was.
"Is that true, darling?" Anne asked, a smile in her voice.
"Well," said Rilla carefully. "It has to be true if Mary says it is. I mean, what right does my humble self have to dare deny what everyone has seen?"
Now even Mary knew she was being made fun of. She was, accordingly, incensed.
"Now you are laughing! But just wait until he is bored with you and finds himself another pastime. And what happens when he is back in Toronto with all those rich, high-bred daughters he could marry? What can you offer him, compared to that?" Mary cried. "I told you once, Rilla, and I will tell you again: it doesn't do to believe all he tells you!"
Rilla, of course, could have easily taken that reaction for malice – even envy – but she had known Mary long enough to realize that there was a good heart under all that roughness. Mary was not simply out to prove a point – at least not first and foremost. For the most part she genuinely wanted to warn Rilla about a man she thought capable of hurting her. That, in trying to protect her, Mary still managed to sound rather patronizing – well, she could not help it, Rilla reasoned. It was, quite simply, in her nature.
"Thank you for your advice, Mary. I will try and heed it in the future," she said amiably and turned back to her knitting.
Miss Cornelia, having prepared to intervene, looked at her in surprise. She had always known Rilla to be sensitive, even touchy at times. Where, then, did that calmness come from?
How was Miss Cornelia to know that barely two days prior Ken Ford had left no doubt at all about who he wished to be his bride?
Having heard quite enough, Anne now enquired about Mary's upcoming wedding to Miller Douglas, successfully taking the focus off of her daughter.
Mary and Miss Cornelia enthusiastically divulged details about the wedding plans, and thus the question with whom Kenneth Ford did or did not flirt, was thankfully forgotten quite quickly.
Rilla meanwhile used the welcome distraction to let her thoughts drift to that evening, just a few days ago, when Ken had finally come back to her…
"Is it Rilla-my-Rilla?" he asked, meaningly.
Emotion shook Rilla from head to foot. Joy–happiness–sorrow–fear–every passion that had wrung her heart in those four long years seemed to surge up in her soul for a moment as the deeps of being were stirred. She had tried to speak; at first voice would not come. Then–
"Yeth," said Rilla.
And oh, she knew, she should have gotten over that a long time ago, but suddenly she felt no resemblance to the sensible, responsible women she had considered herself to be only moments ago. Instead she was, again, a girl of just fifteen attending her first dance, a head full of dreams and a pair of silver slippers pinching her feet.
It was that girl, believed to have grown up long ago, that caused her to hang her head in shame, because this was supposed to have been one of the most beautiful, most important, most wonderful moment in her life and she had ruined it – yes ruined! – with her stupid lisp.
(The sensible, responsible woman could only shake her head in amazement on being confronted with such youthful folly but was wise enough to know that her opinion would not be heard and so decided to withdraw for the time being – let them call on her once reason had returned.)
For a moment or two Rilla stayed like that, gaze lowered, looking at her hands, one of which Ken still held. Then she felt him gently touch her face, raising her head so that she was looking at him once more.
Rilla felt slightly breathless. Did he know, why… – oh, of course he knew! Was there anything they did not tell each other in their endless, year-long letters from two ends of this worlds?
"Please don't be embarrassed" Ken asked softly, caressing her cheek, "not because of this and not because of me. See, that lisp, much as you do not like it, is a part of you and as such I am required to love it. It is really quite sweet. Besides, you would not be yourself without that lisp – and then you would not be mine anymore."
Rilla dared a little smile and Ken gave her an approving nod. "There, that's better" he said.
Almost of its own accord his hand drifted from her cheek and his thumb started to trace her lips. Rilla's heart, having only just calmed down a little, suddenly beat twice as hard.
"You have" Ken mused, "the most enchanting smile I have ever come across. And the most kissable dent in your lip…" he touched it softly before brushing a loose lock of hair behind her ear, "and to think no-one has ever kissed it – or will ever kiss it – but me."
His eyes found hers, gentle but questioning, trying to gauge her reaction to his words. Rilla, trembling a little under his gaze, wanted to say something – anything – but found that words had left her.
So, because it was the only kind of language left to her, she stood on her tip-toes, leaned in to him – when had he gotten so close? – and pressed a kiss to his lips.
It was an innocent kiss, just a brief meeting of lips, before Rilla pulled back, a little shocked by her own boldness.
Ken on the other hand just grinned at her, a mischievous flicker in his eyes. Rilla scarcely had time to react when he let go of her hand and instead placed both arms around her, pulling her back in, far closer than before.
"You are blushing" he announced, a little too pleased for Rilla's taste, and placed two quick kisses on either cheekbone. They were, indeed, covered by a soft blush, which immediately intensified.
"If I am, it's your fault" Rilla retaliated, her speech having mysteriously returned to her. She tried to give him her most accusing look, though the effect was somewhat undermined by the fact that she was still in his arms and – truth to be told – could imagine no place where she would rather be.
Ken just nodded, quite matter-of-factly. "Naturally" he agreed easily, "and I would promise never to do it again but you are looking far too sweet for that."
"Is that so?" Rilla enquired, quietly grateful that her mind had freed itself from that dazed state only he could put her in. It was not that his sweet words and caresses were unwelcome – far from it, really – but it did not give him the right to tease her quite so mercilessly!
"Listening to you" she continued, tapping one finger against his chest to emphasise her words, "one would think you only like me for my looks."
For a moment Ken just watched her thoughtfully and Rilla almost feared having said something wrong. Then he smiled and she relaxed.
"'One' would think that, yes?" he asked, again with that mischievous look, making Rilla suspect he was not going to let that accusation sit easily, "well, we cannot have that, can we? Go on, close your eyes."
For a second or two she eyes him suspiciously but then closed her eyes as instructed.
Ken leaned down and placed a kiss on the tip of her nose. "I love you for your humor" a kiss on her forehead, "for your wisdom" one on the chin, "your stubborn- no, your determination." He did not miss Rilla's warning glance, directed at him through half-closed eyelids, and the corners of his mouth turned up. But, alas, he would not let it deter him from going through with his plan.
A kiss on her right cheek followed. "For your sympathy" and one on the left cheek, "your strength" then the right eyelid, "your innocence" followed by the left, "and for your warmth – in short I love you for being at least as beautiful on the inside as you are on the outside." The he kissed her lips and this particular kiss was neither innocent nor fleeting…
"Where are you, daughter o' mine? You seem miles away" Anne asked with a knowing smile, rousing her daughter from her daydreaming.
Rilla blinked, puzzled for a moment, having lost herself completely in that one memory. Then she returned her mother's smile. She looked a tiny bit guilty, Anne thought, just like a child being caught with a hand in the cookie jar.
"Oh, nowhere. Just building dream castles, I guess" Rilla answered with a shrug, thus implying that there was really no importance to her being lost in thoughts for several minutes – Mary disapproving sniff she deliberately ignored.
For Anne on the other hand that comment was the last piece in a long line of incidents and what beforehand she could only have guessed, she now knew for sure.
"Do you need any help with that?" she asked, eyes twinkling amusedly.
"Help?" Rilla repeated, clearly confused.
Instead of answering Anne just pointed behind her. And really, on the other end of what had once been the Ingleside lawn, leaning against the fence, was a tall dark-haired man. Noticing the four women looking in his direction he raised a hand in greeting.
Rilla suddenly felt a very familiar flutter in her chest, just where her heart was. Of course, it was Ken. And he was waiting for her. Did he manage to get the ring, as promised? If so, they could finally tell the world that…
Quickly she stood – her knitting slipping to the floor, entirely forgotten – and gazed imploringly at her mother. "May I?" she asked.
Anne looked at her, her youngest child, the light in her eyes and the hopefulness in her face, and reflected that it would never be easy to let a child go, but it was much less hard if the child was happy.
"Of course" she replied and that was all Rilla needed. She pressed a quick kiss to her mother's cheek, waved in the general direction of Mary and Miss Cornelia and hurried through the garden towards Ken, who already held open the gate for her. She took his hand in hers and led him towards Rainbow Valley. Moments later they had disappeared behind the trees.
Anne had watched after her, a little melancholy perhaps, but then caught herself, shaking her head. Yes, the none too distant day would come when Ken Ford would take her youngest daughter with him, to Toronto or some other place somewhere in this world, but this day was not here yet and now was not the moment to be melancholy. Besides, would she not rather have all her children scattered on far-off continents but happy and content, than to have them close by but denied the happiness she herself had been allowed to live her entire life thanks to Gilbert?
"I don't want to intrude" Mary announced in a voice that indicated she was going to do just that, "but I really do not think you should have allowed her to give with him. He will break her heart before this is over, mark my words!"
Anne turned to her with a smile. "I don't think he will, Mary" she said calmly, "those two have already withstood a lot together, more than you or I or indeed anyone else will ever realise."
"And no-one did realise it, did they?" Miss Cornelia mused, "Jem and Faith, Nan and Jerry, we have all known that for years. But Rilla and Kenneth? I certainly did not see that coming!" The look on her face made it quite clear that if she had not seen it coming, there was no-one else you could have.
"Truth to be told, me neither" said a voice from behind. It was Gilbert, having just come home from one of his countless patient visits.
"Really, Anne-girl, I think I am getting too old for this. Last week it was Jerry Meredith, this morning Ken Ford – say, do you reckon there will be another young man standing on our doorstep three days from now, asking my blessing to whisk Diana away?" he enquired.
Anne laughed. "No, I do not think so" she replied, "but then again, one can never be sure."
"Well, if he comes, send him up to my office. One more or less does not make a difference, I guess", he entered the house, shaking his head.
His wife looked after him, smiling, and thought to herself that if Jerry and Ken could make her daughters only half as happy as Gilbert continued to make her, then she really need not worry about these two children at the very least.
After all, how did they say?
God's in his heaven, all's right with the world.