Mrs Philippa Blake is Surprising

'Roy Gardner wouldn't have done at all. I can see that now, though I was horribly disappointed at the time. You know Anne, you really did treat Roy very badly.'

from chapter three, the Land of Dreams Among; Anne's House of Dreams

...

'Not so bad as I treated Gilbert,' said Anne.

A shadow fell over her face as the room in the east gable gave way to dusk. She swung her legs onto her bed and hugged at her knees.

'Whatever your methods they certainly worked,' said Philippa Blake, perching at the foot of Anne's bed like a cat. 'After all, both men wanted to marry you!'

'Heartless minx! You know I never wished to hurt either of them,' Anne said, giving her friend a half-hearted swipe. 'But Gilbert... I love him so entirely, Phil. I can't recall the girl I used to be, who snubbed and pretended, and...' – that wretched day at Patty's Place – 'refused him.'

She drew her knees close to her chest, but Philippa was having none of it.

'Oh, you'll make it up to him, honey. He's just bound to be expecting that!'

She flopped back on the bed and squealed. Anne rocked up to her knees and bent over her friend, gripping her lightly round the neck.

'And what do you mean by that, I wonder? I know it's on the tip of your forked little tongue. So spit it out – or I'll make you!'

'Well, Miss Shirley, if you want to know then I won't tell...'

Anne released her grip and tweaked Phil's nose.

'There's nothing you can tell me anyway, ol' Mrs Blake. I've had more accounts of "making it up" as you put it, to fill a dozen of those novels Mrs Lynde pretends she doesn't read.'

'Then she won't mind if I don't return the one I nabbed from under her sewing basket!' Phil said gleefully. 'Since it doesn't exist, she can't miss it.'

She adjusted the little cameo at her throat and smoothed back her hair with an innocent air.

'Oh, I never could beat you for bare-faced meanness,' Anne said, laughing.

'I might check with Gilbert on that point. I'm sure he would disagree.'

'Don't you dare!' Anne laughed again, but without the same enthusiasm. She sat back once more, resting her chin on her knees. 'Phil, what did you mean – about making it up to him? I mean really?'

Her face was at once so open and sincere, it was all Phil could do not to kiss her cheeks as she would her own babies. Her answer was not put so delicately.

'I mean Gilbert Blythe has been passionately in love with you since you wore your hair in two long braids.'

Phil could not have known that a vegetable more or less the same size and colour as those braids was now on Anne's mind, but her response might have hinted at it.

'If anyone is prone to passion, it's me.'

'Exactly!' Phil said with a wink.

Anne traced a finger along the seam of her quilt. She knew without wanting to show that she knew, exactly what Phil was referring to. After the night she spent at the Blythes – the night Gilbert seemed to know how deep her passions ran; knew it better that she knew herself – what could he be expecting on their wedding night? She pulled at a thread on one of the gingham patches.

'Was it the same for you, Phil? After pursuing Jo like that he might have thought –'

'Pursuing! An Island girl would put it that way. I just helped him on a little.'

Her dark eyes flashed brazenly but Anne would stay her course, like the stitches straight and true upon her bed.

'Quibble all you want over the word, Phil dear, you know full well what I mean. Did – did Jonas have certain... expectations?'

'You mean did I disappoint him?'

'No! Of course not, I only meant –'

'Perhaps I did.'

Phil sat up once more, scooping her knees to herself, like a mirror to Anne. She adjusted her grandmother's ring so the stone sat straight; Anne stared at her with eyes so large and round they might have been its match.

'You're surprised, Anne.' Anne Shirley's face had always been a book, but a trusted, comforting read for all that. 'Don't pretend otherwise, darling. I can see plain as plain that my answer's not what you expected. I know I come across so worldly wise, but it's spread thin and shallow like a crust, not all the way to the core like you. It happens I can't help that, anymore than you can help that divinely red hair. But I do feel things and fear things just the same, you know. And I was worried about the first night Jo and I spent together. I didn't sleep a wink for days beforehand.'

Anne was quiet. A question lodged in her throat almost painfully. She had to ask – but to say it… She must, she would.

'And so... how was it? What was it like?'

Phil laughed. Partly in fun, and partly she owned in mockery of what had happened that first night.

'I wouldn't know, Anne.' Anne had a look on her face as though Phil had caught her in some cruel trick, but her friend soon put that to rights. 'I fell asleep! Dead to the world. Dead to Jo. I nearly died again when I woke up and realised what I had done.'

Phil? Philippa Blake, as was the infamous Philippa Gordon? Beauty? Wit? Incorrigible flirt? Fell asleep?

'Oh, go ahead and laugh, I know you want to.'

Anne needed no permission, she was in a ball trying to smother the giggles erupting from her mouth.

'Oh Phil. I'm not... oh, Phil I'm not laughing –'

'Oh, you're not, are you?'

'I'm not laughing at you – it's just, it's just...'

Though Anne could not put it into words, the feeling coursing through her was something very like relief.

'We'll see if you're still laughing in a week's time.'

It was Phil's turn to tweak Anne on that lovely nose of hers, but the sudden change in Anne's expression stopped the mischievous hand.

'Please don't say that, Phil. Don't wish disappointment on me. The expectation is already so great. Sometimes I feel it can only end... badly.'

It was Philippa's turn to be surprised.

'Since when have you felt that way – that it will all go so wrong?'

Her brow bore a crease of concern for Anne – and herself, for doubting she had the wisdom that might help.

'Oh, I don't know.'

Anne stared off into the sky outside her window, it was an indeterminate colour where one couldn't tell if it was day or night that approached. 'Perhaps when a chum has visited and the talk turns to babies and husbands. Sometimes I am filled with blissful anticipation, but there are other times... when I feel so dreadful. Like I'll never be able to get it right, that I'll lack the patience to get it right. And – even more horribly – that I do get it right, at least in the eyes of others, but it leaves me feeling so... discontent."

Phil listened to her friend unburden her heart and said nothing.

'And I feel so confused, Phil, so pressured to get it right. Gilbert has loved me for so long, you know.'

Anne seemed to slump under all that expectation.

'Yes. I do know, honey,' said the mother to the maid. 'But tell me now, Anne, when are the times when you don't feel that way? For you just wouldn't be Anne if you didn't have days like those too.'

'Oh,' Anne took a deep breath, unfurling herself like a flower. 'When I'm with Gilbert, of course. When I'm with him – whenever I'm with him – I feel like everything is just the way it's supposed to be. But more than that – that it's exciting just to be with him. Just to breathe with him. And sometimes... don't laugh, but sometimes it's as though he can even make me forget how to do that.'

Phil leaned over, brushing away a red curl to kiss her friend.

'I don't have to tell you of course, that that is all that matters. That it's all that ever mattered.'

'Perhaps you do though, Phil. Oh, say it to me again.'

Anne clasped her hand and felt her pearl circlet chink against Philippa's topaz.

'I know I tease you about Roy but that's only because you're so deliciously fun to tease, not because I mean it. You and Gilbert belong together, honey. And whether you fall asleep like yours truly, or break that big ol' bed he bought –'

'Phil!'

'You can at least find contentment in the knowledge... that you didn't marry someone who is prettier than you are!'

They fell against the pillows laughing, tears darkening their lashes and wetting their cheeks. When laughter turned to silence and night claimed the sky, they were still holding hands.

Anne looked sidelong at her friend.

'So that's the secret of contentment, is it?'

Philippa Blake obviously thought so. No one could say that she married Jonas for his looks. But Roy had been more than a pretty face, of course he had! Though curiously when Anne came to think of him nothing else came to mind. She stood up and went to the window, closing the curtains on a moon that looked as though it winked at her.

Philippa rolled to her side and rested against her arm, enjoying the pleasures of idle talk. Soon Jo must appear and request their appearance in the kitchen. She imagined his dear face peeking round the door – quizzical and apologetic – and she smiled.

'Well what do they say… it's just as easy to fall in love with a plain man as a rich one?'

'I think you've muddled that up a little,' said Anne.

'Well, Euclid was always my first love, honey. I never really cared for all those great works of literature, not like you, Queen Anne.'

Philippa left the bed and went to join Anne at the window. They stood before each other remembering the girls they used to be, whose hopes and passions were so wonderfully undiscovered.

'That may be, you mysterious creature. But I think your version sums up our time at Redmond, the part not concerned with sonnets and geometry – the important part I mean – rather perfectly."

Anne was about to return the kiss, when Philippa pounced.

'Let me see if I understand you correctly. You're saying that you fell for the pretty one?'

Anne could almost see Phil's tail twitch.

'He was rich too, don't forget.' She'd nearly forgot herself – so there was more to Roy than his looks after all!

'Which means that I fell for the... Just what are you implying about my Reverend Jo?'

'I'll say plenty about that angel you married, Mrs Blake.' Anne kissed her and went to her mirror to tidy her hair. 'But I've nothing more to say about Roy. And he'd have nothing to say about me, either.'

'Oh, certainly. If one were to say the word "redhead" to him now, his first thought would probably be that nasty Classics professor,' Phil said, pinching a silk rose from Anne's dresser and placing it in her hair.

Anne pretended to glare but found she hadn't the heart. She was happy for Roy, the way we are for people when our own happiness no longer depends upon theirs.

'So...He has recovered I understand,' smiled Anne.

'Oh yes. He is married and his wife is a sweet little thing and they're perfectly happy. Everything works together for the good. Jo and the Bible say that, and they are pretty good authorities.'

...