The air was refreshingly, tingling cold, like a kiss of ice that turned Anne and Diana's cheeks rosy, like the blush that would come from real kisses. It was two days before Christmas, and the girls had promised to go to Echo Lodge to air dear Miss Lavendar's beloved home.
"Honestly, Diana," Anne said, squeezing her dear friend's be-mittened hand as the pair trudged the last bit of road to Echo Lodge. "The air seems so much sweeter in dear old PEI. Kingsport is lovely, it truly is, but I can't think of anything better than clear Island air with its salt tang and the smell of the trees. It just seems an invitation to embrace the good in the world, doesn't it?"
"Anne," Diana said with a laugh, her black eyes glittering and her nose nearly as red as her cheeks. "If anything makes this old world sweeter, it's you. You embrace everything as if it were your dearest friend and make it beautiful."
Tears actually stood in Anne's eyes and she embraced her friend quickly. "Why, Diana!" she said. "That's a lovely thing to hear about one's self, and quite true besides. We find our own beauty in the world, don't we? I shouldn't wonder. If one has an imagination and love in her heart, she can see a walk like this as a -- a sacred rekindling of friendship's bonds -- whereas one could also see it as a cold walk to do a foolish errand for a silly woman."
Diana laughed as she usually did; she loved to hear Anne's flights of fancy but often didn't quite understand them. She was glad that Anne was home. Anne was her dearest friend, and made the world a lovelier place, a place full of magic. But...a sacred rekindling? She would trust that Anne had the right of it, and let the details fall as they might.
"I think it's loyal and kind to keep an eye on Echo Lodge," Diana said stoutly. "But can't we hurry now, Anne? It's perfectly beautiful outside, but I think I'll appreciate the view much better inside with a jorum of hot tea and a crackling fire."
Diana's practical nature for once did not vex Anne, who was quite shivering from the air's chill, despite the enchanting odor of fir tree and the Gulf that could challenge any fairy tale land and hold its own.
"There is something peculiar and pagan about Echo Lodge, when all is said and done," Anne said with contentment, lounging near the twinkling fireside as air and light flooded Echo Lodge and Diana unpacked the delicious lunch basket she had made up for their expedition. "I feel rather like a dryad maiden, returned to her home wood after journeys abroad."
"That's lovely, Anne," said Diana. "I feel that I might faint of hunger. Don't these preserves smell even better in the cold?"
"Davy would agree with you," Anne said humorously, sniffing the air. "And so do I. Bless Mrs. Lynde and her celebrated jams."
"They're a treat after a long walk and no mistake," Diana said, taking a lovely large bite of the preserves with a biscuit and clotted cream. "And oh, I did remember the potatoes! Let's roast them in the coals, Anne."
"Now that is a proper suggestion," said Anne eagerly, taking the potatoes and setting them in the coals to roast. "And we've brought salt for the eggs, so we'll have salt for our taters and that's more than enough, as the Irishman said."
Diana laughed again. "Don't get too set on that being enough Anne," she implored. "I've made us a whole mess of cookies and brought the candies that...a friend...gave me."
Anne turned to look at her dearest friend, whose face was all a-flush with color that Anne did not think was from the warmth of their near-woodland fire.
"A friend?" Anne asked, demure with the innocence that a daughter of Eve like Anne could show in complete knowledge. "I'm sure Fred is deserving of ever so much than the title of friend."
"Oh, Anne," said Diana. "I don't think I can explain, really. Sometimes I think that Fred is my very best friend in the world -- except for you, of course."
For a moment, the ugly flame of jealousy heated Anne's cheeks -- Diana, her rosy and dimpled Diana, with Fred Wright! -- but her better angels quickly won out. After all, Anne was off at Redmond with Priscilla and Phil, but oh, her Diana. Her Diana was no longer entirely hers, and Anne felt bitter prickings of jealousy in that.
"Love, I'm so glad for you," said Anne, concealing a chest with a pounding heart with a girlish kiss on the cheek for her dearest and oldest friend. "I should hate to think of my Diana without a best friend while I'm off living the coed's life."
"Thank you, Anne," Diana said gratefully. "Oh! The potatoes!"
Anne quickly retrieved the near-burnt little spuds, shrieking a bit at the heat of them and handing one of the pair to a grateful Diana. Her thumb was very slightly burnt, but the weight of the potato in her hand was quite good, and she bit into it savagely, savoring the heat radiating from the little thing and the fluffy innards.
"Mmm," she said. "It hardly needs salt at all."
"Well, here's the shaker to season it a bit just in case," Diana said with her loyal, practical smile. Had there ever been such a friend, Anne thought, putting only a sprinkle on her steaming meal and sighing with the taste. It really was absolutely perfect. "I've missed you terribly, Anne. I keep wanting to tell you all about Fred, but I don't know how to write it properly. It all seems so ridiculous. I've written you a dozen letters about him, but then I read them and I'm so ashamed I have to burn them."
"I'm certain there are some secrets that should be kept between a girl and her fellow anyway," said Anne with killing slyness. Diana's shriek and swat did much to relieve Anne's unaccountable jealousy.
"Oh, don't call him my fellow, Anne, don't!" Diana pleaded. "That sounds positively Pye-like."
"Heavens forfend," Anne said with a gesture of surrender. "Let's forget all about the ridiculous business, Diana, and simply, simply enjoy this blessed moment of beauty and magic."
And indeed, those two sweet and lovely damsels did enjoy several hours more of magic and companionship in that sweet, old-fashioned stone lodge. Anne would ever after treasure that memory.
But ah -- a little, just a little -- did that sharp barb of jealousy change the perfect contentment between Anne and her Diana. The small distance that had begun when Anne had gone to Queen's was growing and changing every day. If Anne looked back on their day with sentimental joy, that day's emotions were far more complex as girlhood continued to change, inexorably, to the deeper and more complex state of womanhood.