i love you much(most beautiful darling)
more than anyone on the earth and i
like you better than everything in the sky
Hetty takes notice of Janet Ward before Alec does -- which is to say, she disapproves of her heartily. All that smiling and giggling and chatter from a reverend's daughter! She'd do well -- Hetty concludes, her not-quite-twenty years already lending her the air of someone older than God and wiser besides -- to behave more like her sister. Abigail Ward is a very respectable young lady, Alec agrees. Abigail Ward would never dream of laughing in the middle of church, no matter how irresistible the sight of old Mr. Penhallow falling asleep on his wife's shoulder (and his wife swatting him awake as discreetly as possible) might prove.
Janet Ward does laugh. She catches herself at it and turns it into an unconvincing cough, her eyes wide. Everyone very carefully does not look at her. Her father goes ominously quiet, just long enough for the silence to scold. Hetty tsk tsks under her breath. Alec finds his eyes wandering from the pulpit; Janet's cheeks are pink, but she doesn't look exactly ashamed of herself. More as if she's trying her hardest not keep laughing now that she's started. He can feel the corners of his own mouth tugging upward in (very inconvenient) sympathy. She catches his eyes on her, and bestows a bright quick smile.
Despite her father's none-too-flattering opinion of farm boys, Alec King is a perfect gentleman. Sometimes a little too perfect. For months he walks her home from school, bypassing King Farm in sun, rain, and snow, never seeming to mind the long solitary walk back across Avonlea that it costs him. Most young men might think that entitled them to at least hold her hand. Alec isn't like most young men, though; he cares deeply what people think of him. Not in the customary Avonlea way, where the ideal state of living would be freedom to gossip about everyone else 'til kingdom come with the knowledge that your own name could never get dragged through the mud. No, Alec wants to be a good man, is all. When he talks about the world and his place in it -- of his hopes and dreams for the future -- he is so perfectly noble that she thinks she could spend eternity listening to him.
Which isn't to say that she doesn't get tired of all this talking, after awhile.
And so on one January day, snow crunching under their feet, breath a lovely mist in front of their mouths, the cold air a thousand pinpricks against their faces, she stops walking. When he does too -- "Janet, is something wr-?" -- she kisses him. Maybe it's not precisely ladylike, but she suspects she could dance through the general store wearing nothing but brown burlap and Alec King would still think she hung the moon.
He says a surprised Oh! against her lips and then he kisses her right back, and it's impossible to feel the cold.
"Your father's going to have my hide if he ever finds out about that," he says when they part, smiling and baffled.
"I won't tell anyone if you won't," she vows, trying to smooth his hair where her gloved hands have mussed it. "Besides, he'd have to catch you first, and you're much faster."
"Well, thank you," he says, a little flummoxed but mostly teasing now. It doesn't take much to get him laughing with her. Perhaps she loves that about him even more than his goodness. It's very had to know for sure, with so many things to love.
"You're welcome," she laughs, and he is; into her arms, into every single one of her life's corners.
Janet falls ill before their honeymoon, which means it's spent at King Farm. This sounds like bad luck on paper (but, secretly, good luck to Alec, who in all honesty can't quite afford a wife, let alone a honeymoon), and no doubt many of the townswomen suggest just as much in ominous pitying whispers. What it really means, though, is a week of tea and reading aloud (in tones silly or love-lit, depending which mood strikes) and, as it so happens, very little cause to get out of bed. He expects to catch a cold that never comes; it would have been worth it a hundred times over, and he tells her so, again and again.
They argue over baby names for months: names of relatives beloved and insufferable, names on Bible pages and gravestones, names out of books and newspaper advertisements. Nothing seems right. Or, to be more exact, many names seem perfectly right, but not if you ask both of them. (Olivia gives up doing precisely that, in the name of politeness and sanity. Hetty does not.) When Alec frowns, unimpressed, at all twenty-five names on her last ditch attempt at a list, Janet throws an oven mitt at him and doesn't speak to him all day. He yells through the door that any child named Bartholomew would be born with the God-given right to make his parents' life a misery, and sleeps out with the cows.
The bed seems terribly, uselessly big without him. She brings breakfast out to the barn in the morning, and they agree that maybe having a name isn't so important after all, so long as one's parents refer to one as 'you there' in tones of truest affection.
Their daughter is nameless for the first day of her life. This doesn't seem to daunt her any; she screams with hearty little lungs, and stares with big blue-eyed curiosity at the room that is the world around her, and slips into sleep like an angel. Janet is more tired than she's ever been in her life, and so happy that surely there must be a prettier word to sum up the feeling.
"Felicity," Alec says out of nowhere, like an answer to her thought.
"Felicity," Janet murmurs, starting to smile.
Alec hasn't cried since he was a boy, but he does when he learns that Ruth is dead. Not in front of the family -- not with Hetty pale and stricken, cursing Blair Stanley's name in brittle-toned mutterings; not with Olivia weeping on his shoulder, keening sobs that should belong to some animal in pain, not his lovely sweet-voiced sister. With Roger away at university, it falls to him to be the man of the family. He must see to his sisters, first and foremost.
His sisters -- he almost expects Ruth to appear in the sitting room of Rose Cottage to complete the phrase. But of course it's only Hetty and Olivia now.
He stands outside late into the evening, and watches the stars come out. He couldn't quite bring himself to see the children to bed; Felicity is too young to understand grief, and Felix is only a baby. It seems wrong, somehow, to be around life that's so shining and new tonight. He wonders about Ruth's Sara. Envies her, briefly and unfairly, for being too young to understand what she's lost.
He closes his eyes, feels the tears sting hot in them. They're almost a relief against the nighttime cold. Loss surges through him, panics him, shakes him, and there's the sound of the door. Janet's hands rest on his shoulders, familiar and warm, and guide him gently to her. He buries his face in her hair; "Oh, my darling," she sighs, her voice like the only kind thing in the world, "oh, Alec. Shh, shh, my love."