“--and then I said to him, ‘What about Knox? He went to the head!’” Gilbert mimed the punchline spiritedly, and looked pleased when Anne and Diana both burst into giggles. “Ah, there’s my turn just up on the left. I’ll see you at school tomorrow, Diana, Anne-- it was nice meeting you.” He shook hands with Anne warmly as they parted. “Welcome to Avonlea. I hope you like it here.”
The girls continued walking. As soon as they were out of earshot, Diana spoke. “He’s real handsome, isn’t he! Anne, do you suppose he fancies you?” After a considered pause, she went on, “He was awfully friendly today. Gil flirts sometimes, but I never saw him behave so nice towards any girl before.”
“Pssh. I’m sure that’s nonsense. He was merely being neighborly-- providing a welcome for the ‘new’ face at school and such,” dismissed Anne, with a swish of red pigtails. “This Gilbert Blythe does seem like a decent fellow,” she decided. “It was very good of him to walk with us. But he would probably do that for anybody.”
“I don’t know about that. He’s never done so before,” Diana said doubtfully.
“There wouldn’t have been any new students for him to welcome,” Anne pointed out. “Didn’t you say he missed the past few years of school, moving around?”
“Well, yes,” admitted Diana, but she persisted: “He kept looking at you during our walk, when you couldn’t see… I think he was admiring your hair, Anne.” She added, loyally, “You look really becoming today-- this yellow dress of yours is my favorite for you.”
“Thank you. I like it also, but oh, it dirties so easily,” Anne lamented, not acknowledging her friend’s first observation. Hurriedly changing the topic, she asked, “Diana, dearest, did I tell you about my latest scrape-- burning the tea biscuits yesterday? I felt so dreadful-- they had white sugar, too. And even though she didn’t scold me, I could tell Marilla was frightfully disappointed by my backwards progress...”
A. Shirley + G. Blythe
“Anne, that’s the second one this month!” Diana whispered, motioning in the direction of the entrance wall. “I wonder how it got there. Nobody saw anything this time, either. Arty Gillis swears the room was empty when he was dusting the board. And it couldn’t have been a ghost, because ghosts don’t exist.” The last part was spoken primly; their harrowing misadventure in the Haunted Wood had curbed Diana’s flights of imagination for the supernatural. “Mmm. I wonder if Miss Stacy saw anything?”
“I doubt Miss Stacy would pay attention to something like that,” said Anne, not looking up from her conjugation exercises. She had been making steady progress in French and Latin recently-- she had worked hard, needing those marks to make up her poor showing in Geometry. Anne had her heart set on being invited by Miss Stacy to participate in next year’s preparatory classes for Entrance to Queens.
To be a teacher and do what Miss Stacy did for her Avonlea pupils-- to educate and shape young minds with her gentle influence, and even earn a living doing so!-- it sounded like a noble ambition to Anne indeed. She would be able to change lives and do good and improve the world! And oh, it would make Matthew and Marilla so proud if Anne managed to attain sole top scholar status in her class. Then there would be no ties-- Anne blamed their frequent joint results for inspiring further instances of having her name written up with her rival’s.
A number of take-notices linking Anne Shirley with Gilbert Blythe had been written by unknown persons over various intervals in the two years of their acquaintance. Today appeared to have brought another installment-- much to the evident displeasure of a certain Sloane schoolboy, who kept a running mental tally of such instances.
For a brief time there had been one or two pupils in Avonlea schoolhouse who fervently believed-- and even avowed, upon their most prized trinkets-- that they knew the identity of the party primarily responsible. Strangely, no accusations were ever delivered by these seers, and the mysterious perpetrator in question continued to elude detection. As such, no credit had yet been attributed to nor claimed by any individual for the Cupid bulletins.
Outwardly, Anne paid these “childish claims” no heed other than to denounce them as an immature practice. Privately, she wondered at their origin (and felt relieved that she was worthy of being written up, and not with Charlie Sloane, either!-- a secret she wouldn’t have admitted even for the imaginary Cordelia Fitzgerald’s name and flowing raven tresses.)
Gilbert, too, refrained from comment, as a gentleman would; the entirety of his reaction encompassed in chuckling good-naturedly and grinning at Anne. He was clearly unbothered by the developments, and remained unfazed even in the face of a heated interrogation from Charlie Sloane.
How Anne wished for the student body to dismiss the matter and shift their focus onto the next unfortunate “pair”! But alas, the wagging tongues ceased not. The schoolhouse gossips continued their speculation, some even having the audacity to give Anne (presumably well-intentioned) “advice”.
Even faithful Diana had briefly succumbed to popular opinion, immediately after witnessing Gilbert’s recitation of “Bingen on the the Rhine” at the school concert six months ago-- in spite of Anne’s many protests that his delivery for the pivotal line of the poem had not been directed to her, but obviously to a radiant Ruby Gillis who had been seated in the row behind them.
Oh, it was irritating. Anne huffed and pushed those thoughts from her mind. On to declensions, then...
“I heard Gilbert Blythe is going to court Anne Shirley all proper-like the minute she turns sixteen,” Gertie Pye said.
“Oh! They have seemed very sweet lately, you know. He does walk her home every evening,” answered Julia Bell.
“I suppose everyone saw this coming for ages. Even Ruby Gillis gave up trying to catch Gil’s eye years ago!” The girls laughed and moved away.
Anne stepped out from behind the tree trunk, ears burning. She hadn’t meant to overhear-- but the mention of her name in conversation had reeled in her interest. But here, the pearl of wisdom that “eavesdroppers never hear any good of themselves” (or at least, not the good they wish to hear) had indeed proved true. Anne pressed trembling palms to hotly flushed cheeks, her thoughts defiant.
Why, there was absolutely nothing remarkable about Gilbert walking her home after school! Diana departed before the late class, not being on the preparation track for Queens. Anne missed her dear friend horribly, and greatly mourned their separation. But Gilbert was pleasant company-- walking together was a convenient arrangement and it had been chivalrous of him to offer-- and they had been getting to be good chums recently. It really was so helpful to have another bright mind to chat with, about schoolwork as well as other things...
Anne found it fascinating-- being able to borrow an altogether different perspective, that of a male contemporary, for comparison on many subjects. Gilbert was possessed of an enquiring scientific mind, and had long since revealed himself to be a voracious reader, much like Anne. Art and nature, poetry and philosophy, dreams and career ambitions-- these were all conversational staples on the evenings they ambled up the lane to Green Gables.
“That Blythe boy, he’s real polite and respectful. I like him,” Matthew remarked to Anne one day after Gilbert had escorted her home. “Even though his family are Grits through and through. I think maybe there’s hope for that one.” Having grown extraordinarily observant in matters pertaining to the red-headed girl-child he held so dear, Matthew had noticed by then what the others at Green Gables hadn’t: the steady, earnest look in the young man’s eyes when he gazed at Anne. And although the lifelong Conservative had never gone courting in his life, he was mindful of the old adage Anne had once repeated to him in passing: “When a man is courting, he must agree with the girl’s mother in religion and her father in politics.”
“I was married and popping out babies when I was your age!” boomed Aunt Atossa.
Diana’s face communicated a heartfelt expression of apology-- she was unable to extricate them from Aunt Atossa’s clutches in the current circumstances. Anne, Diana, Fred and Gilbert had been canvassing for donations for the Avonlea Improvement Society once again. They had dropped in at Mrs Elisha Wright’s place to solicit a pledge, unaware that Aunt Atossa was there on a visit.
“You two!” Aunt Atossa jabbed a bony finger back and forth between Anne and Gilbert. “You might make some passable looking children. You engaged yet?”
There was an uneasy silence, followed by an uncomfortable denial from Gilbert. Anne reined in her temper while Diana and Fred made excuses to facilitate a hasty exit-- there would be no subscription for the A.V.I.S. today from this household.
Unfortunately, this was far from the first time a nosy adult had openly remarked on Anne and Gilbert’s potential relationship. There had been a newfound awkwardness between the two of them lately, which Anne resentfully supposed was born out of the shockingly unsubtle hints from every matchmaking busybody in Avonlea on the subject.
(Bored housewives should find another pastime! she had said to Mr Harrison, who had for once heartily agreed with Anne instead of being his usual contrary self.)
She didn’t think about Gilbert like that at all; nor, she imagined, did he view her in any light other than platonic. They had got along so splendidly all this time. Only now, to have it ruined-- by having this manufactured tension thrust upon them by the weight of other people’s expectations! Why couldn’t folks have left them be? Anne raged helplessly, but she had never navigated these waters; it was a puzzle she knew not how to solve.
It was extremely unpleasant to have their dynamic suddenly altered and put on an unfamiliar footing-- to be subject to this newly present need to tread carefully in every small interaction, lest one be mired in unknowable quicksands.
Spending time with him was quickly becoming a discomfiting experience for Anne. Her body had begun to betray her, often and unpredictably-- producing physical sensations at odds with her mental and emotional state. It was dreadful to find herself blushing uncontrollably at strange times in Gilbert’s presence, or to suddenly be afflicted with an inability to look him in the eye-- given that she did not think of him in that way!...
Why was this “growing up” business so complicated?
Seated on the old bench in Hester Gray’s garden, Gilbert spoke.
“Anne, there’s something I wish to ask you.”
His solemn tone struck a chord of fear in her heart. Anne searched, frantically, for some excuse or distraction to derail his imminent speech. But Gilbert sensed her panic, and reached out to clasp her hand. His hands were warm, and his circling thumb wrought a ocean of havoc upon Anne’s thoughts.
“I love you,” he said, “I’ve loved you for so long. Years. Say you’ll marry me, Anne?”
“Oh, no. No. I can’t!” she choked out, on the verge of tears.
Devastation imbued his frank face. “There isn’t anyone else--”
She shook her head frantically. Vehemently. “No! Of course not, Gil.”
“In that case, are you-- could you ever care for me at all?”
Anne opened her mouth to voice a refusal. But the single syllable stuck in her throat, and the silence stretched on. Quickly he seized the lifeline.
“Is there hope?” Gilbert asked. “I can be patient. I can wait.”
She thought to herself: I mustn’t give Gilbert false hope. But then-- she envisioned sending him away from her for ever. The unbearable agony that thought produced-- it would be like tearing off one’s own limb!-- startled a sob from Anne.
“Oh, Anne,” he pleaded, lost as a schoolboy. “Please don’t cry. I can’t bear it.”
Her tears fell, as rapidly as her smile widened.