The inside of Gilbert’s wrist burned sharply as he watched the name appear. He’d always known it would be her, but somehow seeing "Anne" written in her soft script upon his skin made him feel like she was finally within reach. He could imagine her shining brightly as she walked down the aisle toward him. He could imagine endless, golden days spent together. God help him, he could imagine the nights too. But her twentieth birthday was two years away, and who could say what handwriting would appear on her skin, claiming her? Soul marks were funny things. Just because Anne was his soul mate did not mean he was hers. There were men here in White Sands proving that unrequited marks still appeared. Shaking himself of such thoughts, he covered the script with the customary brown leather cuff. It was another three days before his students would depart for the Summer holidays, and he would be free to travel back to Avonlea. He would cherish it, knowing that in the Fall, he’d make the hard-earned journey Redmond College without her.
Marilla and Mrs. Rachel worked side by side in the Green Gables kitchen. The wax beans needed blanching and canning. Her husband’s death and leaving Avonlea still weighed heavy upon her, but Mrs. Rachel soldiered on.
“I suppose Gilbert Blythe will be leaving in the Fall for Redmond.”
“Yes,” sighed Marilla. “And I can’t help thinking I’m doing him and Anne a disservice asking her to stay here any longer.”
“You mean you think Anne’s name has come up on his wrist?”
“He started wearing the cuff three weeks past and he’s as fixed on her as ever, so I can’t imagine it hasn’t.”
Marilla shook her head gravely, rubbing at the name that had long since faded beneath her sleeve.
“I’m not over-romantic in general, Rachel, but what if their names fade out, and me with the power to stop it?”
The two reflected in silence.
“Who’s to say his name will show up for her?”
“Oh, who else is there, Rachel? Charlie Sloane? Moody Spurgeon? No, it must be Gilbert.”
Of course his name might not be the one on Anne’s wrist, but Marilla’s heart cherished the hope of it.
“Well she has the money saved up, hasn’t she? All you’d need is someone here to spare your eyes and your nerves a bit from those two harum-scarums.”
“Yes, that’s true,” Marilla said, straightening. “And I’ve been meaning to broach the subject with you, now that you come to it, Rachel. How would you feel moving up here with me, rather than away with your daughter? It’d be a real help to me and it would let Anne go up to Kingsport with Gilbert.”
“Why,” said Mrs. Rachel, “I don’t know what to say Marilla Cuthbert. I- I hate the thought of leaving Avonlea, even if it is to my own kin, and Lord knows we could both do with the company. And anyway it wouldn’t be right, me keeping Anne from her soulmate when I could just as well send her on her way. Yes. I’ll come at the end of Summer when the farm is sold.”
She nodded her head decidedly.
“It’s providential, that’s what.”
There was an uncomfortable tension in the air as they walked. None of the banter she and Gilbert usually shared was able to break past it. Charlie Sloane, his goggle eyes seeming more prominent than ever, was walking with them despite living half a mile in the opposite direction. Gilbert tried gamely to break the ice between them.
“What will you study at Redmond in the Fall, Charlie?”
“Oh, I’m for business,” he said importantly, the way only a Sloane could. “I intend to be a magnificent provider. My match will surely want for nothing.”
Only a Sloane could take an uncomfortable walk and make it more-so.
“That is – an admirable goal, Charlie,” Gilbert said, taken aback by the unusual answer.
“What will you study, Gilbert?” asked Anne, genuinely curious.
“I’d like to study medicine,” he said thoughtfully. “Do you remember Mrs. Singer’s son, Bertie?”
“Yes, of course! He had a fit of asthma at the church picnic last month! It was quite bad, wasn’t it?”
“It was. And if Doctor Harper hadn’t been there to burn thorn apple leaves he might have died. To be able to snatch people back from the brink of death like that-”
“You make it sound like you want to play God, Gilbert,” Charlie said disapprovingly.
“I only mean to work as God’s instrument to save those who can be saved,” he replied quietly.
Anne smiled to herself, thinking of Gilbert becoming a doctor and of Charlie becoming a man of business. Both professions fit the young men who had chosen them. Still she couldn’t help thinking that Charlie, with all of his noble ambition to provide for his match, had come up short somehow.
“I wish I could come to Redmond with you both,” she sighed wistfully. “It seems as though you’re walking through a door that is closed to me.”
“Nonsense, Anne,” said Charlie. “You can continue to keep up your studies here as you’ve been doing and by the time your mark appears, who knows what will change.”
“You mean to say, I suppose, that I would waste myself and my efforts at Redmond when I will be a mere wife,” she said, her temper flaring up at the easy dismissal.
Charlie flushed, but held his head high as they neared the lane that led to Green Gables.
“What would you study, Anne?” Gilbert asked as though Charlie hadn’t spoken.
“Oh, as many things as I could!” she said dreamily. “English, of course, and writing and literature-” she broke off as they reached the gate and looked at Green Gables with a soft smile. “But my heart and my family are here, and I am not unhappy. You must both write to me so that I can live the adventures of Redmond through your eyes.”
A gorgeously mild day found Anne walking home from a visit with Miss Lavender. Anne loved the refreshing turn of the weather after weeks of unbroken heat. She breathed in the sweet air, heavy with the promise of rain, and thought of her dear kindred spirit. How she loved Miss Lavender’s joy and whimsy. Before this morning, she’d believed her dear friend to be matchless; divinely content with everything in her life, including her nameless wrist. Anne had vowed to model her life upon her, should a blank wrist be her fate. She had long ago resigned herself to such a possibility, reasoning that neither God nor the great universe would saddle her tall, distinguished ideal with an ill-tempered, red-haired soulmate. She thought sadly of those wrists left blank, and wondered if she would truly number among them. But just think of it! Miss Lavender had a soulmate after all! It was a solemn and sacred thing to be shown another’s mark. Many kept them strictly to themselves, not daring to show even their own parents. What a thrill to see the bold, dark letters, the ‘Stephen’ written in a firm, masculine hand on Miss Lavender’s wrist!
“I believe you have given me new life, Anne,” she whispered conspiratorially as she removed a delicate bracelet from her wrist. “For so long, his name has faded until I though there must be no shred of hope left. But just look how dark it is since you first came to Echo Lodge!”
She was still tingling with the same light that had danced in Miss Lavender’s eyes, shuddering to think of watching a name fade into hopelessness as Marilla and Matthew must have done. She hoped with all of her soul for a reunion between Miss Lavender and Mr. Irving, wondering how she might help to bring it about. These happy plans and daydreams of romance kept her starry-eyed as she drifted home. She gave no thought to her surroundings or to the darkening skies. Her imagination was working tirelessly on Miss Lavender’s happily ever after, and no earthly care could deter her musings.
“Good afternoon, Miss Cuthbert. Looks like Uncle Abe will get his storm after all,” Gilbert laughed, looking at the clouds closing in around them. His smile dropped the moment he saw her face and he rushed to her side.
“Miss Cuthbert! Are you ill?”
“I’m fine, Gilbert,” she said, brusquely. “It’s only that Anne went to Echo Lodge this morning.”
Gilbert looked at the heavy black clouds again, his face turning grave.
“What time is she usually home?”
“She’s likely on her way now.”
“I’ll search along the road,” he said, turning and racing down the lane.
Anne could just see the White Way of Delight on the horizon as she hummed, bending to pick a vibrant armful of wildflowers and sighing contentedly. A large wet drop on her nose shook her from her task, and she looked up in alarm at the mass of evil-looking clouds that had descended upon her. How had she failed to notice that the breeze, which had been so pleasant and cool a moment ago, had become a gale? Another drop fell close by and she cursed herself for never travelling with an umbrella. Resigned to the soggy trip home, she looked up the road once more. Only this time, instead of seeing the Avenue, she beheld a thick sheet of rain that extended up into the forbidding clouds. This didn’t look like any shower she’d ever seen. A sudden blast of wet, icy wind ripped the vibrant foliage from her arms and she gasped at the power of it, gathering her skirts.
Should she run toward the storm for home? She was very nearly there. The sky erupted with blinding flashes of lightning and deafening thunder. She turned back the way she had come, startled at the violence and menace of it. How long would it take to run to Echo Lodge? Surely at the rate she was hurrying along, she could be there in no more than half an hour. Goodness, could she keep up this pace for so long? Wind roared around her as the downpour began in earnest and she stumbled, hardly able to see through the driving rain. Oh, how miserably her skirts were clinging to her! If only she were a lad, wearing sensible britches, she was sure she could outrun this tempest. She continued her staggering run until she felt the strangest sensation envelop her, as though the air itself was tingling. When she felt her hair stand on end, some deep-buried instinct took over, and she threw herself to the muddy ground. No words could describe Anne’s shock and terror. So horrifying was the sound of the tree split by lightning – so blinding the spasm of light and fire! The air itself smelled burnt and broken. She must find shelter. There was no question of being able to reach Echo Lodge. She staggered to her feet and began to hurry along once more, looking for shelter of any kind. The first of the hail went unnoticed as she fought her way forward, but she couldn’t help crying out in agony as ice the size of her fist struck her shoulder, then her brow. She fell to the ground, stunned as the ice continued to hurl down upon her, and numbly tried to shield herself.
The next moment, strong arms pulled her up and she found herself running, still struck on every side by the stones of ice hurtling from the sky, but running at least. Her last conscious thought was of immense pain blooming behind her left ear.
Gilbert could feel her shaking. It was all that was keeping him grounded right now. He thanked God for the small canoe he had found overturned by the brook. When he had felt Anne go limp in his arms, he’d very nearly laid her down to shield her with his body. Hearing the orbs of ice crack sharply on the wood just inches above them, he knew now what folly that would have been.
He had lain down on his side, holding her close to keep them both shielded. Had his fear for Anne’s safety been any less, he surely would have thrilled to be laying with her forehead resting against his, her breath soft upon his lips. When he felt her stir against him, he let out a breath he hadn’t known he was holding.
The light was too dim to make anything out, but with a certainty she didn’t care to examine, she knew it was Gilbert. His scent, the strength of his arms, his breath upon her face – there was a familiarity about it all – a sense of peace and safety. Her head was pillowed against his arm, and his forehead tilted against hers. The hail was deafening, crashing mercilessly on a surface just inches above them. She was conscious enough now to feel every one of her limbs shaking and she took in a shuddering breath, burrowing closer to Gilbert’s warmth. For long minutes, they simply held one another, waiting for the storm to subside. She drew in an unsteady breath when she felt his nose brush against hers. How close were his lips? She had narrowly escaped being crushed by the ice, but her heart was racing now for entirely different reasons. Gilbert Blythe was going to kiss her. He wasn’t the tall, dark hero of her ideal, but she couldn’t stop herself from lifting her chin slightly in anticipation. A breath away from each other, lightning cracked dreadfully close to the little canoe, jolting them apart.
The lightning strike had doused any hope Gilbert might have had of claiming Anne that day. He knew her mark was two years away from appearing, but for a moment, he’d wanted to know, without a doubt, that she belonged to him. He wanted to see if the stories of the soulmate’s kiss were true – if the names could be felt in the kiss.
In any case, he cursed his stupidity. The near miss had worked against him immediately, throwing him squarely back into timid friendship rather than the growing confidence they had begun to share in each other.
He watched miserably a week later, as she took Charlie’s arm, allowing him to escort her home.