Gilbert tried to tell himself he was just nervous.
He was indeed nervous, but that wasn’t all of it. Every time he fiddled with the ring in his pocket, he thought about what to say, but none of the words he summoned seemed to suit Winnie. All he could see was the Sorbonne, and the fluttering hope in his chest was crushed under misery and guilt.
Anne had said he should do this, hadn’t she?
“You don’t want to be a country doctor. The Sorbonne is your dream. Winifred is beautiful, and her parents are supportive. I don’t understand… what’s holding you back.”
That was just repeating back what he’d told her. But surely she’d said there was nothing between them, right?
“I don't know what to say! I... And what am I supposed to—and... and everyone—everyone is now—and now you just—and I'm... pirate, and we NEVER EVEN—and if Paris is—and you're never gonna find—THAT MUCH, I know, so how... can... I—I... whe—whe...”
...Well, Bash had been excited enough for him, hadn’t he?
“I knew it; I knew it! It was always Anne!”
Why was he thinking about that? There was no point!
“You’re sure you’re sure? Don’t go feelin’ you have to do something because people expect it.”
“Don’t go movin’ half-way ‘round the world on a ‘maybe’.”
“Are you sure?”
Bash, the traitor, hadn’t questioned it when he’d thought it was Anne, so why did he so suddenly change when it was Winnie? They’d certainly gotten on well enough, and Winifred’s parents had also accepted Bash as Gilbert’s chosen family without question. And Gilbert had pretty clearly been courting Winnie—Bash himself had said so!
“That girl you mentioned… be sure you marry for love. Only for love.”
Mary… Gilbert swallowed hard.
“Attraction… yes, it’s important. But love… is what truly matters.”
Bash had clearly been talking about things beyond the surface. Of course he’d have more feelings about Anne in general—he’d known her for longer. Bash had known Mary for a scant few days when he’d proposed, though, so surely it was possible to find it in a few months.
Or a few years. With an impossible, stubborn, caring, courageous redhead—no! He’d promised himself he wasn’t going to think about that; he’d forbidden himself! It wasn’t fair to Winnie. If he was going to give up on Anne, then he had to commit to that fully.
“and if Paris is—and you're never gonna find—THAT MUCH, I know, so how... can... I—I... whe—whe...”
He’d just laid out how he was going to achieve his dream, and then incredibly inexpertly laid the choice in the hands of an inebriated and shocked Anne. It seemed the very definition of foolishness—what had he been hoping for?
What had he been hoping for?
And what had she been hoping for, for that matter?
He hadn’t actually asked the question—he’d been too afraid. She hadn’t given him an answer; he’d taken it. And she’d let him because she was drunk and confused and—and willing to give up something she might very much want if it meant he got what he wanted.
“You know she’d stand up for any one of you, even in spite of what you’re saying about her. She’d do what’s right. That’s the kind of person she is.”
It wasn’t too much of a leap to think she’d sacrifice her feelings for his dreams. She’d always kept him in mind, in her own way. Bringing his books when his father’s illness had worsened. Her clumsy but ultimately well-meaning attempt to console him upon his father’s passing. Her complete acceptance of responsibility and refusal to so much as let him apologize for having taken a tone with her. Writing to him about the gold, and then worrying that he might still be pinning his hopes on that in spite of the whole class staring at her unfortunately shorn hair. Her resolve to be “less obnoxious” towards him in light of his ambition to become a doctor. That much-needed pep talk she’d given him to keep him on the path to becoming a doctor when Mary was dying.
That night on Miss Stacy’s porch, when she’d seemed to assume—rather correctly, he admitted to himself—that he was going to kiss her, and had mentioned Winnie to remind him that he was courting a girl and ought not to take liberties with another.
Even the simplest of gestures belied her nature. She’d lent him her pen.
He hadn’t given it back.
It was perhaps not the most prudent time to be worrying about how she’d completed the entrance exams. (This was Anne; surely she had another writing implement!)
It certainly wasn’t, he realized, the time to be proposing to a woman whose company he very much enjoyed, and whose family’s status and wealth promised much, but who, ultimately, he didn’t love.
It was the time to finally take the chance and actually say the words to the young woman who had been brave and selfless enough to give him up.
The young woman who probably loved him.
The young woman he certainly loved.
They’d find a way to work out the Sorbonne. Knowing Anne, she’d have half a dozen plans before they’d even reached Queens. She wouldn’t rest. She’d throw idea after idea after him. She’d give up, and sacrifice time and again if she had to, and he loved her for it.
And so, an hour later in the Rose family’s parlor, as hard as it was to cause pain to someone he didn’t want to hurt, he found himself speaking from the heart, and this time, the words flowed.
“Winifred Rose, I am very sorry to say this, as I started the day fully intending to propose to you. I have, however, upon further reflection, realized my reasons for doing so would be shallow and callous, and ultimately unfair to you. I apologize for wasting your time, and beg your forgiveness. I hope that in time we can be friends, but I understand if that future is too distant right now to contemplate. And now, I must beg your leave, as I have urgent matters I must attend to back in Avonlea, and need to catch the train.”