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An Inclement Day For Picnicking

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Anne Shirley felt she was accustomed to instances of divided loyalties, and how to deal with them. The Principal at Summerside school was certainly a mature enough individual to put her shoulder to any unpleasantness that might erupt therefrom and 'hove to.'

To say that Anne was proud would be a misstatement. She did, truthfully, hold to a few fine sparks of vanity. However, the rearing of her tender years had been left to one Marilla Cuthbert. Beneath Marilla's frank honesty, pride could certainly not stand. It might be more appropriate, then, to say that Anne was... rather overconfident. A veteran of engagements and proposals, with defeat upon love's standard as well as victory, she believed herself a sage of life's experiences. The young are wont to do, of course, and the Fates seem just as eager to show them their error.

So far from Avonlea, Anne could rarely take the luxury of 'running over home' as frequently as she had done in her younger days. Alighting at Green Gables remained a rare holiday treat, until June unfurled her warmth and splendor and Summerside school dismissed. She did take special interest, however, in a particular day in September, and always had - for that was Diana Barry's birthday.

In youth, Anne was rarely separate from Diana for those golden hours. Occasionally Diana was carted off to visit some relative or another for the occasion. Diana, good soul that she was, could be depended upon to mourn the temporary separation as a death, no matter how many bowls of ice cream she consumed. And Anne, of course, liberally salted her dishrags with tears, relishing her grieving loneliness as only a born thespian might.

The changes of young adulthood came abreast, as of course they must, dampening the golden lustre on the gardens of childhood. First at Queens, then at Redmond, Anne found herself unable to attend Diana's birthday celebration with more and more frequency. To her surprise, she could still appreciate the tender joy of the occasion from afar. Anne penned letters of warm congratulations, filling the pages with reminisces and chatter of goings and doings. However, it had been some time since Anne joined Diana for the day. In the summer following this particular birthday, Anne would marry Gilbert Blythe and move away to a yet unknown place. Perhaps - horrors! - it would be too far away for more than an occasional holiday visit. Thus, Anne was determined to spend at least one more birthday with Diana, and planned accordingly.

As it so happened, the day fell upon a Saturday, and so Anne set to travel the afternoon before. She collected her mail from the table in the hall of Aunt Kate and Aunt Chatty's tree-shadowed Windy Poplars, endeavoring to open the letters on the way for a pastime until dark. It was then, aboard the train to Avonlea, that Anne discovered a horrible surprise.

Gilbert - just finishing his courses at Redmond that year - had received a great award for a paper written during one of his college courses. The aforementioned token of esteem would be presented at the Blythe family home during a reception on Saturday afternoon! Gilbert couched the words in tones of amusement, teasing Anne that 'perhaps you might be proud of me now, Anne-girl, as an anointed scholar among the halls of academia.'

He went on to say that he understood the letter would come much too late for her to attend, but to remember him warmly at one o'clock, when the ceremony was to take place before his family.

Anne had never been able to attend such a presentation! However small and unimportant a plaque from Redmond College might be to Gilbert, it was a bitter reminder of how many pieces of Gilbert's life she had not been present to celebrate. Proud little fool that Anne had been, in the past Gilbert was fortunate to receive a curt nod and a handshake from her for any such accomplishment. Perhaps to Gilbert it was a trifle on the road to his own practice, but to her it was an occasion. Worse yet, she would be in Avonlea on the day! And she could not, would not, ask that Diana portion out her birthday for a selfish reason.

Anne's lips thinned in a frown of determination and will so reminiscent of her guardian that for a moment, Anne and Marilla might have appeared blood kin. She would find a way to show both of her dearest their importance to one Anne Shirley.

"After all," Anne said to herself, her frame of mind leavening, "if a Redmond BA, principal at Summerside school and tamer of wily Pringles cannot divine a solution, it is certainly impossible!"

 

* * * * *

 

Anne arrived at the Carmody Station Friday evening. Davy Keith met her with the old light buggy and Marilla's new gray mare. The pride and pleasure in him at being tasked with such a responsibility nearly burst the buttons of his coat. He was no longer Anne's curly-headed boy, and had not been for some time, but in the instant they saw one another again his boyish eagerness was evident to her as of yore. A surge of motherly tenderness welled in Anne as she regarded his sunny, youthful features, and she remembered those round cheeks liberally spattered with mud.

 

"Say, Anne?" Davy said, as he carried her suitcase and a shopping bag of various edibles the short distance from the station to the buggy, "Supposing you could help me with a problem I've got? I've been saving it up just for you. Marilla and Mrs. Lynde, they'd never take me serious. …Or else maybe they might, and I don't think I want that either."

Anne accepted his hand into the buggy, gallant as any swain. For the scamp that he had been, Davy was becoming a young gentleman indeed - in fits and starts! "Of course, Davy," Anne said, quickly hiding her smile at the sober tone of his voice. She bent to hold her skirts clear of the wheel, "we have plenty of time from here to Green Gables, just us two."

"I knew you'd understand, Anne," Davy sighed with relief, gathering the reins after he'd settled into the seat beside Anne, "that's why I saved it up for you." They pulled away from the Carmody station, wrapped in their silent thoughts for a few minutes. The gray mare's great hooves thudded steadily away in the rich crimson road, and around and above them the stars slipped free of dusky gold and rosy purples. The weather was unseasonably warm for a September night, but of course Davy had a quilt for Anne's lap. It had been placed in the buggy, no doubt, by its maker - Mrs. Rachel Lynde. A young, forgetful demon like Davy Keith could not be trusted to remember the weather, of course. Anne smiled again, saved from offending her driver by the growing dark, for Davy had begun to speak.

"You know Gracie Andrews, Anne?"

"I know of her, yes," Anne replied, cautiously, thinking of the enormous Andrews connection. When she'd last met Gracie Andrews, the young lady in question was still in the ribbons and curls of girlhood.

"I like her a lot," Davy said earnestly. A lengthy pause followed, filled in by the gray mare's heels on the road. "A whole lot," he amended, and then added hastily, "the Andrews sit in the pew in front of ours. Sometimes she sits where I can talk to her. And once or twice, she's walked along home with me'n'Dora."

This sounded hardly like the ten-year-old Davy Keith who professed his intention to only marry a girl to cook and keep house for him. Then, 'love' had been something nebulous and untried. Any wife of Davy mustn't have a snub nose, Anne remembered now, also remembering that Gracie Andrews's nose was very snub indeed. "It's a very good thing that you enjoy talking to her," Anne said encouragingly, but not too encouragingly.

"Oh, heaps!" Davy was emphatic, "Gracie's an awfully good listener. And she's smart. Not as smart as you, but smarter than any girl I know otherwise."

'Of course,' Anne thought with amusement. "I'm afraid I haven't seen the trouble, Davy," she said aloud. Davy groaned.

"Well, I like her. But gosh, Anne, I didn't know girls could take up so much of your time!"

"Davy, do be more careful of your language."

"Oh," Davy sounded shamefaced, "sorry. It's just that--" and here he heaved a deep and heartfelt sigh, "I still got things I want to do. Like go fishing with Milty, and watch the ships down the coast to White Sands, and school - you know I want to go to school like you, Anne."

"I know, and it's a noble goal. You surely shall," Anne confirmed, "so long as you keep applying yourself as you have."

"But I can't do all those things and spend time with Gracie, can I? We go for walks sometimes, and sometimes we just talk, and then I've got my chores and Mrs. Lynde says I'm about as good for anything as a cooked goose these days."

Well Anne remembered the trials of the small fry, in Avonlea generally and at Green Gables in particular. She lifted her nearer hand from where it steadied the quilt on her lap and squeezed Davy in a one-armed hug. "There simply aren't enough hours in the day for all you'd like to do."

"Not nearly enough," Davy agreed. Even the gray mare's trot seemed in concurrence. They traveled along the road from Carmody to Avonlea in silence a while longer, while Anne thought over poor Davy's predicament. She wondered if Gilbert ever felt the same woes, though he and she were more alike in their thirst for books and intellectual pursuits. He was somewhat less wont to fish than Davy and his mates, she thought with tender humor.

"What does Gracie think?" Anne asked at last, "And Milty? Has he taken you to task?"

"Why no, Anne. Not at all. And Gracie hasn't said a word on it," Davy spoke slowly, as if coming upon a great revelation, "She doesn't seem a bit put out."

"She still enjoys your company?"

"Well, I guess so. I mean, she still goes with me when I ask her to. But she's a girl, who knows what they think?" Davy replied, frustrated.

Patiently and with great restraint, Anne held back the gale of laughter that threatened to rush forth. "I'm a girl, Davy, 'true's you live.' If I were Gracie and felt as if you were mistreating me, I certainly wouldn't accept your invitations."

"You wouldn't, Anne?"

"No, I wouldn't."

Davy heaved a third and final sigh, this one of relief. "I hadn't thought of that. Thanks heaps. You took all the weight off my soul, I think. I even feel hungry again. I couldn't et a bite for worrying these past two days, until Marilla thought I needed a dose of castor oil. And I'm far too old for castor oil, I think. Say, Anne, Marilla's got a whole chicken waiting up for you," Davy reported with evident relish and - Anne smiled - the hopefulness of a familiar little boy, asking after an extra slice of bread and jam.

"Of course," she said, "surely a portion of that belongs to the gallant gentlemen who saw me home."

"Thanks, Anne," Davy's gratitude was immediate and effluent, as always, "you're a real sport!"

 

* * * * *

 

The morning of Diana's birthday dawned; pleasant as the lady herself, with a charming warm breeze most unusual at this time of the year. The trees began donning their autumn finery, and spires of gold and red now threaded among the rich greens of the valley. Anne awoke refreshed and determined, as she had a plan. A brief commune with Diana - who had abandoned hearth, husband and home and waited up late for Anne and Davy at Green Gables - indicated that they might have the afternoon to themselves. Fred Wright, good man that he was, volunteered to take custody of their son for the day, that his wife and her bosom friend might picnic in the pastures of their childhood together. Anne agreed with not a touch of hesitance, as now she need never disclose that her day was a divided one.

Had she only heeded the colour of the dawn! In her much welcomed relief, Anne neglected to consider that the rosy red morning sky might be a harbinger not of good things, but ill. She drank in its beauty from the window of the bedroom she now shared with Dora without a thought towards a stormy afternoon.

Of course, Marilla was hardly so inclined towards romantic notions.

"If you plan to be out today," Marilla warned over breakfast, "take your rain things. I was afraid all these warm days would be the makings of a storm."

Anne smiled. "Oh, surely the world won't be as cruel as that, Marilla! A bright sun and a clear sky must be foreordained for the anniversary of Diana's arrival. A storm today would be positively unholy."

Mrs. Rachel Lynde snorted, just coming down the stairs from her apartments. "Anne, I know you're a good Christian girl, but you do say the most heathenish things."

'But I'm well and properly engaged now, Mrs. Lynde, and my betrothed enjoys the heathenish things I say,' Anne thought with rebellious, unquenchable joy, 'therefore you needn't worry.' Of course, she breathed not a word, certain that the good woman was only worried for her. Grown older and wiser, Anne checked her passions with a firm hand.

"So you intend to surprise Gilbert?" Marilla asked. The matter of the letter had been shared with the house. Anne's homecoming had only been recently planned, thus Gilbert - away at Redmond himself until the weekend - could not possibly have been yet made aware. Anne nodded happily.

"It seems Avonlea is able to keep a secret for at least one day," Marilla replied, amused, "although I'm afraid more than that might cause irreparable harm to various nervous systems across the countryside." She shot a sideways glance at Mrs. Lynde, who took no notice.

"I'll pack my picnic for Diana's birthday this morning, then set out after lunch," Anne decided, rising and collecting her breakfast dishes, "that should give me just enough time. Marilla, you must taste Rebecca Dew's bread recipe. I brought a loaf home."

"Take an umbrella from the hall, at the very least," Marilla insisted.

Anne beamed at her. "Oh, but that would be admitting defeat, Marilla!"

 

* * * * *

 

A few hours later, on her way to Gilbert's reception and soaked to the skin, Anne admitted defeat.

Perhaps a warm rain shower might have been a romantic thing, but this! This positively biblical downpour defied description. An unspeakable crime! Spirits thoroughly sodden and soggy, wet hair streaming down her shoulders, Anne huddled woefully in the driver's seat and urged the gray mare towards the shelter of Widow Caroline Cooper's barn. Just as suddenly as it had begun to rain, the temperature cooled until the stiff wet wind was much more in keeping with traditional September afternoons.

Anne's desperate knock on Widow Cooper's door went unanswered. She'd chosen this weekend to visit her favorite cousin in Lowvale. The house was dark and - to Anne - seemed a symbol of all that was gray and friendless in the world. She turned back towards the barn; arms folded tightly for warmth, and contemplated waiting out the storm in the dark, empty space with only Marilla's mare for company. But, at least it would offer some shield from the driving wind.

Minutes passed like hours to Anne. She leaned against the mare's wet shoulder for warmth and stroked her neck listlessly. "I'm to be married, and one would think me a silly girl!" Anne choked, her lowness of spirit unable even to find a spark of saving humor, "Too excitable, too carried away by my own imagination, even all these years later! And look what a scrape I've gotten into. Without even a coat! But there's nothing to be done for it now." Honestly, her teeth were going to chatter in a moment. "If I brave the rain, I'll only be wetter and colder. It would choose to storm just as I reached the halfway point!"

The mare, glad of company either way, had neither encouragement nor disparaging remarks to offer Anne's direction. But she was quite warm, and Anne sensibly ignored the scent of wet horse in lieu of not freezing to death.

Thick clouds blotted out the sun, but by Anne's reckoning, one o'clock had surely passed. She'd missed Gilbert's reception! And any dreams of a last, golden picnic with Diana were shattered. The ground would be far too wet now, and a thick carpet of golden leaves littered the ground beyond the barn - knocked down, no doubt, by the merciless deluge.

"Drat," sighed Anne, thinking a dozen more horrible words and not uttering them.

It was then that she heard the sound of hoof beats, lonely against a backdrop of rain and wind. Hope seized in her breast, and Anne hurried to the barn door, peering out through the gray.

"Gilbert!" Anne shouted, recognizing the handsome, upright frame of the man astride a great black horse. Both the horse and Gilbert's boots and trousers were mud-splattered, and he wore a deeply worried expression as he veered down Widow Cooper's lane. He was, she noted with a flush of shame, wearing a sensible oilskin hat and raincoat against the weather.

Upon recognizing her, Gilbert's frown vanished. "Anne? Anne! There you are!" Leaping down from his horse, he hurried to meet her. "I was worried you'd been waylaid by the rain and - oh, you're soaked!"

Just then, Anne became scathingly aware of her wet blouse, which was sticking to her skin even now. Her cheeks blazed and she dropped her eyes, turning quickly away. "I left Green Gables without a coat like a goose, Gilbert. I meant--" and then, Anne remembered the reception. "What about your award?"

"You meant to surprise me," Gilbert finished for her, warmly, "I know." Having removed his oilskin, he proceeded to remove his jacket as well, and set it gently around the shoulders of his fiancée. "You don’t really think Avonlea could keep a secret this long, do you? 'Love and scandal are the best sweeteners of tea.' Particularly among this covey of old gossips."

The warmth of Gilbert's jacket and the easy calm in his manner brought a wave of relief so total that at last, Anne's battered soul was shaken from its deeps of bitter disappointment. "That 'covey of old gossips' have brought me you today, and as such, I can't say an ill word against them," she said, "but I have plenty better left unspoken about this weather!"

"Oh, that's right," Gilbert murmured, chafing Anne's arms lightly through the sleeves of his jacket, "what are you going to do about--?"

And then, wonder of wonders, another set of hooves sounded on the lane! And after them, a rich and beloved voice: "Anne? Anne Shirley? Oh, Anne!" Diana Wright, nee Diana Barry and the celebrated lady of the day, tossed herself down from her own cart and tumbled unselfconsciously into Anne's embrace. She was - Anne noted with a twitch of chagrin - also as sensibly attired for the weather as Gilbert. All three retired inside the barn, Gilbert leading both his horse and Diana's. While he sought a lamp, Diana hugged Anne as her own soul, breathless with relief.

"I knew you'd be on the road to the Blythe farm just after noon, and as soon as it opened up with rain I came straightaway to find you."

"Did everybody know my plans?" Anne queried, torn between exasperation and guilt.

"I knew about Gilbert's reception," Diana replied with a shrug, "and when you wrote to say you were coming for my birthday, I assumed you were planning to attend the presentation."

"But," Anne protested, feeling winded, "it's your birthday. I didn't tell you because-- I didn't want you to be jealous. After all, we'd made plans so long ago and--"

Diana leaned forward and plied a kiss to the very center of Anne's dewy forehead. "You goose!" she said fondly, with a bonny shake of jet curls, "We were to have all afternoon. We still are. But if Fred was given a reception on your birthday, I know you'd tell me to go. I love you both, you're both my dearest friends, and I couldn't be happier to share my birthday with you!"

"I knew you were coming for Diana's birthday," Gilbert said, "which is why I delayed my letter. I'd hoped it would come too late for you to even worry about attending, Anne." The lamp he held flared to life, and he set it in the back of Diana's cart, "I still wanted you to know, which is why I sent it at all. I didn't mean to cause you so much worry. Or be the reason you were caught in this awful storm!"

By now, vigor restored by the warmth in Diana's embrace and the insulating thickness of Gilbert's jacket, Anne could find the spirit to laugh at herself. "Oh, you aren't to blame for that, Gilbert. If I'd any sense, I would have brought at least a raincoat and boots, as Marilla suggested, though the umbrella she offered would have only been a scrap of irony in this storm. If I'd absolutely no sense, I'd have understood that sauntering forth with no protection from the elements was baiting the Fates. As it so happens," she grinned, "I've just enough sense to land myself in uncomfortable predicaments like these."

"Fortunately, you've good friends to come to your rescue," Diana replied, with a salute and a click of her bootheels.

"With spare rain gear," Gilbert laughed, "the irony of umbrellas notwithstanding."

The trio of companions gathered together, then, enjoying the glow of lamplight against the dark day and the even brighter glow of the bonds woven among them.

"But it's still raining," Anne remembered unhappily after a few minutes, "there'll certainly be no picnic now."

Diana leaned sideways, the better to peep into Anne's buggy. "Not entirely," she teased, with all the sweet mirth of her girlhood, "is that a hamper I spy?"

"It wouldn't do to bring you back to Mrs. Lynde in this condition," Gilbert added, "if she sees I hadn't come in time to rescue you from a ducking, she'll never let me marry you." His fingers brushed against Anne's and he smiled.

"Anne, first you're to put on my spare raincoat," Diana ordered sternly, "and then we'll have a proper picnic right here on the straw, the three of us, by lamplight."

"If the storm hasn't blown over by then, you must both come home with me," Gilbert insisted.

For once, muffled by cozy layers of love and goodwill, Anne could find nothing constructive to add.

"Gilbert," Diana said, as she lifted Anne's hamper to the ground and inspected the contents, "there's enough here for two, I hope you won't mind--"

"We'll share," Gilbert said, cheerful and sure.

And so they did.