By Liz

October 6th, 1899

 

My Anne with an e,

Oh, Anne, only you would somehow be able to realize preemptively I would have a bad day and would need to read a line of Whitman written in your hand in order to drag me out of my stormy head. 

Let me explain: my father loved Whitman. I often read Whitman’s work to him all the time when he was too weak to hold a book up by himself, and I have little passages here and there memorized as a result. His copy of Leaves of Grass sits on my nightstand with his war medal on top of it. I brought them with me to Toronto so I would have a piece of him here, and I find myself talking to him often, perhaps even more than I did when I was at home. Every day I grow older and every day I wish he was here to guide me. But when I lie on my bed and talk through my problems as if he was there, I feel just a little bit better.

 

I think because it’s been about a month since everything happened (you, most of all!), I am feeling this weight of homesickness I haven’t felt in a long time, not since the beginning of my trip to Alberta years ago—and even then my father was with me. There is a time at the end of the day, when I no longer have to run around an increasingly familiar campus, pick out books to study, talk to Dr. Oak and other professors, remember to eat, or complete my assignments, and when my mind is quiet, that I suddenly remember how far away every person whom I love is. I wonder what the orchard looks like, how much Delly has grown, how many times the LaCroixes have fought. I wish I could look across the classroom at you every day like I used to. It’s a kind of loneliness I’ve never felt before. 

I can sense your confusion—yes, I was on a steamer for months, much further away than Toronto! But that was different. Really, you were the only thing on my mind then, before I even realized why you were on my mind so often, and I was determined to stay as far away from Avonlea and my ghosts for as long as possible. I eventually found a brother in Bash and convinced myself to go home. And…you know the rest. But I never felt the distance the impossibly large ocean created, not like I feel now. 

All of that is to say my mind happened to be still enough to get worked up into a self-wallowing, lonely storm when your letter arrived. Thank you for knowing what I needed before I knew it. You truly are the most remarkable person I have ever met. 

You say you love autumn—I do as well! When I have the time to walk around Queen’s Park I can’t help but notice the colour of the leaves on the trees and how much they remind me of the colour of your hair. When I am in the city itself, just as the number of stars is muted, so is the colour of the leaves. But the park is a gentle escape from the bustle of the city and gives me the feeling of home in more ways than one. I may have picked a pristine, vibrantly red maple leaf off the ground and laid it on my desk. It will surely fade in a few days, but for now I have yet another reminder of one of my favourite things about you! 

And speaking of your oh-so-wonderful hair…I was rereading your first letter and recalled your mention of your parents’ book about flowers. As a diligent beau, I must inquire if there is a particular type of flower you would want me to bring you (when they are alive again, of course) or, perhaps more importantly, a type I should not bring so I don’t vex you unknowingly as I am wont to do. 

Your suggestion of learning certain phrases in sign language has been dutifully taken into account. I am still looking for the right teacher, but between Dr. Oak and something I will mention in a few paragraphs, I should be successful soon. Though I highly doubt that by the time we reconvene I will be as skilled as you, and may only be able to communicate little more than the simplest words by spelling them out. However, I believe I will make an effort to learn phrases such as “Bash isn’t home.” As for these phrases not being of a medical nature, I assure you they undoubtedly are. They are essential if they can cure the ache I always feel in my heart whenever I am around you (and more often when I am not around you!). 

Are you scandalized yet, dear Anne? 

On a more serious note, perhaps you can look up some words in your little dictionary for us to practise the alphabet! 

I am also very relieved our worries about Avonlea’s reaction to our courtship are largely unfounded, though this unfortunately does give Bash ample opportunity to run around teasing my past decisions without me being there to put a stop to it. However, I look forward to proudly escorting you everywhere in Avonlea as your intended when we are home for Christmas. Speaking of Christmas, I love your suggestion of inviting Ben to our family’s dinner! I will write to Bash about him staying with us for a few days; I know Ben would appreciate the company. 

I have already written a letter to your parents which may have arrived by the time you receive this. It does not matter if you say there is nothing to fear; I am still going to be nervous because it’s you! But believe me, I made it clear just how much you mean to me and just how much I love you. Ah, I haven’t written that yet in this letter! I love you, I love you, I love you! 

Your words of encouragement and validation about my “island education” were another welcome thing to read. I am adjusting to the workload and am filling in some of the gaps. I just have to keep reminding myself why I am doing what I am doing. My experience before coming here is unique, but as I’m sure you can attest, being different is not necessarily a bad thing. While my knowledge of Mi’kmaq medicine may not be entirely useful right now, there is a good chance it will be later in my career. 

Right, you’ll be wanting to hear about The University Club. At the urging of Dr. Oak (and, yes, you were a part of the decision as well), I attended the meeting. It was about what I was expecting; a bit stuffy overall, but they seem to be upstanding, intelligent gentlemen at least. We met in one of the ballrooms, apparently the one that will be the venue for a November social the Club will host. No one from my boarding house attended, so I stood next to the wall, observing, waiting for the meeting to begin as men both my age and much older U of T alumni mingled around and greeted others with enthusiastic brotherly pats on the shoulder. Eventually, another young man edged his way over to where I was standing. His name is Stephen, and he is a first-year student as well. He is from Nova Scotia and while he did not attend a one-room schoolhouse, it was apparently not much bigger. He was at the top of his class, like a certain somebody I know, had a teacher in his corner like we did, and was able to apply for scholarships. While he does not want to be a doctor, he is fascinated with the sciences, chemistry especially. What kept me by his side all night was his admittance that he was struggling to keep up with some of the coursework. We discovered we shared our math class (he sits behind me, I decided to try sitting towards the front for a change) and resolved to study together. He definitely seems like what you would call a kindred spirit; I suppose I am creating my own collection out here in Toronto, if I include Dr. Oak and Ben in the group as well! 

I have decided I will stay with the Club. The time commitment does not seem to be too strenuous with a meeting each month, and we can sign up for which activities we want to help with depending on our schedules. At the very least, the connections I will have access to might prove to be invaluable. There was more than one doctor who spoke when the alumni had their turn to share their experiences and I met some more upperclassmen who seemed genuine in their offers to help. I did mention sign language to a few of the medical students and they agreed it would be a worthwhile skill to have and said they would help me look for a suitable teacher. 

PEI will always be my home, but I think a more accurate statement would be my home is wherever you are. Anything I do with you is an adventure. You are my future. Your words created quite a clear image in my mind—I see all you see and more. May I suggest perhaps the addition of a dog or a cat (do you have a preference?) as well as a couple of apple trees? 

I am glad to hear you are still fighting for what is right. Unfortunately, I can believe people would say those things as I have heard similar things said here and other places as well. While I do not have your talent to eloquently shut them down with a newspaper insert, I try to speak up when I can. As for a club, I will look around U of T to see if there is anything similar—and then join! In the meantime, for you, I would suggest finding a professor or an older student you know shares your fire and fight to get the wheel turning and give your club some legitimacy and support. But one day, if you are a sharp enough thorn, I know the minds of others will be changed. You have that effect on people. You help others see the world through such an open mind’s eye—I know you have influenced how I take in not just nature, but all the people I meet as well. 

Congratulations on creating your protagonist! As I am not a writer of fiction, I really cannot offer much help as to any plot ideas. My own life is quite a twisting plot in and of itself, and I wholeheartedly agree to your aversion to writing about heartbreak. So write the opposite; write what you would want to read now that you are happily in love, not what you wanted to read before when you thought you knew what romance was. Maybe pretend you are having a conversation with Averil and get to know her a little better before trying to decide what she should do. You wouldn’t want someone you barely know to force you to do something; it’s no wonder she isn’t quite going where you want her to. Also, Perceval sounds like quite the rogue! And if we are thinking of the same dark-haired fellow, he may in fact be a sailor, of a sort. Of course, you may want to consult Averil as to what type of chap she would like to be chasing. 

I’ll close by admitting I spent some time a few days ago counting up the days until I can return for Christmas. The number will have decreased significantly by the time I have the chance to write to you again, and that fact is giving me the strength to finally put down my pen and get some much-needed rest. I love you and miss you more each day! 

All my love, 

Gilbert

 

P. S. Please pass along Moody and Charlie’s boarding house address. I am curious to hear about their experiences thus far!

© 2020 by ANNE NATION