Friday, October 13th, 1899
Dearest Doctor Blythe,
It feels nearly criminal to sit and write to you on a day as gloomy and cursed as this one seems determined to be, but perhaps that is just the lover of all things superstitious and fantastic coming out in me. After all, the number thirteen cannot hold meaning on its own, can it? Old Mr. Thomas, from the first house I was placed in as a child, certainly didn’t agree with that. For some reason, anytime a Friday fell on the thirteenth of the month the man would hole up and drink himself into a stupor, mumbling about curses and ill omens all the while! He told me the story once—something about the number thirteen being cursed by the old Norse Gods in Valhalla for all time. I don’t remember the details—only that Loki, the trickster, had something to do with all of it. He really was an excellent storyteller if you caught him between his third and fifth tumbler of whisky, that Mr. Thomas. It occurs to me now that he was an anxious man, holding with all sorts of old superstitions about ladders and mirrors and moon cycles. In the meantime, his drunken rages caused the rest of his household to tiptoe around in our own kind of superstition, frightened to incur his ire.
Oh, listen to me going on about old stories and myths when all I meant to do was tell you of the strange day I have had! This morning I woke late, then rushed off to attend my early anthropology class with no breakfast in my belly and no sense in my head, apparently, as while I cut through a wooded path—a truly magical little area filled with lush ferns and the glory of autumnal splendour, almost as if it was a Faerie’s Glen (which happens to be what I’ve taken it upon myself to name it)—I was caught continuing the dream I had woken from, about an illicit midnight rendezvous in a moonlit forest between Averil and Perceval. Who caught me in my daydreaming, you may very well be asking at this moment?
Why, a low-slung tree branch, that’s who! I regret to inform you that currently, nestled among a bed of freckles, your own Anne is now sporting a ripe, red bump the size of a quail’s egg in the center of her forehead!
The thought did cross my mind to neglect this particular anecdote in my missive to you today, but then I decided that if you could still love me after broken slates and embarrassing outbursts and love letters torn up in a temper then maybe, just maybe, this story would make you smile fondly, perhaps shake your head slightly, and wonder at having fallen in love with someone who, if nothing else, will never cease to surprise you.
Then, as I arrived at my class—out-of-breath, forehead smarting and swelling, eyes still watering—I opened my satchel to retrieve the composition I was up late into the night finishing, but found nothing but half a sheaf of blank parchment and my trusty fountain pen (I believe you know the one). I was so flustered! I’m not sure where the calm and capable Anne Shirley-Cuthbert I have been developing the last few years had gone—suddenly I was an impulsive, forgetful girl of thirteen once more, all knobbly knees and burnt breakfasts and irrepressible imagination. My professor, Dr. Lewis, was quite understanding about it all, but as I hurried to take my seat the young man who called natives “animals” just last week stopped me. He stood directly in my path, arms crossed, and then reached forward to remove a stray leaf that had been residing in my hair (dratted tree). He held it between us and sneered quietly, “What happened, Red? Been playing in the forest with those Indians you love so much?”
I’m not sure if it was the ugly, disdainful face he made, or the way he moved so close to me to murmur his vitriol into my ear, or just the sheer poisonous, ignorant hatred that dripped from his words, but, Gilbert, I couldn’t help my reaction. Truly, I couldn’t. And it wasn’t even because he had the audacity to call me “Red”—I have become much less sensitive to folks teasing me about my hair in recent years, I will have you know. But, oh Gil. I haven’t given someone such a loud, vicious dressing down since my first meeting with Rachel Lynde—not even Billy Andrews would have recognized the creature that flew at that small-minded, hateful boy! I am a little embarrassed to think of it now, though, truly, he deserved every word.
Dr. Lewis broke up our scene and quietly asked me to accompany him to his office after class. I proceeded to sit with a boulder in my stomach for the entire lecture, sure that he was going to frog-march me to the Dean and have me expelled for my outburst! Truth be told, I would have taken my punishment gladly, just to have given that horrid fellow a piece of my mind to chew on.
Instead, however, Dr. Lewis sat me down and asked whether I intended to become involved in politics someday! When I informed him of my intention to teach, he nodded thoughtfully and told me to let him know if I ever changed my mind. “We need more thinkers like you out there, Miss Shirley, and that tongue of yours (here he chuckled quietly)... Well, I think you could do a world of good with a tongue that sharp, if you learned to use it a bit more judiciously.”
Of course, I was completely floored. I very nearly shuffled out of his office, jaw hanging wide open and eyes bulging, but then I remembered your advice to seek an advisor for the club I had envisioned! Right then and there I spun on my heels and asked whether he was interested in supporting such a venture.
Gilbert, he said yes! Enthusiastically, too! Diana and I are going to make up flyers tomorrow, and the first meeting of the Queen’s Society for Progressive Reform will convene next week. I can scarcely believe that this is happening, and all because I lost my temper in a crowded lecture hall! Oh, I’m blushing just to think of it. But that blush isn’t solely from embarrassment, thankfully. I am absolutely burning with a passionate resolve to make a difference in this world! Our first item will be to begin a petition to close the Residential Schools the government has created to oppress the Native Peoples of Canada, as with the tragic case of my friend, Ka’kwet. I hope to pair the creation of said petition with an impassioned op-ed to the local paper decrying the treatment of our native brothers and sisters and share her story. Wish me luck, dearest boy, and thank you for the excellent advice.
To answer your thoughtful question, I have never met a flower that I didn’t love, sir, so you’ve no need to fear my wrath when it comes to bouquet offerings—though I’ve little reason to wonder at your trepidation. I have proven myself too easily vexed time and again where a certain brown-eyed young man is concerned, but I think you’ll find that my passionate responses to you will be put to much better ends in future (are you scandalized yet?). My very favourite flower is a White Narcissus—often called a June Lily, at least they are called such by one Rachel Lynde (is that an island thing, do you think?). I looked up their meaning long ago, and was somewhat disappointed to discover that they mean good wishes, faithfulness, and respect. All fine things, to be sure, but not exactly worthy of the epic romance a young Anne had dreamed up for herself. But now, when I picture that little house of dreams with a whitewashed fence and a cat basking in the sunlight streaming through the front windows (I mean no disrespect toward dogs, but have always been fonder of fat, lazy housecats. What about you?), those same words warm me to my core. Good wishes, faithfulness, respect. That sounds like a fine foundation to build a life upon, so long as there is an abundance of love to cement them together.
Though truly, you could bring me a handful of dandelions, all gone to seed, a downy trail streaming behind you, and I would cherish every one before closing my eyes and blowing softly, wishing for that dreamed-of future with you with every bit of breath in my lungs.
My good wishes for you seem to already have paid dividends, too! I am so pleased that you have found another friend and study pal there, and that you will continue on with the Club. Speaking of friends, I have given your address to Moody and Charlie, so I hope you will hear from them soon.
Tell me, does your Club host many fancy functions? I want to imagine it: you dressing up and rubbing elbows with your cohort and alumni! I enjoy closing my eyes and picturing you crossing a bustling, vast campus filled with studious young men and women. I can see you there, bag slung over your shoulder, hat on, head down, hurrying to class, or to meet a friend. I try to place myself there beside you, but I still find it strange, having never been there. Tell me more about your city—are the leaves in a riot of colour? When you leave your boarding house, can you smell autumn in the air? Do you like it more than you did Alberta? Does it make you long for the closeness of our island village? Or make you wonder whether you were made to live in a big city, brimming with life everywhere you look?
The thumping I took this morning—from that old, jealous dryad who heard tale of our courtship and has sought her revenge on the woman who had the audacity to win the Gilbert Blythe’s heart—seems to have shaken loose some particularly vexing thoughts in me, and I have found myself stuck once more in melancholic reflections on life; particularly on the vast distance between Charlottetown and Toronto. This, surely, is one of the longest and most drawn-out avenues that anyone has ever travelled in order to share one simple if inexpressibly sorrowful thought, which is this: I miss you, Gilbert Blythe.
I miss our academic rivalry every time I know the answer and no one else does—which I assure you happens much less often at Queen’s than it ever did in Avonlea, but still. I miss the cheeky tilt to your eyebrows when you have a rebuttal to whatever strongly-worded opinion I blurted, and the way your eyes would dance as you shared your invariably opposing view on the matter.
Tell me, did you do that just to watch me turn pink, puff out my chest, and use my sternest, soon-to-be-schoolmarm voice to tell you that you were wrong wrong wrong?
You did, didn’t you?
I miss tripping lightly down the lane to your house, where I could snuggle Delly and banter with Bash and glimpse you in a kind of domestic tedium that has recently become the stuff of my very best daydreams: Gilbert, stirring a pot of porridge on the stovetop; Gilbert, coming in after a long day’s work, eyes crinkling in a fond smile as he removes his muddy boots; Gilbert, playfully cuffing his brother, gently rocking his niece, sweetly leaning down to press a kiss to his beloved’s waiting lips...
The worst part of this silly melancholy is that I am not far from home. I could wend my way down to the train depot this very evening, purchase a ticket, and be home in time for Marilla to tuck me into bed in my gable bedroom. But it would do nothing to avail me of this longing for home. You’ve taken that with you, and I cannot wait to feel whole again. Is it selfish for me to feel pleased that you have experienced similar homesickness, and come to the same conclusion? I am still awed that you would call me your home, your future. Reading those words filled me with a bone-deep gladness—something that I can call to mind and curl up in when I feel blue, like the cat I imagine for our future windowsill.
I received the most interesting missive from Marilla just this morning, who may have quoted a line or two from your letter of intent to her and Matthew, the dear. Gilbert, did you really write that every single beat of your heart beats for me? I could write a romantic tale of love and longing every day for the rest of my life, and none of the words I produced could have the power to replicate the feeling that reading those words gave me. I should have known that you were my equal in romantic notions as well as grammar lessons long ago—after all, what kind of a boy references dragon slayings and offers his best apple to the scrawny new girl on her first day, lest in his chest beat the heart of a poet? A heart that now belongs to me; a heart that I intend to take excellent care of.
I haven’t quite done away with the gloom that settled upon me today, but I believe I know how I can shake it off for good—Gilbert, could we meet up under the midnight sky, like the lovers I dreamed of last night? You could go to Queen’s Park there, and I could go to the quad at Queen’s College. We could both bring a blanket to lay on, and gaze at the stars in the sky and know that we are both there, under the same stars, looking up and thinking of one another at the same moment? It is as close as I can get to you right now, and I... I know it’s silly —perhaps even ridiculous. But...
If you will, would you set the date in your next letter? I promise to dress warmly, steer clear of my stern house mother, and watch out for any low-reaching branches to prevent further embarrassing incidents with which to delight you.
Until then, I am going to close my eyes on this strange day and travel back to that sunny front room, pet our fat orange cat, and wait to welcome home my beloved. How often I have slipped into my imagination today, but it is only so I can keep counsel with Whitman. When I am with you, even if just in imagination, I can truly feel that “happiness, not in another place but this place...not for another hour, but this hour.”
All of my love,