By Nemedow

September 25th, 1899

 

Dear Anne,

Truly, you contain multitudes.* Somehow your letter has both broken my heart and soothed it. I feel as if you are in the room with me, yet I ache over the distance between us. I just went out to look up at the same stars that you may be sitting under tonight (unfortunately, my window only looks out on the alley between my boarding house and the brick wall of the next building over). You’ve noticed that the stars are fainter in Charlottetown than at home. The same is true in Toronto; I suppose logically even more so, as it’s the larger city. Ursa Major, however, is visible and will be all year; please know that whenever I am able, each night around 10 pm I’ll be looking up at her and thinking of you. 

You might also wish to know that I am often looking down at my shoelaces, at the tiny diagrams in one of my textbooks, at a pigeon in a tree on campus, or even at the face of someone else I should be paying attention to, and thinking of you. It really is quite frequent and random. If you should find that spontaneous thoughts of me have that same distracting effect on you, I apologize. But only a little.

 

Thank you so much for sharing some of the details of your life at Queen’s! I assure you that nothing in your letter was trite. It’s wonderful to imagine you reciting passionately in class and being appreciated for it, scheming to circumvent the strict boarding house rules without getting caught, and reading this letter as you sit under the branches of a friendly tree. I would be delighted to make the acquaintance of said tree soon, though I don’t yet know when I can get away to visit you. Please know that even when I am far away, I am always on your team, and I am eternally grateful that you have chosen to be on mine! 

Would you believe that this very day I was inquiring around campus to find someone to teach me sign language? In the spring term, we will be spending a few weeks at a hospital in the city, and one of the sites is a children’s institution that happens to serve a high proportion of deaf children. I thought it would be useful to learn some of the basics in case I get placed there. It seems to me that doctors often forget that children have feelings, thoughts, and opinions about their own care. I would prefer to be able to converse with all the children I will be treating. I’m delighted to hear that you are also learning the language—just imagine the uses we could find for this silent communication when we are back in Avonlea. I think it could particularly come in handy around Bash and Mrs. Lynde, but I look forward to further consideration of the possibilities. Feel free to share your own creative ideas⁠—I am confident that you will have many! 

Speaking of Bash, I have written to him. I asked him not to say anything to anyone else in Avonlea, and I trust that he’ll honor this one request. I could ask a million times for him not to tease me about everything I’ve done in regard to my feelings for you up to and including jumping off the train, but I have very little confidence that he would honour any of those requests. What feelings, you ask? Well, it feels like the appropriate point in this letter to remind you: I love you, Anne. I have loved you already for years, and I will love you for the rest of my life. As you wrote, I love you because of you. It still feels like a dream sometimes, and I will probably never feel that I really deserve it, but now I have two letters from you as evidence that you love me back! When I think about the number of letters I will ultimately acquire before I can spend every day by your side, I want to cry. Yet the idea of reading all those thoughts directly from your fascinating mind is incredibly exciting. 

I’m sure Mrs. Lynde knows by now. I have no idea how, but she will have heard something somewhere from someone. It’s just how our Avonlea universe works. That leaves Matthew and Marilla. I will write to them to ask for their blessing on our courtship, just as soon as I can figure out the perfect words to say. I don’t mind telling you that I am completely terrified about this. They are practically family, and a month ago I would have said that I know they care about me and wouldn’t be afraid to broach any subject with either of them, no matter how sensitive. Oh, how naive one-month-ago-me was (feel free to be horrified by the grammar here. Is this correct? I don’t even know). I will cling to your assertion that they were not outraged when you told them you loved me (!) and will try to work up the courage to write this letter soon. 

I laughed out loud at your updates on our Avonlea classmates. I suppose we will all change in many ways over the years at our respective colleges, but it’s nice to think that at least for now and perhaps through it all, our fundamental personalities will remain constant. Maybe I’ll drop a line or two to Moody and Charlie to get their perspective on the Queen’s experience. 

What shall I tell you about my life at U of T? I can tell you that I am NOT at the top of the class here; not even top of the first-year class. Yet. Many of the students here had access to an elite education, and though Ms. Stacy made up for many of Mr. Phillips’ shortcomings, I find myself studying harder than I ever have in my life just to keep up. Dr. Oak is an invaluable mentor already, though she teaches only higher-level courses so I am not directly her student. She has graciously guided me to texts and journals that will help me address the most egregious gaps in my knowledge. 

Dr. Oak has also encouraged me to set aside my studying occasionally in order to participate in some of the social activities around campus, but I find myself reluctant to take her advice in this matter. I’ve tried. You wrote about the blurred lines between childhood and adulthood as we begin our college careers. I think you and I were both forced to grow up too soon, but while you were finally able to experience a childhood when you arrived in Avonlea, mine had already been coming to a close for a couple of years by that point. I’ve been my own keeper for a while now, with all the freedom and responsibility that entails, so it isn’t terribly enjoyable for me to spend time with boys who are new to testing their own limits. Too much of their “fun” seems frivolous, silly, even sometimes cruel or destructive. 

Lest you worry too much about me spending all my time alone in the stacks at the library,  I am pleased to inform you that I’ve recently been invited to join The University Club. According to the invitation, it’s the “best student society on campus,” so I suppose if I end up joining, I’ll be surrounded by the finest people, and consistently busy with the most edifying of collegiate events. Honestly, it sounds a little stuffy, but I’ll go to their informational meeting and see. 

In the meantime, I do get along fine with most of the boys at my boarding house. At first, they were polite but rather cool, content to leave an island yokel to his own devices. One day about a week and a half ago, though, events transpired that have made me something of a (very) minor celebrity. 

Allow me to explain (confess?). There is another boarder here from PEI—from Charlottetown, actually—who is rather weaselly and obnoxious. His name is Eugene. Although sometimes he truly brings it upon himself, a few of the fellows have been merciless in teasing him. 

On the evening in question, I was trying to focus on a complex passage in my biology textbook, and he was loudly sharing some admittedly backward ideas about the history of Canada in relation to the rest of the world. At first, I didn’t mind when some of our housemates jumped to correct him. However, when they wouldn’t let up, and repeatedly attributed those ideas of his to “islander ignorance” through the use of some rather vulgar slurs, I lost my temper. I’m ashamed to admit that I may have cast up my seafaring experience as proof that we islanders can be just as worldly-wise as any student with mainland roots.

 

After that, I was peppered with questions about my history. What seems to be most intriguing to my classmates in addition to the stories of my travels is that I am an orphan who owns an orchard with his Trinidadian brother, from which we export apples to England. It’s funny that in my mind, these things just happened, and likely would have happened to anyone in my circumstances. There’s nothing there for me to be particularly proud of; I was mostly just lucky. It hasn’t happened to any of them, though, and I guess that’s why they are fascinated. 

Beyond the slightly crumbly brick walls of the boarding house, I have befriended a few second- and third-year students. I hope that these friends might provide me access to social events on campus and in the city proper that suit me a little better than the first-year activities. Several of them are engaged or at least in relationships, so there is less of a focus on finding a partner. They are also more studious than most of my own classmates. 

Amongst this older group, I’ve particularly gotten to know a young man named Ben who comes from Alberta, where his own sweetheart still lives. Letters take a ridiculously long time to travel between Alberta and Toronto, and trips home during the school year are out of the question. Ben doesn’t even go home for Christmas. Travel there takes so long, and is so risky in the winter, that it doesn’t make sense. I suppose I should be grateful that things aren’t quite so bad for you and me, yet I can't seem to use that logic to miss you any less. Still, it’s comforting to have a friend who understands. It’s also fun to hear his stories about Alberta. I have very fond, though bittersweet, memories of my time there with my father.

 

What about you, Anne? Are you able to participate in and enjoy the social events at Queen’s? Now I worry that I may have come across as a complete snob about school functions. I hope that you will participate in any activities that appeal to you. I know that if I were there with you, my studies would be suffering enormously, as I’d be unable to resist escorting you to every dance, party, social, chautauqua, play, musical, circus⁠—whatever⁠—you would allow (although maybe that would be offset by the quality and quantity of study sessions we would also be holding. You are still, by far, my favorite study partner). I would also obviously be abetting your schemes re those overly strict boarding house rules to find every opportunity to hide behind your friendly tree and kiss you silly. 

I am relieved to hear that adventure need not be my rival, but rather our very dear friend. Yes, absolutely, let's leap from one adventure to the next. Together. Provided that some adventures be the quieter kind, like hopefully witnessing Delly’s first steps back in Avonlea this Christmas.  Others on my list for the near future are me visiting you and your tree, you visiting me in Toronto, maybe a trip together to Alberta for Ben’s wedding in a couple of years, and someday, Paris! Let’s keep adding to this list, even though I'm sure some of our best adventures will be those we never could have seen coming. 

It's getting very late, but I can’t close without addressing the most heartbreaking paragraph I’ve ever read. I hate that there was ever a time in your life that you felt so completely alone and unloved! I know that your experiences all led to making you the kind, caring, empathetic, passionate woman you are today, and yet still I wish things had been different. I don’t know how you lived through all you did without becoming bitter or cynical. I will always admire you for that, and I will always do my best to make up to you for the love you went without for so many years. You are precious to me, and I want you to know that no matter how far away I am. 

And so, goodnight Anne. If the celestial she-bear heard my pleas earlier this evening, you are sleeping soundly and dreaming of me as I write. I hope some of my words here are worthy of your rereading, as you seem determined to do so. I miss you. 

With all my love,

Gilbert 

*As in Walt Whitman’s “Song of Myself.” Do you like Whitman? I’ll tell you about my history with the poet sometime.

© 2020 by ANNE NATION