CALL TO ARMS
With love and gratitude to L.M.M. ~ everything is hers, only this idea is mine
KENNETH FORD GETS HIS COMEUPPANCE
In which we are introduced to Anne and Gilbert's eldest children, Jem, Walter and twins Nan and Di; their best friends, Jerry and Faith Meredith; and Kenneth Ford.
But first, as it must and always shall be, it begins with Susan Baker...
Ingleside, Glen St Mary, July 1914
Susan Baker heard them before she saw them, singing Onward Christian Soldiers in tones not meant for church. Not that they had come from one but another of those gadabout picnics they were all so fond of. Why they insisted on lugging their luncheon all over the Glen when there was a perfectly good table for them to sit at? But then one could not grow up under the loving hand of Anne Blythe without acquiring some of her more peculiar traits.
Not that Susan would admit that anything Mrs Doctor dear did could ever be brought into question. Why, she would rather be cursed with such swollen, hot hands as could never make pastry again, than say one word against that angel! Then again, she might also wish those rowdy youths coming up the shallow slope to Ingleside might not make such an exhibition of themselves. The way they sang, "We are not divided, all one body we!" sounded faintly scandalous.
"Su-san! Su-san!" one of them called to her now.
That would be Jem, who had a tone of voice that was all his father's. Filled with unexpressed laughter as though waiting on everyone to get the joke.
Much less innocent exclamations followed as someone caused an upset in the hallway. Ah, it was those umbrellas again. If they would only slot them into the stand as she told them to, they would not be knocked about by their great big feet. The sounds of a sword fight predictably followed as Susan rolled the pastry into a nice, long sausage and tried to recall what size feet the young men had in her day. Surely, they were not so big as the ones they all had now? But then that was progress for you.
Having vanquished his foe, a tall auburn haired lad made his way down the hall to that most sacred place at Ingleside, Susan Baker's kitchen.
"Slaving away in the dark again," Jem said, strolling up to the scrubbed pine table. "Why don't you listen to ol' Dads and have an electric light installed?"
He dunked a brown finger into a bowl of cherry pie filling and was batted away like a fly.
"Off with you, James Blythe," said Susan. "You alone know where those mitts have been–and even then I wouldn't take your word for it!"
The boy sucked on his thumb and ducked into the pantry.
"'Sides, it is not dark in here," she called after him, "it's only that you've come from the bright outside. We have no need of these switches and wires in here, thank you very much. Mrs Howard from Upper Glen gave all her lamps away when they had the electrickery installed. And what happened during the first big storm? The silly woman didn't have a match to light the fire with."
Susan might have continued and would have enjoyed it, had not the clinks and clatters coming from the pantry begun to distract her. What was Jem hunting for now?
"And I don't see how you can all be so hungry still," she said to him, as he reappeared with a tray of flaky, buttery treats. "I sent you out with four pies this morning."
"Yes, well..." Jem began, trying to squeeze a jar of gooseberry preserves onto his pile, "there was a bit of bad luck with the peach one. Your pies might look as soft and light as pillows, Susan, but they are definitely not for sitting on. That's why you find us back so soon. Poor sis needed clean duds."
Susan deftly swapped the gooseberry preserves for plum, for heaven knew there were enough plums this year to have all manner of girls falling into them. But the gooseberry, that was for the Doctor. Poor Di, she found herself thinking next, ever the gooseberry in the eternal quartet of Jem and Faith, Nan and Jerry. She picked up her tray of pastry and went to the cool store, nodding her grey head and cooing softly.
"Poor, poor Di... poor, poor Di..."
"How on earth did you know it was Di who needed a change of kit?" Jem asked, his chin pressed onto his pile to steady it.
"Because I never heard her go up the stairs, you see."
"No, I don't see," Jem said.
But Susan Baker did, all too well. He would have to be extra careful when he snuck out on his moonlit trysts with Faith.
"Nan wears those little pointy heels," Susan explained. "You never have to look up to know when Nan's come into the room. Whereas Di wears slippers."
"Well, you needn't pity Di for all that. She caught two trout, you know. Ken's the one I feel for. Di's been teasing him something savage for never landing one. Says he's gone soft from all that city living."
As well he would, Susan sniffed. Famous author or no, it was inexcusable of Owen Ford to whisk their Leslie off to Toronto. What a place to raise children! That son of theirs was certainly no Island boy.
"I for one will never be sorry to hear when Kenneth Ford gets his come-uppance," she said. "With him forever swanning about with that look upon his face–as if he had just talked his way out of a spanking and was rather pleased about it."
"What say, Blythe," said the man himself, his sleek head poking through the kitchen door. "You baking the eats in here, what's the hold up?"
"Take that," Jem replied, shoving the tray into Ken's arms. "If you act as donkey it saves me the trouble of coming back for the drinks."
"Not surprised it took you so long," said Ken. "You have to feel your way like a blind man in here. There's such a thing as light-bulbs, you know. I suppose you Island lot are waiting until you can plug in a potato," and he chuckled in that velvety way which made most people–that is, most female people–want to laugh along with him.
They were in scant supply in this kitchen, however. Jem rolled his eyes, mulling over the best angle to chip the block of ice before him and felled such a slab of the stuff it shattered all over the floor.
The icepick was swiftly plucked from his grasp.
"That's it! Out, out, both of you, out!" Susan hollered, as Jem and Ken lurched back into the cherrywood dresser. "And if I dare see either of you in here again it won't just be the ice that gets it!"
The boys scooted out to the veranda steps, but not before Jem had bravely scooped up bottles of lemonade to take with him.
And if the girls wanted it cold, they could prize the icepick out of Susan Baker's hands themselves.
Nan Blythe lay back against her twin's leg and nestled into the grassy slope that ran beyond the veranda of Ingleside. They had all intended to make their way back to Rainbow Valley. But who could take another step with the lawn so soft and cool, and minty little zephyrs setting the swollen heads of roses and peonies to bobbing?
She wiped the last crumb from her lips. "That is it for me. We'll be called in for supper next and then I really will explode."
"Just make it a pick-up supper then, sister dear," Jem said. He peered around to see if Susan was lurking nearby, then following Nan's example nestled his head upon Faith's lap.
"Me!" said Nan "And why should I do it I'd like to know?"
"Because, you ninny, I made the afternoon tea."
Faith gave Jem a playful swipe, but Di felt more should be done than that. She may have shared Jem's hair colour but she definitely did not share his sentiment.
"Made it?" she scoffed. "Raided Susan's pantry is what you did! Do you think those plum preserves and apricots tarts just appear by themselves–who do you think made them?"
"Don't mention tarts," Nan wailed, "I always do this when we come back home, and I always return to school in the fall like a fat little dumpling. Oh, but Susan bakes like an angel."
"An avenging angel," Jem muttered.
He took a swig of warm lemonade, then plumped his head upon Faith's thighs and gave Di a wink. Di made a show of ignoring him and began to weave a braid through Nan's nut-brown hair.
"You should have observed my foresight, dear."
"And landed in a pie whilst trying to land a fish?"
Di tugged a length of her twin's hair with some vigour. "I mean put on a nice, comfy dress."
Nan eyed her sister's faded print. Honestly, Di, could she not even make the tiniest effort? Blousey old dresses were all very well on an 'any ol' day' sort of day. But not for a silken Saturday afternoon–and with that dish, Kenneth Ford, to boot! There was not a hint of the annoying big brother about him now. If Nan could have stopped comparing every young man with a certain minister's son, she might have turned her head at him herself. Strange to say she could not, in which case it fell to Nan to look out for her twin. Though Di might help herself.
She could just see Di was going to go in for all those thoroughly shapeless things that Ken's sister, Persis, assured her were becoming 'all the rage'. Such a funny phrase, it almost sounded like swearing–she might let someone else say it in front of Father first. These new silhouettes were decidedly dowdy. How much nicer it was to be tucked up tight in a satiny corselet and laced up like a present. Though right at this moment she wouldn't mind loosening those laces just the tiniest bit.
Walter was sprawled out next to them and plucking a tiny daisy tucked it behind Di's ear.
"I think a girl with brilliant hair should leave her garb plain. Think of the pre-Raphaelites–"
"Not the pre-Raphaelites again, Walter. Scoundrels and wastrels the lot of 'em!"
"Do stop professing opinions that aren't your own," Faith said to the lad in her lap.
"Think of the pre-Raphaelites," Walter repeated. "All those divine women,"–here he resolutely did not look upon the woman who best fitted that description–"dressed in nothing but smocks–"
"Hah, smocks!" Nan cut in. "Well you said it Walter, I didn't!"
"No one is looking at their smocks," Walter insisted. "Remember Di, what your namesake told us? That Marilla would put Mother in the meanest little dresses and they only made her look more lovely."
"Since when did you care for the feminine mode?" Faith asked him.
She pressed her hand over Jem's mouth as a measure against further interruption. Jem knew how to get around that and instantly licked Faith's palm.
"I'm trying to listen to your brother!" she scolded, wiping her hand on Jem's shirt and staring at Walter determinedly.
"Well I don't, particularly..." said Walter, forgetting his point now Faith's amber eyes were on him.
"Exactly!" Jem declared. "There Faith, he was actually saying the opposite, weren't you, Walt? The trouble with you, Miss Meredith, is that you don't listen."
"Oh, really? Then get an earful of this!"
Faith sucked on her finger and plunged it into one of Jem's famously perfect ears.
"Ken-neth, Jer-ry!" Jem called out. "Put those bally rackets down and lend some aid to us poor fellows. These women are being impossible!"
Two young men appeared from the green behind the rose-hedge, one limping, the other bounding towards their squabbling friends. Jerry sat down by Nan and gave her a lop-sided grin. Ken lowered himself onto the slope by Walter and began loosening his shoe.
"Whatever were you doing, Ken, larking about like that," Nan scolded him, "you're supposed to be resting your–"
"If you so much as mention this accursed ankle, Nan Blythe, the next pie I find will have your face all over it."
"Try it Ford, and your other ankle will be next."
Nan glanced sidelong at Jerry as he said this. There was a hint of humour his quick, black eyes. But the merest of hints for all that.
"No, you really mustn't," Di laughed, joining in. "Nan couldn't eat another thing, could you, darling?"
Nan gave a half-hearted huff. "All right, I would like to change into something more comfortable".
There was the oddest dress that Persis had sent via her big brother, Ken, that she might put on for supper. She would have to tell Rilla she wanted back on their swap–though Rilla's little cap was adorable...
Walter slipped the daisy from Di's ear and twitted her nose with it. "What did I tell you, My-Di. You are dressed to prosey perfection!"
"Prosey perfection... That reminds me," Ken said, pouring himself a drink. "I don't suppose you provincial types caught wind of that scandal in Russia?"
Nan sighed. "Russia, Prussia, bullrusher! That's all you mainlanders talk about. On the Island we hardly need to talk at all. We just listen... to the trees... the wind... the sea..."
Ken stifled a snort. The Blythes listen? Did any family talk more. "In that case you might want to listen to this. Mother wrote me about it last week, it was all over the papers–"
"Yes, we have those here too, Ford."
"Not the rag you wrap the fish in, Jerry, an actual newspaper. There was a dispute between two esteemed intellectuals in St Petersburg who argued for days over what the highest form of literature was, poetry or prose."
"Poetry!" Walter and Di called out together, colliding with another call of, "Prose!" from Jem and Faith.
Jerry remained tight lipped Nan noticed. She suspected the joke he made about her family last evening, wasn't a joke at all. He really did think the Blythes acted like perfect heathens! For Jerry Meredith, the greatest and most beautiful word of all was the Word of God.
"So," she said brightly, "which was decided on?"
"It wasn't. When they couldn't agree, the poet shot the other in the heart and then he shot himself."
"Oh, Ken-neth!" Nan grumbled. Perhaps there was something of the annoying big brother about him, after all.
"Those Russians," Jem said, with equal disdain, "You wouldn't want to depend on them in a pinch."
"We may have to yet," said Jerry, "if those ancient warhorses ever show some sack. All this to-ing and fro-ing about whether we go to war or not. At this rate it'll be our sons who fight for glory."
Nan blushed a perfect rose, wondering if Jerry was referring to their future sons or just to sons in general.
Walter too, was flushed with feeling. He knelt up and looked at the boys, his eyes like cold grey sparks.
"Glory? What glory is there in fighting for those ancient war-horses, as you call them? We ought to be turning every fibre of our hearts to the hope of a lasting peace!"
"I'll tell you where the glory is, little brother," Jem fired back. "In travelling to shores far from our own to defend their right to live as freely as we do."
"If England and the Prussians stayed on their own turf, we wouldn't need to go abroad."
"All this talk of the pre-Raphaelites, Walter, yet you forget before everything else they were a brotherhood. You sound as though nothing could make you leave the Island. Who would you have go and fight for you–Di, little Rilla?"
"Jem!" Faith's voice was sharp. "He doesn't mean that. Do you, James?"
Jem went quiet. While he was used to Faith's jibes and teases, he was not used to her rebuking him like this. It was this constant talk of war that had to be the cause of it; like a virus that spread to even the farthest reaches of the little isle of Prince Edward.
He reached out to scruff Walter's floppy black hair. "No hard feelings, little brother. Of course, you have no taste for war. I forget how ill you've been. You won't have lift a toe off this ol' rock if you don't wish to. Your name will travel the world for you instead."
"Walter, do you mean to say they published those poems?" Ken said, eager to change the subject. "You never said a word, you sly dog. This wants celebrating!"
"We were waiting for Mother and Father to return from Avonlea," said Walter, quietly. "We thought tomorrow..."
"Dash tomorrow, we won't have such a time with them at table–and Susan to boot," Ken added under his breath. "What say we take that private room above the coach house? This news deserves something better than warm lemonade."
"Ah, I see a dark cloud on the horizon," Jerry interrupted. He leaned on his elbow to have a better look at the two figures coming up the lane to Ingleside.
Jem recognised his manner immediately and shuffled away from Faith. "Friend or foe?" he asked, before looking out to the gate where Jerry's eyes were fixed.
"Depends upon the hour, I'd say," Jerry replied, "that woman has more moods than your cat."
If the Blythes were verging on pagan in Jerry Meredith's book, then Gertrude Oliver was a positive witch.
"Hardly a black cloud, Jerry," Ken said, driven by curiosity to look and liking what he saw. "She's the sweetest puff of light I've ever seen."
"No, you dolt, the figure in black slinking in the shadows next to her."
Ken gave that tiny woman a cursory glance, but what was there to hold his attention compared to the angel who walked by her side? Like a long stem of cherry blossom, her lithe arms swinging over filmy, white skirts, her hair worn loose in chestnut waves. With dusky downcast eyes and an utterly kissable mouth, she was loveliness itself.
He found himself sitting up straighter and tilting his boater just so, while his feet twitched with a boyish impatience. It was faintly ridiculous to come over like this, yet here he was scanning the faces of the males in his company watching their reaction. Jem and Jerry were obviously more gone than Ken had supposed to treat this girl's approach with such composure. His only other rival, the dark and brooding Walter, looked over at two girls with nothing more than a brotherly smile.
Well, that was that. Surely this little sea-side village had no other suitor who might outshine him? Ken would insist she come to the party tonight.
His skin began to prickle as a beguiling fragrance whispered over him, one that seemed–improbable but true–to find its source in this radiant girl. He could not resist turning his head to gaze at her again. And she was looking straight at him.
She was smiling, she was blushing...
She was Rilla!