Chapter 6

May, 1894

Miss Hettie Stanley closes the door to the bedroom quietly. Taking a step back Hettie's small frame freezes as the floor underneath creaks. She waits for a cry from the other side should the sound have woken the wee person she rocked to sleep. With no sign of stirring Hettie moves carefully making note to avoid the position again.

The stairs are taken slowly black boots tiptoeing down towards the muffled sound of voices in the drawing room. "Mrs. Gardner?"

Three tall women turn around looking at the door where Hettie stands. The first woman to acknowledge her is Rosanna Gardner. Her small eyes and mouth seem to pinch together every time Hettie is in the room. Newly hired Hettie had learned from her Birchgrove House colleagues to ignore the way Mrs. Gardner's face contorts when staff are before her.

Dorothy Gardener turned next, slim and tall like the elderly lady but with a jolly face always smiling. She was dressed in a lighter tone of purple silk to that of her mother. The women in the Gardner family all dressed in shades of purple, and the colour featured throughout the house.

The last woman to look in the direction of Hettie was a red haired woman with an iris complexion and gray eyes that shone brightly in her lavender gown with simmers of green as she moved in the light.

"She's sleeping peacefully," announced Hettie.

The statuesque woman crossed the room to stand in front of her. "Thank you. An improvement on last night then. She'll be OK with me gone?"

"I'll be sure to sit next door in her nursery until you return should she wake. Now she's walking I imagine she'll sleep a little more soundly too."

"Of course, the extra movement will help tired her body out." The woman let out a sigh as she thought about her little girl growing quickly. "Once she gets used to her new surroundings and all the new faces she'll settle easier too. I do appreciate your help."

The elderly lady cleared her throat indicating to Hettie it was time for her to leave. "I'll see you tomorrow. Enjoy tonight Ma'am."

"Anne you needn't look worried. Such habits will set wrinkles in your face. I don't know why you held off getting a nanny or how you worked on your writing without one. I had at least two at a time for my children and it served them well."

Anne smiled cordially at her mother-in-law. She was about to give a reply when Dorothy, her sister in law and favourite of her husbands family, asked after Anne's new book.

"Very well, Mr. Ford wrote me to say me there is a new print run happening already." Dorothy clapped her hands together smiling jubilantly for her sisters news.

Rosanna sniffed. "Good. We like to here the sales are going well otherwise what's the point."

Anne turned towards the clock as it chimed, hiding her face so she could roll her eyes at the matriarchs statement.

"Time for us to depart soon. The show will start and I don't wish to be late – where is Roy?"

At Rosanna's question Roy stepped through the door announcing he was ready. He walked over to his mother giving her a kiss on the cheek. "Must we go? I don't particularly like The Mikado. It tries to hard to make me laugh and I become very bored."

"I agree, it's not my favourite either. The rest of Kingsport must adore it if the The Academy of Music continue putting it on each year. Which is why you must attend. Opening night is the perfect opportunity step back out in Kingsport society now you've returned from London."

Roy gave a deep velvety smile at his sister knowing he was annoying their mother. "Could we not just make our debut at the McConnells summer picnic on Saturday? Everyone in Kingsport will be there."

"Hush, Roy. You know we need to do this with the way your fathers business has gone. These outings will provide opportunities, new investments. Yes, you – we will go to the Opera."

The Academy of Music is a grand auditorium at the centre of Kingsport, built with the help of families like the Gardners. Opening nights were always a popular place to be even if it was the same opera that had played every other year.

Roy and Anne's arrival in Kingsport was kept secret as recommended by Rosanna. The less lead for gossip and speculation in this town, the better. As the Gardner's of London made their entrance ahead of Rosanna and Dorothy a wave of whispers moved about the hall. Necks craned to get a glimpse of the handsome couple move through the crowd pretending not to notice the commotion they had created. It was all expected and was why both would have preferred the smaller gathering at the McConnells to announce they had returned to Kingsport. Rosanna was convinced an outing on Thursday would provide the newspaper gossip sections enough days to confirm rumours the Gardner's only son has returned to Kingsport with his family. They'll be able to note Royal Gardner dressed elegantly in tails and top hat, while his wife Mrs. Anne Gardner looked radiant in a shimmering lavender-green gown.

The attention was expected yet made Anne feel weary. Roy's routinely squeezed her hand as they moved through the crowd Anne reassuring she was not alone. They'd only arrived in Kingsport a three days ago, the swaying ship was still felt under her feet.

Even within the seclusion of the Gardner's box Anne felt the drain of faces looking in their direction. There was continuous whispers and glances and pointing at the couple. Roy and Anne shared strained glances feeling like they were the show not the one on stage.

Rosanna spent the time commenting on familiar and unfamiliar faces in the crowd, indicating who Roy and Anne should become acquainted with.

Anne could tell Roy was barely paying attention as the names rolled on...Mr. Lacon, Miss Denner, Mr. and Mrs. Julien. Anne nodded her head accordingly to let her mother-in-law know she was listening. Roy was not a gossip and Anne knew Dorothy wasn't one for it either.

"Do you remember Christine Stuart? She has matured beautifully. Look, in Hughes box, opposite."

Anne's attention turned to the direction Rosanna mentioned, her eyes looking at each of the boxes searching for Gilbert.

"The husband took a position at the University I believe."

Christine was sitting with a woman and two men, neither of them Gilbert. Was the man whispering in Christine ear the husband Rosanna was referring to? Where was Gilbert? Anne's heart began to beat faster wondering if Christine and Gilbert divorced. The only way a woman could divorce is through admitted adultery. Divorce was rare, uncommon, hard to come by unless there was evidence of unfaithfulness. Anne's skin flushed and prickled with heat. She turned in her seat willing herself to focus on the show.

"I hope we'll see them at the picnic. The Stuarts are well connected and Amhearst is a thriving town these days. They did well starting out there even though your father, god rest his soul, thought Paul Stuart was an idiot ditching Kingsport and investing his business there."

Perhaps Anne's eyes had betrayed her and it was Gilbert next to Christine. She steals another glance towards the Hughes box. The man is definitely not Gilbert Blythe.

Christine catches Anne's eyes for a moment, a look cold and unfriendly shot across the hall. Anne swallows hard sneaking a glance at her husband and family to see if they noticed. Annes hands grip the fan in her hands, knuckles digging into around the cloth pushing it out of shape.

"I'm feeling a headache come on, may I be excused?" Anne whispers to Roy. He nods then leans to tell his mother who doesn't hide the roll of her eyes.

"Dorothy can go with you, I've been ordered to stay here. I wish headaches were contagious," he says with a knowing smile.

Anne nods a thank you to Rosanna as she moves from her seat, while Dorothy gives Roy a triumphant smile.

The hall is glowing compared to the darkness of the box as Anne moves along it quickly, eager to for fresh air.

"You do look pale, Anne."

Anne smiles at Dorothy's comment. "I'm still getting used to the time change. A good sleep should help."

Dorothy takes Anne's gloved arm, stroking it sympathetically. With arms entwined the two women make their slowly down the stairs. The doors to the hall were wide open, the cool fresh air on Anne's skin was a welcome relief and she took a deep breath as her body neared the exit.