I was reading over some of my old stories and kept coming back to the ones that featured Leslie and Owen. The next thing I knew I was tucking into Anne's House of Dreams, and piecing out Leslie's story, noting every reference to her and her people. I shared all this with FKAJ, who knows all the Anne books almost word for word. She agreed there was a whole lot of scope for the imagination, and that was all the encouragement I needed to begin. The following chapter came out whole-cloth, which is always a good sign. And while this isn't strictly an Anne story, it is a love story, and one I know I just have to write.
There are four parts: The Snare, The Cage, The Door Ajar, and Learning to Fly. I'm not sure if I will post them all together, or post each part separately the way I did with the Redmond Diaries. I guess it depends on their length. I'm also not sure whether many of you will be interested in this story, but as the saying goes… Writers write!
With love and gratitude to L.M.M. and FKAJ ~ you are truly kindred spirits!
THE STORY OF LESLIE MOORE
I'd rather be a sparrow than a snail
Yes, I would
If I could
I surely would
I'd rather be a hammer than a nail
Yes, I would
If I only could
I surely would
Part One: The Snare
The book was in her grasp. One more throw and she would have it.
Leslie took a step back and considered the distance, weighing the wooden hoop in her hand. She had spent a whole year preparing for this moment; set a great iron nail into the willow outside her window and patiently practiced her throw. She was taller now than she was last year which helped a little, though Leslie's true strength lay in her will. It never occurred to her for one minute that the dusty book set high on the shelf of the tinker's stall would be won by someone else. No one else would have wanted it. Five Hundred Years of Verse. It had to be eight inches thick. So, the gold lettering had worn away and the maroon buckram cover had faded to brown. It was the inside of something, the heart, the mystery, that mattered to Leslie West.
While she might have had smarts and an enterprising spirit, Leslie was known for her beauty. At sixteen she was already tired of the fawning admiration – not that folks at the Harbour Fair had much sympathy for that. She did not have to look at the crowd around her to know it was made up of boys and men. The young ones were muttering bits of advice, the older ones were telling those boys to hush. Most of them were wishing lovely Miss West would miss this final throw in the Hoop Toss so that they could win it for her. And one man planned to do just that.
Leslie smelled him first, the tang of alcohol that scented his sweat. He tucked in so close beside her that her skirts brushed over his hip. Leslie fought against the urge to shift away. If she wanted to make the topmost hook she must keep her feet planted right where they were. The man seemed to take encouragement at this and when she gave him a cool look he broke into a grin. He had the whitest teeth Leslie had ever seen and a tiny scar on his upper lip.
"Would you mind?" she said, nudging him with her elbow. "You're in the way of my throw."
The man slanted his wide brimmed hat over one eye, the other closing in a wink. The gesture was so brazen Leslie found herself waiting to see what he would do next. His thick lashes lifted slowly revealing an iris of icy blue.
"Pardon me, little lady," he drawled, darting behind her.
Leslie gave an impatient huff and sized up her aim again.
"You'll miss it if you throw like that."
He had positioned himself on the other side of her now, a smug look all over his handsome brown face.
"What makes you think so?" said Leslie, gesturing to the hoops she had hooked so far.
She had forgone the pink soap on the lowest shelf, the dolly-mop on the second, the five yards of red ribbon which had tempted her for a moment, and the large oval platter with a pretty blue transfer. There was just the top shelf left displaying her book, a miserable finch in a small brass cage, and an enormous, overstuffed dog with a tongue of orange felt and floppy sheepskin ears.
The man bent in so close the brim of his hat grazed her flushing cheek. "Wind's changed," he murmured. "Takes a sailor to know."
Leslie's nose wrinkled. So it was rum she smelled. She thought of her of Papa's medicines, the syrupy reek of his ragged breath. "Would you please move back?" she said, more cold than was polite.
Some boys began muttering the same thing, though none dared to say it out loud.
"Just trying to help."
He tipped his hat before stepping away. Flustered, Leslie swung back her arm.
"Inch to the left," he said, winking again.
Angry now, Leslie glared at him, then made a small gasp. The icy blue eye was now a greenish hazel and before she knew it the hoop had left her hand. Leslie did not bother to see where it had landed. The instant she threw it she knew it was off. Pivoting hard, she shouldered through the crowd, the bolder lads offering their commiserations as she swept by.
Foolish, weak, petulant girl! She had wasted five pennies, and for what? It wouldn't surprise her if this was all some plan on the tinker's part. The moment anyone had a chance to win something on the top shelf he sent someone out to play a cheap trick. Though how that man had managed to change the colour of his eyes even Leslie could not guess.
There was no time to think on this further, however, the judging was about to begin. Leslie smoothed back her thick gold hair, tucking it under her best straw hat, and entered the tent. She had not gone two steps when a grubby hand tugged eagerly at her skirts.
"Did you win it, Miss? Me 'n Myra was sending up prayers for you something fierce."
Leslie gave the boy a rueful smile. "You're not to bother the Lord with such foolish requests, Henry Crawford," she said, rumpling his close-cropped hair.
"Aw, I reckon you missed it then," said his sister, whose own shorn hair was woefully disguised by a wonky gingham bow. "If we take Best Carrot, Miss, we'll give the penny to you!"
Leslie's smile grew warmer and she dropped quick kisses on the Crawford children's heads, the stink of kerosene lingering on their scalps. She knew what an extra penny would mean to them – and to most of her pupils.
"My dear Miss West!"
Saul Elliot waddled over and offered to escort Leslie to a long trestle table at one end of the tent. Neat plates of scrubbed vegetables and vases brimful of early Summer blooms had been laid out along it just so. This was Leslie's first year as judge which is why she had been put on the children's table. Lace, baking, jam and crochet were the preserve of the Glen's most respected matrons. Leslie would have to be married ten years before she would be invited to join.
"My Lowbridge pupils are at this end," said Mr Saul. He patted his round belly and hummed to himself, waiting for Leslie to admire it all.
"And Over-Harbour?" Leslie asked, scanning the table.
"Haven't turned up yet. One minute more and they shall have to be disqualified."
Leslie had a good idea why. The Over-Harbour teacher was fourteen years old and hopelessly disorganised. Knowing there was nothing else for it she gave Saul Elliot a playful smile.
"Come now, Saul, where's your Christian spirit? This is for the Church Mission after all."
Saul Elliot melted like a pat of butter in the sun, his ears were almost vermillion. "We-ell, I did hear the roads up that way are all churned up from last night's rain. I suppose we could give them a little more time."
Miss Mason turned up just as Leslie was bringing Saul his second cup of tea. His flabby face turned an interesting shade of purple as he watched Nettie Mason and one of the Simpson brats ruin the neat rows of Lowbridge entries so that they could fit their produce there.
At two o'clock the tent was emptied and the teachers convened around the table. Saul was weighing up a Crawford carrot against a MacAllister bean. Nettie was sampling a few more of the Dunleavy cherries, and Leslie was trying not to notice how much the plate-sized chrysanths Mary Simpson had entered looked just like the ones that had been plucked from her neighbour's garden two days before.
"You're giving a First to Homer Smith?" said Nettie, through a mouthful of cherry pits.
Saul took the blue rosette from Leslie's hand, his pudgy fingers trembling as they brushed against her palm. "She meant to put it here, didn't you, my dear?" he said, tucking the rosette against a larger, duller pod of peas.
Leslie was quick to correct him, and wished she had sounded as resolute when she spoke to that magic-eyed man. She sighed inwardly at the thought of waiting another year before she could try for that book again.
"The Purcell peas are larger," she conceded, "but the Smith peas are so tender and sweet –"
"But Miss West…" Saul looked flummoxed. He hardly liked to press the point and risk dear Leslie's annoyance, but rules were rules. "Everyone knows the Smiths use their own seed stock."
"All the more reason to reward them."
"But Moore's General Store sponsors this event –"
"What he's trying to say," Nettie interrupted, "is that the judges are expected to give Firsts to the folks who buy their seed from Moore's."
It was on the tip of Leslie's tongue to ask if Nettie was joking. But she knew she was not. Only this morning, Leslie's mother had reminded her to do right by Abner Moore. Leslie assumed this merely required making a short speech of thanks. She should have known there was far more politicking involved.
"Those Moores!" Leslie grumbled, "they've got a hand in everything –"
"Not everything," said a voice behind her, "not yet at least."
Nettie shuffled away from Leslie. Saul gave a cringing nod. Leslie looked over her shoulder and sucked in a breath as she watched the man from the Hoop Toss swagger up to the table.
He removed his hat with one hand, the other was behind his back. "Little Leslie, isn't it?"
"Do I know you – sir?" She had almost forgotten to add the last word as she purposely sought out his eyes. There had been no trick after all. One eye was hazel and the other was blue.
He cocked his head to one side and gave her an easy grin. "Don't you know me, Leslie West? You were in the Infants class when I was in my last year of school. You were a pretty wee chick I recall, but now…"
He whistled long and low as his eyes trailed over her slowly. A heated look lingering in his eyes and cooling quickly at Leslie's reply.
"I don't recall you at all."
"Leslie," Saul said, embarrassed. "This is Dick. Abner Moore's son."
"Dad couldn't make it," Dick explained, his hand still behind his back, "so I'm here in his stead. I've been searching for you everywhere. I wanted to apologise… I've got something here I think you'll like."
Saul's small brown eyes stretched wide. Dick Moore wasn't the sort to apologise to anyone.
A hopeful smile played on Leslie's lips. The sleeve of Dick's shirt was straining over his muscles as though he held onto something with a bit of weight. Could it be… did he really… Her mouth fell open. It was all she could do not to snatch the great book out of his hand.
Dick noticed where her eyes were drawn to and smiled to himself. "No peeping, little Leslie. You just close those sweet blue eyes of yours and hold out your hands."
It was a measure of how much Leslie longed for this book that she complied so readily. Nettie's squeal should have served as a warning but it wasn't until Leslie felt the shape of the gift in her hands that she realised what it was. Overstuffed. Hairy. Smelling of mothballs.
"What a sweet dog!" Nettie cried.
Leslie held the toy close to her face, terrified the tears that were stinging her eyes would spill down her cheeks. How could anyone choose such a monstrosity?
"You hate it, don't you?"
Dick Moore was at her elbow again. Leslie shook her head.
"I… I'm just surprised."
"Little liar," he said just loud enough for her to hear. He snatched the stuffed dog from her arms. "Here!" he said, thrusting it at Nettie, "I reckon you like it more."
Nettie clutched the dog to her, peering at Leslie uncertainly. Saul fussed over his perfectly placed rosettes.
"I did not mean to appear ungrateful, Mr Moore."
Leslie glanced at the stuffed dog, regretfully. If she had been able to hide her feelings she would still have it now, perhaps she could have made a swap with the tinker. The tears were so close she was afraid to blink. She hadn't cried for the longest time, not since before her brother died. It was the unnerving way Dick Moore stood so close to her, the unnaturalness of his eyes. The way he had managed to snatch her dream from her. Not once, but twice.
She felt unsteady and wished more than anything that he would go. But she knew he would not. He was representing his father's store and would surely be watching over every rosette she gave out. The thought of being trapped here with him in this humid little tent, while Saul bowed and scraped in his presence and Nettie patted that wretched dog was more than she could stand.
"I'm afraid – I'm not feeling well…" she announced, looking over Dick's broad shoulder for the way out.
"Leslie, you can't leave," Saul whined, "you haven't decided on your winner's ribbon yet."
Leslie darted past them all, pausing at the opening of the tent. The air outside smelled of hay and taffy and was threaded with salt from the harbour breeze. She breathed in deep before making her reply.
"I told you," she said, ignoring the flash in Dick Moore's eyes, "the Smith boy takes First Prize."
*lyric from El Condor Pasa by Jorge Milchberg, 1923 (music by Daniel Alomía Robles, 1913)
Thank you for reading, as ever I would love to know what you think. kwak.