chapter seventeen

Anne nodded mutely. A small hand tugged her one way, and a larger hand tugged the other. She gave into the latter's insistent pull without even knowing she had done it. She was drifting on a current, her feet seemed to float, and a rush of what could only be joy flooded though her body. She never realized until much later that she was outside the store, far away from the mess and the babble inside.

"I cannot believe this," Jerry was pale and shaky. He clapped his hands over his cheeks. "I cannot believe you are actually here."

"I've dreamed of this moment for so long," Anne said softly. "I never forgot you… Jeremiah."

Jerry gave a sheepish grimace, the sort that used to turn the Matron to mush. It looked so out of place on his face, like a smudge on a beautiful painting. Yet it gave Anne comfort because it reminded her of the boy she had long dreamed of.

"They call me Jerry now. I know–I know–I never thought I would answer to it either. But when you meet them, Anne, when you meet my folks..." he took her hand and squeezed it. "Oh, I cannot wait for you to meet them."

"You seem to love them very much–"

"From the moment I came to Avonlea they took me into their hearts," Jerry beamed. "But you know this, surely. You'll have my old letters."

Anne withdrew her hand and shifted away. "I never received any word from you."

Jerry looked just as confused. "I wrote–twice–to Hopetown Asylum. I hope you don't think me churlish but I was always aggrieved that you never wrote back. I thought perhaps you were angry with me–you did have a nasty temper back then–but look at you now!" He gave Anne an appraising look. Wonder was still writ large in his eyes as if he still could not believe what he saw. "I always knew you'd make something of yourself. So tell me," he tucked her arm around his elbow and lead Anne further away from the store. "What is it that brings you here, I cannot believe it's for little old me? I seem to recall you saying you would never step foot in P.E.I."

"Well I… that is…" Anne faltered, unsure how to begin. There was the question of the letters, of course, but what caught her most off guard was Jerry's belief that she had made something of herself. How could she tell him she was little better than a hustler, that the fine clothes she wore weren't even hers. Whilst he was so confident and well-spoken and every inch the gentleman, when she expected–oh, she realized this now–she expected Jerry to be as lost as herself.

"Oh dear, there's Miss Pye," said Jerry. He nodded in the direction of Lawsons and the woman standing outside it with her hands on her hips. "I wish we could talk further, Anne, but I have a prior engagement and I really must keep it. Tomorrow–no, we'd better make it Friday–may I call on you then? I take it you are acquainted with the Blythes. Is that where you are staying–would Friday suit?"

"Jerry!" Josephine was beginning to sound impatient, while her Uncle was visibly huffing. "Uncle is waiting, we really must be going!"

"You understand, don't you?" Jerry said, kissing Anne's hand. He tipped his hand and jogged down the sidewalk. Just before he reached Josephine he turned back to Anne and grinned. "Till Friday, Miss Shirley, I'll see you then!"

Anne did not return to the store for over an hour. She wandered further down the road, dried bits of mud flaking off her skirts as she went. Her heart had finally returned to her chest but it took a long time to find a comfortable spot. It leapt with excitement, then sputtered with anxiety leaving her feeling all over faint. One part of her wished he could have put off his appointment, but there was another–she had to admit this too– that was glad he had gone. She needed time to align the picture she had of Jerry to the one she had just met. And right now two days did not seem anywhere near time enough.

Jerry was equally disconcerted and pleasantly surprised. He was finding it hard to concentrate on what Josephine was saying, especially when she too wasn't making much sense.

"Why I was just sure it was Miss Cherry. There was a house-girl who looked very much like her at Gilbert's boarding house. He even mentioned her in his old letters."

"Perhaps you could leave your musings for another time," Josephine's uncle griped. He had not expected to have to walk all the way to Green Gables farm. This trip to Avonlea had been a favour to his niece and his mind was on the business at hand, not the secret identity of some servant.

"But I tell you, I was sure!"

"Then by all means go over the letters that your old beau sent you, we've got more important matters to discuss."

"Well I would…" Josephine quibbled, "but I have no idea where they are." They had in fact all been burnt to ash along with a cheap enamel pendant Gilbert had given her for Christmas. "How do you know her?" she asked Jerry again. "How exactly, I mean?"

They were crossing the bridge over Barry's pond. Since the broken engagement this place had always made Jerry's heart ache. He never thought he could cross it without remembering his beloved Diana. It was the first time in many dreary days when he didn't think of her at all.

"Miss Shirley? Not very well, to be frank. I haven't seen her since I was twelve. But she made a big impression on me. You never saw a girl so full of grand dreams for herself. She made me believe that I could be something too."

This did little to improve Josephine's mood. She used to think she had done the same for Gilbert. All those years she had prodded him along, all those years he when he would tell her that he really wanted to be a farmer. And then the instant she ended things with him (yes, in her head she had ended it) what did he decide to do? Study furiously for the Cooper! Josephine had convinced herself that Gilbert had done this just to spite her. And while she wouldn't call herself the spiteful sort, it boiled in her blood right now. If she was going to be denied her rightful prize of doctor's wife, then she was determined to take some measure of revenge. With her uncle's help.

During Gilbert's constant droning on about farming she had gleaned a few useful facts. One being that the Cuthberts had made an ill-considered investment in a dairy herd. He had mentioned something about the land there being boggy and unsuited to heavy grazing. Well Gilbert might not have been impressed with an uncle who was chairman of the drainage board, but Josephine instantly foresaw a use for him. She was sure that he could suggest a way to improve the Cuthbert's land–and wouldn't that stick in Gilbert's craw? He would have to watch Jerry's farm go from strength to strength. While Mandorla would surely end with old John Blythe.

Josephine Pye was to be disappointed, however, as people with spite in their hearts often are. After a boring, filthy trudge through the slush covered fields that bordered the brook, her uncle declared that nothing could be done until the source of the spring that fed the brook could be found. He did have a map charting various aquifers in P.E.I. But when the earth was thick with clay like these fields were, there was a chance that diverting the spring would only cause it to bubble up somewhere else–maybe even under Green Gables itself.

"Don't be too disappointed, son," Matthew said, when they marched back from the fields that afternoon.

He placed his gnarled hand on Jerry's shoulder and gave it a fatherly squeeze. His grip was as strong as it ever had been, but Jerry couldn't help notice his fingers shake. He was tiring more easily these days and even seemed to have shrunk a little.

Jerry blamed himself for this. He knew full well the purchase of the stock had been a risky venture, but reasoned if they couldn't use their own land they could make use of Orchard Slope. It lay high on a limestone hill and grew luscious Newtown Pippin apples and Goldrich apricots, when other orchards in Avonlea could not. It was in that very orchard that Jerry had asked for Diana's hand. They had been harvesting the last of the apricots, the air was jammy with the scent of them, when Jerry asked his dearest love if she could pick one last piece of fruit before they turned in for supper. Diana reached up to the branch and found a little silver ring hanging by a ribbon. It was inset with Alexandrites in blues and greens of the sea…

They had made grand plans for themselves as children and dreamed impossible dreams. Diana wanted her castle in the sky, diamond starbursts and marble halls, and how Jerry longed to provide them. But he would always be tied to the land, tied to the people who had given him a home. He would tell himself he would never regret putting Green Gables above his soaring aspirations. But sometimes… sometimes… he did own to wanting more.

That February Diana had come of age, she was now twenty one. A bequest was made known, one that Diana's own family were never aware of until that day. Her great aunt Jo had left her mansion in Charlottetown to the Barry's only daughter. On hearing the news, Diana had broken off their engagement and immediately left for Beechwood.

Jerry patted the hand on his shoulder and wrapped his arm around his Matthew's waist. "It'll work out, Father, I'll make it work out."

"I know you will, Jerry," said Matthew softly. "You never did once let me down."

The same could not be said for Anne. She had returned to Lawsons and found the proprietor was not best pleased. They had only just returned the store to order. There were several yards of brown gingham that wasn't fit to be sold, plus the matter of the acid drops that Ruby Blythe had stolen.

"Stolen?" Anne stiffened. "Oh my goodness, where is she?"

Mr Lawson shrugged. "How am I supposed to know. Now that's ninety cents for the calico, one for the candy, and there's the matter of two dollars on John Blythe's ledger."

"But that hasn't anything to do with me–take this dollar–I must find Lark."

"You can go when I get my money. You're lucky I'm a Christian, else I'd charge you interest on top!"

Anne gave over her last three dollars and Mr Lawson handed her a large paper bag. She didn't look inside it, she didn't care. She dashed from the store, and looked up the road and down. Where would Lark go–how far could she have gotten–could she even be home by now?

Remembering how Lark liked to hide herself, Anne decided it made sense to take her time. She scanned the ground for lost ribbon, the mud for tiny footprints–even a trail of candy would have been something. As she neared the crossroads and caught sight of the bridge her heart reared up in her throat again. Mrs Lynde had said she was afraid that Lark had gone off to the pond! Barry's pond, that's what Lark had called it. She had wanted to visit the Barrys too. They had a piano. Maybe, just maybe that what where Lark had gone.

Anne looked for the hill where the Barry's lived and marched up to the door of the smart grey house. There was no one there. Anne wasn't sure of this was better or worse. She wanted to find Lark but she dreaded another run in with a neighbour. And that's what would happen when it was discovered she had lost John Blythe's granddaughter.

Anne wandered around the garden and entered the walled orchard that grew along the southern slope. And there–oh thank goodness!–was a huddled ball of girl-child crouching on the frosty ground.

"Lark, get up!" Anne said as she ran to her. "You'll freeze sitting there!"

"I can't get up, can I?" she grumbled. "Ovverwise, I would."

"What's wrong–what it is?" Anne asked, though she soon discovered the reason herself. Lark's foot and most of her leg was stuck inside a hole. "Are you hurt?"

"I loss my shoe. It fell down inside the hill. It's gone forever–and it's all your fault!"

"Yes," Anne hugged Lark and hauled her into her arms. "It is my fault. I've been looking for you everywhere."

Lark had not expected that. She was waiting for the lecture. How she was naughty for tearing off and a terrible trial to her poor Granny. That's why she had been left at Mandorla, because Granny Gillis was at her 'wits end'. Satty's wits didn't look like they would end very soon. But it was only a matter of time. And where would Lark be sent to then?

Without her anger to sustain her, Lark suddenly felt very tired. She yielded to the hired-lady's strong embrace and was fast asleep by the time they made it back home.

She was tucked into Satty's chair and brought sweet, hot tea, which Anne spooned between her rosebud lips. Slowly she revived, as did her imperious spirit. When she balked at being treated like a baby and started demanding pancakes, Anne knew Lark had recovered.

"How could you leave me in the store like that?" she asked. "Mister Lawson was very cross. He said I pinched his acid drops and you weren't there to tell him that I let 'em go."

"That was very unkind of him. It isn't right to doubt your word just because you're small. I had to hand over my money too, for something that had nothing to do with me. You were right, Lark, we should never have gone to Lawsons."

Lark gave a satisfied nod. "What money did you give him?"

Anne brought the parcel to the kitchen table and peered inside. Her face crumpled at the sight of all those yards of brown gingham–and the thought of the boots she had once again been denied. She took out the material, there was something hard and round tucked within the folds. With a puzzled glance at the little girl who had sprung up to join her at the table, Anne slowly removed the fabric and found a large snow-globe.

"Oooh" the girls breathed together.

Inside the fragile orb was a delicate tree budding with blossom. Tiny pink and white flecks were scattered around its roots. This was no cheap gee-gaw, this was an ornament of expense and taste. A gift that had surely been saved for and chosen with love.

"Shake it up," Lark said. "Less see!"

Anne was about to do that anyway. She cupped the porcelain base in her hands and shook it gently then laid it back on the table. They watched in quiet awe as the petals whirled around the glass chamber and settled among the filligree branches and the mossy grass below.

"Mr Lawson said your grandfather ordered it many years ago and then refused to pay."

Lark nodded solemnly. "I know what that is. Satty got it for his wife and then… she died."

Anne nodded mechanically. She was remembering Gilbert and their first night together sharing stories by the fire. Her hands went to the globe again and she cupped it the way she had cupped his lovely face. And she heard him; heard his terrible, wonderful words in her head. She had barely thought of Gilbert since she came here, she had kept those thoughts at bay and guarded the gate. Now they swelled up with such unstoppable force and leaked as tears down her cheeks.

"Poor liddle tree, it makes me sad too. It looks so lonely in there by itself. Trees shouldn't be alone, I don' reckon."

"They talk to each other," Anne said with a heavy sniff. "They send messages through their roots underground."

"How do you know that?"

"I read all about it. I know lots about plants and flowers. That cherry tree," she gestured to the globe, "that's a Weeping Higan, I can tell by its shape. The fruit is too small and sour for most people, but birds adore them. In Autumn, their leaves turn the most magnificent bronzey red."

"Like your leaves." Lark unpinned Anne's hat then tugged at a strand of her hair. "Only your bird is missin'. I wonder where he is?"

Tears brimmed fresh in Anne's eyes at the question and she blinked them back again. "He... he had to fly away to build a cozy nest for his baby."

Lark mulled this over, then tossed the hat aside. "Well I like birds who stay," she said staunchly. "You won't leave me will you... Anne?"

Thanks for all your comments. I'm so glad that you want to read more about Jerry. As you can see he is a polite, diligent chap who couldn't hang around for much of this chapter when he had other things to do. But Anne and he will have a good catch up in chapter 18 and hopefully a lot of your questions will be answered then. After that, Diana turns up, and then Gilbert, and then... you (and I) will just have to wait and see! :o)