This one-shot comes from a conversation instagrammer, mrsdoctordear and I have been having about Marilla and Anne's relationship. In the 1985 Sullivan version Marilla calls Anne a kindred spirit after she admits to cracking her slate across Gilbert's head and that led me to think there may be more behind her comment.
"But what would you have done if you'd been dared to walk a ridgepole?" Anne asked as her foot throbbed.
"I'd have stayed on good firm ground and let them dare away. Such absurdity!" said Marilla. Over Anne's head and therefore unseen Matthew's eyebrows raised so high they nearly got lost in his hair. Marilla gave him a hard stare and then rolled her eyes when he winked. Redirecting her gaze Annewards she added, "now, now, never mind. I'm not cross with you, Anne. You're an unlucky child and you'll have the suffering of it."
Making her way downstairs after she had settled Anne Marilla prayed Matthew would not spill the beans. The worst thing about co-parenting with your brother was that he knew all your secrets.
"Not one word, Matthew," she said to his grinning face sternly as she sat back down by the fire. "Not. One. Word."
Marilla remembered it like yesterday.
Summer vacation had just begun. She and her schoolmates rushed from the stuffy classroom, free at last. There was nothing like it, the knowledge that they had the next weeks off, able to do whatever they wanted. Beach picnics, long walks and afternoons paddling about in boats beckoned. Naturally they'd be helping their folks with the harvest at some point also, but even that was better, in the imagination at least, than sitting in the dreary schoolroom watching the world pass by.
The first thing on their collective agenda was a picnic at the Steep's place. Steep Hill had been built by Marilla's friend Rachel's father a couple of years prior. Marilla had watched it being built and wondered who this family would be, hoping that perhaps they would have a little girl about her age whom she might befriend.
Rachel turned out to be a complicated associate. Somewhat inclined towards idle gossip. Marilla soon learned not to divulge her closest secrets especially after one embarrassing encounter. She'd told Rachel that she secretly fancied John Blythe and Rachel had blabbed that knowledge to the other girls causing no end of trouble. But the town was small, and it did not pay to exclude people for too long. Apologising profusely Rachel soon crept back into her favour with promises that she would never do it again. To be truthful Marilla was secretly amused by Rachel's antics so long as she was not the brunt of it.
Walking up the track to the Steep place arm in arm with Rachel Marilla thought about all the fun they had ahead of them. Her mother had offered to take her shopping the next week in recognition of all the work she had put in over the year, but just the thought of being free was glorious. But first there was this picnic to enjoy. Sitting around in groups they giggled and chatted about the small intrigues that had been put to one side while the final tests had been undertaken and which finally, they had time to discuss. Eventually though they grew bored of talking. As Marilla recalled it, it all started when someone suggested they play truth or dare.
The usual dares were completed, tree climbing and walking fence poles, swimming across the pond. Breathlessly they watched John Blythe tip toe towards the cantankerous Andrews bull and heaved a sigh of relief when he vaulted the fence with seconds to spare, the animal fairly snorting down his neck. Otherwise, nothing was too outrageous and indeed the truths divulged were innocent enough. Jeannie Sloan giggled and turned bright red when she told of her one true love. Namely, to Marilla's shock, her own brother Matthew. "Good luck with that," she murmured.
The game took a more dangerous turn when Fergus Boulter pointed directly at her. "I dare you Marilla Cuthbert," he said pointedly, "to ride the Pye stallion." Marilla was shocked. She was a pretty fair rider it had to be said. Her papa had seen to that, making sure his children were well versed in animal husbandry and able to acquit themselves on the back of any animal, but the Pye stallion was known thereabouts to be a flighty, headstrong animal. There were gasps all around that this was an unfair dare, especially for a girl but once she heard it Marilla knew she had no choice. "Don't do it Marilla," Rachel clutched her arm. "It's not a fair dare. You won't lose any face refusing. Why I don't think any of the boys would durst to do it either." She turned to Fergus and yelled at him, "you can't make her. If you're so keen, you do it."
Fergus smirked, "She agreed to play, that's my final offer. Marilla's always boasting about her horse-riding prowess, let's see her show us." Ever since Marilla had rebuffed his advances earlier in the year, he wished to see her come to grief, this was the perfect opportunity.
"No, it's fine, Rachel," said Marilla. "Walk with me."
Arm in arm, but head held high Marilla led the crowd to the Pye steading. No one spoke openly to her, but it was apparent they were in awe that she would go ahead with it. Marilla was a proud but quiet girl and if she was spoken about it at all it was usually to question why she was friends with Rachel. The group trailed behind her in a raggle tangle parade and eventually she and they arrived at the gate of the horse pen. There, Marilla's courage nearly failed her, and she quavered for a moment. "Are ya yella?" Fergus said scornfully. He was pretty sure he'd be able to pull proud Marilla off her pedestal.
It was just the impetus Marilla needed. Fixing him with a steely stare she took one step forward.
The stallion was a beautiful beast, bay with black points it fairly glistened in the sun. "Am I supposed to ride it bareback, or will someone please saddle it," Marilla said haughtily, trying to buy time as much as anything. The Pye children rarely went close to the animal and their pa had told them to stay away but they knew they had a job to do today so they fetched the saddle and the eldest, Jacob placed it on the horse's back and fastened the girth while the horse danced daintily in the dust.
Murmuring words of comfort Marilla leapt into the saddle and the stallion stood there as if in shock for a moment before springing away. The crowd drew back quickly rather than get trampled and they watched as Marilla's form grew smaller in the distance.
Once the cheering of her classmates died away it was just Marilla and the horse. He was faster and surer than any animal she had ridden before and heedless of any direction by her it chomped the bit and galloped like the wind. She leant into its neck as her father had taught her and as one, they raced along the track. All she could hear was the wind in her ears, the pounding of the hooves and the snorting of the animal as it ran and ran and ran. She barely knew where she was going, all she could do was hang on tight hoping that it would run out of puff at some point and slow down. A looming fence brought her hope, but she distinctly knew at one point as it gathered itself that it would jump and together they sailed over, her clinging on for dear life.
At one point the horse ducked into the forest and then Marilla was ducking branches as the animal weaved through the trees. All would have been well; she was hanging on handily enough, but the horse was no match for a brace of pigeons and suddenly it side-stepped so that Marilla found herself in mid-air one moment and on the ground another.
She came to sometime later staring woozily at the red dirt beneath her. The horse was long gone, and she was utterly alone. Lying there she all she could hear was pounding whether of her heart or the rapidly disappearing hooves she wasn't sure at first. Gradually as the sound died away, Marilla took stock of her surroundings. First, she pulled herself up to a sitting position wincing when it became apparent that she had hurt her wrist in the fall. Leaning against a nearby tree trunk she looked around trying to work out where she had fetched up.
"Help!" she called out, but the sound bounced off the trees around her muffling the sound. She became aware of the stillness of the forest. Not a bird sang, or animal peeped. A breeze rattled nearby branches and she jumped at the sudden noise, looking around for the source. Was it a spectre? She and Rachel had been delighting themselves with ghost stories recently. One story had been set in an ancient forest, not unlike this she thought absentmindedly. An icy cold shudder shot up her spine when she recalled the date. They'd laughed at the idea that the picnic was planned for Friday the 13th weeks ago, but it was no longer such a joke.
Almost too petrified to move Marilla sat and shook but realised after a while that no help would come, for after all no one had the foggiest idea where she was. Angrily wiping tears from her eyes, she strengthened her resolve especially when the wind rattled the dead branches once more eeeehh eeeehk sounding just like a creaking door, or worse.
Clumsily getting to her feet, her pinafore ripped, and stained Marilla looked around to gain her bearings. She took a few steps in one direction then changed her mind and set off in another praying that home would not be too far away.
Matthew watched his sister as the memory flitted across her face. He recalled how his mother had reacted when she turned up later than expected. Mrs Cuthbert had not been impressed, had certainly been harsher to Marilla than Marilla had been with Anne. Marilla's sprained arm kept her from performing household chores for a couple of weeks, just when their mother had been looking forward to some more help. For all her reputation of austerity, Marilla was gentler with Anne than most people realised and certainly more than she had experienced when she was young.
Marilla rubbed her wrist as she came back to the present. "It's not still painful, is it?" Matthew enquired with some concern.
"Not particularly, I think it's more the memory. Anne's accident brought it all back is all."
"The Pye stallion."
"The Pye stallion. You know until I fell off, I was fine, better than fine. I've never had such an exhilarating time in my life."
"And Fergus Boulter never worried you again."
"No indeed, that was a silver lining. He still crosses the street when he sees me. As if I'd mention it now, after all these years."
Matthew smiled; his sister had many hidden talents. Motherhood may have been a new one, but few remembered her turn as a bronco buster. "You should tell Anne one day."
"Fiddlesticks!" Marilla scoffed. "I'll do no such thing and mind you don't either."