The air was heavy; the room was suffocating; the walls closing in on him.
Air, light, he needed light, he had to get out! The world was closing in on him, and only the small port-hole gave him some vague light of day. A shimmer of hope.
He grabbed the hateful cane and hurriedly he stumbled out, with the basket he was working on forgotten in his hand. Through the narrow hall, towards the porch. And out into the light.
The door slammed shut behind him as he stood there, breathing deeply to fight off the sensation of suffocation – of drowning. He was safe. He was out. There was light all around him; the light of a slightly overcast summer-sky. No howling wind, no rolling thunder or lashing rain. No ripping sails or breaking wood. No exploding boilers.
"You want to come outside, boy?"
Waveringly he touched his way towards the bench in front of the porch. But she already took his arm and guided him over.
For a moment he wanted to pull away, unwilling to need literal guidance from anyone.
But then he resigned and sank down on the bench.
For a few minutes he just sat there, idly turning the basket-to-be in his hands. Out of sheer habit they started to continue weaving, and only moments later he heard Miss Lydie put down a bundle of that detestable reed beside him. He felt like shouting, yelling, roaring. But all he said was a meek ´thanks´, as his fingers continued with the only work he was still capable of, and Miss Lydie returned to her laundry-line.
They both worked in silence. And as his hands expertly wove the reed into the basket, his mind went back and forth between despair of having failed, fear for Felicity's future, and – silly enough – gratitude for her not minding about his handicap; for still loving him, despite all the harsh words he had said to her this afternoon.
Still. For how long? Her love would die for sure once she'd fully realize what a life with him would be like. He couldn't do that to her. He'd have to keep trying. And if he couldn't convince her, perhaps he could convince her companions. For all of a sudden he realized it would be very unlike Mr. and Mrs. King to allow their daughter to undertake such a journey all by herself. And whoever was with her might – had to! – be more open to listen to reason than Felicity herself, after just having found her presumed dead fiancé. Maybe they could...
"Come on you all. Come on. Inside."
Miss Lydie's voice not only made him aware of Ruby and Benjamin playing nearby, but also seemed to announce a visitor. A visitor for him.
Who? Felicity? He braced himself for what he'd have to say again...
The person in question came closer; the rustle of the clothes betrayed it to be a female. But he refused to speak until she'd reveal herself.
And she did. "Well. Gus Pike."
An involuntary shiver went down his spine. No one, no one in the world pronounced his name so sharply cut, so clearly, save for... Miss King! Miss King, his main benefactor over the past years!
Mr. and Mrs. King he could have withstood. Not easily, but he would have managed. Felix likewise, as well as Jasper and Mrs. Dale.
But Miss King...?
She had continued talking, but he had missed what she said. But she was clearly waiting for an answer.
Well, at least he could try: "Go home, Miss King. Nothing you can say will change my mind," he said as placidly as he could under her scrutiny.
Clearly it was not a good answer to whatever her question had been: "Change your mind! Pshaw! You think I care a wit if you sit here and rot after making such a fool of me?"
His head snapped up. "Fool of you?!" How could he ever make a fool of Miss King?!
But she had already continued: "Yes. I had such hopes for you, Gus Pike. Always, you were bright, you were ambitious... But most of all you had spirit. Or so I thought. That's why I tutored you and fussed over you and cuddled you... And for what! So you could hide away here, and throw your life to the wind!"
He took a deep breath. She was so right... once. But now... "It was no sense you and Felicity coming here. If you care about your niece, you'll take her home."
Suddenly the shadow in front of him grabbed him by the collar of his shirt, and instinctively he shrank back.
"Don't you give me that pious face or I'll slap you!" He could hear she was terribly upset now, but she let go of his shirt and started pacing in front of him.
"All along you said she was too good for you. Too good for you! Well, now I'm inclined to agree!"
He flinched – stiffened. It was one thing to remonstrate that fact to himself – but to hear someone else actually say it...!?
But Miss King continued mercilessly: "Oh, and not because you've lost your eyesight, boy, but because you're a coward!"
Something snapped inside him, and he roared back: "I'm not a coward! You don't know what it feels li..."
"Shut up!" Miss King commanded, but in the rage he suddenly felt he started again: "You don..."
"Shut up!" Miss King yelled passionately in his face. "You have nothing to say that I want to hear! If you not have the guts to fight back, then... go on! Lie down and die for all I care!"
He heard her stomp away, he sensed Miss Lydie´s presence somewhere behind him on the porch. But most of all there was a rage, a blind rage in him.
´I'm not a coward! What does she know?! She knows nothing of sacrifice; nothing about being blind, and dependent on other people's charity! Nothing about...!´
Suddenly he flung away the nearly finished basket in his hands. He heard it crash somewhere in the bushes across the lawn, but he couldn't care less about baskets now.
"I'll show you, Miss King," he muttered through clenched teeth as he grabbed his cane and got up from the bench. "I'll show you who's got guts here. Easy for you to lecture a blind man, but I'll show you that I can do more than just sit here and rot!"
He heard Miss Lydie come off the porch as he made his way across the garden. "Gus! Gus Pike, where are you going?"
"To the hotel, to give Miss King a piece of my mind," he answered hoarsely.
Miss Lydie caught up with him. "Good on you." He heard her smiling. "But you can't go there barefoot and in your undershirt; they'd never let you in. Come inside and I'll fetch you a shirt of Joseph's."
He struggled, but Miss Lydie was inexorable: she pulled him back into the house, into the bedroom and placed a smooth cotton shirt in his hands. "Put that on," she told him. "Then you can go and give Miss King a good piece of your mind. Benjamin can take you there."
"I want to go by myself. I can do it," he insisted as he quickly put his arms through the sleeves.
"Don't be foolish now. You've never even been in that part of town; you'd only get yourself lost. And you do want to get to Miss King as soon as may be, don't you?"
That was true. But he still pushed her hands away when she wanted to give him a hand in buttoning up the shirt. "I can manage, thanks."
She put some other things in his way: socks, his boots, a comb... Had he ever made himself presentable so quickly?
When he was done and eagerly touched his way outside again, he heard Miss Lydie and young Ben come out of the living-room.
"You know where it is, don't you? The Beaufort hotel, that fancy white building near the harbour. You be a good boy and take Gus there, won't you?"
He felt the boy's hand slide in his as soon as he stepped outside.
"Good luck now!" he heard Miss Lydie call after them as they stepped out into the street.
It was quite a walk, and apart from Benjamin begging him every now and then to slow down, not a word was exchanged between the two. Young Ben was too much out of breath from trying to keep up with him, and he was totally focused on getting to the hotel as quickly as possible. He would have run all the way in his indignation if it hadn't been madness in this environment.
He pricked his ears as he picked up the polite chatter he knew so well from the White Sands. Was this the Beaufort hotel; were they getting close?
He felt how young Ben suddenly hesitated. And a voice, an oh so dear and familiar voice greeting him in happy surprise: "Gus?"
Her hand on his arm caused a jolt of electricity, and his anger towards Miss King was instantly forgotten. For no matter what, and despite all he had said and that he had tried to convince her and himself of, he knew that Felicity still had complete power over him. He still wanted her, more than anything in this world.
But Ben tried to hide behind his back, clearly scared of all those fancy white people. It reminded him of himself, the first time he had entered the good old White Sands hotel.
He stroked the boy's head. "It's allright," he told him quietly. "Don't be scared. Run along home now."
Immediately the boy took off; clearly he needn't be told twice.
And with a slight smile he turned back to Felicity. Still his Felicity.
She took his hand, hooked her arm through his and guided him somewhere down a few steps and onto a patch of grass, away from the chattering guests on what he presumed to be a terrace. It felt good to be guided by her; he felt no urge whatsoever to pull away from her and find his own way with the sole help of his cane. Felicity – the best thing ever to happen to him.
At last she spoke. "I had to find you, Gus. You've got to come home. Where people know you. And love you. Home."
Home. P.E. Island. Avonlea, the only place he even remotely referred to as ´home´ – because Felicity was there. But apart from that...
A twitch of pain crossed his face as he turned to face her. "I've travelled, Felicity." The first time he used that beautiful name again in her presence. "And I've seen things: the Southern Cross in the night-sky... The fire of St. Elmo, dancing on the water..." His eyes wandered off, searching the horizon for all those wonders his eyes no longer could beheld. "Land hovering the horizon from the mist... I've seen the sun, rising on old Spanish ports and the older towns of the Maya." He gulped at the mention of all the beauty his eyes once had beheld. But right in front of him now was the most beautiful creature of all. He lowered his eyes onto where he presumed her face to be. "And I'll never see again. I'll never see your face again..." He fell silent; bitterness and grief evident on his face.
Again, Felicity put her hand on his arm. "You've got to come home," she urged him.
It was evident what she was aiming at: home to her. But could he really do that to her?
"Have you any idea what a future would be like with me?" he therefore asked her slowly, emphasizing nearly every word.
Her reply came quickly and honestly: "No. But I know what it would be without you."
He gulped. She was right. He hadn't thought of that, but Felicity knew all too well what life was like without him. For more than a year, she had lived with the assumption that he was dead. Gone forever. And yet at the first vague sign of life, she had taken off on something close to a wild goose chase, and when she had found him, she flatly refused to leave him even when he told her in very plain words that he didn't want her anymore.
It grieved him to learn just how miserable she must have been: to prefer a life in an unknown city in a faraway country, with a man who insists he doesn't love her anymore, over turning back to her family on the beautiful island she called ´home´.
But he still didn't want to stand in the way of her happiness; those reasons were still terribly valid. It still hurt like hell to force out the words that one day might shatter the one and only dream of his life, but... He cleared his throat. "I won't hold you to your promise. You don't have to marry me."
He sensed her beaming smile. "We'll just take it one day at a time."
In an impulse he brought her hand to his lips and pressed a loving kiss on her fine fingers. She still wore his ring. She still considered herself his.
And as she took his arm to guide him further across the lawn, he sensed how she simply radiated with happiness.
And as they sat down on some kind of double rocking-chair, and he felt her snuggling up to him, holding his hand, he realized that perhaps... perhaps, if he was willing to fight for it, life might just have a happy-ever-after in stock after all.
Even for the likes of him.