The Kings and the Pauper
A missing episode between Heirs and Graces and Hearts and Flowers
in response to a challenge on the forum of the Avonleaguide.
"Well, Janet King, how does it feel to be a prospective mother-of-the-bride?"
Mrs. Potts´s penetrating voice caught the attention of everyone in the store, including Janet King´s herself. And she smiled, partly forced because of Mrs. Potts´s insinuating tone, and partly with genuine happiness over her daughter´s courtship.
"Well, I wouldn´t go that far yet, Clara. They´re only courting. They´re still so young."
A cackling laugh. "Oh, I wouldn´t be so sure of that, Janet King. People of the like of Gus Pike – she drawled the name – always marry young."
"And have heaps of children before you know it," Mrs. Biggins added.
Mrs. Potts´s cackling laugh again. And Mrs. Bugle stated: "Face it, Janet, people of that social standing generally aren´t too particular when it comes to proper etiquette. I wouldn´t be surprised if you were to hold your first grandchild in your arms before the year is over!"
Janet´s face flushed as in a rare speechless moment some worrying images rushed to her mind´s eye: her Felicity, barely seventeen by the end of the year, with a heavy baby-belly; in labour; with a child in her arms; and four, five more at her skirts...
She shook her head to clear her thoughts and turned away. "Don´t be ridiculous, Eulalie," she said with as much calm as she could muster. "Gus may not have had a fancy upbringing and all that, but he´s a real gentleman at heart. He worships Felicity; he would never do anything to harm her."
Clara Potts tilted her head and looked archly. "Whatever you say, Janet-dear. Just don´t come crying on my shoulder when that Gus Pike has run off to sea again, leaving your Felicity in misery with all those children..." She turned to Mrs. Biggins. "Before I would allow my daughter to be courted by a sailor! I'm glad my Sally has higher standards than that."
Mrs. Biggins nodded. "I'd never have expected such low standards with the King family either. Shocking, that´s what it is!"
Janet rounded on them in a flash. "And I am glad that Gus has higher standards than to contemplate courting your daughter, Clara Potts! Gus is a fine, hard-working young man, and Alec and I are certain he will get far in life. So mind your own business, if you please."
Mrs. Potts sniggered. "Get far in life. Sure, that´s why he´s so eager to marry into the high and mighty King family."
Behind her, Rachel Lynde looked up from the catalogue she´d been browsing through. "Mark my words, Janet King: that Gus Pike is nothing but an upstart. A social climber, that´s what!"
Janet opened her mouth to retaliate. And realized there was nothing she could say in return. At least nothing that carried any chance of changing the town´s gossips´ mind.
And so, with the ladies´ victorious laugh ringing in her ears, she stomped out of the store.
"Now, now, ladies," Mrs. Lawson´s gentle voice piped up with just a hint of reproach. "Don´t you think you´re being rather harsh on young Gus Pike? He´s not such a bad lad, you know. He always pays promptly for what he buys at the store, and that is more than I can say for many people in this town."
Mrs. Bugle huffed. "Yes, but that´s only because you refuse him even a penny worth of credit, Elvira."
The ladies burst out in giggles, and Mrs. Lawson blushed. "Well, that... that´s only because we... we want to help him. You know... with no parents to teach him how to handle money, we er... Edward and I decided to teach him that you can´t spend what you haven´t got..." Her voice trailed away, and Mrs. Potts quickly cut in: "By letting him go starving whenever he´s out of work and the fish won´t bite." Another cackling laugh. "My my, what a life for the crown-princess of the Kings!"
Outside on the porch, Janet King clenched her fists in the pockets of her overcoat. She had only gone into the store to escape the cold while waiting for the stagecoach to arrive. But now she was so riled up by the ladies´ remarks that she didn´t even feel the cold anymore.
She shook herself angrily. It was nonsense getting all worked up about what other people thought, she told herself. She and Alec were absolutely positive that Gus´s intentions towards their eldest daughter were nothing but honourable. Gus was a fine young man; he was anxious to do right by Felicity, and getting her in the family way before she even finished school was totally unlike him. And they had known him pretty well for several years by now; somehow he had been part of the family long before he officially started courting Felicity a few weeks ago. Why, even the prim and proper Hetty idolized the boy: if that didn´t say enough...!
She forced herself to calm down and take a few deep breaths of the icy winter-air. So beautiful the town was, with hoar-frost lining every outline. Avonlea was beautiful in any season, but wintertime could turn it into a magic winter-wonderland, straight out of a fairy-tale.
Just as she stood taking in all the beauty around her, a soft slither and the rhythmic trot of a four-in-hand caught her attention. And there, beyond the bridge across the small Avon-brook, came the stagecoach.
"Hello Janet!" Malcolm´s voice boomed at her from the box as soon as the coach emerged from the bridge.
Janet waved back, and smiled. Her brother-in-law was still a bit of an oddity, occasionally doing and saying things that no one in Avonlea even dared to think about. In the few years of their marriage her sister Abigail had managed to polish off his most embarrassing traits, but Janet liked him a lot just because of his unconventional behaviour. Still, Abigail would be sighing and blushing inside the coach with her husband´s noisy greeting for sure.
The coach pulled up in front of the general store, and with two swift jumps Malcolm MacEwan stood in front of her. "Hello Janet," he repeated with a glint in his eye as he kissed her on both cheeks. "How are things at the King farm?"
"Very well, thank you. I hope the trip went well?"
"Oh, excellent. This crispy air, it reminds me of the Yukon." He inhaled deeply and loudly. "Will you believe that sometimes I long for the icy climate there?"
Janet smiled. "Well, you´ve certainly lived there long enough to get used to it. But Malcolm, how about helping Abigail and Lucky out before the coach drives on?"
"Oh! Yes. Of course." He turned to open the door and lifted Lucky from his wife´s arms.
And Janet stifled a chuckle. The ladies at the store could gossip all they wanted, but next to her brother-in-law, Gus was the very picture of a gentleman. Never in his life would he forget to help Felicity off the coach. Why, she seriously suspected him of living his life just for Felicity!
No, they could indeed praise themselves fortunate with such a worthy suitor for their daughter. And she, Janet King, was determined to be happy about it!