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CHAPTER XX Gilbert Speaks
"This has been a dull, prosy day," yawned Phil, stretching herself idly on the sofa, having previously dispossessed two exceedingly indignant cats.
Anne looked up from Pickwick Papers. Now that spring examinations were over she was treating herself to Dickens.
"It has been a prosy day for us," she said thoughtfully, "but to some people it has been a wonderful day. Some one has been rapturously happy in it. Perhaps a great deed has been done somewhere today - or a great poem written - or a great man born. And some heart has been broken, Phil."
"Why did you spoil your pretty thought by tagging that last sentence on, honey?" grumbled Phil. "I don't like to think of broken hearts - or anything unpleasant."
"Do you think you'll be able to shirk unpleasant things all your life, Phil?"
"Dear me, no. Am I not up against them now? You don't call Alec and Alonzo pleasant things, do you, when they simply plague my life out?"
"You never take anything seriously, Phil."
"Why should I? There are enough folks who do. The world needs people like me, Anne, just to amuse it. It would be a terrible place if EVERYBODY were intellectual and serious and in deep, deadly earnest. MY mission is, as Josiah Allen says, `to charm and allure.' Confess now. Hasn't life at Patty's Place been really much brighter and pleasanter this past winter because I've been here to leaven you?"
"Yes, it has," owned Anne.
"And you all love me - even Aunt Jamesina, who thinks I'm stark mad. So why should I try to be different? Oh, dear, I'm so sleepy. I was awake until one last night, reading a harrowing ghost story. I read it in bed, and after I had finished it do you suppose I could get out of bed to put the light out? No! And if Stella had not fortunately come in late that lamp would have burned good and bright till morning. When I heard Stella I called her in, explained my predicament, and got her to put out the light. If I had got out myself to do it I knew something would grab me by the feet when I was getting in again. By the way, Anne, has Aunt Jamesina decided what to do this summer?"
"Yes, she's going to stay here. I know she's doing it for the sake of those blessed cats, although she says it's too much trouble to open her own house, and she hates visiting."
"What are you reading?"
"That's a book that always makes me hungry," said Phil. "There's so much good eating in it. The characters seem always to be reveling on ham and eggs and milk punch. I generally go on a cupboard rummage after reading Pickwick. The mere thought reminds me that I'm starving. Is there any tidbit in the pantry, Queen Anne?"
"I made a lemon pie this morning. You may have a piece of it."
Phil dashed out to the pantry and Anne betook herself to the orchard in company with Rusty. It was a moist, pleasantlyodorous night in early spring. The snow was not quite all gone from the park; a little dingy bank of it yet lay under the pines of the harbor road, screened from the influence of April suns. It kept the harbor road muddy, and chilled the evening air. But grass was growing green in sheltered spots and Gilbert had found some pale, sweet arbutus in a hidden corner. He came up from the park, his hands full of it.
Anne was sitting on the big gray boulder in the orchard looking at the poem of a bare, birchen bough hanging against the pale red sunset with the very perfection of grace. She was building a castle in air - a wondrous mansion whose sunlit courts and stately halls were steeped in Araby's perfume, and where she reigned queen and chatelaine. She frowned as she saw Gilbert coming through the orchard. Of late she had managed not to be left alone with Gilbert. But he had caught her fairly now; and even Rusty had deserted her.
Gilbert sat down beside her on the boulder and held out his Mayflowers.
"Don't these remind you of home and our old schoolday picnics, Anne?"
Anne took them and buried her face in them.
"I'm in Mr. Silas Sloane's barrens this very minute," she said rapturously.
"I suppose you will be there in reality in a few days?"
"No, not for a fortnight. I'm going to visit with Phil in Bolingbroke before I go home. You'll be in Avonlea before I will."
"No, I shall not be in Avonlea at all this summer, Anne. I've been offered a job in the Daily News office and I'm going to take it."
"Oh," said Anne vaguely. She wondered what a whole Avonlea summer would be like without Gilbert. Somehow she did not like the prospect. "Well," she concluded flatly, "it is a good thing for you, of course."
"Yes, I've been hoping I would get it. It will help me out next year."
"You mustn't work too HARD," said Anne, without any very clear idea of what she was saying. She wished desperately that Phil would come out. "You've studied very constantly this winter. Isn't this a delightful evening? Do you know, I found a cluster of white violets under that old twisted tree over there today? I felt as if I had discovered a gold mine."
"You are always discovering gold mines," said Gilbert - also absently.
"Let us go and see if we can find some more," suggested Anne eagerly. "I'll call Phil and - "
"Never mind Phil and the violets just now, Anne," said Gilbert quietly, taking her hand in a clasp from which she could not free it. "There is something I want to say to you."
"Oh, don't say it," cried Anne, pleadingly. "Don't - PLEASE, Gilbert."
"I must. Things can't go on like this any longer. Anne, I love you. You know I do. I - I can't tell you how much. Will you promise me that some day you'll be my wife?"
"I - I can't," said Anne miserably. "Oh, Gilbert - you -you've spoiled everything."
"Don't you care for me at all?" Gilbert asked after a very dreadful pause, during which Anne had not dared to look up.
"Not - not in that way. I do care a great deal for you as a friend. But I don't love you, Gilbert."
"But can't you give me some hope that you will - yet?"
"No, I can't," exclaimed Anne desperately. "I never, never can love you - in that way - Gilbert. You must never speak of this to me again."
There was another pause - so long and so dreadful that Anne was driven at last to look up. Gilbert's face was white to the lips. And his eyes - but Anne shuddered and looked away. There was nothing romantic about this. Must proposals be either grotesque or - horrible? Could she ever forget Gilbert's face?
"Is there anybody else?" he asked at last in a low voice.
"No - no," said Anne eagerly. "I don't care for any one like THAT - and I LIKE you better than anybody else in the world, Gilbert. And we must - we must go on being friends, Gilbert."
Gilbert gave a bitter little laugh.
"Friends! Your friendship can't satisfy me, Anne. I want your love - and you tell me I can never have that."
"I'm sorry. Forgive me, Gilbert," was all Anne could say. Where, oh, where were all the gracious and graceful speeches wherewith, in imagination, she had been wont to dismiss rejected suitors?
Gilbert released her hand gently.
"There isn't anything to forgive. There have been times when I thought you did care. I've deceived myself, that's all. Goodbye, Anne."
Anne got herself to her room, sat down on her window seat behind the pines, and cried bitterly. She felt as if something incalculably precious had gone out of her life. It was Gilbert's friendship, of course. Oh, why must she lose it after this fashion?
"What is the matter, honey?" asked Phil, coming in through the moonlit gloom.
Anne did not answer. At that moment she wished Phil were a thousand miles away.
"I suppose you've gone and refused Gilbert Blythe. You are an idiot, Anne Shirley!"
"Do you call it idiotic to refuse to marry a man I don't love?" said Anne coldly, goaded to reply.
"You don't know love when you see it. You've tricked something out with your imagination that you think love, and you expect the real thing to look like that. There, that's the first sensible thing I've ever said in my life. I wonder how I managed it?"
"Phil," pleaded Anne, "please go away and leave me alone for a little while. My world has tumbled into pieces. I want to reconstruct it."
"Without any Gilbert in it?" said Phil, going.
A world without any Gilbert in it! Anne repeated the words drearily. Would it not be a very lonely, forlorn place? Well, it was all Gilbert's fault. He had spoiled their beautiful comradeship. She must just learn to live without it.
Turn to the next chapter: CHAPTER XXI Roses of Yesterday