Anne of Green Gablins
The laundry blew gently in the glorious Avonlea breeze, waves of freshly laundered sheets against the magical blue sky. The day was sunny in the brisk June morning, with a hint of sea in the air. Marilla Cuthbert was always slightly distrustful of sunshine, which seemed to her too dancing and irresponsible a thing for a world which was meant to be taken seriously. Even as her soul soaked it in and became fortified from it, something about the golden waves tempted out the magic in her.Some days she became flushed with the want of it, but she almost always abstained unless she just did not have the mortal strength to accomplish a necessary task.
Marilla hung a corner of the sheet with a pin, quickly fastening two more in between and one more on the end. A strong wind swept up. The clean laundry snapped and fluttered like sails upon the boisterous air. When all of a sudden the end of the laundry line slipped loose from the post, Marilla quickly grabbed a hold. Another strong gust whipped the line, the damp laundry, and Marilla into the air. The windbegan tugging her like a kite tail toward the clouds. Wrapping the loose end around her fist she held on. And then, as if it had a change of heart, the wind gently set her down and went on to rattle the leaves in the trees near the edge of the garden. She thought she saw that telltale flash of yellow, but she ignored the warning, trying to get the freshly scrubbed laundry back up before it got soiled. Those devilish Green Gablins never came this close to the house, she reassured herself, not anymore. Marilla handily fixed the laundry line back to the post with a twist, a rusted nail and the hammer of a rock.
The cow let out a long deep bellow. Marilla looked up just as Old Dolly began to heave and prance, clumsily trying to shake the Green Gablin off its haunch. Grabbing a hoe, Marilla went after the nasty feathered demon, swinging at it with all her might. The fight quickly became feathers flying and teeth gnashing. Her dress was torn, it made a scratch on her arm with one of its sharp toe nails.
“Well fiddlesticks!” she cried, taking quick, careful aim. With a few well-placed blows to the neck and spine, the slinky monster was finally dispatched. Marilla rested on the handle of the hoe, thinking how that orphan boy could not come soon enough. She and her brother were getting too old to defend Green Gables, all of Avonlea really, from this new batch of stronger, greener monsters. Her eyesight was weakening, her muscles ached from everyday chores. And for the first time in ages, one of those things got a scratch into her.The cow’s wound needed cleaning and stitching. Before she went inside to get her sewing kit, she got the dead Gablin sacked, pocketed a few of its feathers, and cleaned the mess off her immaculate meadow before any of it could blow around. She could not imagine the fuss her neighbor, Mrs. Rachel Lynde would makeif she spotted even one feather of a Green Gablin floating down her portion of her precious, sweet brook.
North of the Cuthbert’s that gentle brook was a roaring river with many dark, secret pools that caught the cascades of bubbling, clear water from several tributaries, the favored place for the nests of the slinky, nasty Green Gablins and their sneaky young. Easily hidden there, they could shake the trees with all their temperamental uproars as they prepared to raid the nearby farms. Livestock, cattle, sheep, goats, chickens and sometimes a small child were their favored foods. The slinky, devious, vicious monsters often seemed to attack people out of spite, too. No one used to take their presence lightly, for some, even a scratch could be deadly, but now Marilla wondered about Avonlea’s resolve. Taking the cow by the horn, she led the old girl toward the house where she would prepare her for a quick surgery, glancing down the road for any sign ofmore Green Gablins, or a certain neighbor.
Marilla Cuthbert’s closest neighbor, nosey Mrs. Rachel Lynde, lived in the hollow at the tip of the peninsula where the Avonlea main road was forced to cross her path. Her house had been built precisely there in order to observe anyone or anything coming or going. When the road was empty she took pleasure in scrutinizingthe pretty brook that traversed the road for signs of trouble, too.
If she saw anything odd or out of place she would never rest until she had her weapon out ready to strike the evil down, and quickly, or in absence of something so dramatic, to find out what was happening in Avonlea before anyone else could. It is always best to never underestimate a woman such as Mrs. Rachel Lynde, no matter how tempting she might make it.
Still, in many ways, she came by her watchfulness honestly. In the early days, she had been part of the old All Women Fighting guard, and therefore enjoyed a prominent position in Avonlea society. All of her ilk were gallant fighters in their day, heroic even. Together they had killed many a Green Gablin using techniques that had certainly held up to the test of time even if the modern generation called them old-fashioned. A long, narrow sword, a good, swinging counter puncher could do the trick even with a swarm of the awful creatures. It was all in how well a fighter understood those devils’ vulnerable spots. The All Women Guard were all very talented fighters, and prodigious knitters, too. Her early training in Green Gablin wrangling had been so immaculate, she could easily fight a gablin while ferreting out the latest gossip even in the midst of bloody turmoil. Ah, she sighed, those were the days.
As Marilla Cuthbert sewed the slash in her cow’s haunch with a narrow strip of boiled leather and a curved, steel needle, Rachel Lynde watched out her window. To her surprise, there went Matthew Cuthbert, at half-past three, driving breezily past, wearing a white collar and his best suit of clothes, which was plain proof that he was going out of Avonlea. And he was driving the jingling buggy hitched to the soaring mare, several weapons were near at hand, which meant that he was going a considerable distance, too. When, like her husband, he should be out in the fields planting his late turnip seed. If Matthew was not going to work in the fields, well then he should be busy shoring up the fence line. After all it was that time of year when those wicked, slinking Green Gablins became most active.
“Humpf,” she said. “He never visits anyone. If he’d run out of turnip seed he wouldn’t dress up and take the buggy to go for more. And he would have only carried one weapon to Carmody. He wasn’t driving fast enough to be going for a doctor. Yet something must have happened to start him off.”
Mrs. Lynde became so vexed she shifted in her seat which briefly tangled her yarn. This took her a minute to fix, further vexing her. She set her knitting aside and stood.
“I won’t know a minute’s peace of mind until I know where Matthew Cuthbert is going. I’ll just step over to Green Gables and find out from Marilla where he’s gone and why,” Mrs. Rachel said to no one, her house being empty.
Mrs. Rachel Lynde put on a hat, and out of habit, sheathed her Gablin sword—she wore it across her back, like all proper ladies did– before setting out for the short walk.
The big, rambling house where the Cuthberts lived sat a good half mile up the road from Lynde’s Hollow at the end of a long lane that made it a good deal further. When founding his homestead, the Cuthbert’s father had built as far away as he could from the main road without being inside the dangerous woods. Mrs. Rachel Lynde did not approve of keeping such a socially isolated place, when everyone else’s house sat right on the main road, but the Cuthbert’s did take on the brunt of the responsibility for keeping those green gablins out of Avonlea. The Cuthbert’s father had taken the risk of building on the Green Gablin swath, clearing a good portion of those dangerous woods and planting crops, bringing order to the wild, wild woods. Over time, the Cuthbert’s had softened the name of their place to Green Gables, and had built the house to reflect that gentle sobriquet, but they never forgot their duty to keep the monsters back. Not while Mrs. Rachel Lynde lived near enough to remind them, anyway. She knew her duty to Avonlea, too.
“Matthew’s leaving in that way is almost rude, that’s what,” she said to herself as she stepped along the deep-rutted, grassy lane bordered with wild rose bushes, and other natural lushness, taking a steady, surveying glance for that telltale flash of yellow, that odd glowing light the wicked Green Gablins let off right before they made their attack. Although none would dare venture this close to good society.
“It’s no wonder Matthew and Marilla are both a little odd, living away back here by themselves. Fighting those demons as if no one else could help them. Trees and cows and chickens aren’t much company. I’d ruther look at people. To be sure, they seem contented enough, but then, I suppose, they’re used to it. A body can get used to anything, even to being hanged, as the Irishman said.” Again Mrs. Rachel spoke to herself, being the only person present.
Before Mrs. Rachel stepped out of the lane into the backyard of Green Gables, she struck the bushes with her weapon, taking a keen-eyed sweep of everything. The milk cow seemed to be closer to the house than absolutely necessary. Besides the overfed animal chewing on the tall grass, the yard was green and neat and precise, lined on one side with great willow trees and on the other with primly trimmed shrubs. The slender birches were covered in tangles of vines. Flowers bloomed in riots of colors, just as they were expected to. Not a stray stick nor stone was out of place, for Mrs. Rachel would have noticed immediately.
Mrs. Rachel rapped smartly at the kitchen door and stepped in when Marilla bid her to enter. The kitchen in Green Gables was almost painfully clean, but still somehow cheerful, too. Its windows lined both east and west walls. The west one looked out on the back yard, and let in a flood of mellow June sunlight, casting a rather golden effect. The east held the most notable view of the furiously blooming cherry trees, now all a-fluff with that blizzard of lacey,blossom snow.
Marilla sat in the chair near the window knitting, the table behind her already laid for supper, for three, the obvious sign that they were expecting onlyone guest. Because the dishes were everyday dishes and there was only crab-apple preserves and only one kind of cake, the expected company would be someone ordinary. Yet what of Matthew’s white collar and the soaring mare? Who did they have to pick up? Mrs. Rachel was getting fairly dizzy with this puzzling mystery, coming from this usually quite un-mysterious, rather dull house.
“Good evening, Rachel. This is a real fine evening, isn’t it? Won’t you sit down? How are your folks?” Marilla was a tall, thin woman, with angles instead of curves; her dark hair showed some gray streaks and was always twisted up in a hard little knot at the nape of her neck. The two wire hairpins that were stuck aggressively through it, were expected to keep it in place without fuss. Although it did look freshly combed to Mrs. Lynde’s keen eye.
“We’re all pretty well,” said Mrs. Rachel. “I was kind of afraid you weren’t, though, when I saw Matthew starting off down the road. I thought maybe he was going for the doctor.”
Marilla’s lips twitched from holding back her smile. Of course the two women maintained a respectful friendship. They were once a part of the most successful squad of all-female-Gablin fighters, the Valiant Gold Flayers. Any of their dissimilarities had become irrelevant through those early battles. And now, they were neighbors. Marilla had expected Mrs. Rachel to show up, knowing that the sight of Matthew jaunting off in such a way would be too much for her neighbor’s immense curiosity.
“Oh, no, I’m quite well although I had a bad headache yesterday, and this morning while hanging the wash I had a kerfuffle with the wind and one of those green demons, but that was after Matthew had already gone,” she said, keeping Mrs. Rachel dangling on the line.
“Are you all right?” Mrs. Rachel cried.
“The milk cow got a good bite opened on its haunch. I cleaned it and stitched it shut. As for me, it’s just a scratch, tore my old dress, but I’ll patch it and somehow manage to carry on,” Marilla said in her level, but quietly teasing voice.
“I can’t believe they came this close! Do we need to have a town meeting? Are those devils flourishing again?” Mrs. Rachel cried, more indignant than alarmed. “Is that where Matthew has gone? Better weapons? Special poison? Gathering new recruits? All things best discussed and decided on beforehand with the full approval of the town—“
“Matthew went to Bright River,” Marilla said, cutting Mrs. Rachel off. “We’re getting a little boy from an orphan asylum in Nova Scotia and he’s coming on the train tonight.”
Mrs. Rachel was actually stricken dumb for a scant five seconds. “Are you in earnest, Marilla?” she demanded when her voice returned to her.
“Yes, of course,” said Marilla simply, in that infuriating way of plainly telling nothing.
“What on earth put such a notion into your head? And without talking it over with me first?!” Mrs. Rachel demanded.
“Well, we’ve been thinking about it for some time–all winter in fact,” answered Marilla, calmly. “Mrs. Alexander Spencer was up here one day before Christmas and she said she was going to get a little girl from the asylum over in Hopeton in the spring. Matthew and I have talked it over off and on ever since. Matthew is getting up in years, you know–he’s sixty– and he isn’t so spry as he once was. His heart troubles him a good deal. The boy will go to school and –”
“Hire a local man!“ Mrs. Rachel cut in.
“And we agreed that a boy could be properly trained to not only farm, but to fight those demons. So we decided to ask Mrs. Spencer to pick us out a good, strong ten or eleven-year-old boy when she went over to get her little girl. We had a telegram from Mrs. Alexander Spencer today–the mail-man brought it from the station—I’m surprised you did not see him going past your window.”
“I must have been busy at the back of the house, uh, cleaning,” Mrs. Rachel said, hating that she got caught with her guard down.
“Matthew went to Bright River to fetch him on the five-thirty train.”
Mrs. Rachel did not hesitate to say, “Well, Marilla, I’ll just tell you plain that I think you’re doing a mighty foolish, risky thing, that’s what. You’re bringing a strange child into your home and you don’t know a single thing about him or what his disposition is like or how he’s likely to turn out. Only last week I read in the paper how a couple up west of the Island got an asylum boy and that evil boy set fire to the house at night—on purpose, Marilla, and nearly burnt them to a crisp in their beds. And there’s many more tales. One involves little girls, too, and strychnine in the well– If you had asked my advice on the matter I’d have said for mercy’s sake do not think of such a thing!”
This admonishment seemed neither to offend nor to alarm Marilla who merely knitted steadily on.
“I don’t deny there’s something in what you say, Rachel,” Marilla answered, taking another ten stitches. It always rather annoyed Mrs. Rachel that Marilla knitted in the compact, left-handed manner of the French. It just seemed ostentatious even if she turned out a good, neat blanket.
Marilla drew a breath, let her knitting sink into her lap before she said, “I’ve had some qualms myself, but it’s so seldom Matthew sets his mind on anything that when he does I always feel it’s my duty to give in. And as for the risk, there are risks in pretty near everything a body does in this world, especially our world. I should think the child himself might dread coming here! But, the boy is coming from Nova Scotia so he knows what’s here and he cannot be much different from us. We were told this orphanage trains their children to defend, too.”
“Well, I hope it will turn out all right,” said Mrs. Rachel in a tone that plainly indicated her doubts. “Only don’t say I didn’t warn you if he burns Green Gables down or puts strychnine in the well. Or sneaks some of those Gablins inside your house on purpose. Girls can be cruel devils, too, Marilla.”
Marilla took up her knitting again. “We’re not getting a girl. I’d never dream of taking a girl to bring up. We need, and by we I mean all of Avonlea needs a strong fighter, as well as a good farmer and citizen.” Marilla let that sink in before saying, “Care for a cup of tea?”
Mrs. Rachel would have liked to stay until Matthew came home but she wanted to go up the road to Robert Bell’s and tell the news before anyone else found out. It would certainly make a sensation, and Mrs. Rachel dearly loved to cause a stir.
“I will be on my way now, but mark my words, Marilla, this will come to nothing good.” Mrs. Rachel said, completely ignoring the fact that the Cuthbert’s should have had more help than they were getting for holding the line with the wicked gablins.
As soon as the door shut Marilla sat back in relief. Under the influence of Mrs. Rachel’s pessimism, her own fears of bringing a child into the house were revived although not for fear of getting murdered. There was so much more to Green Gables than even nosey Rachel Lynde had ever guessed. Hiding her use of her natural magic would not be easy with a child underfoot, so she could only hope Matthew would help keep the young boy occupied outside, or at school.
Aging had meant that Marilla now needed the help of her magic to get everything done. In truth she had rarely used her magic in her youth. While it was not exactly forbidden, it had just seemed extravagant, a squandering of power gained through some kind of accident of birth. Maybe that was why she and her brother were weakening so in their advancing years.
Her father, also magical, had remained silent on the subject, as much as he did for everything, so they had no well of wisdom to draw from. Marilla put the knitting aside, stood up, but commanded the needles to keep busy while she went to the fireplace. As soon as Rachel Lynde got far enough down the road she would indulge herself by building a mellow, lavender fire using her gift. The special heat would help heal her wound, settle her, and the smoke would send a resounding warning to any green gablins that might still be lurking in her trees. She laid in her special flat stone on the floor of the hearth, placing the lavender wood on top, and then tucked in a few of the feathers of the gablin she had killed. Striking a match she held it to the feathers until they caught fire. The match went in, too. And then she sent a whoosh of her hands across the hearth to make this special fire crackle.
The fire seemed to unsettle her more. Marilla began again to think that getting a child to help fight the gablins might be the biggest mistake of all she had made in her life. At least she and her brother had possessed that extra zip and zingle with their god-given, magical talents to defend Avonlea. Maybe the town council should be consulted, the defense turned over to the modern generation. Maybe through their reserve the people of Avonlea had become complacent. Marilla and Matthew would not be around forever and if they died and that orphan ran off, well, sweet Avonlea just might become a blood bath.
After the turmoil of those settlement years when everyone had joined together to beat back the gablins, but once accomplished everyone had left the Cuthberts to hold the line, almost without question. Flattered, held to the mission by their father, trained to never ask for help, whatever the motives, they had isolated themselves diligently doing their duty as they had been called to do. Maybe that was the weakness in this argument. Did the fate of Avonlea, forever really rest with them? They hadn’t done enough and now they expected an orphan child to take up the cause. They were old fools, plain as plain. Marilla let this sink in, wondered what they should have done, what they could do now that the orphan boy would become a fact upon his arrival. They had put something in motion all right.
“Fiddlesticks,” Marilla told herself. “Jam yesterday and jam tomorrow, but never jam today,” she whispered, turning her face to the blistering fire.
Those Green Gablins on guard smelled the special smoke, swung up and began shaking the trees, waking every member of their brutal tribe, and some of the newly hatched, too, sounding the alarm. The hordeof Gablins answered, unperturbed, making the expected noises in return, but without any sense of panic, because they felt no real threat, and had not in decades. However, if they could seethe ragged, but well-armed orphan awaiting Matthew’s arrival at the station, their feathers might have turned white.
And while Marilla’s warning fire crackled, and the green gablins rattled, and Mrs. Rachel simmered in her own delicious stew offresh gossip, Matthew Cuthbert soared innocently into a different kind of battle. One he had never in his life been prepared for, but would quickly cause him to set his heart and mind to win, a revelation that would take him by the greatest surprise.