Anne woke with a start at the knock on her bedroom door. Rubbing her eyes and pushing her braid back behind her shoulders she bid the knocker enter her room. She knew who it would be; Marilla gently opened the door, a white box tucked under her arm, and a soft smile on her weathered face.
“Happy Birthday Anne.”
Anne stopped scratching her nose and a look of pure delight came over her pale face - it was her birthday!
"Fifteen already - I am so proud of the young woman you are becoming.”
Anne scrunched her nose at the mention of being a woman… she wasn’t done with childhood yet. Having had a wonderfully scrumptious childhood stolen from her, the past two years at Green Gables had been a veritable treat of imagination, nature, freedom, and love; she had been having a very lovely - though delayed - childhood of late.
“Marilla, I am delighted to be fifteen, but I am still a child!”
Marilla laughed as she sat down on the end of Anne’s bed, Anne shifting her feet out of the way, just in time. Placing the white box between them, Marilla reached out and grabbed Anne’s hand. “Rachel was engaged to Mr Lynde at fifteen - though to be fair, they had to wait until she was seventeen to marry, and I was being court - well, never mind about me; Anne you are growing up, as much as you might like to deny it, though I don’t mind you staying a child a little bit longer.”
Anne’s ears had pricked up at the hint that Marilla may have been courted, but the white box had also piqued her interest, and she knew she could always ask Marilla to clarify what she was going to say later. “For me?”
Marilla rested her hand on the box lid, “yes, it is my special present to you - now you don’t have to wear it immediately, as you say, you are still a child, but, my mother gave me my first one when I turned fifteen, and you will need to consider whether you want to wear one or not, I know you admire Miss Stacy so much and she doesn’t wear one, so….”
Lifting the lid, Marilla placed it on the floor, as Anne dove into the tissue paper, intrigued. Less than a second later Anne gasped as she pulled out a pure white corset. It was a plain corset, with neat stitching holding the boning in place, but at the top, edging the front of the contraption, was a little frill of lace, enough to make it slightly more feminine.
“Marilla, I….” Anne felt lost for words. Her and Diana had talked often about wearing corsets, and getting to wear more grown up dresses, but they hadn’t actually talked about when they would get to wear them.
“Now, I know they don’t go particularly well with your current dresses, but I have spoken to Rachel, and she is making you up a lovely dress that a young lady of your age would wear, and I intend to make you two new, serviceable, skirts and blouses, for everyday wear, so come the start of school in Autumn you can attend looking more your age.”
Anne’s face lit up at the mention of new dresses, “will the skirts be long? And will the sleeves be puffed?”
Marilla laughed, “the skirts will be longer, perhaps ankle length, and I believe that Rachel is making your more formal dress with puffed sleeves as well.”
“Oh Marilla, could you not make the blouses with puffed sleeves? Please? And could you…. could you possibly make me a pair of trousers? Like Miss Stacy’s?”
Marilla blinked a few times in astonishment, though her smile never faulted, “The blouses are meant to be serviceable and practical Anne, but you can come with me to the general store and choose what colour the skirts shall be, and skirts they shall be I’m afraid.”
Anne couldn’t decide if she was disappointed that the blouses would be plain and there would be no trousers, or if she was going to combust with excitement that she would get to choose the colour of fabric. She couldn’t wait for summer now, to choose the fabric, to show Diana her corset, to have what could potentially be one last hurrah as a girl-child. At that last thought Anne’s mood wavered, come the next school year she would be considered more of a young woman, and Anne wasn’t sure if she was entirely comfortable about that. She decided that she could think about that later though, it was her birthday, and she wanted to see Matthew, and Diana was coming over for tea in the afternoon, and Marilla had hinted the day before that there may be a birthday cake to boot.
The summer absolutely flew and Anne drew every ounce of inspiration, imagination, and play out of the hot sticky days as she could. She had gone with Marilla to the general store and picked out the fabric for her new skirts, and Mrs Lynde had been around constantly to measure, pin, poke and prod, to get the measurements just right for the quickly growing young woman. Anne had been horrified at the constant allusion to her growing bosom though it had made her think more about the possibility of wearing a corset. On more than one occasion, over summer, she had been mortified at the feel a jiggle in her chest area, a jiggle that had not been there months before.
Harvest was just around the corner, and Miss Stacy called into Green Gables a few weeks before school was to start to arrange for Anne to come in early on school days, with Gilbert Blythe, to study for college. Miss Stacy had felt that with Anne’s brightness and energy Anne could get into Queens Academy earlier than most and perhaps even do an accelerated teaching degree. Anne was torn, ever eager to stay a child, she also felt an eagerness to leap into the future, to become the teacher she knew she could be, and emulate Miss Stacy. Perhaps this emulation would happen a lot sooner than she thought.
It was the day before school was to return and Anne stood in the kitchen of Green Gables wearing the gift that Mrs Lynde had just bestowed upon her. The dress, even more beautiful than the one Matthew had bought her from Miss Jeannie’s, though not as beloved, was a stunning piece of workmanship. Anne touched the puffed sleeves in awe. The fabric was a light green muslin, the colour of oak leaves at midsummer, jewel-like and shimmering. The neckline was a lot lower than she expected it to be, and, she suspected, a lot lower than Marilla approved of. The sleeves puffed at the tops and than gathered in tight just above her elbows, lace frothing out. Matching lace also edged the neckline and hem, pearls dotted through the lace, and a simple, darker green sash, also studded with pearls, cinched her waist.
“Oh Mrs Lynde, I … why I am speechless!”
“As am I Rachel,” Marilla turned a raised eyebrow Mrs Lynde’s way.
Mrs Lynde simple grinned back at them, “well, you are a young lady now Anne, and I will not have you falling behind the other girls in terms of fashion - not that what you have made her Marilla isn’t lovely and practical, but a young lady does need a proper party dress. Why I saw the dress that Mrs Barry has had made for Diana’s coming out…. though why Diana is coming out this autumn I don’t know, way to young I think, but Mrs Barry is insisting. It is a beautiful dress though, from a shop in Toronto I believe, a midnight blue which will complement Diana’s rosiness wonderfully.”
Marilla and Anne looked at each other, amused, though something Mrs Lynde had said concerned Anne. She was suddenly dying to go to Diana’s, “Marilla can I go get changed and run up to Diana’s? Can I take this dress with me to show her?”
“You can go to Diana’s for a quick visit, be back in time to help me with supper mind, and no you can’t take the dress, knowing you you’ll ruin it in some way if I let you take it. Go upstairs and put it away neatly.” Anne’s shoulders dropped at not being able to take the dress, but she still galloped up the stairs, quickly got changed, and ran flying out the door with nary a goodbye to Marilla and Mrs Lynde.
Diana grabbed Anne’s hand as they sprinted down to The Lake of Shining Waters and squeezed it tightly. Anne, face flushed, looked at Diana expectantly.
“Oh Anne, I meant to tell you, but mother only told me on Friday and I don’t know what to make of it.”
“What exactly does it mean, to “come out”?” Anne asked. Her heart was beating a million miles an hour at the thought that she may be about to lose her best friend. She sensed that this coming out business meant that she may be left behind in some way from the other girls at school.
“It means that I will be considered a grown up I guess… you know, be able to be courted and stuff like that.”
“But you’re only fifteen Diana!”
“Nearly sixteen - six weeks and counting… I know mother is, perhaps, bringing me out a little early, she was seventeen when she came out, but she did go to finishing school. And well, we all know that my parents can’t afford to send me to finishing school, so mother is finishing me off herself, and the culmination is my coming out.” Diana smiled a smile at Anne that Anne had never seen before. This smile seemed to hold a hidden wisdom, a woman’s wisdom; like a mirage wavering in the distance, womanhood touched Diana’s features, and the anxiety Anne had been feeling already, bloomed even more. Anne quickly pulled her hand away from Diana’s.
“Anne what is the matter?”
Anne turned her face away quickly, tears stinging her eyes, “I’m not ready to grow up yet Diana, what with you talking about courting, Marilla giving me a corset on my last birthday, the length of my new dresses for school; oh but Diana you have to see my dress from Mrs Lynde, it is beautiful - but that is beside the point! Are we really ready to be women yet?”
Diana flung her arms around Anne’s neck and squeezed her into a hug. “Anne we have to grow up sometime, and just think about that new pretty dress you have - which I can’t wait to see by the way - and how many more pretty dresses you will have in the future. OH, and just think, when you turn sixteen maybe Marilla will let you put your hair up?”
Anne wiped her tears off her cheeks and at least appeared to try and cheer up, “I do love my new gowns, even the ones from Marilla, though they are still quite plain… Diana?”
Diana pulled back to look Anne in the face, “yes Anne?”
“Who do you want to start courting you?” Anne’s face slid into a sly grin.
“ANNE!” Diana leapt back giggling, “I don’t know - certainly not Billy Andrews, or his friends!”
Anne pulled a face at the mention of Billy Andrews, “no way, who would want to be courted by Billy the bully… no, you need someone much kinder, refined, handsome - of course - and dashing as well, with a slight touch of broodiness, so you can reform him!”
Diana giggled at Anne’s description of a would be suitor, her expression then turned sly, “and what about you Anne, I think I know exactly the kind of man who should court you, he should be handsome,” Anne nodded at this, “smart and worldly,” Anne nodded again, “studying to become a doctor and have the initials GB.”
Anne’s face flushed a bright red at Diana’s insinuations about her one time schoolyard foe and now new friend. “Diana!! Never! You know if Ruby heard you say that out loud she would have your guts for garters!”
“Ew Anne!” Diana pulled a face, though she was laughing as well, “you know what Anne, I wouldn’t put any stock in Ruby’s crush on Gilbert anymore, I think it’s more a habit for her to stake her claim. She has been talking an awful lot about Charlie Sloane lately, and I believe he has asked her to the Autumn bonfire in a few weeks time, isn’t that romantic!”
“Charlie has asked Ruby to the bonfire?” A swell of anxiety swelled in Anne’s breast again. This was the first time any of her peers had taken any practical action regarding romantic attachments before. Up until that moment all romantic talk had been exactly that, romantic talk, and Anne again felt that she, quite possibly, could be left behind her peers.
“Yes, and she has said yes, though she claims she is doing it to drive Gilbert wild with jealousy,” Diana said, a thoughtful look coming over her features. “You know, I don’t know why she has clung on to this notion of Gilbert as her future husband as he has never shown a jot of interest in her - beyond being polite of course.”
Anne shrugged her shoulders and tried to appear nonchalant - it didn’t bother her who Gilbert was interested in - at least she tried to convince herself of that; though Diana’s comment put her in mind of something Cole had said to her last spring, about Gilbert having a crush on her. How could he have a crush on her? She was skinny, spindly, with god-awful red hair and freckles that would take weeks to count; she was nothing like her beautiful Diana, who’s jet black hair, buttermilk skin, and deep, oh so deep, dimples, were the epitome of Queenly fashion. Diana had also begun to wear longer skirts and a corset over summer, and her hair, though still worn down, was styled in such a way that gave the appearance of a Gibson girl. Anne tugged at her two braids hung limply down the side of her face and grimaced.
Diana watched Anne’s emotions flit across her face and held back a grin. She had suspected for over a year now that Anne perhaps liked Gilbert a lot more than she let on. But every time she mentioned Gilbert in a sly way to her best friend Anne would divert the conversation, blush and look away, or try to make a joke about Gilbert and romance. Diana felt that Gilbert and Anne were perfect for each other and would make a handsome couple, but, she reasoned, they were all still so young, and with Gilbert studying to become a Doctor and Anne wanting to train to become a teacher, she suspected that any potential romance between them was years off.
“So Anne, what are you wearing tomorrow? Have you decided for or against the corset?”
Anne, relieved that Diana had been perceptive enough to change the subject, scrunched her face in indecision, “ohhhhhh I don’t know… for years I have looked forward to being grown-up enough to wear a corset, but Miss Stacy is my ideal and role model, and if she doesn’t wear a corset than perhaps I should emulate that, what shall I do Diana?”
Diana tapped her finger on her lips in thought, before replying, “why don’t you try it out for tomorrow, see how it goes, and then you can decide whether it is for you or not!”
Anne shut the school door behind her and quietly made her way to the empty coat rack. No-one else was here, except for Gilbert - she had spied him already sitting at his chair in front of Miss Stacy’s desk - and Miss Stacy herself. She could hear the soft murmur of their voices as she took her hat off her head and plonked it on a peg. Clearing her throat, she smoothed down the front of her blouse, and glanced down at the length of her skirt, it sat at about mid shin point, skimming the top of her boots, just grazing the bow of her laces. The skirt was a lovely deep green, the shade of the moss that grew on the logs deep in the forest, her blouse was a plain cream, with small pearl buttons that delicately trailed over her growing bosom and corset cinched waist. Yes, she had decided to go with the corset, though she had discovered, most uncomfortably, that is severely restricted her movement. On the way to school she had gone to leap from log to log in her favourite part of the walk, but found that she felt to stiff and unwieldy to make the jumps, it meant that she had walked the rest of the way to school feeling restrained, pulled in, held back.
Clutching her slate and reader to her chest she walked into the main room. Miss Stacy looked up and gave her a happily surprised look, “Anne! My don’t you look lovely, do come and have a seat, I have some work ready for you.”
At the mention of Anne’s name Gilbert looked up and twisted around, a sly grin on his face, a grin that slid right off at the sight of her. Anne’s steps faltered as she took in Gilbert’s look. His jaw had slackened, leaving his mouth slightly agape, and his eyes had softened, but were opened so wide as if in shock, his cheeks turned pink. Miss Stacy glanced at Gilbert, then back to Anne, then back at Gilbert again, and sighed. She had suspected last spring that there was an attachment on Gilbert’s side to Anne, but it was now all but confirmed, she had a young man and woman on her hands who were both ambitious, motivated, and quite possibly going to be greatly distracted by each other. Not that she could begrudge them, she had been sixteen when she had met her Arthur, they had been married immediately after college, and had lived a beautiful, love filled life for six year before his death. Those years with Arthur were the most precious of her life and she would never deny affection between young people if it was genuine. She glanced at Anne again, she was sure of Gilbert’s feelings, but not Anne’s, she hoped that she wouldn’t have a young man with a broken heart on her hands in a few months.
“Anne, take your seat please.”
Anne, pushing her hesitation over Gilbert’s reaction to her to the back of her mind, lifted her chin and slid into her chair. Gilbert swung back round to face Miss Stacy, glancing a quick smile at Anne, before going back to his book on physiology. Miss Stacy quietly explained to Anne what her extra work for the Queens College exam would entail and that that morning they would start with more advanced critiques of Shakespeare’s tragedies. Anne picked up Miss Stacy’s copy of Hamlet, opening it to the first page, noting that Miss Stacy had written in pencil in the margins; notes that revealed new thoughts and ideas about Hamlet that Anne had never thought of before, Anne felt exhilarated.
They all sat quietly, getting on with their work, occasionally Miss Stacy asked whether any of them needed any assistance, generally they both declined. Twenty minutes had passed when Miss Stacy excused herself, she had to go prepare for the rest of the class that would arrive soon. Gilbert watched her go into the store room before sneaking another look at Anne. Anne’s brow furrowed as she appeared to be devouring Hamlet and Miss Stacy’s notes, though, Gilbert noticed, her right hand kept drifting down to her waist, tugging at the waist of her skirt. His eyes followed as the hand then drifted to her collar, a gentle pull at the collar did nothing to ease what was an appearance of discomfort, Gilbert worried that Anne may be ill.
“Anne are you alright?”
Anne startled at his voice, her eyes darting to his, her cheeks blushing, her mouth agape. “I… Gilbert I can’t breath properly!”
Gilbert’s face went as white as a sheet as he pushed his chair back. He leant over Anne, pressing his hand to her forehead, “do you feel faint Anne? Perhaps we had better lay you down.”
Gilbert darted back as Anne started laughing and gasping in mortification at the same time, she managed to gasp out, “I’m not sick Gilbert, it’s my, it’s my…..”
Gilbert looked warily at Anne, “your what Anne?”
Anne had never blushed as red before as she replied, “my corset!”
Gilbert’s head twitched as his face froze in a strange expression of mortification, embarrassment, and concern. He stood perfectly still as Anne stood, both hands now tugging at her collar, and pushed past him towards the store room and Miss Stacy. As the door to the store room shut behind her Gilbert finally lowered himself to his chair, he didn’t know if his heart would ever recover, or if his mind would ever stop thinking about Anne’s corset, or the injustice he felt for all women that they must wear a contraption that stifled their breathing. He forced himself to refocus on his books, and when Anne and Miss Stacy returned ten minutes later, he buried his nose even further into his book, refusing to look at either of them. Anne, equally as embarrassed, sat back into her chair, feeling a lot less restrained and a lot less struggling for breath than she did ten minutes ago. Miss Stacy turned to start writing up the instructions for the English lesson she had planned, a tiny grin whispered on her face, a sigh of amusement softly escaped her lips.
Anne found, however, that she couldn’t concentrate on her studies anymore. She felt thoroughly humiliated that she had mention her corset in front of Gilbert Blythe. When she had told Miss Stacy what she had said, as Miss Stacy had helped her loosen the offending undergarment, Miss Stacy had seemingly stifled an undignified giggle. It had taken a moment for Miss Stacy to compose herself before she told Anne that Gilbert was mature enough to deal with the situation. Anne had agreed, and had also determined that she too was mature enough, she would never mention it to anyone ever again. Yet, as she sat next to Gilbert, her awareness of him was such that she was convinced she could hear the beating of his heart, and whereas in fiction that may have been romantical, in real life it just made Anne feel even more embarrassed. One thing she could be sure of though, she was never, ever, going to wear a corset ever again.