Anna's Love Letters by Lucy Maud Montgomery
"Are you going to answer Gilbert's letter tonight, Anna?" asked Alma
Williams, standing in the pantry doorway, tall, fair, and grey-eyed,
with the sunset light coming down over the dark firs, through the
window behind her, and making a primrose nimbus around her shapely
Anna, dark, vivid, and slender, was perched on the edge of the table,
idly swinging her slippered foot at the cat's head. She smiled
wickedly at Alma before replying.
"I am not going to answer it tonight or any other night," she said,
twisting her full, red lips in a way that Alma had learned to dread.
Mischief was ripening in Anna's brain when that twist was out.
"What do you mean?" asked Alma anxiously.
"Just what I say, dear," responded Anna, with deceptive meekness.
"Poor Gilbert is gone, and I don't intend to bother my head about him
any longer. He was amusing while he lasted, but of what use is a beau
two thousand miles away, Alma?"
Alma was patient—outwardly. It was never of any avail to show
impatience with Anna.
"Anna, you are talking foolishly. Of course you are going to answer
his letter. You are as good as engaged to him. Wasn't that practically
understood when he left?"
"No, no, dear," and Anna shook her sleek black head with the air of
explaining matters to an obtuse child. "I was the only one who
understood. Gil misunderstood. He thought that I would really wait
for him until he should have made enough money to come home and pay
off the mortgage. I let him think so, because I hated to hurt his
little feelings. But now it's off with the old love and on with a new
one for me."
"Anna, you cannot be in earnest!" exclaimed Alma.
But she was afraid that Anna was in earnest. Anna had a wretched
habit of being in earnest when she said flippant things.
"You don't mean that you are not going to write to Gilbert at
all—after all you promised?"
Anna placed her elbows daintily on the top of the rocking chair,
dropped her pointed chin in her hands, and looked at Alma with black
"I—do—mean—just—that," she said slowly. "I never mean to marry
Gilbert Murray. This is final, Alma, and you need not scold or coax,
because it would be a waste of breath. Gilbert is safely out of the
way, and now I am going to have a good time with a few other
delightful men creatures in Exeter."
Anna nodded decisively, flashed a smile at Alma, picked up her cat,
and went out. At the door she turned and looked back, with the big
black cat snuggled under her chin.
"If you think Gilbert will feel very badly over his letter not being
answered, you might answer it yourself, Alma," she said teasingly.
"There it is"—she took the letter from the pocket of her ruffled
apron and threw it on a chair. "You may read it if you want to; it
isn't really a love letter. I told Gilbert he wasn't to write silly
letters. Come, pussy, I'm going to get ready for prayer meeting. We've
got a nice, new, young, good-looking minister in Exeter, pussy, and
that makes prayer meeting very interesting."
Anna shut the door, her departing laugh rippling mockingly through the
dusk. Alma picked up Gilbert Murray's letter and went to her room. She
wanted to cry, since she could not shake Anna. Even if she could have
shook her, it would only have made her more perverse. Anna was in
earnest; Alma knew that, even while she hoped and believed that it was
but the earnestness of a freak that would pass in time. Anna had had
one like it a year ago, when she had cast Gilbert off for three
months, driving him distracted by flirting with Charlie Moore. Then
she had suddenly repented and taken him back. Alma thought that this
whim would run its course likewise and leave a repentant Anna. But
meanwhile everything might be spoiled. Gilbert might not prove
forgiving a second time.
Alma would have given much if she could only have induced Anna to
answer Gilbert's letter, but coaxing Anna to do anything was a very
sure and effective way of preventing her from doing it.
Alma and Anna had lived alone at the old Williams homestead ever since
their mother's death four years before. Exeter matrons thought this
hardly proper, since Alma, in spite of her grave ways, was only
twenty-four. The farm was rented, so that Alma's only responsibilities
were the post office which she kept, and that harum-scarum beauty of
The Murray homestead adjoined theirs. Gilbert Murray had grown up with
Alma; they had been friends ever since she could remember. Alma loved
Gilbert with a love which she herself believed to be purely sisterly,
and which nobody else doubted could be, since she had been at pains to
make a match—Exeter matrons' phrasing—between Gil and Anna, and was
manifestly delighted when Gilbert obligingly fell in love with the
There was a small mortgage on the Murray place which Mr. Murray senior
had not been able to pay off. Gilbert determined to get rid of it, and
his thoughts turned to the west. His father was an active, hale old
man, quite capable of managing the farm in Gilbert's absence.
Alexander MacNair had gone to the west two years previously and got
work on a new railroad. He wrote to Gilbert to come too, promising him
plenty of work and good pay. Gilbert went, but before going he had
asked Anna to marry him.
It was the first proposal Anna had ever had, and she managed it quite
cleverly, from her standpoint. She told Gilbert that he must wait
until he came home again before settling that, meanwhile, they would
be very good friends—emphasized with a blush—and that he might
write to her. She kissed him goodbye, and Gilbert, honest fellow, was
quite satisfied. When an Exeter girl had allowed so much to be
inferred, it was understood to be equivalent to an engagement. Gilbert
had never discerned that Anna was not like the other Exeter girls, but
was a law unto herself.
Alma sat down by her window and looked out over the lane where the
slim wild cherry trees were bronzing under the autumn frosts. Her lips
were very firmly set. Something must be done. But what?
Alma's heart was set on this marriage for two reasons. Firstly, if
Anna married Gilbert she would be near her all her life. She could not
bear the thought that some day Anna might leave her and go far away to
live. In the second and largest place, she desired the marriage
because Gilbert did. She had always been desirous, even in the old,
childish play-days, that Gilbert should get just exactly what he
wanted. She had always taken a keen, strange delight in furthering his
Anna's falseness would surely break his heart, and Alma winced at the
thought of his pain.
There was one thing she could do. Anna's tormenting suggestion had
fallen on fertile soil. Alma balanced pros and cons, admitting the
risk. But she would have taken a tenfold larger risk in the hope of
holding secure Anna's place in Gilbert's affections until Anna herself
should come to her senses.
When it grew quite dark and Anna had gone lilting down the lane on her
way to prayer meeting, Alma lighted her lamp, read Gilbert's
letter—and answered it. Her handwriting was much like Anna's. She
signed the letter "A. Williams," and there was nothing in it that
might not have been written by her to Gilbert; but she knew that
Gilbert would believe Anna had written it, and she intended him so to
believe. Alma never did a thing halfway when she did it at all. At
first she wrote rather constrainedly but, reflecting that in any case
Anna would have written a merely friendly letter, she allowed her
thoughts to run freely, and the resulting epistle was an excellent one
of its kind. Alma had the gift of expression and more brains than
Exeter people had ever imagined she possessed. When Gilbert read that
letter a fortnight later he was surprised to find that Anna was so
clever. He had always, with a secret regret, thought her much inferior
to Alma in this respect, but that delightful letter, witty, wise,
fanciful, was the letter of a clever woman.
When a year had passed Alma was still writing to Gilbert the letters
signed "A. Williams." She had ceased to fear being found out, and she
took a strange pleasure in the correspondence for its own sake. At
first she had been quakingly afraid of discovery. When she smuggled
the letters addressed in Gilbert's handwriting to Miss Anna Williams
out of the letter packet and hid them from Anna's eyes, she felt as
guilty as if she were breaking all the laws of the land at once. To be
sure, she knew that she would have to confess to Anna some day, when
the latter repented and began to wish she had written to Gilbert, but
that was a very different thing from premature disclosure.
But Anna had as yet given no sign of such repentance, although Alma
looked for it anxiously. Anna was having the time of her life. She was
the acknowledged beauty of five settlements, and she went forward on
her career of conquest quite undisturbed by the jealousies and
heart-burnings she provoked on every side.
One moonlight night she went for a sleigh-drive with Charlie Moore of
East Exeter—and returned to tell Alma that they were married!
"I knew you would make a fuss, Alma, because you don't like Charlie,
so we just took matters into our own hands. It was so much more
romantic, too. I'd always said I'd never be married in any of your
dull, commonplace ways. You might as well forgive me and be nice right
off, Alma, because you'd have to do it anyway, in time. Well, you do
Alma accepted the situation with an apathy that amazed Anna. The truth
was that Alma was stunned by a thought that had come to her even while
Anna was speaking.
"Gilbert will find out about the letters now, and despise me."
Nothing else, not even the fact that Anna had married shiftless
Charlie Moore, seemed worth while considering beside this. The fear
and shame of it haunted her like a nightmare; she shrank every morning
from the thought of all the mail that was coming that day, fearing
that there would be an angry, puzzled letter from Gilbert. He must
certainly soon hear of Anna's marriage; he would see it in the home
paper, other correspondents in Exeter would write him of it. Alma grew
sick at heart thinking of the complications in front of her.
When Gilbert's letter came she left it for a whole day before she
could summon courage to open it. But it was a harmless epistle after
all; he had not yet heard of Anna's marriage. Alma had at first no
thought of answering it, yet her fingers ached to do so. Now that Anna
was gone, her loneliness was unbearable. She realized how much
Gilbert's letters had meant to her, even when written to another
woman. She could bear her life well enough, she thought, if she only
had his letters to look forward to.
No more letters came from Gilbert for six weeks. Then came one,
alarmed at Anna's silence, anxiously asking the reason for it; Gilbert
had heard no word of the marriage. He was working in a remote district
where newspapers seldom penetrated. He had no other correspondent in
Exeter now; except his mother, and she, not knowing that he supposed
himself engaged to Anna had forgotten to mention it.
Alma answered that letter. She told herself recklessly that she would
keep on writing to him until he found out. She would lose his
friendship anyhow, when that occurred, but meanwhile she would have
the letters a little longer. She could not learn to live without them
until she had to.
The correspondence slipped back into its old groove. The harassed look
which Alma's face had worn, and which Exeter people had attributed to
worry over Anna, disappeared. She did not even feel lonely, and
reproached herself for lack of proper feeling in missing Anna so
little. Besides, to her horror and dismay, she detected in herself a
strange undercurrent of relief at the thought that Gilbert could never
marry Anna now! She could not understand it. Had not that marriage
been her dearest wish for years? Why then should she feel this strange
gladness at the impossibility of its fulfilment? Altogether, Alma
feared that her condition of mind and morals must be sadly askew.
Perhaps, she thought mournfully, this perversion of proper feeling was
her punishment for the deception she had practised. She had
deliberately done evil that good might come, and now the very
imaginations of her heart were stained by that evil. Alma cried
herself to sleep many a night in her repentance, but she kept on
writing to Gilbert, for all that.
The winter passed, and the spring and summer waned, and Alma's outward
life flowed as smoothly as the currents of the seasons, broken only by
vivid eruptions from Anna, who came over often from East Exeter,
glorying in her young matronhood, "to cheer Alma up." Alma, so said
Exeter people, was becoming unsociable and old maidish. She lost her
liking for company, and seldom went anywhere among her neighbours. Her
once frequent visits across the yard to chat with old Mrs. Murray
became few and far between. She could not bear to hear the old lady
talking about Gilbert, and she was afraid that some day she would be
told that he was coming home. Gilbert's home-coming was the nightmare
dread that darkened poor Alma's whole horizon.
One October day, two years after Gilbert's departure, Alma, standing
at her window in the reflected glow of a red maple outside, looked
down the lane and saw him striding up it! She had had no warning of
his coming. His last letter, dated three weeks back, had not hinted at
it. Yet there he was—and with him Alma's Nemesis.
She was very calm. Now that the worst had come, she felt quite strong
to meet it. She would tell Gilbert the truth, and he would go away in
anger and never forgive her, but she deserved it. As she went
downstairs, the only thing that really worried her was the thought of
the pain Gilbert would suffer when she told him of Anna's
faithlessness. She had seen his face as he passed under her window,
and it was the face of a blithe man who had not heard any evil
tidings. It was left to her to tell him; surely, she thought
apathetically, that was punishment enough for what she had done.
With her hand on the doorknob, she paused to wonder what she should
say when he asked her why she had not told him of Anna's marriage when
it occurred—why she had still continued the deception when it had no
longer an end to serve. Well, she would tell him the truth—that it
was because she could not bear the thought of giving up writing to
him. It was a humiliating thing to confess, but that did not
matter—nothing mattered now. She opened the door.
Gilbert was standing on the big round door-stone under the red
maple—a tall, handsome young fellow with a bronzed face and laughing
eyes. His exile had improved him. Alma found time and ability to
reflect that she had never known Gilbert was so fine-looking.
He put his arm around her and kissed her cheek in his frank delight at
seeing her again. Alma coldly asked him in. Her face was still as pale
as when she came downstairs, but a curious little spot of fiery red
blossomed out where Gilbert's lips had touched it.
Gilbert followed her into the sitting-room and looked about eagerly.
"When did you come home?" she said slowly. "I did not know you were
"Got homesick, and just came! I wanted to surprise you all," he
answered, laughing. "I arrived only a few minutes ago. Just took time
to hug my mother, and here I am. Where's Anna?"
The pent-up retribution of two years descended on Alma's head in the
last question of Gilbert's. But she did not flinch. She stood straight
before him, tall and fair and pale, with the red maple light streaming
in through the open door behind her, staining her light house-dress
and mellowing the golden sheen of her hair. Gilbert reflected that
Alma Williams was really a very handsome girl. These two years had
improved her. What splendid big grey eyes she had! He had always
wished that Anna's eyes had not been quite so black.
"Anna is not here," said Alma. "She is married."
Gilbert sat down suddenly on a chair and looked at Alma in
"She has been married for a year," said Alma steadily. "She married
Charlie Moore of East Exeter, and has been living there ever since."
"Then," said Gilbert, laying hold of the one solid fact that loomed
out of the mist of his confused understanding, "why did she keep on
writing letters to me after she was married?"
"She never wrote to you at all. It was I that wrote the letters."
Gilbert looked at Alma doubtfully. Was she crazy? There was something
odd about her, now that he noticed, as she stood rigidly there, with
that queer red spot on her face, a strange fire in her eyes, and that
weird reflection from the maple enveloping her like an immaterial
"I don't understand," he said helplessly.
Still standing there, Alma told the whole story, giving full
explanations, but no excuses. She told it clearly and simply, for she
had often pictured this scene to herself and thought out what she must
say. Her memory worked automatically, and her tongue obeyed it
promptly. To herself she seemed like a machine, talking mechanically,
while her soul stood on one side and listened.
When she had finished there was a silence lasting perhaps ten seconds.
To Alma it seemed like hours. Would Gilbert overwhelm her with angry
reproaches, or would he simply rise up and leave her in unutterable
contempt? It was the most tragic moment of her life, and her whole
personality was strung up to meet it and withstand it.
"Well, they were good letters, anyhow," said Gilbert finally;
"interesting letters," he added, as if by way of a meditative
It was so anti-climactic that Alma broke into an hysterical giggle,
cut short by a sob. She dropped into a chair by the table and flung
her hands over her face, laughing and sobbing softly to herself.
Gilbert rose and walked to the door, where he stood with his back to
her until she regained her self-control. Then he turned and looked
down at her quizzically.
Alma's hands lay limply in her lap, and her eyes were cast down, with
tears glistening on the long fair lashes. She felt his gaze on her.
"Can you ever forgive me, Gilbert?" she said humbly.
"I don't know that there is much to forgive," he answered. "I have
some explanations to make too and, since we're at it, we might as well
get them all over and have done with them. Two years ago I did
honestly think I was in love with Anna—at least when I was round
where she was. She had a taking way with her. But, somehow, even then,
when I wasn't with her she seemed to kind of grow dim and not count
for so awful much after all. I used to wish she was more like
you—quieter, you know, and not so sparkling. When I parted from her
that last night before I went west, I did feel very bad, and she
seemed very dear to me, but it was six weeks from that before
her—your—letter came, and in that time she seemed to have faded out
of my thoughts. Honestly, I wasn't thinking much about her at all.
Then came the letter—and it was a splendid one, too. I had never
thought that Anna could write a letter like that, and I was as pleased
as Punch about it. The letters kept coming, and I kept on looking for
them more and more all the time. I fell in love all over again—with
the writer of those letters. I thought it was Anna, but since you
wrote the letters, it must have been with you, Alma. I thought it was
because she was growing more womanly that she could write such
letters. That was why I came home. I wanted to get acquainted all over
again, before she grew beyond me altogether—I wanted to find the real
Anna the letters showed me. I—I—didn't expect this. But I don't care
if Anna is married, so long as the girl who wrote those letters isn't.
It's you I love, Alma."
He bent down and put his arm about her, laying his cheek against hers.
The little red spot where his kiss had fallen was now quite drowned
out in the colour that rushed over her face.
"If you'll marry me, Alma, I'll forgive you," he said.
A little smile escaped from the duress of Alma's lips and twitched her
"I'm willing to do anything that will win your forgiveness, Gilbert,"
she said meekly.