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Anne of Green Gables


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CHAPTER XXXVII.
The Reaper Whose Name Is Death


MATTHEW—Matthew—what is the matter? Matthew, are you sick?”

It was Marilla who spoke, alarm in every jerky word. Anne came through the hall, her hands full of white narcissus,—it was long before Anne could love the sight or odor of white narcissus again,—in time to hear her and to see Matthew standing in the porch doorway, a folded paper in his hand, and his face strangely drawn and gray. Anne dropped her flowers and sprang across the kitchen to him at the same moment as Marilla. They were both too late; before they could reach him Matthew had fallen across the threshold.

“He’s fainted,” gasped Marilla. “Anne, run for Martin—quick, quick! He’s at the barn.”

Martin, the hired man, who had just driven home from the post office, started at once for the doctor, calling at Orchard Slope on his way to send Mr. and Mrs. Barry over. Mrs. Lynde, who was there on an errand, came too. They found Anne and Marilla distractedly trying to restore Matthew to consciousness.

Mrs. Lynde pushed them gently aside, tried his pulse, and then laid her ear over his heart. She looked at their anxious faces sorrowfully and the tears came into her eyes.

“Oh, Marilla,” she said gravely. “I don’t think—we can do anything for him.”

“Mrs. Lynde, you don’t think—you can’t think Matthew is—is—” Anne could not say the dreadful word; she turned sick and pallid.

“Child, yes, I’m afraid of it. Look at his face. When you’ve seen that look as often as I have you’ll know what it means.”

Anne looked at the still face and there beheld the seal of the Great Presence.

When the doctor came he said that death had been instantaneous and probably painless, caused in all likelihood by some sudden shock. The secret of the shock was discovered to be in the paper Matthew had held and which Martin had brought from the office that morning. It contained an account of the failure of the Abbey Bank.

The news spread quickly through Avonlea, and all day friends and neighbors thronged Green Gables and came and went on errands of kindness for the dead and living. For the first time shy, quiet Matthew Cuthbert was a person of central importance; the white majesty of death had fallen on him and set him apart as one crowned.

When the calm night came softly down over Green Gables the old house was hushed and tranquil. In the parlor lay Matthew Cuthbert in his coffin, his long gray hair framing his placid face on which there was a little kindly smile as if he but slept, dreaming pleasant dreams. There were flowers about him—sweet old-fashioned flowers which his mother had planted in the homestead garden in her bridal days and for which Matthew had always had a secret, wordless love. Anne had gathered them and brought them to him, her anguished, tearless eyes burning in her white face. It was the last thing she could do for him.

The Barrys and Mrs. Lynde stayed with them that night. Diana, going to the east gable, where Anne was standing at her window, said gently:

“Anne dear, would you like to have me sleep with you tonight?”

“Thank you, Diana.” Anne looked earnestly into her friend’s face. “I think you won’t misunderstand me when I say I want to be alone. I’m not afraid. I haven’t been alone one minute since it happened—and I want to be. I want to be quite silent and quiet and try to realize it. I can’t realize it. Half the time it seems to me that Matthew can’t be dead; and the other half it seems as if he must have been dead for a long time and I’ve had this horrible dull ache ever since.”

Diana did not quite understand. Marilla’s impassioned grief, breaking all the bounds of natural reserve and lifelong habit in its stormy rush, she could comprehend better than Anne’s tearless agony. But she went away kindly, leaving Anne alone to keep her first vigil with sorrow.

Anne hoped that the tears would come in solitude. It seemed to her a terrible thing that she could not shed a tear for Matthew, whom she had loved so much and who had been so kind to her, Matthew who had walked with her last evening at sunset and was now lying in the dim room below with that awful peace on his brow. But no tears came at first, even when she knelt by her window in the darkness and prayed, looking up to the stars beyond the hills—no tears, only the same horrible dull ache of misery that kept on aching until she fell asleep, worn out with the day’s pain and excitement.

In the night she awakened, with the stillness and the darkness about her, and the recollection of the day came over her like a wave of sorrow. She could see Matthew’s face smiling at her as he had smiled when they parted at the gate that last evening—she could hear his voice saying, “My girl—my girl that I’m proud of.” Then the tears came and Anne wept her heart out. Marilla heard her and crept in to comfort her.

“There—there—don’t cry so, dearie. It can’t bring him back. It—it—isn’t right to cry so. I knew that today, but I couldn’t help it then. He’d always been such a good, kind brother to me—but God knows best.”

“Oh, just let me cry, Marilla,” sobbed Anne. “The tears don’t hurt me like that ache did. Stay here for a little while with me and keep your arm round me—so. I couldn’t have Diana stay, she’s good and kind and sweet—but it’s not her sorrow—she’s outside of it and she couldn’t come close enough to my heart to help me. It’s our sorrow—yours and mine. Oh, Marilla, what will we do without him?”

“We’ve got each other, Anne. I don’t know what I’d do if you weren’t here—if you’d never come. Oh, Anne, I know I’ve been kind of strict and harsh with you maybe—but you mustn’t think I didn’t love you as well as Matthew did, for all that. I want to tell you now when I can. It’s never been easy for me to say things out of my heart, but at times like this it’s easier. I love you as dear as if you were my own flesh and blood and you’ve been my joy and comfort ever since you came to Green Gables.”

Two days afterwards they carried Matthew Cuthbert over his homestead threshold and away from the fields he had tilled and the orchards he had loved and the trees he had planted; and then Avonlea settled back to its usual placidity and even at Green Gables affairs slipped into their old groove and work was done and duties fulfilled with regularity as before, although always with the aching sense of “loss in all familiar things.” Anne, new to grief, thought it almost sad that it could be so—that they could go on in the old way without Matthew. She felt something like shame and remorse when she discovered that the sunrises behind the firs and the pale pink buds opening in the garden gave her the old inrush of gladness when she saw them—that Diana’s visits were pleasant to her and that Diana’s merry words and ways moved her to laughter and smiles—that, in brief, the beautiful world of blossom and love and friendship had lost none of its power to please her fancy and thrill her heart, that life still called to her with many insistent voices.

“It seems like disloyalty to Matthew, somehow, to find pleasure in these things now that he has gone,” she said wistfully to Mrs. Allan one evening when they were together in the manse garden. “I miss him so much—all the time—and yet, Mrs. Allan, the world and life seem very beautiful and interesting to me for all. Today Diana said something funny and I found myself laughing. I thought when it happened I could never laugh again. And it somehow seems as if I oughtn’t to.”

“When Matthew was here he liked to hear you laugh and he liked to know that you found pleasure in the pleasant things around you,” said Mrs. Allan gently. “He is just away now; and he likes to know it just the same. I am sure we should not shut our hearts against the healing influences that nature offers us. But I can understand your feeling. I think we all experience the same thing. We resent the thought that anything can please us when someone we love is no longer here to share the pleasure with us, and we almost feel as if we were unfaithful to our sorrow when we find our interest in life returning to us.”

“I was down to the graveyard to plant a rosebush on Matthew’s grave this afternoon,” said Anne dreamily. “I took a slip of the little white Scotch rosebush his mother brought out from Scotland long ago; Matthew always liked those roses the best—they were so small and sweet on their thorny stems. It made me feel glad that I could plant it by his grave—as if I were doing something that must please him in taking it there to be near him. I hope he has roses like them in heaven. Perhaps the souls of all those little white roses that he has loved so many summers were all there to meet him. I must go home now. Marilla is all alone and she gets lonely at twilight.”

“She will be lonelier still, I fear, when you go away again to college,” said Mrs. Allan.

Anne did not reply; she said good night and went slowly back to green Gables. Marilla was sitting on the front door-steps and Anne sat down beside her. The door was open behind them, held back by a big pink conch shell with hints of sea sunsets in its smooth inner convolutions.

Anne gathered some sprays of pale-yellow honeysuckle and put them in her hair. She liked the delicious hint of fragrance, as some aerial benediction, above her every time she moved.

“Doctor Spencer was here while you were away,” Marilla said. “He says that the specialist will be in town tomorrow and he insists that I must go in and have my eyes examined. I suppose I’d better go and have it over. I’ll be more than thankful if the man can give me the right kind of glasses to suit my eyes. You won’t mind staying here alone while I’m away, will you? Martin will have to drive me in and there’s ironing and baking to do.”

“I shall be all right. Diana will come over for company for me. I shall attend to the ironing and baking beautifully—you needn’t fear that I’ll starch the handkerchiefs or flavor the cake with liniment.”

Marilla laughed.

“What a girl you were for making mistakes in them days, Anne. You were always getting into scrapes. I did use to think you were possessed. Do you mind the time you dyed your hair?”

“Yes, indeed. I shall never forget it,” smiled Anne, touching the heavy braid of hair that was wound about her shapely head. “I laugh a little now sometimes when I think what a worry my hair used to be to me—but I don’t laugh much, because it was a very real trouble then. I did suffer terribly over my hair and my freckles. My freckles are really gone; and people are nice enough to tell me my hair is auburn now—all but Josie Pye. She informed me yesterday that she really thought it was redder than ever, or at least my black dress made it look redder, and she asked me if people who had red hair ever got used to having it. Marilla, I’ve almost decided to give up trying to like Josie Pye. I’ve made what I would once have called a heroic effort to like her, but Josie Pye won’t be liked.”

“Josie is a Pye,” said Marilla sharply, “so she can’t help being disagreeable. I suppose people of that kind serve some useful purpose in society, but I must say I don’t know what it is any more than I know the use of thistles. Is Josie going to teach?”

“No, she is going back to Queen’s next year. So are Moody Spurgeon and Charlie Sloane. Jane and Ruby are going to teach and they have both got schools—Jane at Newbridge and Ruby at some place up west.”

“Gilbert Blythe is going to teach too, isn’t he?”

“Yes”—briefly.

“What a nice-looking fellow he is,” said Marilla absently. “I saw him in church last Sunday and he seemed so tall and manly. He looks a lot like his father did at the same age. John Blythe was a nice boy. We used to be real good friends, he and I. People called him my beau.”

Anne looked up with swift interest.

“Oh, Marilla—and what happened?—why didn’t you—”

“We had a quarrel. I wouldn’t forgive him when he asked me to. I meant to, after awhile—but I was sulky and angry and I wanted to punish him first. He never came back—the Blythes were all mighty independent. But I always felt—rather sorry. I’ve always kind of wished I’d forgiven him when I had the chance.”

“So you’ve had a bit of romance in your life, too,” said Anne softly.

“Yes, I suppose you might call it that. You wouldn’t think so to look at me, would you? But you never can tell about people from their outsides. Everybody has forgot about me and John. I’d forgotten myself. But it all came back to me when I saw Gilbert last Sunday.”


CHAPTER XXXVIII.
The Bend in the road


MARILLA went to town the next day and returned in the evening. Anne had gone over to Orchard Slope with Diana and came back to find Marilla in the kitchen, sitting by the table with her head leaning on her hand. Something in her dejected attitude struck a chill to Anne’s heart. She had never seen Marilla sit limply inert like that.

“Are you very tired, Marilla?”

“Yes—no—I don’t know,” said Marilla wearily, looking up. “I suppose I am tired but I haven’t thought about it. It’s not that.”

“Did you see the oculist? What did he say?” asked Anne anxiously.

“Yes, I saw him. He examined my eyes. He says that if I give up all reading and sewing entirely and any kind of work that strains the eyes, and if I’m careful not to cry, and if I wear the glasses he’s given me he thinks my eyes may not get any worse and my headaches will be cured. But if I don’t he says I’ll certainly be stone-blind in six months. Blind! Anne, just think of it!”

For a minute Anne, after her first quick exclamation of dismay, was silent. It seemed to her that she could not speak. Then she said bravely, but with a catch in her voice:

“Marilla, don’t think of it. You know he has given you hope. If you are careful you won’t lose your sight altogether; and if his glasses cure your headaches it will be a great thing.”

“I don’t call it much hope,” said Marilla bitterly. “What am I to live for if I can’t read or sew or do anything like that? I might as well be blind—or dead. And as for crying, I can’t help that when I get lonesome. But there, it’s no good talking about it. If you’ll get me a cup of tea I’ll be thankful. I’m about done out. Don’t say anything about this to any one for a spell yet, anyway. I can’t bear that folks should come here to question and sympathize and talk about it.”

When Marilla had eaten her lunch Anne persuaded her to go to bed. Then Anne went herself to the east gable and sat down by her window in the darkness alone with her tears and her heaviness of heart. How sadly things had changed since she had sat there the night after coming home! Then she had been full of hope and joy and the future had looked rosy with promise. Anne felt as if she had lived years since then, but before she went to bed there was a smile on her lips and peace in her heart. She had looked her duty courageously in the face and found it a friend—as duty ever is when we meet it frankly.

One afternoon a few days later Marilla came slowly in from the front yard where she had been talking to a caller—a man whom Anne knew by sight as Sadler from Carmody. Anne wondered what he could have been saying to bring that look to Marilla’s face.

“What did Mr. Sadler want, Marilla?”

Marilla sat down by the window and looked at Anne. There were tears in her eyes in defiance of the oculist’s prohibition and her voice broke as she said:

“He heard that I was going to sell Green Gables and he wants to buy it.”

“Buy it! Buy Green Gables?” Anne wondered if she had heard aright. “Oh, Marilla, you don’t mean to sell Green Gables!”

“Anne, I don’t know what else is to be done. I’ve thought it all over. If my eyes were strong I could stay here and make out to look after things and manage, with a good hired man. But as it is I can’t. I may lose my sight altogether; and anyway I’ll not be fit to run things. Oh, I never thought I’d live to see the day when I’d have to sell my home. But things would only go behind worse and worse all the time, till nobody would want to buy it. Every cent of our money went in that bank; and there’s some notes Matthew gave last fall to pay. Mrs. Lynde advises me to sell the farm and board somewhere—with her I suppose. It won’t bring much—it’s small and the buildings are old. But it’ll be enough for me to live on I reckon. I’m thankful you’re provided for with that scholarship, Anne. I’m sorry you won’t have a home to come to in your vacations, that’s all, but I suppose you’ll manage somehow.”

Marilla broke down and wept bitterly.

“You mustn’t sell Green Gables,” said Anne resolutely.

“Oh, Anne, I wish I didn’t have to. But you can see for yourself. I can’t stay here alone. I’d go crazy with trouble and loneliness. And my sight would go—I know it would.”

“You won’t have to stay here alone, Marilla. I’ll be with you. I’m not going to Redmond.”

“Not going to Redmond!” Marilla lifted her worn face from her hands and looked at Anne. “Why, what do you mean?”

“Just what I say. I’m not going to take the scholarship. I decided so the night after you came home from town. You surely don’t think I could leave you alone in your trouble, Marilla, after all you’ve done for me. I’ve been thinking and planning. Let me tell you my plans. Mr. Barry wants to rent the farm for next year. So you won’t have any bother over that. And I’m going to teach. I’ve applied for the school here—but I don’t expect to get it for I understand the trustees have promised it to Gilbert Blythe. But I can have the Carmody school—Mr. Blair told me so last night at the store. Of course that won’t be quite as nice or convenient as if I had the Avonlea school. But I can board home and drive myself over to Carmody and back, in the warm weather at least. And even in winter I can come home Fridays. We’ll keep a horse for that. Oh, I have it all planned out, Marilla. And I’ll read to you and keep you cheered up. You sha’n’t be dull or lonesome. And we’ll be real cozy and happy here together, you and I.”

Marilla had listened like a woman in a dream.

“Oh, Anne, I could get on real well if you were here, I know. But I can’t let you sacrifice yourself so for me. It would be terrible.”

“Nonsense!” Anne laughed merrily. “There is no sacrifice. Nothing could be worse than giving up Green Gables—nothing could hurt me more. We must keep the dear old place. My mind is quite made up, Marilla. I’m not going to Redmond; and I am going to stay here and teach. Don’t you worry about me a bit.”

“But your ambitions—and—”

“I’m just as ambitious as ever. Only, I’ve changed the object of my ambitions. I’m going to be a good teacher—and I’m going to save your eyesight. Besides, I mean to study at home here and take a little college course all by myself. Oh, I’ve dozens of plans, Marilla. I’ve been thinking them out for a week. I shall give life here my best, and I believe it will give its best to me in return. When I left Queen’s my future seemed to stretch out before me like a straight road. I thought I could see along it for many a milestone. Now there is a bend in it. I don’t know what lies around the bend, but I’m going to believe that the best does. It has a fascination of its own, that bend, Marilla. I wonder how the road beyond it goes—what there is of green glory and soft, checkered light and shadows—what new landscapes—what new beauties—what curves and hills and valleys further on.”

“I don’t feel as if I ought to let you give it up,” said Marilla, referring to the scholarship.

“But you can’t prevent me. I’m sixteen and a half, ‘obstinate as a mule,’ as Mrs. Lynde once told me,” laughed Anne. “Oh, Marilla, don’t you go pitying me. I don’t like to be pitied, and there is no need for it. I’m heart glad over the very thought of staying at dear Green Gables. Nobody could love it as you and I do—so we must keep it.”

“You blessed girl!” said Marilla, yielding. “I feel as if you’d given me new life. I guess I ought to stick out and make you go to college—but I know I can’t, so I ain’t going to try. I’ll make it up to you though, Anne.”

When it became noised abroad in Avonlea that Anne Shirley had given up the idea of going to college and intended to stay home and teach there was a good deal of discussion over it. Most of the good folks, not knowing about Marilla’s eyes, thought she was foolish. Mrs. Allan did not. She told Anne so in approving words that brought tears of pleasure to the girl’s eyes. Neither did good Mrs. Lynde. She came up one evening and found Anne and Marilla sitting at the front door in the warm, scented summer dusk. They liked to sit there when the twilight came down and the white moths flew about in the garden and the odor of mint filled the dewy air.

Mrs. Rachel deposited her substantial person upon the stone bench by the door, behind which grew a row of tall pink and yellow hollyhocks, with a long breath of mingled weariness and relief.

“I declare I’m getting glad to sit down. I’ve been on my feet all day, and two hundred pounds is a good bit for two feet to carry round. It’s a great blessing not to be fat, Marilla. I hope you appreciate it. Well, Anne, I hear you’ve given up your notion of going to college. I was real glad to hear it. You’ve got as much education now as a woman can be comfortable with. I don’t believe in girls going to college with the men and cramming their heads full of Latin and Greek and all that nonsense.”

“But I’m going to study Latin and Greek just the same, Mrs. Lynde,” said Anne laughing. “I’m going to take my Arts course right here at Green Gables, and study everything that I would at college.”

Mrs. Lynde lifted her hands in holy horror.

“Anne Shirley, you’ll kill yourself.”

“Not a bit of it. I shall thrive on it. Oh, I’m not going to overdo things. As ‘Josiah Allen’s wife,’ says, I shall be ‘mejum’. But I’ll have lots of spare time in the long winter evenings, and I’ve no vocation for fancy work. I’m going to teach over at Carmody, you know.”

“I don’t know it. I guess you’re going to teach right here in Avonlea. The trustees have decided to give you the school.”

“Mrs. Lynde!” cried Anne, springing to her feet in her surprise. “Why, I thought they had promised it to Gilbert Blythe!”

“So they did. But as soon as Gilbert heard that you had applied for it he went to them—they had a business meeting at the school last night, you know—and told them that he withdrew his application, and suggested that they accept yours. He said he was going to teach at White Sands. Of course he knew how much you wanted to stay with Marilla, and I must say I think it was real kind and thoughtful in him, that’s what. Real self-sacrificing, too, for he’ll have his board to pay at White Sands, and everybody knows he’s got to earn his own way through college. So the trustees decided to take you. I was tickled to death when Thomas came home and told me.”

“I don’t feel that I ought to take it,” murmured Anne. “I mean—I don’t think I ought to let Gilbert make such a sacrifice for—for me.”

“I guess you can’t prevent him now. He’s signed papers with the White Sands trustees. So it wouldn’t do him any good now if you were to refuse. Of course you’ll take the school. You’ll get along all right, now that there are no Pyes going. Josie was the last of them, and a good thing she was, that’s what. There’s been some Pye or other going to Avonlea school for the last twenty years, and I guess their mission in life was to keep school teachers reminded that earth isn’t their home. Bless my heart! What does all that winking and blinking at the Barry gable mean?”

“Diana is signaling for me to go over,” laughed Anne. “You know we keep up the old custom. Excuse me while I run over and see what she wants.”

Anne ran down the clover slope like a deer, and disappeared in the firry shadows of the Haunted Wood. Mrs. Lynde looked after her indulgently.

“There’s a good deal of the child about her yet in some ways.”

“There’s a good deal more of the woman about her in others,” retorted Marilla, with a momentary return of her old crispness.

But crispness was no longer Marilla’s distinguishing characteristic. As Mrs. Lynde told her Thomas that night.

“Marilla Cuthbert has got mellow. That’s what.”

Anne went to the little Avonlea graveyard the next evening to put fresh flowers on Matthew’s grave and water the Scotch rosebush. She lingered there until dusk, liking the peace and calm of the little place, with its poplars whose rustle was like low, friendly speech, and its whispering grasses growing at will among the graves. When she finally left it and walked down the long hill that sloped to the Lake of Shining Waters it was past sunset and all Avonlea lay before her in a dreamlike afterlight—“a haunt of ancient peace.” There was a freshness in the air as of a wind that had blown over honey-sweet fields of clover. Home lights twinkled out here and there among the homestead trees. Beyond lay the sea, misty and purple, with its haunting, unceasing murmur. The west was a glory of soft mingled hues, and the pond reflected them all in still softer shadings. The beauty of it all thrilled Anne’s heart, and she gratefully opened the gates of her soul to it.

“Dear old world,” she murmured, “you are very lovely, and I am glad to be alive in you.”

Halfway down the hill a tall lad came whistling out of a gate before the Blythe homestead. It was Gilbert, and the whistle died on his lips as he recognized Anne. He lifted his cap courteously, but he would have passed on in silence, if Anne had not stopped and held out her hand.

“Gilbert,” she said, with scarlet cheeks, “I want to thank you for giving up the school for me. It was very good of you—and I want you to know that I appreciate it.”

Gilbert took the offered hand eagerly.

“It wasn’t particularly good of me at all, Anne. I was pleased to be able to do you some small service. Are we going to be friends after this? Have you really forgiven me my old fault?”

Anne laughed and tried unsuccessfully to withdraw her hand.

“I forgave you that day by the pond landing, although I didn’t know it. What a stubborn little goose I was. I’ve been—I may as well make a complete confession—I’ve been sorry ever since.”

“We are going to be the best of friends,” said Gilbert, jubilantly. “We were born to be good friends, Anne. You’ve thwarted destiny enough. I know we can help each other in many ways. You are going to keep up your studies, aren’t you? So am I. Come, I’m going to walk home with you.”

Marilla looked curiously at Anne when the latter entered the kitchen.

“Who was that came up the lane with you, Anne?”

“Gilbert Blythe,” answered Anne, vexed to find herself blushing. “I met him on Barry’s hill.”

“I didn’t think you and Gilbert Blythe were such good friends that you’d stand for half an hour at the gate talking to him,” said Marilla with a dry smile.

“We haven’t been—we’ve been good enemies. But we have decided that it will be much more sensible to be good friends in the future. Were we really there half an hour? It seemed just a few minutes. But, you see, we have five years’ lost conversations to catch up with, Marilla.”

Anne sat long at her window that night companioned by a glad content. The wind purred softly in the cherry boughs, and the mint breaths came up to her. The stars twinkled over the pointed firs in the hollow and Diana’s light gleamed through the old gap.

Anne’s horizons had closed in since the night she had sat there after coming home from Queen’s; but if the path set before her feet was to be narrow she knew that flowers of quiet happiness would bloom along it. The joy of sincere work and worthy aspiration and congenial friendship were to be hers; nothing could rob her of her birthright of fancy or her ideal world of dreams. And there was always the bend in the road!

“‘God’s in his heaven, all’s right with the world,’” whispered Anne softly.

END