The firelight flickered from point to point, gleaming on the white and green coats of Gog and Magog, on the sleek, brown head of the beautiful setter basking on the rug, on the picture frames on the walls, on the vaseful of daffodils from the window garden, on Anne herself, sitting by her little table, with her sewing beside her and her hands clasped over her knee while she traced out pictures in the fire--Castles in Spain whose airy turrets pierced moonlit cloud and sunset bar-ships sailing from the Haven of Good Hopes straight to Four Winds Harbor with precious burthen. For Anne was again a dreamer of dreams, albeit a grim shape of fear went with her night and day to shadow and darken her visions.
Gilbert was accustomed to refer to himself as "an old married man." But he still looked upon Anne with the incredulous eyes of a lover. He couldn't wholly believe yet that she was really his. It might be only a dream after all, part and parcel of this magic house of dreams. His soul still went on tip-toe before her, lest the charm be shattered and the dream dispelled.
"Anne," he said slowly, "lend me your ears. I want to talk with you about something."
Anne looked across at him through the fire-lit gloom.
"What is it?" she asked gaily. "You look fearfully solemn, Gilbert. I really haven't done anything naughty today. Ask Susan."
"It's not of you--or ourselves--I want to talk. It's about Dick Moore."
"Dick Moore?" echoed Anne, sitting up alertly. "Why, what in the world have you to say about Dick Moore?"
"I've been thinking a great deal about him lately. Do you remember that time last summer I treated him for those carbuncles on his neck?"
" I took the opportunity to examine the scars on his head thoroughly. I've always thought Dick was a very interesting case from a medical point of view. Lately I've been studying the history of trephining and the cases where it has been employed. Anne, I have come to the conclusion that if Dick Moore were taken to a good hospital and the operation of trephining performed on several places in his skull, his memory and faculties might be restored."
"Gilbert!" Anne's voice was full of protest. "Surely you don't mean it!"
"I do, indeed. And I have decided that it is my duty to broach the subject to Leslie."
"Gilbert Blythe, you shall not do any such thing," cried Anne vehemently. "Oh, Gilbert, you won't--you won't. You couldn't be so cruel. Promise me you won't."
"Why, Anne-girl, I didn't suppose you would take it like this. Be reasonable--"
"I won't be reasonable--I can't be reasonable--I am reasonable. It is you who are unreasonable. Gilbert, have you ever once thought what it would mean for Leslie if Dick Moore were to be restored to his right senses? Just stop and think! She's unhappy enough now; but life as Dick's nurse and attendant is a thousand times easier for her than life as Dick's wife. I know--I know! It's unthinkable. Don't you meddle with the matter. Leave well enough alone."
"I have thought over that aspect of the case thoroughly, Anne. But I believe that a doctor is bound to set the sanctity of a patient's mind and body above all other considerations, no matter what the consequences may be. I believe it his duty to endeavor to restore health and sanity, if there is any hope whatever of it."
"But Dick isn't your patient in that respect," cried Anne, taking another tack. "If Leslie had asked you if anything could be done for him, then it might be your duty to tell her what you really thought. But you've no right to meddle ."
"I don't call it meddling. Uncle Dave told Leslie twelve years ago that nothing could be done for Dick. She believes that, of course."
"And why did Uncle Dave tell her that, if it wasn't true?" cried Anne, triumphantly. "Doesn't he know as much about it as you?"
"I think not--though it may sound conceited and presumptuous to say it. And you know as well as I that he is rather prejudiced against what he calls `these new-fangled notions of cutting and carving.' He's even opposed to operating for appendicitis."
"He's right," exclaimed Anne, with a complete change of front. `I believe myself that you modern doctors are entirely too fond of making experiments with human flesh and blood."
"Rhoda Allonby would not be a living woman today if I had been afraid of making a certain experiment," argued Gilbert. "I took the risk--and saved her life."
"I'm sick and tired of hearing about Rhoda Allonby," cried Anne--most unjustly, for Gilbert had never mentioned Mrs. Allonby's name since the day he had told Anne of his success in regard to her. And he could not be blamed for other people's discussion of it.
Gilbert felt rather hurt.
"I had not expected you to look at the matter as you do, Anne," he said a little stiffly, getting up and moving towards the office door. It was their first approach to a quarrel.
But Anne flew after him and dragged him back.
"Now, Gilbert, you are not `going off mad.' Sit down here and I'll apologise bee-yew-ti-fully, I shouldn't have said that. But--oh, if you knew--"
Anne checked herself just in time. She had been on the very verge of betraying Leslie's secret.
"Knew what a woman feels about it," she concluded lamely.
"I think I do know. I've looked at the matter from every point of view--and I've been driven to the conclusion that it is my duty to tell Leslie that I believe it is possible that Dick can be restored to himself; there my responsibility ends. It will be for her to decide what she will do."
"I don't think you've any right to put such a responsibility on her. She has enough to bear. She is poor--how could she afford such an operation?"
"That is for her to decide," persisted Gilbert stubbornly.
"You say you think that Dick can be cured. But are you sure of it?"
"Certainly not. Nobody could be sure of such a thing. There may have been lesions of the brain itself, the effect of which can never be removed. But if, as I believe, his loss of memory and other faculties is due merely to the pressure on the brain centers of certain depressed areas of bone, then he can be cured."
"But it's only a possibility!" insisted Anne. "Now, suppose you tell Leslie and she decides to have the operation. It will cost a great deal. She will have to borrow the money, or sell her little property. And suppose the operation is a failure and Dick remains the same.
How will she be able to pay back the money she borrows, or make a living for herself and that big helpless creature if she sells the farm?"
"Oh, I know--I know. But it is my duty to tell her. I can't get away from that conviction."
"Oh, I know the Blythe stubbornness," groaned Anne. "But don't do this solely on your own responsibility. Consult Doctor Dave."
"I have done so," said Gilbert reluctantly.
"And what did he say?"
"In brief--as you say--leave well enough alone. Apart from his prejudice against new-fangled surgery, I'm afraid he looks at the case from your point of view--don't do it, for Leslie's sake."
"There now," cried Anne triumphantly. "I do think, Gilbert, that you ought to abide by the judgment of a man nearly eighty, who has seen a great deal and saved scores of lives himself--surely his opinion ought to weigh more than a mere boy's."
"Don't laugh. It's too serious."
"That's just my point. It is serious. Here is a man who is a helpless burden. He may be restored to reason and usefulness--"
"He was so very useful before," interjected Anne witheringly.
"He may be given a chance to make good and redeem the past. His wife doesn't know this. I do. It is therefore my duty to tell her that there is such a possibility. That, boiled down, is my decision."
"Don't say `decision' yet, Gilbert. Consult somebody else. Ask Captain Jim what he thinks about it."
"Very well. But I'll not promise to abide by his opinion, Anne.
This is something a man must decide for himself. My conscience would never be easy if I kept silent on the subject."
"Oh, your conscience!" moaned Anne. "I suppose that Uncle Dave has a conscience too, hasn't he?"
"Yes. But I am not the keeper of his conscience. Come, Anne, if this affair did not concern Leslie--if it were a purely abstract case, you would agree with me,--you know you would."
"I wouldn't," vowed Anne, trying to believe it herself. "Oh, you can argue all night, Gilbert, but you won't convince me. Just you ask Miss Cornelia what she thinks of it."
"You're driven to the last ditch, Anne, when you bring up Miss Cornelia as a reinforcement. She will say, `Just like a man,' and rage furiously. No matter. This is no affair for Miss Cornelia to settle. Leslie alone must decide it."
"You know very well how she will decide it," said Anne, almost in tears. "She has ideals of duty, too. I don't see how you can take such a responsibility on your shoulders. I couldn't."
"`Because right is right to follow right Were wisdom in the scorn of consequence,'"quoted Gilbert.
"Oh, you think a couplet of poetry a convincing argument!" scoffed Anne. "That is so like a man."
And then she laughed in spite of herself. It sounded so like an echo of Miss Cornelia.
"Well, if you won't accept Tennyson as an authority, perhaps you will believe the words of a Greater than he," said Gilbert seriously. "`Ye shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free.' I believe that, Anne, with all my heart. It's the greatest and grandest verse in the Bible--or in any literature--and the truest, if there are comparative degrees of trueness. And it's the first duty of a man to tell the truth, as he sees it and believes it."
"In this case the truth won't make poor Leslie free," sighed Anne. "It will probably end in still more bitter bondage for her. Oh, Gilbert, I can't think you are right."
Next chapter: Leslie Decides