One evening, when the sky's limpid bowl was filled with a red glory, and the robins were thrilling the golden twilight with jubilant hymns to the stars of evening, there was a sudden commotion in the little house of dreams. Telephone messages were sent up to the Glen, Doctor Dave and a white-capped nurse came hastily down, Marilla paced the garden walks between the quahog shells, murmuring prayers between her set lips, and Susan sat in the kitchen with cotton wool in her ears and her apron over her head.
Leslie, looking out from the house up the brook, saw that every window of the little house was alight, and did not sleep that night.
The June night was short; but it seemed an eternity to those who waited and watched.
"Oh, will it never end?" said Marilla; then she saw how grave the nurse and Doctor Dave looked, and she dared ask no more questions. Suppose Anne--but Marilla could not suppose it.
"Do not tell me," said Susan fiercely, answering the anguish in Marilla's eyes, "that God could be so cruel as to take that darling lamb from us when we all love her so much."
"He has taken others as well beloved," said Marilla hoarsely.
But at dawn, when the rising sun rent apart the mists hanging over the sandbar, and made rainbows of them, joy came to the little house. Anne was safe, and a wee, white lady, with her mother's big eyes, was lying beside her. Gilbert, his face gray and haggard from his night's agony, came down to tell Marilla and Susan.
"Thank God," shuddered Marilla.
Susan got up and took the cotton wool out of her ears.
"Now for breakfast," she said briskly. "I am of the opinion that we will all be glad of a bite and sup. You tell young Mrs. Doctor not to worry about a single thing--Susan is at the helm. You tell her just to think of her baby."
Gilbert smiled rather sadly as he went away. Anne, her pale face blanched with its baptism of pain, her eyes aglow with the holy passion of motherhood, did not need to be told to think of her baby. She thought of nothing else. For a few hours she tasted of happiness so rare and exquisite that she wondered if the angels in heaven did not envy her.
"Little Joyce," she murmured, when Marilla came in to see the baby. "We planned to call her that if she were a girlie. There were so many we would have liked to name her for; we couldn't choose between them, so we decided on Joyce--we can call her Joy for short--Joy--it suits so well. Oh, Marilla, I thought I was happy before. Now I know that I just dreamed a pleasant dream of happiness. This is the reality."
"You mustn't talk, Anne--wait till you're stronger," said Marilla warningly.
"You know how hard it is for me not to talk," smiled Anne.
At first she was too weak and too happy to notice that Gilbert and the nurse looked grave and Marilla sorrowful. Then, as subtly, and coldly, and remorselessly as a sea-fog stealing landward, fear crept into her heart. Why was not Gilbert gladder? Why would he not talk about the baby? Why would they not let her have it with her after that first heavenly--happy hour? Was--was there anything wrong?
"Gilbert," whispered Anne imploringly, "the baby--is all right--isn't she? Tell me--tell me."
Gilbert was a long while in turning round; then he bent over Anne and looked in her eyes. Marilla, listening fearfully outside the door, heard a pitiful, heartbroken moan, and fled to the kitchen where Susan was weeping.
"Oh, the poor lamb--the poor lamb! How can she bear it, Miss Cuthbert? I am afraid it will kill her. She has been that built up and happy, longing for that baby, and planning for it. Cannot anything be done nohow, Miss Cuthbert?"
"I'm afraid not, Susan. Gilbert says there is no hope. He knew from the first the little thing couldn't live."
"And it is such a sweet baby," sobbed Susan. "I never saw one so white--they are mostly red or yallow. And it opened its big eyes as if it was months old. The little, little thing! Oh, the poor, young Mrs. Doctor!"
At sunset the little soul that had come with the dawning went away, leaving heartbreak behind it. Miss Cornelia took the wee, white lady from the kindly but stranger hands of the nurse, and dressed the tiny waxen form in the beautiful dress Leslie had made for it. Leslie had asked her to do that. Then she took it back and laid it beside the poor, broken, tear-blinded little mother.
"The Lord has given and the Lord has taken away, dearie," she said through her own tears. "Blessed be the name of the Lord."
Then she went away, leaving Anne and Gilbert alone together with their dead.
The next day, the small white Joy was laid in a velvet casket which Leslie had lined with apple-blossoms, and taken to the graveyard of the church across the harbor. Miss Cornelia and Marilla put all the little love-made garments away, together with the ruffled basket which had been befrilled and belaced for dimpled limbs and downy head. Little Joy was never to sleep there; she had found a colder, narrower bed.
"This has been an awful disappointment to me," sighed Miss Cornelia. "I've looked forward to this baby--and I did want it to be a girl, too."
"I can only be thankful that Anne's life was spared," said Marilla, with a shiver, recalling those hours of darkness when the girl she loved was passing through the valley of the shadow.
"Poor, poor lamb! Her heart is broken," said Susan.
"I envy Anne," said Leslie suddenly and fiercely, "and I'd envy her even if she had died! She was a mother for one beautiful day. I'd gladly give my life for that!"
"I wouldn't talk like that, Leslie, dearie," said Miss Cornelia deprecatingly. She was afraid that the dignified Miss Cuthbert would think Leslie quite terrible.
Anne's convalescence was long, and made bitter for her by many things. The bloom and sunshine of the Four Winds world grated harshly on her; and yet, when the rain fell heavily, she pictured it beating so mercilessly down on that little grave across the harbor; and when the wind blew around the eaves she heard sad voices in it she had never heard before.
Kindly callers hurt her, too, with the well-meant platitudes with which they strove to cover the nakedness of bereavement. A letter from Phil Blake was an added sting. Phil had heard of the baby's birth, but not of its death, and she wrote Anne a congratulatory letter of sweet mirth which hurt her horribly.
"I would have laughed over it so happily if I had my baby," she sobbed to Marilla. "But when I haven't it just seems like wanton cruelty--though I know Phil wouldn't hurt me for the world. Oh, Marilla, I don't see how I can ever be happy again--everything will hurt me all the rest of my life."
"Time will help you," said Marilla, who was racked with sympathy but could never learn to express it in other than age-worn formulas.
"It doesn't seem fair," said Anne rebelliously. "Babies are born and live where they are not wanted--where they will be neglected-- where they will have no chance. I would have loved my baby so--and cared for it so tenderly--and tried to give her every chance for good. And yet I wasn't allowed to keep her."
"It was God's will, Anne," said Marilla, helpless before the riddle of the universe--the why of undeserved pain. "And little Joy is better off."
"I can't believe that," cried Anne bitterly. Then, seeing that Marilla looked shocked, she added passionately, "Why should she be born at all--why should any one be born at all--if she's better off dead? I don't believe it is better for a child to die at birth than to live its life out--and love and be loved--and enjoy and suffer--and do its work--and develop a character that would give it a personality in eternity. And how do you know it was God's will? Perhaps it was just a thwarting of His purpose by the Power of Evil. We can't be expected to be resigned to that."
"Oh, Anne, don't talk so," said Marilla, genuinely alarmed lest Anne were drifting into deep and dangerous waters. "We can't understand--but we must have faith--we must believe that all is for the best. I know you find it hard to think so, just now. But try to be brave--for Gilbert's sake. He's so worried about you. You aren't getting strong as fast as you should."
"Oh, I know I've been very selfish," sighed Anne. "I love Gilbert more than ever--and I want to live for his sake. But it seems as if part of me was buried over there in that little harbor graveyard-- and it hurts so much that I'm afraid of life."
"It won't hurt so much always, Anne."
"The thought that it may stop hurting sometimes hurts me worse than all else, Marilla."
"Yes, I know, I've felt that too, about other things. But we all love you, Anne. Captain Jim has been up every day to ask for you--and Mrs. Moore haunts the place--and Miss Bryant spends most of her time, I think, cooking up nice things for you. Susan doesn't like it very well. She thinks she can cook as well as Miss Bryant."
"Dear Susan! Oh, everybody has been so dear and good and lovely to me, Marilla. I'm not ungrateful--and perhaps--when this horrible ache grows a little less--I'll find that I can go on living."
Next chapter: Lost Margaret