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Wishes Are No Horses

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They buried Minnie-May on a Thursday, a day that wasn't nearly bleak enough for a child's funeral. Mary-Joe cried copiously throughout. She'd barely managed to stop since the baby had first fallen sick, with no-one around for miles but Matthew Cuthbert. The doctor, carted in with the haste, had been hours too late to save her. Diana did not cry, but sat quietly in her neat dress on the pew and listened.

Minnie-May's death had not yet quite registered with Diana. She could not associate the little casket with her sister. She'd never before seen a baby die, though of course she knew it happened. It had just never seemed like it could happen in her family, or that the bright gurgling, screaming girl, her little girl, could be the one to be put in a box and squandered on the ground. 
 
It would come, though, the understanding. She could only hope that she would know better, then, than to blame God like her mother had (Heaven protect her!), or to lose all trust in His workings. Even in her numb state she could see how easy it would have been to save the baby, if only God had seen fit, if only there had been one person close enough who knew what to do. 
 
Diana knew all about croup now, or at least all that the doctor and the minister's books could tell her. If only she'd known then - but there was no point in thinking of what wasn't. They hadn't known what to do, and Minnie-May was dead.
 
Diana resolved never to be so remiss again. She would learn every disease and its treatment, and study so hard even her thick head would have to learn. This would never happen again. 
 
--

Mrs Rachel Lynde was not one to carry regrets, but she carried one now heavy enough to bend even her proud head as she followed the casket down the gravelly cemetery path. Marilla Cuthbert, following so soon after her brother, would be much missed. Mrs Rachel felt her loss keener than most. Not only had she held for Marilla more regard than was commonly understood, she could not shake the feeling her death could have been avoided.  
 
It was grief and loneliness that took Marilla, the grief for a brother who had been her life's companion, and the hard work of maintaining Green Gables without him along with her subsequent blindness. The boy they had got from the orphanage after sending back that rude red-headed girl had run off within a year and had not been heard of since. Marilla had been alone in the dark, with nothing but a servant boy at her side. 
 
If only the orphan boy had been a decent sort! If only Rachel had not allowed Marilla to undertake so much work! Marilla had confided that the doctor had said her eyesight might be saved if she did not do close work in the dark. She could have moved in with the Lyndes. There might yet have been a long good life ahead of Marilla. 
 
But wishes were no horses, and proud Mrs Rachel dabbed her eyes as the dirt hit the casket, blessing Marilla Cuthbert on her way to a better place.

 --

Want of sleep still clinging around the edges of her consciousness, attendant to all the exhaustions of the past months, Diana made her way through the crowd to the list of Queen's graduates. She clung to Jane Andrews' arm, nails almost digging in her flesh, and tried to draw courage from her stolidity.

Diana lifted her eyes reluctantly, and stared. Fourth! She was fourth on such a long list! The smile trickled slowly onto her face, and solid composed Diana Barry took her friend by the hand and twirled her around, laughing for joy.

'Jane, oh Jane, you know what this means? Redmond! If Mama will only say yes, Redmond! I'll be a fully certified nurse!'

Jane, embarrassed, stopped her twirling, but when she embraced her and gave her congratulations there was genuine enough warmth in her smile. Jane would not enroll; she intended to teach school instead.

Diana ran to give her news next to Miss Stacy, who was there to cheer her pupils' success, and who, it turned out, had never doubted Diana's. 'But Diana,' said Miss Stacy then, changing Diana's life forever, 'why settle for nursing? Why not go for a doctorate of medicine?'

Diana mouth formed a perfect O, and her tongue a dozen objections: She was not smart enough, scholarliness came to her only with difficulty, what would people think of a woman doctor, what about marriage, the future? And yet... beyond all this she saw her little sister's casket. It was an "if only" that outshone all objections.

Diana closed her mouth, and it formed that determined line that brooked no argument; the expression she might never have had – if only. 

-- 
 
'How do I look?' said Ruby Gillis, turning a coquettish smile on her fiancé. She was dressed in a wide-brimmed straw hat and a white embroidered dress, her golden hair shining against it like liquid sunlight. 
 
'Like a fresh spring morning,' said Gilbert. He had become more inventive with his compliments since he'd heard Herb Spencer call her mouth "a perfect rosebud" the other week. He smiled to see her blush with pleasure. Ruby turned once more to the mirror to adjust her hat and admire her skin. Satisfied, she slipped her arm into Gilbert's and they followed the rest of the Gillis’ out in stately procession towards the church. 
 
The summer air was soft as milk. 
 
'You think I'm a terrible vain creature to go on so, I know,' said Ruby, 'and on a Sunday too – but you'd like me less with a pug nose or red hair, I'm sure.'
 
'I'd like you just as well with a pug nose, dear,' said Gil seriously, 'but red hair wouldn't suit you.' 
 
'Nonetheless,' sighed Ruby, 'at least I'm cured of playing the flirt – witness how I abstained from that ball in town last winter! And oh, how I wanted to go! But you wouldn't have been able to make it, and so that was that. I know I would have felt just wretched and missed you terribly the whole while, where once I would have danced with every boy at the ball. I can't imagine anyone else to have effected as thorough a cure, dear Doctor-to-be.' 
 
'Not even Herb Spencer, oh Mrs-Doctor-to-be?' 
 
'Not even death,' said Ruby, giggling, and gave him a surreptitious peck on the cheek. In the shrubbery, birds chirruped, and her mouth was warm and alive against his skin. 
 
--
 
'Diana, I want to tell you something. May I?' 
 
Jane sounded serious, so Diana nodded and said 'Of course.' They were lying warm and snug in Diana's bed, as Jane was staying over, while outside the wind was blowing and rattling the windowpanes with the last gusts of winter. 
 
'What do you think of my brother Billy?' 
 
'Billy? I've nothing to say against him. Why, is he running for president of Ruby's concert club?' 
 
'No, no. But do you like him?' 
 
'Sure I like him,' Diana said, before she realized with horror what Jane must be driving at. Diana's engagement was still a secret until it could be properly announced to everyone at once. Fred said he'd taken this long about proposing for want of a romantic enough spot – as if Avonlea wasn't lush with romantic spots, even after those horrible ads had gone up along so many walks! 
 
'Would you like him for a hus-' 
 
'Oh, no!' Diana shrieked before Jane could even finish. 'Oh, dear – Jane – I am to marry Fred Wright.' 
 
Jane stopped. 'Oh! Well, why didn't you say so?' 
 
'I just did. I'm sorry. It's all rather new.' 
 
'Billy will be disappointed. He had all his hopes pinned on you.' 
 
'But you see...' 
 
'I see,' said Jane stiffly, and turned away. Evidently she did not think Fred Wright quite as wonderful as her brother. Diana sank into the mattress, her heart beating wildly. What an escape! 
 
A happy flush came to her cheeks when she thought of Fred. She'd been hungry for love even long before he'd fixed her heart. Her friends were close, but never close enough. In Fred, she had her heart's companion.
 
She fell asleep dreaming of her childhood, and that queer empty space in it that she was now so close to filling. 
 
-- 
 
'There's nothing for them but the orphanage,' was the final word, when the Keith twins were put to bed after the day of their father's death. There was no more money, nor any relatives left willing or able to take them.

Another week saw the truth of those words. 
 
There was a square of asphalt for a playground at the back of the orphanage, narrow hard beds in the boys' and girls' halls with thin blankets, and days that were spent in scrubbing floors in between meagre lessons and even less substantial meals. Davy spent many days locked into the broom cupboard, his backside smarting. 
 
No one was more unkind than necessary, but no one was kind either. Davy ran wild with the other boys. Dora scrubbed, and learned, and underneath it her heart was breaking. Davy fought anyone who bothered her, even hitting a girl for pulling her hair. On occasion, when no one was looking, he'd hold her close while she cried. 
 
After two years, Dora - pale, thin and no longer pretty- was adopted by a couple from Boston. She went quietly, grasping her brother's hand and promising to write to him, while he cried and howled and threw such a tantrum he was smacked and closeted every day for a week. 
 
She did write, dutiful good letters about Boston and the Collingwoods, until a few years later the last letter came, telling him calmly that her parents didn't want her to write anymore. Not after Davy was caught pick-pocketing and had only been saved a trial by the Collingwoods' own interference. 
 
Davy learned very little in the orphanage school except to fight and steal and take what he wanted, and to see the world outside the fence for what it really was.

--

'But, Fred,' Diana sobbed, and then had to stop as emotion overwhelmed her.

'No, Di!' Fred shouted. His once jolly face was flushed with anger. 'I put up with your Redmond scheme, though it meant waiting even longer before we could be married, when I thought you'd just get a nurse's degree. And then, when you changed your mind, it was fine when I thought that you'd grow tired of studying or that the boys in your class would drive you out, but it looks like they've just been driving you about.'

'You know Roy is just a friend! And Gil is engaged – how could you –'

'And no end in sight – all I hear about is how well you're doing at school or what parties your fancy wealthy friends have been taking you to, or which part of the body you've been closely studying last week! Do you realize what that's like to listen to – how it makes me look? And what about the children we would have? Who would take care of them when you were out taking care of other people's children? I didn't propose to you to become Mrs Doctor Barry, at home drowning in nappies while you're off fulfilling some selfish dream!'

'Fred, I would never –'

'Diana,' he said with an air of finality, ’it’s Redmond or me. Choose.'

'Fred, please don't make me,' Diana cried, and then she was sobbing again. Fred was not a hard man, and the sight of her made him relent - to a point. 'Well, well.' He petted Diana's lovely hair. 'I'm sorry I made you cry. We'll talk about this tomorrow.'

He left her sitting alone by the Barry pond, amongst the full heavy splendour of midsummer, to slowly tear out one half of her heart.

--

Winter came that year so sparkling and lovely that Miss Lavendar little regretted how much the snow would muffle her beloved echoes. The frost-flowers on her windowpanes alone sparked enough pleasant reveries and flights of fancy to keep her entertained for hours, and she was even later in rising than usual for lying in bed just watching them twirl their way across the glass.

She powdered her nose thinking of ancient queens and young girls in love. Dressed in her favourite gown, she twirled in front of her mirror, squinting away the wrinkles. She chattered with Charlotta over the breakfast table, ate much too much sugar (but it kept life so sweet!), and afterwards put on her furs and heavy boots to go dance out into the fresh new snow. Charlotta grumbled about the extra work and made to go and fetch a shovel.

'Don't – not yet!' said Miss Lavender, and took her by the hand, dancing with her through the yard. 'There – I wouldn't want such beauty first broken by a mere shovel. A dance is much better.'

Charlotta gave her a look that quite clearly told Miss Lavendar what she thought of her fancies. Miss Lavendar laughed, danced her around once more, and let her go. She sighed to see her go on her way. Charlotta was so tall now. Soon she would have to leave. Miss Lavendar did not know what she'd do without a Charlotta – but she would not think of that now.

She walked to the gate and looked down the road winding through such a long stretch of emptiness towards Avonlea. Sometimes she could almost feel a visitor was due, almost see her slight shape come up the road – but there was no-one.

--

Diana looked over the little hospital room, hardly the size of the sitting room at her parents' house. It was filled with beds, and at the end the room there was a medicine cabinet with a heavy lock, along with the shelves arranged with bandages and books. It was the only hospital in the city that would hire a woman doctor fresh out of college, and it wasn't much – but it was hers. She felt a thrill of satisfaction, mixed, as always, with trepidation, and a twinge of grief for the other future, the one she'd lost.

She shook hands with the nurses, practicing that sense of inviting authority she'd observed in her professors. Two or three of them had eyed her oddly when she'd been introduced as Dr Barry, and she suspected she would have many months' work ahead of her breaking them out of their prejudices.

Afterwards she took tea with her new partner, Dr Halliday – luckily for her virtue a man so clearly immune to ladies' charms as to put her perfectly at ease from their first meeting. They discussed their regulars, the neighbourhood, and her future training under his tutelage.

'My dear,' said Dr Halliday, 'you need a female companion, a friend to live with. You would do much better in the country, and let us pray for that eventuality, but while you are in the city there's nothing like a chum to make those beasts' – he meant men in general – 'stay their attentions, or, if your friend Halliday is lucky, reserve them for him.'

Diana was a Doctor of Medicine and would not blush, but she may have giggled. 'And how do you suggest I go about securing one, Doctor? All my Avonlea friends have married or moved, or are teaching school, and I can't very well keep a wife on this pay.'

Dr Halliday laughed, approving. 'Take our new trainee nurse – she has no residence at the moment. Take Anne.'

'I don't think I met an Anne just now.'

'No – she was making a house call this morning.' Dr Halliday gave her a long look. 'Something tells me you two will get along.'

--

Diana met Anne – tall, thin, red-haired - the next morning, but had no time for even half a word before a Mrs Turner came in in the throes of a difficult childbirth. Her contractions were regular and coming in close together, but she was barely half-way dilated.

The birth took another five hours and there was much blood lost – almost too much. Diana took other patients, advised, treated, bandaged, diagnosed and returned every time to the young mother's side, until with great relief she could finally tell her to push. Anne wiped Mrs Turner's forehead – wide, pale, and so young – and held her hand. The boy was out in another ten minutes, red and healthy and screaming.

'Is he all right?' Anne cried. Diana gave him to Anne with a relieved affirmation, and Anne's eyes sparkled like stars as she went to wash the child. The exhausted mother, after seeing her child, fell into grateful sleep.

Later, as Anne was washing her hands for the last time that day, Diana went up and asked her to a late tea that evening. Anne complied, and by the look in her eye Diana guessed Dr Halliday had been talking to her about the scheme, too.

At tea, Anne insisted on pouring and bustled about making herself useful. She was not handsome, nor the opposite – too thin, and a little more worn-out than she should be at their age, and her dress was cheap and drab - but she wore her hair with a sense of style, her carriage was tall and queenly, and there was a stubborn spark in her eye no life of hardship had yet wiped out.

Diana found she had already made up her mind.

She took Anne's hand as Anne put down their cups, and almost laughed because she felt like going down on one knee. 'Anne,' she said. 'Have you ever had a bosom friend?'

--

'She loves children so much,' said Ruby Blythe quietly to Diana. 'It's a shame she hasn't any herself.'

Diana agreed, giving Anne a fond look. Anne was reading from a book of fairy tales to Ruby's two youngest, Jim and Cordelia, who sat spellbound by her voice and the passion she put into the king's speech.

'She had an offer, actually,' said Diana, 'and for a moment I was sure I would lose her. It would have been a good match, straight out of a fairy story, but she changed her mind at the last moment. She said she didn't want to be in a fairy story after all.'

'Roy Gardner, I'm assuming?' said Ruby, who was keen on gossip.

Diana nodded. 'I have to say I'm glad,' she said. 'Roy is a nice boy, but he was never very... well, interesting. In any case, his undying passion is now directed elsewhere, and I get to keep Anne.'

'And what of yourself?' said Ruby softly, giving her a look somewhere between pity and curiousity.

Diana laughed. It was hard to say when exactly the loss of Fred had stopped stinging, or when the imminence of becoming an old maid had ceased to give her pain, but there it was. She regretted nothing – not even the children she never had. She had her work, and Anne, and their little house, and her practice, and every morning, all around her, all the beauty of the Island. This was where she belonged, as did Anne.

Diana had suffered a fit of tears when Anne had confessed she'd almost been adopted into Avonlea when they were children, and even more when Anne had told her what she'd endured instead, in the orphanage, and later in the city. It was too late to save her childhood, but Anne assured her she had been saved now, in all the ways a woman could be saved.

After dinner, they took a carriage as far as the road to their house and walked the rest of the way under the stars, arm in arm, talking quietly. It was as perfect a happiness as anyone could wish.