Sorrow is a stone that crushes a single bearer to the ground, while two are able to carry it with ease.
--Philip James Bailey
Gilbert Blythe had loved that red-haired girl, Anne Shirley, since the day she broke her slate over his head for calling her "Carrots." He loved her still, more than he'd ever believed possible, and because he loved her so dearly, his heart was breaking for her, even more than for himself. She was lost, wandering in a fog of grief and bitterness, and he didn't know how to find her and bring her safely home.
The garden was a riot of color, summer blooms displaying all their finery against the variegated greens and grays and browns of trees and grass and the shining blue of the sky. But Gilbert had eyes only for Anne, who had finally been convinced to leave the house for a little sunshine and fresh air. She sat beside the brook that cut across the corner of the garden, the poppies along its banks no brighter than her hair, but her entire bearing was hunched and dispirited, and his heart ached.
Seemingly unable to comfort her, and feeling nearly as alone when with her as when he was on his own, Gilbert had thrown himself back into his work. He had just arrived home, earlier than he had expected, as the Four Winds folk were uncooperatively healthy of late, leaving him more idle than he'd prefer.
Young Mrs. Doctor hardly touched her lunch, Susan informed him. She and Miss Cornelia Bryant were putting together what they hoped would be a tempting assortment of treats, and would he like to take it out to her?
Rivals early on when it came to rousing Anne's appetite, Susan and Miss Cornelia had since joined forces, making a formidable pair, however unsuccessful they were at persuading Anne to eat more than would barely hold body and soul together. As a team they had inveigled Edwina Elliott into parting with a long-secret family recipe for tomato aspic rumored to tempt the most jaded or diminished appetite. They both worried about Anne, showing it in their own ways, Susan by openly fussing, Miss Cornelia by holding her tongue and taking care to see that nothing was left to worry Anne, after Marilla had to go back to Green Gables.
They both worried about Dr. Blythe, as well, and did their best to comfort him, assuring him that things would improve, and that Anne would recover.
"It may seem a harsh thing to even think, Dr. Blythe," declared Susan, "but I don't know as what I'd rather be a well-loved babe with no time at all in this world than long-lived, but unloved and unwanted. I know young Mrs. Doctor doesn't see that, but that child is loved, she is, however short a time we had with her."
"Give her time," Miss Cornelia encouraged him. "She'll never truly lose this sorrow, but time will soften the jagged edges."
When she said that, Gilbert felt that 'queer ache' that Anne used to talk of, a desire and longing so strong it gave him a hollow ache inside. He felt it much of the time now, especially when he looked at Anne, the Anne he had loved since boyhood, that he had finally claimed as his own, and now found to be almost a well-loved stranger. She had a richer, fuller beauty to him now, a womanliness carved by sorrow--and what he wouldn't give to have his 'Anne-girl', again, his gay, carefree bride. He loved her more than ever--needed her more than ever--but he would have done anything to spare her this pain.
Gilbert took the offered tray out into the garden to Anne, taking care to make enough noise to let her know he was coming. She was so sunk in her own thoughts, of late, that she startled easy, and then only looked wounded, and he couldn't take that.
"Anne, dear, here are Susan and Miss Cornelia's latest delicacies, do try and eat a little something. It would so please them, and you need to eat, to regain your strength." He sat down beside her, placing the tray to the side and snapping the napkin open to spread on her lap.
Her dear features were as beautiful as ever, but sharpened by grief and illness, her skin pale and untouched by her normal vivacity. Her lovely, much-maligned hair and fine gray eyes, her best features, were dull and lifeless, and as she looked up at him he saw again that where once her eyes held copious laughter and whimsy, now they brimmed over with sorrow and weariness. In her own grief, she failed to see these same signs of pain and suffering in her husband, and felt that trying to please anyone was beyond her.
"I try, Gilbert, I do, but it's as if there's something in my throat, and I can't swallow past it," she said listlessly, turning her gaze away to stare off into the distance, where he could not follow. She spent most of her time there, but where it had once led to the future, a land filled with dreams and plans, now it held only emptiness and oblivion.
He felt a flare of anger, rapidly dampened by his dismay. They had saved her life, but he feared she was leaving him, anyway.
"Anne," he cried softly, catching her arms and shaking her, trying to get her to really SEE him. "Anne, don't leave me. I couldn't bear it if you left, and I already feel so alone!" He relaxed his tight grip." Let me comfort you--let us support each other!"
"How can you comfort me, Gilbert," she said in a ragged voice, full of sharp edges. "How can anyone, or anything? What comfort IS there, in a world like this? So many unloved babies, so many I've raised, whose parents didn't truly want them, and this is my reward, to have my own daughter torn from me, before I could even know her? How could God let this happen?" she raged. She pulled away from him, her eyes shining again, now, but with helpless anger.
"How could you let this happen?" she cried, and the arrow went straight into his heart, called by the guilt he felt for this very reason. "Why the Allonby's baby, and not mine? Where was your fight against the Great Destroyer for my Joy?" she sobbed, flinging herself upon him, hitting out with her fists.
He caught her arms in his hands, and held them tight, saying nothing, doing nothing, until she looked up at him, sobbing. When she saw his face, her cries fell silent, though her tears still fell, and she remembered that day past when she'd told him there was no hope, that she could never love him. Now, as then, his face was white to the lips, and his eyes--his eyes--
Gilbert looked down at her, and when he spoke, his voice deep with his own unshed tears. "I lost a daughter, too, Anne."
She stared at him, a pain more searing than her present sorrow piercing her heart. "Oh, Gilbert! Oh, Gilbert, I didn't mean--" She hid her face in his chest, and he gathered her close, crushing her against him. "I don't know my own thoughts, my own voice--everything is alien to me now," she whispered. "I don't think that of you, I don't--you aren't to blame, I don't believe it, it just hurts so much and I can't make it stop!"
He tucked his head down against hers and tried to still her shaking. "I blame myself, too, Anne. I'd give anything if--"
She pulled back and framed his face in her hands, brushing kisses over his mouth, his chin, wherever she could reach. "I know, I know you would, you'd do anything for us. And I'm so sorry, sorry I've been so caught up in my own grief to forget that this is something we share--sorry for saying such a hateful, hateful thing. Please say you'll forgive me, and forget those words ever left my mouth," she pleaded. And for long moments there were silence, as forgiveness was asked and accepted, each from each.
When tears had ceased to fall, for at least the moment, Anne was left curled in the curve of Gilbert's arm, and he held to her as if to never let her go again. Anne was still pale and wan, but it was as if some poisonous sorrow had been purged with her tears.
They sat there quietly together, each feeling that maybe there was a future left, with some dreams remaining, albeit dreams still tinged with sadness. Anne felt the sun on her skin for the first time in what felt like ages, although it was growing some chillier.
"You know," she murmured after a time, "when I thought you were dying, Gilbert, I wanted to die myself. I'd never known what that felt like, that wish that you could just stop--that everything could stop. I never wanted to make anyone else feel that way." She stirred restlessly, then settled again. "But, somehow, this is so much worse, Gilbert! I don't know how it could be, but it is! Oh, and I don't mean I loved our little Joy more, or anything, but. She was ours, Gilbert, she was from you and me, a part of us, and now part of me is gone with her, and I just--"
Gilbert held her tight against his side again. "Don't say such things, Anne. Just--don't. Yes, we've lost our daughter, our little one, but don't ever wish that you were gone, too. I know you're broken-hearted now, but you're not alone; I lost her, too, and if I were to lose-- I couldn't bear it, Anne, and you almost--" He broke off there, as if he couldn't bear to even think the words, let alone say them.
Anne looked at him, fully realizing that Gilbert had feared for her life, as well. "Oh, Gilbert! I shan't! I'm not going anywhere. No, dearest, I don't wish myself gone; I couldn't, not really, not while you're still here." She pulled at some grass, looking around at the garden with unseeing eyes. "It's just--things are different now, I'm different, and I shan't ever be the same, you know. It is a little like I died, and the person who remains is a new person, a little older, much sadder--but I will get better. 'Grief itself is a medicine,' as the poet said."
"You still have me, Anne. And I have you--and I won't let you go, I won't let you sink down into the slough of despond, not while there's breath in me."
She rested her head back against his shoulder. "I know you won't, dear one. Have faith in me, and give me time. You'll get your Anne back, and if she's not the Anne you married, she loves you as much or more than the old Anne could even conceive of."
They sat together in the dimming light, unaware of the two women who watched them and loved them, one of them sniffing and wiping away some tears, the other nodding to herself, and saying, "There you are, Susan. I never saw such a pair as needed each other. They'll be all right, now."
Even as one storm passed, another commenced, bringing with it a sudden torrent of rain blown in on a cold wind. Gilbert pulled Anne to her feet and rushed her into the house, where they were met with towels to dry off, and blankets to wrap Anne in, the tray with its uneaten delicacies left to the depredations of the downpour and whatever scavengers tripped across it. Susan had hot tea ready almost before Anne was situated, and Anne felt a very small amount of guilt as she saw the concern in every face.
"I'm all right, everyone--or I will be. You're so good to me, and I can't thank you enough."
"Don't you worry a stitch, young Mrs. Doctor," Susan exclaimed. "There's not a thing that we can't take care of, until you're back on your feet again."
Miss Cornelia was again ensconced with her knitting, and nodded in agreement. "It's a hard, sudden bump in the road you've hit, dear ones, but there's plenty of smooth road ahead of you, I predict."
Anne wouldn't have said she felt better, or any less wounded and grieving, but something in her had settled, some anchor had been set, so she no longer felt so adrift. Gilbert perched on the arm of her chair, his hand on her shoulder, as if afraid to be parted.
They all looked up at a pounding on the door, and Gilbert hurried to open it, letting in a sodden, bedraggled Leslie Moore, who had her jacket bundled up in her arms.
"Leslie," Anne cried. "Whatever are you doing out in this storm? Susan, do we have more towels, and some more tea?"
Susan bustled off as Leslie dripped on the carpet, holding her jacket carefully. Anne blinked as Leslie's jacket moved, even though Leslie herself was not moving.
"Leslie," she said carefully. "Your jacket appears to be moving."
Leslie looked cross, and apologetic. "I didn't know where else to go--it was the only one left alive, and it's so small, but I just couldn't do that to Carlo--" She was unrolling her jacket as she talked, and when she was done, the kitten, as drenched and bedraggled as Leslie itself, let out a plaintive miaow.
"Oh, the poor, dear thing!" Anne cried. "Give it to me, then, Leslie, Susan will bring me another towel, after you take the one she has and dry yourself off."
Things went as Anne declared, and soon Leslie was also dry and wrapped up in a blanket with a cup of tea.
The kitten was batting weakly at Anne's fingers, and mewing.
"I think it must be starving," Leslie said. "I was down on the shore when the storm swept in, and I almost passed it by--its mother had found a place under a pile of driftwood, but only the kitten was still alive. I didn't know what else to do."
"You did exactly right," Miss Cornelia said, coming back from the kitchen. "Here, Anne, here's some warmed milk, and a scrap of cloth. Just dip it in the milk, and see if you can get the creature to suck on it. It's not really old enough to be on its own."
Anne did as ordered, watching as the kitten nuzzled the cloth, sniffing, then latched on for dear life. It was a cute thing, striped in shades of orange, with white paws, as if it had walked through a puddle of cream, with more cream spilling down its nose, sliding in a thin line down one cheek to curve along its upper lip and pour into the white bib under its chin. As she fed it, she found a small place in her heart warm. She thought of what Captain Jim had told her once, about First Mate, that "when you've saved a creature's life you're bound to love it." She also remembered what he'd said next: that saving a creature's life was the next thing to giving life. She couldn't still believe it the way she had when he'd said it to her, but she did look at the small creature in her hands with a kind eye. They were both in need, and maybe they could help each other.
She looked up, at her family around her--and she knew that they were her family, each one of them: her dearest Gilbert, earnest Susan, devoted, practical Miss Cornelia, even prickly, difficult Leslie. She felt tears prickle again, and hid them by looking down at the wee creature in her lap. She could hide nothing from Gilbert, though, who saw her duck her head, and worried.
She smiled up at him, her eyes shining, with tears and sadness, yes, but also with love, and a warmth that had been missing for the last weeks.
"I'm here," he murmured.
"I know," she replied, her heart in her gaze. "I'm sorry I almost forgot. I shan't again."
Sorrows, as storms, bring down the clouds close to the earth; sorrows bring heaven down close; and they are instruments of cleansing and purifying. - Henry Ward Beecher