"She's upstairs, Mrs. Dr. dear, putting her baby to bed."
"Putting - her baby - to bed!" Anne repeated blankly. "Susan! Whatever do you mean?"
Susan's honest face showed her chagrin at having startled Anne so. "I am sorry, Mrs. Dr. dear. I was forgetting you didn't know about Rilla's war-baby. But you must be tired after your journey! Sit down, and I shall get you a cup of tea."
Anne took a deep breath, feeling for an instant as if she would like to shake poor Susan. "I'm quite all right, never mind about tea just now. Whose war-baby is this?"
"Why, James Anderson's baby. Rilla called at their house for the Red Cross, and found poor Mrs. Anderson dead and the child wailing while Meg Conover ignored it! She brought it home, and the doctor said she must look after it herself - and she is, and doing quite well I admit, though she puts too much faith in that Morgan book and not enough in people's experience, in my opinion." Susan chuckled, remembering. "Shall I ever forget her walking into the kitchen with that soup tureen, and showing me the baby inside? I tell you, Mrs. Dr. dear, I quite thought I was going mad for a moment."
Anne vaguely wondered if she was in fact the one going mad. She was growing more and more bewildered with every word. Clearly a great deal had happened at home while she had been away, but she couldn't make heads or tails of it. Gilbert wasn't at home, having been called out to the Upper Glen for an emergency, so no help would come from that quarter. And Rilla, of course, was - for some reason Anne still couldn't understand - putting Jim Anderson's baby to bed! Anne gave up and allowed Susan to chivy her into a chair and make her a cup of tea, trying to piece together the events of the past few days from Susan's disjointed comments.
Fortunately for Anne's patience, Rilla soon appeared downstairs and was able to give the full story. Anne had to bite her lips to keep herself from laughing as Rilla described how she had impulsively brought the baby home - it was so exactly the sort of well-meant but thoughtless impulse she herself had so often had in her younger days.
"I just had to take him away, I couldn't possibly have left him with that horrible woman. I may not like babies or know much about them - though I know ever so much more than I used to now - but I knew she wouldn't take care of it. And I couldn't bear to think of his poor mother dying and so worried about him..."
"No, he couldn't have been left there," Anne agreed. "I don't think I could have done anything else myself. And I think it was brave of you to decide to care for him."
Rilla looked pleased for a moment, then blushed. "I didn't really think about who would look after him," she confessed. "I just brought him here -"
"In a soup tureen, I hear?" Anne asked with a grin, and Rilla laughed.
"Susan's been telling tales! There really wasn't anything else to put him in, and I didn't know how else to get him here. But I got him home at last, and then father said if I wanted him to stay I'd have to take care of him myself, as you and Susan were too busy already, otherwise he'd have to go to the Hopetown asylum. So you see I didn't really decide to take care of him myself straight off... is something wrong, mother?"
For Anne had frowned at the mention of the asylum.
Anne shook herself. "No, nothing, don't worry. Well, however you came to the decision, it was still a brave one. Susan says you have a book on raising babies?"
"Yes, I'm following Morgan," Rilla replied. "Father had a look at it and said it seemed sensible enough, and I've been doing exactly what it says..." She lowered her voice to a whisper, and added, "Susan gets cross because when she and Morgan contradict each other I follow Morgan - but I'm right to, aren't I? If I'm going to follow the book I have to do it thoroughly."
Picturing Susan's annoyment at being dismissed in favour of a book, Anne couldn't help chuckling. "Everyone has their own pet theories on child rearing, and I dare say many of them are just as good as another. I don't doubt your Morgan's expertise - though I'd like to take a look at it myself - but don't be too quick to dismiss Susan's advice either. She helped bring you all up, after all; and she looked after Shirley much as you're looking after this baby, and see what a fine lad he is today. There's certainly something to be said for experience. Now, may I have a look at this war-baby?"
"Of course, but don't pick him up, Morgan says sleeping babies should never be disturbed," Rilla replied with a sudden authoritativeness that gave Anne a sudden wild desire to laugh - it was so incongruous with her girlish face and her previous total ignorance about babies. She managed to suppress it, knowing Rilla would be most offended, and peeped in at the calmly sleeping baby with a care not to disturb it that satisfied even that new expert on infant care. But when recounting the conversation to Gilbert later, she gave full vent to her mirth.
Gilbert joined in her laughter, glad for it after the long and harrowing experience he had just had with a patient. "She's being doing that ever since she got that blessed book. Poor Susan gets most of it, but she's done it to me as well. I was most thoroughly snubbed when I dared asked a question about his night feeds! I've been keeping an eye on her of course, as has Susan, but she's really doing remarkably well - better than anyone expected, I think, including herself. You should have seen her face when I told her she'd have to care for it herself. Anyone would have thought I'd asked her to look after a bear cub!"
"She might have preferred a bear cub, at that," Anne said, laughing. Then, growing serious, she asked, "But, Gilbert, what would you have done if she refused?"
"Had to eat my words, I suppose. Of course the child wasn't going anywhere, but I wanted to see if Rilla would rise to the challenge."
"So you wouldn't really have sent him to the asylum?"
Gilbert looked at his wife, realising how Rilla must have thoughtlessly repeated his words. While all their children knew about their mother's history - how she had been an orphan, and had found her first real home at Green Gables, with Marilla who they'd loved and Matthew who they knew only as a name - Gilbert doubted any of them really realised how hard Anne's earliest years had been. Rilla especially, who had been too young to know even Marilla well, would never have realised that mention of the asylum would trouble Anne.
"Anne-girl, would I?" he said quietly, taking her hands. "I knew perfectly well he'd stay at Ingleside, but if Rilla could be brought to be responsible for him, it would be better for everyone - you know how busy we all are these days."
Anne pressed his hands in hers, smiling at him. “Thank you.”
“But you know, Anne,” he continued, carefully picking his words, “if it had come to a choice between Hopetown and Meg Conover’s tender mercies, I’d have sent that baby off to the asylum without a second thought. I know how much you hated your time there, but - ”
“No, you’d be perfectly right, I’d do the same myself,” Anne said with a sigh. “I wasn’t happy there by any means, but at least I was clothed and fed and cared for. They’re good people, and they do good and necessary work - but I would never think of sending him there, when we can give this child a true home.”
Anne was silent for a few moments, recalling the grim grey buildings she had hated so much. Then, gathering herself, she continued, “And you say Rilla is coping well with it? A young baby’s a great deal of responsibility, and she’s still so young herself - I know I was younger still when I looked after the Hammond babies, but I didn’t have sole care of them, and I shudder now to think how lightly I took it back then.”
“She’s managed very well indeed these past two days. I don’t think I’d have even thought of it, let alone suggested it, half a year ago, but she’s grown up amazingly these past few months. Of course it hasn’t been very long, but I think she’ll stick to it - and be all the better for doing so.” He yawned and stretched. “Well, I’m ready for bed if you are, it’s been a long day. And do remember to be quiet going upstairs, unless you want to be scolded up and down by your own daughter!”
Very tired from the Red Cross convention and her trip from Charlottetown, Anne was more than happy to join him in tiptoeing up the stairs. Luckily for both of them, and for Rilla’s frazzled nerves, they made it past her room without incident. Glancing at the closed door as she slipped by, Anne contemplated Gilbert’s words. It was very true that she would never have thought to entrust a child to the Rilla of a few months ago, who had thought of nothing but fun. Anne wished the girl’s growth could have come more naturally with the years, not forced upon her by the encroaching shadows of the war. Yet she was fiercely proud of how Rilla had risen to the challenge, and hoped they would all be able to show such spirit in the dark days to come.