She almost hadn’t seen him, sitting alone in the small room he used as a study. There were tall white bookcases all along one wall and two windows with diamond panes Anne had exclaimed upon when she first saw them; she’d said they were her favorite windows to wash of all the windows in the world “for you look every bit the dashing Elizabethan courtier behind them, Gilbert, when I look in from the garden.” He’d had Susan’s help when it came to stopping Anne from polishing those windows or any others as she’d grown clumsy with the baby and she’d said she’d been content to regard him while she walked down the hallway to the sitting room where she kept her knitting, all the dear little wooly garments there was no use for now.
Cornelia Bryant didn’t see an Elizabethan courtier or even the determined young country doctor she was accustomed to; Gilbert sat at his desk with his head in his hands, misery tracing every angle, undeniable in the bright sunlight. She paused, unusually unsure, then heard his soft sob and saw the tense, fine shudder of a grown man crying. Marilla was half-asleep in an armchair beside Anne’s bed; the visiting nurse had given the young woman a sleeping draught and that had finally slowed her tears. For all her bright auburn hair, Anne’s wet eyelashes lay black against her pale face after her long, perilous labor and her sudden grief. She’d told Cornelia a week ago that Gilbert’s mother was ill, too ill to travel and not likely to survive even a mild Island winter and his father couldn’t leave her or the farm. The young doctor hadn’t a sister or even a cousin who would come for him. Anne had told her about her childhood before Green Gables, how she’d been orphaned and fostered, but it was Gilbert who was alone now, in a way Anne would never be, a woman among women. That decided it for her, that and the sound of Susan Baker in the kitchen, doggedly trying to make something to eat for the supper no one would want.
As she walked to him, she thought perhaps she should have sent for Captain Jim; he was a kind man, the kindest she knew, and maybe he would be better suited to this moment. But he wasn’t here and she was and she’d never turned away from what the Lord intended for her. Gilbert didn’t seem to hear her, though she hadn’t been especially quiet, until she stood beside him.
“Dr. Blythe,” she began, resisting the urge to cross her arms in front of her meager bosom.
But then he raised his head to look at her and she saw the effort he was making to be Dr. Blythe, saw how exhausted he was, the face of the old man he’d become pulled forth by his grief, and she couldn’t go on that way.
“Gilbert, I’m very sorry about the baby.”
She’d never imagined, all those glad months sitting next to Anne, sewing dreams and wishes into swaddles, little smocked dresses and bonnets, listening to Anne’s sunny tales of her childhood escapades, that it would come to this—a young mother who had barely been able to let them take the dead child from her room, the admirable young doctor who’d delivered his own firstborn and seen, right away it seemed, that his daughter couldn’t, wouldn’t live. Something to do with the heart, he’d said, but Anne had cried out then it was her own heart that had broken and he’d stopped talking, mute in the face of her desolation.
“I should, I must collect myself… she’ll need me. Please, Miss Cornelia, don’t tell her you saw me this way. I can’t--” Gilbert said, trying to wipe the tearstains from his face with a sodden, balled-up handkerchief.
She’d never seen him so disheveled before, his vest unbuttoned and coat askew on the chair’s back. His dark hair was tousled and he needed to shave but even if he’d been neat and brushed, every button snug, she thought she’d see quite clearly the unexpected devastation in his dark eyes. Anne might not see it yet, she was blinded by her own grief, but Cornelia Bryant could. There was so little to do and she was a practical woman, she wanted to turn her hand to some work. Captain Jim would have been able to sit in the wooden chair across the desk and look comfortable as a Sunday dinner, but that wasn’t her way.
“Take this, that one’s good for nothing,” she said, offering her own handkerchief, CBH prim in a corner, no forget-me-nots or delphiniums in silk thread interfering with the basic purpose. Gilbert accepted it, likely responding to the firm tone of her voice more than anything.
“You knew at once, didn’t you?” she said.
Who else would he talk to? Leslie would come and sit with Anne every day and Marilla would not leave her girl’s side. There would be letters from Anne’s friend Diana in Avonlea and her Redmond classmates, condolences from her girlhood chums who’d also lost babies, sisters, parents. Even Susan Baker would find a way to offer a little comfort with the dainty pastries she made to tempt Anne, but there would be nothing else for Gilbert, no one else, but God and Cornelia Bryant, until Anne healed enough to be a wife again.
“Yes. She was too small, she barely cried, I listened right away. I wasn’t even sure she’d live the day out. At least Anne had that, at least,” he broke off and stared across the room, at something she couldn’t see.
If every husband was like Gilbert Blythe, she’d have married long ago and Leslie Moore would be all golden smiles and autumn beauty. How much he’d suffered-- not like Anne with the travail God sent her, the pain and the work to bear a child who couldn’t live, but the knowledge that he might lose his wife as she labored despite all his efforts. And then the knowledge his baby would die, that there was nothing he could do. It was funny, she’d hardly thought of the baby as anyone’s other than Anne’s but Joyce Blythe was Gilbert’s as well. She’d never thought very much of his bedside manner, too young and eager for her taste, insisting medical science could save patients who needed a good prayer and a well-made shroud, but she’d never seen the like of how he’d been today, what he had put aside in himself, how he had waited for his sorrow and let Anne’s fill his eyes, his heart, every breath, the palms of his hands.
“What did you have, then, Gilbert?” she asked, her voice softer than she’d known it could be.
“I-- I held her. I held her in my arms and I saw her mother’s eyes in her face, my beautiful little girl,” he said, low, heart-broken.
Anne had had months to become a mother and Gilbert had had only a few hours, but he had become a father. She didn’t know much about marriage but she hoped there would be a time when Gilbert could talk to Anne as he was to her, some walk along the shore when he could confess or maybe it was a conversation for a winter midnight, snow falling straight into the ocean. Until then, there was her thin spinster’s hand laid upon his shoulder as he wept again, the sunshine unwelcome and overly bright upon both of them, a little hushing sound she made every few minutes. She could hear Marilla walking around upstairs and Susan in the kitchen, but nothing filled the silence in the halls, the empty ceilings, the lacy white nursery where Joyce Blythe never slept.