It had been a mistake to send the boys away. Neither he nor Anne had worried overmuch about it and Leslie and Owen had taken the dear old House of Dreams for Owen’s sabbatical; it seemed nothing to pack them off to a week or two’s adventure at the shore with the Fords, young Kenneth and Persis and the new spaniel puppy Calliope who trembled with excitement, her coat shimmering like beaten copper in the April sun. Jem and Walter had been generous with their kisses goodbye, while Nan and Di peered after them in puzzlement before returning to the engrossing game they had made with their dolls and Walter’s commandeered blocks. There had been a quiet day and a night when Anne felt better than she had for weeks, eating more heartily and enjoying the brief walk they took through the garden in the evening, let him steer her about with a hand at where her waist had been, now entirely and cumbrously baby. But they had been wrong in their assumption that the labor and delivery would be as easy as the last three times; delivering the girls had not been so much harder as simply longer, but they had been so delighted with their healthy daughters, little Diana’s quiff of red hair, Nan quite the prettiest baby Gilbert could ever remember seeing, that they hadn’t minded the extra hours and the nagging worry about twins which had blown away like dandelion fluff with Nan’s greeting squall, Diana’s answering shriek, little pink hands flailing until they touched their mother again.
Joyce’s birth had seemed distant, Anne’s stricken face with each fruitless contraction a memory neither cared to reflect on, the passage perilous relegated by both of them to Anne’s inexperience, Joyce’s own frailty. This pregnancy had been harder than the others since, but Anne always said it was not to be compared, since she’d never had four children to care for before, she had a strong constitution after all and an even stronger will and insisted worrying would gain them nothing at all. She had been most convincing or he had wanted too much to be convinced, so he had let Jem and Walter climb into Owen Ford’s carriage and waved them off cheerfully and now Gilbert was not sure his sons would return to find their mother living. She’d hemorrhaged twice after a very long, painful labor and the baby had only made a weak cry like a cat’s before the nurse handed him over to Susan; she’d hurried from the room as if that would keep him safe, as if Death lurked in the corner and would not discriminate between him and his mother. Gilbert had barely spared a thought for his new son, too busy trying desperately to keep Anne from bleeding to death in the bed they shared, where they had gladly conceived the baby whose birth nearly killed her. She’d been in some vague state between a faint and sleep for several hours now and he could only pray she would not get a fever, would wake up and look at him with hazy grey eyes and manage to ask for the baby to be laid beside her even if she hadn’t the strength to hold him or put him to her breast. Miss Cornelia was with the girls in the sitting room and he thanked God for her general diamond-bright impeturbability which let the twins play happily for hours, content that all was right in the world, even though they had not seen Mama at breakfast, nor all the forenoon, and even ever-present Susan Baker was no where to be found.
If Anne did not wake…there were things Gilbert knew he could do, must do. He would name the baby and take the girls on his lap, the weight of them, their sweet smell each a tether to the world, he would send telegrams to Marilla and his mother and Diana Wright to come, to come right away, he would pray on his knees and he would cry, alone, and somehow find a way to stop. But he did not know how he could face his sons, how he would look at Jem’s bright face and Walter’s clear eyes dark like the winter sea and find words to tell them, then words to comfort them when they tried to understand what it meant, that Mother was not there and would not come back. He could not bear for them to be away but he was afraid to call them back, too afraid to do anything but sit beside the bed where Anne lay so still and hold her hand in his, to match his very simple invocation Please God, oh please to the delicate breath she took in and let out, hoping something—the warmth of his hand, the sunlight streaked across the counterpane, the occasional soft newborn cry from the nursery and Susan’s low voice murmuring hush, hush now, my little man, would make Anne open her eyes again, wanting something, anything, things he would do everything to get for her, to keep her with him, to remind her how she was wanted and by whom.