"Why won't you let me see Joyce? Why won't you let me see my baby?"
Anne's fearful whisper cut through the dim light but Gilbert kept silent with a heavy heart, hating himself. He could not tell her – tomorrow, he thought, tomorrow, when she is stronger –
But Anne had always been able to read his silences and her pale face grew still whiter as Gilbert carefully sat down on the edge of their bed without looking at her.
"She is dead, then," she said colourlessly; and Gilbert had never heard her speak with such a dead tone in her voice before.
"Yes," he said quietly, then, on the heels of it, "There was never a chance for her, Anne. Never." He offered the words as a ridiculous platitude, as if they would bring colour back into the terrible greyness of her face and voice. Anne appeared not to hear him at first, her thin hands picking at the bedclothes, but then she said:
"Never," as if she could not quite believe it. Then, "Joyce…"
Gilbert gripped her shoulders, suddenly afraid of the way that Anne's eyes had turned inward, their usual sparkle dulled perhaps forever. "It wasn't your fault," he said fiercely. "It wasn't your fault, Anne, these things just happen. It just happened, Anne." He repeated the words twice, almost unsure of their meaning (because there was always, always something that the doctor could have done, it was something he had learnt in medical school over and over again) and finally sinking back in relief as Anne's gaze cleared. Her voice was hoarse as she answered:
"I thought – and we've been so happy up until now – "
He'd been doing something right, then, Gilbert thought sardonically as he put his arms around Anne. She was trembling uncontrollably but not weeping, and that frightened him more than if she had screamed. He did the only thing he knew how to do any more: pressed his face into her hair and held her tightly.
She was so tiny.
That had been Gilbert's first thought when he saw his little daughter and as she was put into his arms she opened her eyes and he saw Anne. That was his second thought: that she would be another Anne with the dark hair and eyes that her mother had so often yearned for. His third thought was this: that he would always very secretly love her best because of it. It was only then that he realised the pallor of her skin and her refusal to even cry out and he felt a cold presentiment pass through him. He had been right, as he usually was. He loathed himself for it.
"I love you," he whispered into the dark of night, unsure of who he was trying to comfort most: Anne, lying next to him, who still had not wept; Joyce, far away from him and alone (not alone, he had to believe in that, he had to); or himself.
Anne shifted beside him, the dark bruises beneath her eyes standing out sharply against her ashen face. She had not slept a full night through since the day that Joyce had been born. Since the day that Joyce had died.
Neither had Gilbert.
The dam broke the day that Mrs Matthew Prescott came bustling up from her husband's farm to visit the dear Mrs Doctor. Mrs Prescott was a kindly soul, if a tactless one, and Anne held up until she was halfway down the road before dropping her head onto the baby clothes that Mrs Prescott had made and sobbing her heart out.
Gilbert, home early from his rounds, found her so and gathered her up as if she were a child. She clung to him and he was aware of a muted relief in his soul, as if a burden had been lifted. He tried to ignore the pricking of his own eyes: Anne would sleep tonight; that was enough.
Anne did sleep better that night and for most nights afterward. Gilbert stayed awake, watching her eyes move beneath their lids and a poignant half-smile touch her lips. He brushed her red hair away from where it had fallen across her brow and kissed her temple. He wished that she would wake up; she was still too pallid for his ease. Doctors' wives die young.
"I should think it will be all right now," he told Mrs Jimmy Crawford, packing his bag. He nodded to Jimmy himself, who had been hovering round his wife's bedside all night and was now cuddling his baby son with ecstatic paternal joy. Gilbert looked away quickly.
Dawn was breaking across the harbour as he trudged home. The hand carrying his bag was clenched painfully around the handle and his eyes had slipped half-shut. He was tired. Young master Crawford had been the first baby he'd delivered since…well. Since.
When he reached the house he was surprised to see Anne already up and about. He frowned slightly at her, but she took his hands in hers and looked up at him, her grey eyes wet. He could see the shadow of pain in them still and he swallowed with some difficulty.
"Gilbert – dearest – I'm sorry," she said in a low, choked voice. Gilbert took an automatic step forward, opening his mouth to argue, to say that there was nothing for her to be sorry about, but Anne laid a finger on his lips, her expression sad. "I forgot – I'm so sorry, Gilbert, but I forgot that Joycie was ours, not just mine…my dear…"
He grasped her arms with desperate force, but she merely leant into the embrace, murmuring soft words of solace that he vaguely recognised as his own to her. His eyes burnt and this time he allowed the tears to fall, pressing his face into her shoulder.
And outside, the dawn was breaking over the harbour.