Chapter 6: In the Days Beyond
Author's Note: Happy New Year! I'm dreadfully sorry; I honestly meant to post this yesterday, on the eve, but can you believe it—I had absolutely no opportunity to do so. Anyway, here it is. And once again, thank you all for your wonderful response, although I shan't bother you with PMs—though you can with me if you want.
This is the last chapter (sob!). It was wonderful to write, just like the rest of the story, and I'm glad that I'm already working on another fanfic I'm going to name Blossoming Madonna. I do hope you'll read it as well. I shan't tell you anything else till I post the first chapter and, if you're interested, you can read the summary, but those who are more acquainted with Rilla of Ingleside will recognise the reference made in the title.
Why is my second fanfic also based on Rilla of Ingleside? Besides the fact that it's exquisitely poignant, I also think that it touches on several romances only briefly, which, although it is LMM's style, throughout the whole series, we love so much, gives us much more "scope for imagination"!
Anyway, as always, I hope you enjoy and review (by that I'm not ordering you to review, but saying that I hope you enjoy and I hope you review. Just in case I come across as a tyrant). I'm also sorry this chapter is shorter than the last—I'm disappointed with myself as, if you've noticed, each chapter save this is longer than the previous by an average of 200 words. Okay, I'll let you read now.
Love, Evening. :)
P.S. Disclaimer (so very sorry!): I do not own anything or anyone (sigh) and the underlined (fragments of) sentences were lifted from LMM's Rilla of Ingleside.
P.P.S. Have any of you ever encountered this? People, when they see my book Rilla of Ingleside, ask me if it's a romance. I suspect that it's because of the cover illustration (mine, is the Special Collector's Edition, unfortunately setting it apart from the rest of the series) of a young, lovelorn-looking beauty, with a handsome khaki-clad lad standing a little ways behind her. Oh, and the grave full moon, and the romance of the whole scene in general—I would love to describe it in detail, but I suppose many of you have it and now I'm babbling and I'm so sorry and I will leave to read the chapter now and—and—and—sorry.
P.P.P.S. But do answer my P.P.S. question! I shan't even bother to apologise.
Anne tossed and turned feverishly, thin white hands clutching the covers laid so carefully over her. Gilbert lay a cool hand over her forehead and, registering no change in her alarmingly high temperature, brushed her hair back behind her neck and caressed her cheek gently. Her face was covered with a sickening sheen of sweat.
Susan, watching wordlessly from the door, shook her head as she stalked downstairs to the kitchen. "Two weeks," she muttered to herself as she let Dr Jekyll out with a severe thump. "Two—whole—weeks, barely eating or drinking or even sleeping. And that poor Doctor will kill himself taking care of her—if worrying about her doesn't do the job first. How General Haig managed to get Walter, of all people, killed I cannot fathom, but if that's how he does his job then I wonder," she said bitterly, "what sense, if any, those British have."
Back in their room, Gilbert was sitting beside his bed with his forehead leaning on his clenched fists. This scene reminded him dreadfully of the time he had fallen sick after college, except that he had a sneaking suspicion such a speedy recovery as his was not to be hoped for. Anne—his Anne—the Anne whom he had vowed to make happy and keep all sorrow away from—was lying on the bed, ill from grief and shock, and there was absolutely nothing he could do.
"Gilbert," Anne moaned, and he reached for her immediately. "Gilbert."
He held her frail hand in his and pressed it to his lips. "What is it, sweetheart?"
"Gilbert, I've lost—two children," she whispered, tears coming to her eyes again, her breath, already laboured, becoming broken as she drew it in, like a wave crashing repeatedly on a rocky shore. "Two, Gilbert. They're all—gone—for all we know—Jem might not come back, either. And Shirley," her eyelids fluttered tiredly, "Shirley wants to go—I see it in his eyes every day, Gilbert—Gilbert, don't let him go," she pleaded woefully.
The doctor put his hand on the side of her wet cheek as her weak sobs broke out; Anne was tired of trying to be strong—what was the point, she wanted to scream, when being strong didn't help to get her son back? Walter of the soulful dark eyes, the soft black curls, the beautiful white face, the sensitive nature; Walter the blossoming poet—buried among the violent, bloody corpses lying, horrifyingly lifeless, on foreign soil.
"Gilbert," she cried pitifully.
He bent his brown head over hers, his own eyes burning with grief. "Anne, look at me." When she did, however, he could not speak. Those eyes were the eyes of a woman watching the ruin of the world without any hope of doing anything to help; those eyes reminded him of the day in the House of Dreams, when their cherished dream, which Anne had fostered for so long, was broken, resulting in Anne plummeting into "the depths of despair". Little Joy had come and gone, taking her young mother's laughter with her for a painfully long period of time, and changed her life, her eyes, her smile and everything about her, in one day.
Gilbert, unable to help himself, buried his own face in his strong hands as the tears he had kept in for so long, lest Anne should feel worse, let themselves out, and he heard his own strangled sobs.
"Anne," he said resolvedly through his tears, "don't forget what you told me—smell the hope in the air. There's hope yet, Anne," he said fiercely, clasping her hand tightly and vowing to himself that he would never let go. "There's hope yet," he repeated in a whisper.
Downstairs, Rilla had just received Walter's letter—the last that he would ever write. She carried it unopened to Rainbow Valley and read it there, in the spot where she had had her last talk with him. Her hands trembled as she unsealed the envelope and unfolded the smooth sheet of paper—which, she thought resentfully, must be as much stained with blood as Walter's death. It is a strange thing to read a letter after the writer is dead—a bitter-sweet thing, in which pain and comfort are strangely mingled. As her lips silently shaped out the words penned by Walter's hands on the day before he was killed, she heard each word read out in his velvet voice and seep into her heart and embrace it in a loving yet sore gesture. She cherished each word and thrilled to it—not as she, among so many others, did to The Piper, but in a way that made her realise that Walter, of the glorious gift and splendid ideals, still lived, with just the same gift and just the same ideals. That could not be destroyed—these could suffer no eclipse. "Nor shall death brag thou wander'st in his shade," thought Rilla, for Walter was not dead, even though any tangible link with this earth, this world and this life might say otherwise. Walter could never be dead, not while others fought—died for—and lived for the Idea he spoke so fervently of. Mother had once said that "our dead are never dead to us till we forget them", and so Walter would never be dead to her, for she could never forget him.
Rilla read and re-read the letter written on the eve of Courcelette, which was destined to be remembered down in history as one of the greatest Canadian battles in that war, as well as one of the greatest missions of bloodshed in the course of those five years. She remembered her strange, almost precognitive dream, from which she had awakened to Dog Monday's knowing howl. She felt no tears—no, she could not cry, but she had a queer little ache in her heart that she knew the meaning of, and almost welcomed, for it helped her to feel Walter's presence as keenly as she would ever be able to.
There was a new light on her pale young face when she finally stood up, amid the asters Walter had loved, with the sunshine of autumn around her. For the moment at least, she was lifted above pain and loneliness.
"I will keep faith, Walter," she said steadily. "I will work—and teach—and learn—and laugh, yes, I will even laugh—through all my years, because of you and because of what you gave when you followed the call."
If there is ever a defining moment when our soul changes for ever, however infinitesimally, and becomes better and more enduring, like the pivotal instant when a caterpillar breaks out of the cocoon to unfold its wings, which it had been nurturing for that very moment, this was Rilla's. No life is ever the same once the scythe of the Reaper of Death has touched it, no matter how many heartbreaks and heartaches one has already undergone. Rilla, in those past three years, had seen three chums, two brothers and one sweetheart off, and although those happenings had helped to shape her character, death changed it more than they ever could. From that moment on, Rilla Blythe was no longer a girl—she had become a woman, with patience enough for suffering, and love enough for sacrifice.
She brought the letter to Una, which she would have done just the same, for her sake, even if Walter hadn't asked her to.
Una was wearing white, for in the eyes of others, she had no cause to wear black, desolate though she was. She had heard of Walter's death, of course, and had grieved with the Blythes along with her family, who still suspected nothing of her emotions.
She read the letter with a dull ache and dry eyes. She had not cried over Walter's death, not since the night she had seen him in her dreams, unwitting that it was already his absolute going, not as before, she was weeping about.
She could not suppress a shiver as she heard the words, spoken in Walter's voice excruciatingly clearly, from the dream that was to haunt her for the rest of her life, for after his death—which Rilla said had been immediate and painless—he had said to her the very words he had written in his last letter to Rilla—to both of them.
"I meant to write Una tonight, too," she read, "but I won't have time now. Read this letter to her and tell her it's really meant for you both—you two dear, fine loyal girls. Tomorrow, when we go over the top, I'll think of you both—your laughter, Rilla-my-Rilla, and the steadfastness in Una's blue eyes—somehow I see those eyes very plainly tonight, too. Yes, you'll both keep faith—I'm sure of that—you and Una. And so—goodnight. We go over the top at dawn."
"And she heard the dead man say", "I can see the steadfastness in your blue eyes now, Una. Somehow I can see those eyes very plainly tonight. Keep faith, Una," he said slowly as his voice began to fade away with his face behind her eyelids. "We go over the top at dawn. Keep faith."
Una was utterly composed—so perfectly that it was no wonder only the young sensitive Rilla knew of her carefully-hidden fancy for Walter—but Rilla saw her eyes—her eyes were the eyes of a woman stricken to the heart, who yet must not cry out or ask for sympathy. Having read the letter, she held it back to Rilla, although she wished so much to keep it for herself—but she could not—what right had she to take away the last token such a sister would ever receive from a beloved brother?
Rilla, however, did not take it from her hands.
"Una, would you like to have this letter—to keep?" she asked slowly.
"Yes, if you can give it to me," Una said dully.
"Then—you may have it," said Rilla hurriedly.
"Thank you," said Una. She could not trust herself to say anything more, but Rilla seemed to be satisfied with her sacrifice and know that she had given Una as great a gift as she could ever hope to receive.
Una took the letter and when Rilla had gone she pressed against her lonely lips. Holding it gingerly, as if it was wont to disappear into the mist to join its writer, she walked slowly to the Four Winds shore to mourn for her love. The tangy smell in the ocean that had always, to her, seemed to be the fragrance of a grieving woman was strong in the air, and the wind, like on the first day, blew against her cheek in the gesture of a caring friend. As dusk's palette of colour overturned with a great groan from the sun, she was certain now that the fancy she had always harboured for Walter Blythe, even in the Rainbow Valley days, was love—it had silently, of its own accord, blossomed into that awesome admiration that brings two people together in life—and in death.
Staring into the sea, and picturing Walter before her, smiling as if he loved her, Una knew that love would never come into her life now—it was buried for ever under the blood-stained soil "Somewhere in France". Once upon a time she had still dared to hope—to believe that someday Walter would know of her regard and return it—a dream that she had always thought of with all the sweetness and poignancy that every woman who waits at home for her sweetheart at war feels—that was gone now for Una, gone for ever. She loved Walter and no one else. No one but herself—and perhaps Rilla—knew it—would ever know it. She had no right in the eyes of her world to grieve. She must hide and bear her long pain as best she could—alone. But she, too, would keep faith.