Chapter One—A Budget of Letters
It was a breezy afternoon in late March in the village of Glen St. Mary's. Outside, crocuses were just starting to poke their baby heads from the damp ground. Shrieks of laughter rang out from Rainbow Valley, wafting up to Ingleside, for a new crop of Blythe (and blithe) youngsters had sprung up.
Inside, however, a fire was cheerily burning away in the kitchen, where three women toiled not nor spun. It was teatime, a ritual they strictly adhered to, taking time to relax, visit, and read the mail.
The youngest of the three was Young Mrs. Dr. Blythe—the Faith Meredith of days gone by. Although traces of the harum-scarum child remained, twelve years of marriage to her beloved Jem had brought a sweet serenity to her face.
Susan Baker looked much like she had at sixty, but the grey hair was white now, and she was no longer maid-of-all-work at Ingleside, but instead, a true part of the family which she had run for so many years. Susan was growing old and feeble in body, but her mind and tongue were as sharp as they had ever been.
Anne Blythe rounded out the trio. Sorrows had mixed the red tresses with grey, but in many ways she remained the Anne of Green Gables who had come to the Island more than fifty years before. Slowly, she sipped her tea, enjoying the warmth of the delicate cup in her hands.
"Now then, where is Meredith? She told me that this was her day to bring in the mail, and that Matthew and Walter weren't to lay so much as a finger on it!" Faith smiled, smoothing her apron border with her hand. Although Miss Cornelia (or, as Susan had always said, Mrs. Marshall Elliot,) had gone to the heavenly realms above, where it was assumed that there was a separate Presbyterian section just for her, her crocheted lace still remained on many aprons, pillowcases, and such ilk, including Faith's apron.
The door banged, and a fair, rosy-cheeked girl of nine with bobbed golden hair burst in.
"Mummy, Gran, Susan, here's all your letters. Goodness, there's several! Here's one from Aunt Nan and Uncle Jerry down at Blair Water; let me know if Dianne sent me a note, will you? Aunt Diana Wright for Gran, and Aunt Rilla and Uncle Ken." This all said, Meredith headed out the door and back to Rainbow Valley, stopping only for a handful of monkey-face cookies. Anne smiled. Meredith was much like two other girls she had known once upon a time—one being herself, the other Faith, but very different from her brothers. Walter belied Shakespeare's idea that a rose by any other name would smell as sweet, for he was nothing like his uncle. No flights of fancy for him—he was definitely Jem's son, adventuresome as all get out. Matthew hearkened back to Matthew Cuthbert, quiet and shy, never wanting to be noticed. Perhaps there was more in a name than Shakespeare thought.
"None from Shirley?" Susan asked concernedly. "He doesn't write enough."
"Well, Susan, he is Assistant Professor of Mathematics at Redmond, and that keeps him pretty busy. Exam season is coming up, and he probably wants to make sure that his students are prepared," Faith tried to console her. "And he's planning to be here for Easter vacation."
"I hope so," said Susan. "He needs a good wife to keep him in order!" Shirley was still her "little brown boy", even though he was thirty-four. She worried that the food wasn't as good at Redmond, and sent him packages of food regularly.
"Di and her husband also live in Kingsport, don't forget," Faith reassured her. "They won't let him overwork himself."
"I suppose," Susan said. "Mrs. Dr. dear, since I must trust that dear boy to Providence, I would like to hear Nan's letter. She seems to keep matters running smoothly in the Blair Water manse."
"'Dear Mother and all,'" Anne read Nan's letter aloud, "'we trust that you are all doing well. The church down here at Blair Water continues to do well, and Dianne, Blythe, and John are flourishing like weeds. I recently completed a new quilt in the Irish Chain pattern. Jerry isn't here this afternoon, since he has a funeral for one of his parishioners—a Miss Elizabeth Murray…" Anne trailed off as the door flung open again.
"Meredith!" Faith said sharply, assuming that her daughter was the cause of the interruption. However, that was not the case, for in the doorway stood a white-faced, black-haired woman gasping for breath.
"Why, Una," Faith said to her sister worriedly, "whatever has happened? You can hardly breathe!"
"F-father…something's happened to him…his heart," Una blurted. She leaned over a chair, her chest heaving with the effort to breathe. "He was in his study…Rosemary sent me up to see what he wanted for supper…and he was slumped over in his chair…his face was grey, Faith! Is Jem or Dr. Blythe in?"
"No, Jem's at the Upper Glen on a burn case, and Father Blythe was gone to town for the day," Faith told her.
Anne went to the telephone to ring up the Parker house, where Jem was. "Yes…yes, I know, but this is an emergency." She talked in low tones for a few agonizing minutes. "Go as quickly as you can, son."
"He's headed right over, Una. You stay right here and have a cup of tea to calm your nerves. Faith, Jem says that Fannie Reese, his new nurse, had to be gone for the day, so he'll need your help," Anne told the worried women.
"Well, Young Mrs. Dr. dear, I am no nurse, nor am I a doctor, but I can certainly pray—and that I will do," Susan offered firmly.
It was late that night when Jem and Faith made it back to Ingleside, heavy-hearted. Una met them at the door, seeing their sad news in their faces before they even had a chance to speak.
"He didn't make it, sister," Faith said. "Rosemary had a chance to say goodbye, though. She's taking it hard. Jem left a sedative for her so she could sleep."
Una's face was expressionless. She could see that Faith had been crying, but something in her felt too strongly for tears. She loved her siblings and her stepmother dearly, but John Meredith, dreamy and absent-minded at times, had always held a special place in her heart. "We'll need to call Jerry and Nan, and Carl and Persis. Do you want me to make the arrangements?" she asked her sister. "I doubt that Rosemary will be up to it, and you have the children to take care of."
"Thank you so much," Faith replied gratefully, clutching her sister in a tight embrace. "You've always been here when we need you, Una. What would we do without you?" Weary, she and Jem headed for bed.
The guest room, with its apple leaf cotton-warp quilt made by Mrs. Lynde, and embroidered dresser scarf, was ready for Una, but she couldn't sleep. Death always brought back memories of the others she'd loved and lost—her mother, and Walter Blythe. Una sat by the window long past three o'clock in the morning, watching the moon fade away and wondering what the next few days would bring.
Author's Note: This story is a work of fanfiction, and therefore I am not making money off of it. With a very few exceptions, all of the characters in it belong to L. M. Montgomery. If you'd care to review, I'd appreciate reading what you have to say.