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Chapter XXXVII


CHAPTER XXXVII

The Reaper Whose Name Is Death


"Matthew--Matthew--what is the matter?  Matthew, are you sick?"

It was Marilla who spoke, alarm in every jerky word.  Anne
came through the hall, her hands full of white narcissus,--it
was long before Anne could love the sight or odor of white
narcissus again,--in time to hear her and to see Matthew
standing in the porch doorway, a folded paper in his hand,
and his face strangely drawn and gray.  Anne dropped her flowers
and sprang across the kitchen to him at the same moment as
Marilla.  They were both too late; before they could reach him
Matthew had fallen across the threshold.

"He's fainted," gasped Marilla.  "Anne, run for Martin--
quick, quick!  He's at the barn."

Martin, the hired man, who had just driven home from
the post office, started at once for the doctor, calling at
Orchard Slope on his way to send Mr. and Mrs. Barry over.
Mrs. Lynde, who was there on an errand, came too.  They
found Anne and Marilla distractedly trying to restore
Matthew to consciousness.

Mrs. Lynde pushed them gently aside, tried his pulse,
and then laid her ear over his heart.  She looked at their
anxious faces sorrowfully and the tears came into her eyes.

"Oh, Marilla," she said gravely.  "I don't think--we can do
anything for him."

"Mrs. Lynde, you don't think--you can't think Matthew is-- is--"
Anne could not say the dreadful word; she turned sick and pallid.

"Child, yes, I'm afraid of it.  Look at his face.  When you've
seen that look as often as I have you'll know what it means."

Anne looked at the still face and there beheld the seal of
the Great Presence.

When the doctor came he said that death had been instantaneous
and probably painless, caused in all likelihood by some sudden shock.
The secret of the shock was discovered to be in the paper Matthew
had held and which Martin had brought from the office that morning.
It contained an account of the failure of the Abbey Bank.

The news spread quickly through Avonlea, and all day
friends and neighbors thronged Green Gables and came
and went on errands of kindness for the dead and living.
For the first time shy, quiet Matthew Cuthbert was a
person of central importance; the white majesty of death
had fallen on him and set him apart as one crowned.

When the calm night came softly down over Green Gables
the old house was hushed and tranquil.  In the parlor lay
Matthew Cuthbert in his coffin, his long gray hair framing
his placid face on which there was a little kindly smile
as if he but slept, dreaming pleasant dreams.  There were
flowers about him--sweet old-fashioned flowers which his mother
had planted in the homestead garden in her bridal days and
for which Matthew had always had a secret, wordless love.
Anne had gathered them and brought them to him, her anguished,
tearless eyes burning in her white face.  It was the last thing
she could do for him.

The Barrys and Mrs. Lynde stayed with them that night.
Diana, going to the east gable, where Anne was standing
at her window, said gently:

"Anne dear, would you like to have me sleep with you tonight?"

"Thank you, Diana."  Anne looked earnestly into her friend's face.
"I think you won't misunderstand me when I say I want to be alone.
I'm not afraid.  I haven't been alone one minute since it happened--
and I want to be.  I want to be quite silent and quiet and try to
realize it.  I can't realize it.  Half the time it seems to me that
Matthew can't be dead; and the other half it seems as if he must
have been dead for a long time and I've had this horrible
dull ache ever since."

Diana did not quite understand.  Marilla's impassioned grief,
breaking all the bounds of natural reserve and lifelong habit
in its stormy rush, she could comprehend better than Anne's
tearless agony.  But she went away kindly, leaving Anne alone
to keep her first vigil with sorrow.

Anne hoped that the tears would come in solitude.  It seemed
to her a terrible thing that she could not shed a tear for
Matthew, whom she had loved so much and who had been
so kind to her, Matthew who had walked with her last
evening at sunset and was now lying in the dim room
below with that awful peace on his brow.  But no tears
came at first, even when she knelt by her window in the
darkness and prayed, looking up to the stars beyond the
hills--no tears, only the same horrible dull ache of
misery that kept on aching until she fell asleep,
worn out with the day's pain and excitement.

In the night she awakened, with the stillness and the
darkness about her, and the recollection of the day came
over her like a wave of sorrow.  She could see Matthew's
face smiling at her as he had smiled when they parted at
the gate that last evening--she could hear his voice saying,
"My girl--my girl that I'm proud of."  Then the tears came
and Anne wept her heart out.  Marilla heard her and crept
in to comfort her.

"There--there--don't cry so, dearie.  It can't bring him back.
It--it--isn't right to cry so.  I knew that today, but I
couldn't help it then.  He'd always been such a good,
kind brother to me--but God knows best."

"Oh, just let me cry, Marilla," sobbed Anne.  "The tears
don't hurt me like that ache did.  Stay here for a little
while with me and keep your arm round me--so.  I couldn't
have Diana stay, she's good and kind and sweet--but it's
not her sorrow--she's outside of it and she couldn't come
close enough to my heart to help me.  It's our sorrow--
yours and mine.  Oh, Marilla, what will we do without him?"

"We've got each other, Anne.  I don't know what I'd do
if you weren't here--if you'd never come.  Oh, Anne, I
know I've been kind of strict and harsh with you maybe--
but you mustn't think I didn't love you as well as Matthew
did, for all that.  I want to tell you now when I can.  It's
never been easy for me to say things out of my heart, but
at times like this it's easier.  I love you as dear as if
you were my own flesh and blood and you've been my joy and
comfort ever since you came to Green Gables."

Two days afterwards they carried Matthew Cuthbert
over his homestead threshold and away from the fields he
had tilled and the orchards he had loved and the trees he
had planted; and then Avonlea settled back to its usual
placidity and even at Green Gables affairs slipped into
their old groove and work was done and duties fulfilled
with regularity as before, although always with the aching
sense of "loss in all familiar things."  Anne, new to grief,
thought it almost sad that it could be so--that they COULD
go on in the old way without Matthew.  She felt something
like shame and remorse when she discovered that the
sunrises behind the firs and the pale pink buds opening in
the garden gave her the old inrush of gladness when she
saw them--that Diana's visits were pleasant to her and
that Diana's merry words and ways moved her to laughter
and smiles--that, in brief, the beautiful world of blossom
and love and friendship had lost none of its power to
please her fancy and thrill her heart, that life still
called to her with many insistent voices.

"It seems like disloyalty to Matthew, somehow, to find
pleasure in these things now that he has gone," she said
wistfully to Mrs. Allan one evening when they were together
in the manse garden.  "I miss him so much--all the time--
and yet, Mrs. Allan, the world and life seem very beautiful
and interesting to me for all.  Today Diana said something
funny and I found myself laughing.  I thought when it
happened I could never laugh again.  And it somehow seems
as if I oughtn't to."

"When Matthew was here he liked to hear you laugh
and he liked to know that you found pleasure in the
pleasant things around you," said Mrs. Allan gently.
"He is just away now; and he likes to know it just the same.
I am sure we should not shut our hearts against the healing
influences that nature offers us.  But I can understand
your feeling.  I think we all experience the same thing.
We resent the thought that anything can please us when someone
we love is no longer here to share the pleasure with us,
and we almost feel as if we were unfaithful to our sorrow
when we find our interest in life returning to us."

"I was down to the graveyard to plant a rosebush on
Matthew's grave this afternoon," said Anne dreamily.
"I took a slip of the little white Scotch rosebush his
mother brought out from Scotland long ago; Matthew always
liked those roses the best--they were so small and sweet on
their thorny stems.  It made me feel glad that I could plant
it by his grave--as if I were doing something that must please
him in taking it there to be near him.  I hope he has roses
like them in heaven.  Perhaps the souls of all those little
white roses that he has loved so many summers were all there
to meet him.  I must go home now.  Marilla is all alone and
she gets lonely at twilight."

"She will be lonelier still, I fear, when you go away again
to college," said Mrs. Allan.

Anne did not reply; she said good night and went slowly
back to green Gables.  Marilla was sitting on the front
door-steps and Anne sat down beside her.  The door was
open behind them, held back by a big pink conch shell
with hints of sea sunsets in its smooth inner convolutions.

Anne gathered some sprays of pale-yellow honeysuckle and put
them in her hair.  She liked the delicious hint of fragrance,
as some aerial benediction, above her every time she moved.

"Doctor Spencer was here while you were away," Marilla said.
"He says that the specialist will be in town tomorrow
and he insists that I must go in and have my eyes examined.
I suppose I'd better go and have it over.  I'll be more
than thankful if the man can give me the right kind of
glasses to suit my eyes.  You won't mind staying here alone
while I'm away, will you?  Martin will have to drive me in
and there's ironing and baking to do."

"I shall be all right.  Diana will come over for company
for me.  I shall attend to the ironing and baking beautifully--
you needn't fear that I'll starch the handkerchiefs or flavor
the cake with liniment."

Marilla laughed.

"What a girl you were for making mistakes in them days, Anne.
You were always getting into scrapes.  I did use to think you
were possessed.  Do you mind the time you dyed your hair?"

"Yes, indeed.  I shall never forget it," smiled Anne,
touching the heavy braid of hair that was wound about her
shapely head.  "I laugh a little now sometimes when I
think what a worry my hair used to be to me--but I don't
laugh MUCH, because it was a very real trouble then.
I did suffer terribly over my hair and my freckles.
My freckles are really gone; and people are nice enough
to tell me my hair is auburn now--all but Josie Pye.
She informed me yesterday that she really thought it
was redder than ever, or at least my black dress made
it look redder, and she asked me if people who had red
hair ever got used to having it.  Marilla, I've almost
decided to give up trying to like Josie Pye.  I've made
what I would once have called a heroic effort to like her,
but Josie Pye won't BE liked."

"Josie is a Pye," said Marilla sharply, "so she can't help
being disagreeable.  I suppose people of that kind serve
some useful purpose in society, but I must say I don't
know what it is any more than I know the use of thistles.
Is Josie going to teach?"

"No, she is going back to Queen's next year.  So are
Moody Spurgeon and Charlie Sloane.  Jane and Ruby are
going to teach and they have both got schools--Jane at
Newbridge and Ruby at some place up west."

"Gilbert Blythe is going to teach too, isn't he?"

"Yes"--briefly.

"What a nice-looking fellow he is," said Marilla absently.
"I saw him in church last Sunday and he seemed so tall and manly.
He looks a lot like his father did at the same age.  John Blythe
was a nice boy.  We used to be real good friends, he and I.
People called him my beau."

Anne looked up with swift interest.

"Oh, Marilla--and what happened?--why didn't you--"

"We had a quarrel.  I wouldn't forgive him when he asked me to.
I meant to, after awhile--but I was sulky and angry and I wanted
to punish him first.  He never came back--the Blythes were all
mighty independent.  But I always felt--rather sorry.  I've always
kind of wished I'd forgiven him when I had the chance."

"So you've had a bit of romance in your life, too," said Anne softly.

"Yes, I suppose you might call it that.  You wouldn't think so
to look at me, would you?  But you never can tell about people
from their outsides.  Everybody has forgot about me and John.
I'd forgotten myself.  But it all came back to me when I saw
Gilbert last Sunday."


Lucy Maud Montgomery