The Calla Lily - Light - Chapter 4
Marilla took charge first, somehow bringing herself around enough to order Jerry off to fetch the doctor. Next it was a matter of putting the stricken Matthew in his bed. Rather embarrassed Marilla hurried out to put the kettle on leaving Jeannie to get him into his nightgown, but she was soon called back when the task proved beyond Jeannie alone. Marilla averted her eyes at Matthew's nakedness, they'd never seen each other like that since they were infants.
Afterwards it was just a matter of waiting. Both women sat at opposite sides of the bed gazing affectionately towards him trying desperately not to stare at each other, though each stole tiny glances the other's way, their gaze darting away if they sensed they were seen.
Thankfully the doctor arrived in good time and after a thorough examination declared that Matthew was lucky to still be alive but that with careful nursing he may yet pull through. Marilla showed him out and returned to her place by his bedside; the atmosphere distinctly frosty.
Jeannie was silent but upset. She wished she could be the one to tend to her husband but Marilla she knew had the right too. Still he was hers, they had chosen each other not so very long ago and now at their first hurdle Marilla lurked.
Marilla was silent but upset. It had been her and Matthew alone all those years, a force against a world that thought them peculiar and strange. They may have been apart from their neighbours, but they bore their solitude with forbearance silently sharing their strength. Now she was expected to share this hurdle with Jeannie, an interloper as far as she was concerned. Additionally, she couldn't help but feel guilty; her accusation had in part been to blame for Matthew's collapse, she was sure of it. Jeannie hadn't meant to keep Anne's letter from her and she had just used that as an excuse, in a completely unwarranted manner. I was such a fool and now look what I've caused, she thought mournfully.
Eventually the pressure grew too much, and Marilla blurted out, "no, no I just. I just…" and she ran from the room her rocking chair squeaking as it pushed back with the force of her movement.
Jeannie's first thought was good riddance as she fondly looked at Matthew but then her conscience got the better of her. Much as it pained her, Marilla did have a right to be by his bedside too. Certainly, as much of a right as she did. Kissing Matthew gently on the forehead, she went to find her sister-in-law. "Come," she said placing her hand on Marilla's wrist. "Come be with him, with me. I need you there too."
Jeannie laughed sardonically shortly after they settled back in their places and Marilla looked at her curiously. "Funny the way the mind works," Jeannie remarked. "I was just remembering a particularly difficult customer I had a few years back. She wanted the world but was only prepared to pay peanuts. I don't know why I'm dwelling on it now, but I can still see her red face when she realised I wasn't prepared to budge. In the end I put the piece up in the window rather than let her have it." Marilla was quiet. "I suppose maybe I'm thinking of it because I had to be strong willed to run that business on my own. It was just me against the world.
And you've had a similar story, I suppose. You had to be resolute, being unmarried and all." Marilla let out a little sob and searched around for her handkerchief. Jeannie found hers first and handed the beautifully embroidered piece over. "It's fresh," she promised. "Can't have been easy all those years," she added as Marilla softly wept. Jeannie wanted to comfort her, but she wasn't sure how that would be received. "You must have had great fortitude to manage on your own like that. Matthew was by your side of course, but…"
"He, he was," responded Marilla tremulously. "But as a brother not a husband."
"Of course, and I expect you received a great deal of sideways glances up at the mercantile."
Marilla nodded, "an', an' not having children…" She blew her nose.
"Oh, children. Precisely. As though they confer wisdom."
"There's a cachet about having them isn't there, as though parents are part of some secret cabal which only they are privy to."
Jeannie laughed, "precisely so nothing you say has any weight." Marilla rolled her eyes so hard Jeannie feared they might fall out.
"I have to admit Rachel was always the worst for that. How many times did she tell me about those ten blasted children of hers? Don't see many of them visiting these days for all her experience rearing them."
"Oh?" Jeannie queried.
"No, they've fled to all four corners of the Dominion. Perhaps that's why she's in everyone's business all the time she misses the hubbub. Speaking of which I'm surprised she hasn't been up to visit yet. Ordinarily she'd be the first one here, before the doctor even."
Matthew murmured in his sleep and the women were silent as they gazed at him lovingly. "I should leave you," Marilla said. "Let you be with him."
"Stay a while longer," Jeannie said. "Pray with me."
As if from far away Matthew could hear a susurration of voices, saying what he could not tell. All he knew was that there was more than one voice. Listening harder he could make out Jeannie, his wife. The very cadence of her voice brought him such peace. He cared not what she was saying but knew only that it made him happy. Her voice was joined by that of his sister. Marilla's voice was earthier somehow as though it was his very foundation. They spoke in time, intoning words gently. It's a prayer, that's what it is, Matthew realised. I wonder who they're praying for? They had been arguing, hadn't they? It had been upsetting, but if they were praying together, perhaps they had settled their dispute. The very idea brought Matthew such peace. He felt deep in his soul as if the final impediment was lifted and he could truly relax in the knowledge that his womenfolk were content.
"Oh!" said Jeannie after they had finished. "We must inform Anne; I'll jot down a quick note." she got to her feet but sank back down when she saw the look on Marilla's face.
"No," Marilla put up her hand. "Matthew wouldn't approve."
"Why on earth? She must be told."
"Fiddlesticks! It'll just interrupt her studies. Matthew would hate for that to occur. I absolutely forbid you to say anything."
Jeannie sighed, "but Marilla imagine if the worst," her breath caught in her throat with a sob. "If the worst should happen. How would we tell her it took some time for him... and we never told her? She'd never forgive us, and rightfully so. I don't care about Matthew's reasons, he's wrong."
Marilla looked shocked, even now in her mind she was doing Matthew's bidding as though being a man he knew best. All her life, even though she prided herself on being a woman of independent means, she had deferred to him. To witness his wife, his wife! do the opposite shook her to her very core.
"Let me ponder," she said when Jeannie opened her mouth to add another point. Marilla angled her chair away so she could turn the arguments over in her mind without Jeannie's stare boring into her. For her part Jeannie left her to it, believing she was in the right but acknowledging that it was not her decision. Instead, she turned her attention to Matthew who looked different somehow, though she could not put her finger on it.
Eventually Jeannie heard Marilla's chair squeak and she turned around expectantly. "I think you may be correct," Marilla said slowly.
"What made you change your mind?" Jeannie said later after the letter had been sent off with Jerry.
"I just imagined Anne's reaction. You're right, she would never forgive me and that caused as much heartache as the thought of Matthew… It's bad enough that she's far away right now but the thought that we might be estranged is too awful. I suppose you might say I'm doing this for purely selfish reasons."
"Not selfish," Jeannie consoled her. "Loving. These are the people you love, and you want them to be safe and happy."
Marilla nodded, "just so, just so. I was thinking," she added. "We should probably ask Jerry to stay over."
"That's a good idea. He could milk the cows in the morning, save you."
Marilla said, "but where should we put him? I don't like to think of him sleeping in the barn and Anne will be back soon, so her room is taken." She laughed, "back at the beginning when I expected a boy, I just prepared a couch in the kitchen. But that's hardly appropriate for a grown lad."
"Well Anne won't be staying long. Perhaps Jerry could camp in the barn in the short term and move upstairs when Anne returns to school?" Jeannie suggested.
Marilla nodded, "yes that's what we'll have to do. I'll talk to him about it when he returns."
They heard a knock on the door and Marilla went to answer it. Rachel stood expectantly on the veranda. She's taken her time, was Marilla's first thought. "Marilla, I thought I'd come by to see how you're getting on," Rachel started. "You were a bit upset yesterday, tell me what happened? Did you get a chance to talk to Jeannie about your concerns?"
"Rachel? Don't tell me you of all people haven't heard our news?"
Rachel stopped and stared, "news?"
"Matthew collapsed yesterday. The doctor said it was his heart again. Between us Jeannie and I are nursing him, but it's still touch and go."
"My stars! Will he recover?" Rachel was dismayed to have missed out. She had something on the stove when Jerry raced past and was out the back hanging out the laundry when the doctor trundled by thereby missing all the excitement.
"I pray so. But I expect he'll have to give up the farm work altogether. We'll ask Jerry about living in as we'll need more help. I'll put up some tea," she said as Rachel walked in.
"If you're sure?" Marilla was already filling the kettle, so Rachel sat down at the kitchen table. "Well Matthew won't like that, Marilla. He's never been the sort to take it easy."
"No, well he'll have to face facts and after all he's a married man now. He has someone else to live for," Marilla set out three cups, placing one on a tray.
"How's she faring?" Rachel nodded in the direction of the bedroom.
"She has a name, Rachel." Rachel rolled her eyes. "Don't look like that, I know I was slightly annoyed with her yesterday but that's all water under the bridge. We've had a good talk and we've come to an understanding. She's not so bad, in fact I think I'll rather enjoy having her around."
"Goodness you have changed your tune," Rachel said.
"Well Matthew needs us both and really that's all that matters."
Rachel nodded. "Have you sent word to Anne? She'll want to know."
"I wasn't sure at first, but Jeannie talked me into it," Marilla poured the tea. "Excuse me a moment. I'll just take this into her." Rachel could hear a low murmur before Marilla reappeared.
"Why weren't you sure?" Rachel asked.
"I didn't think Matthew would approve, but Jeannie reminded me that Anne would be terribly upset."
"I hate to say it, Marilla, but I agree with her."
"Yes, upon reflection I do too. I think our problem was that we are both strong willed women. We just have to learn to work together as a team. We really have a lot in common."
"You'll have your work cut out keeping Matthew quiet."
Marilla raised her eyebrows, "indeed, we really will have to work together, won't we."