A Lamp Quiet-Lighted
The Rainbow Valley gang was over that gloomy afternoon since the weather was too poor to play outside. They had come to rehearse the play Nan and Una had written. The first and let's face it, Anne thought sourly, only performance was scheduled for that evening.
On the window seat Anne was trying to read but her attention kept wandering and her throbbing temple was not helping. She shot an irritated look at the children, but they were engrossed in their rehearsals. Or would have been if Jem and Jerry were not complaining about their lines. "This is ridiculous," Jem said heatedly. "No actual man ever speaks like this, 'I declare you are the most beautiful woman I've ever laid eyes upon, Gwendoline. I shall set my troth plight upon thee.' What rot!" He grabbed a pencil to edit it and got into a wrestling match with his sister.
Anne turned her attention to the lowering sky, listening to the snowflakes tapping against the window feeling powerless and anyway Jem had a point. Though she probably would have written a very similar if not more flowery line at the girls' age but she was feeling rather tender and not up to these squabbles. Once upon a time... Anne couldn't help it when a sob escaped her. Jem looked up at the sound and hushed the rest with a chopping motion. Nan missed the cue and her voice rang out louder than it was supposed to in the new calm. She noticed the stillness and looked in the same direction as the rest of them. To her horror Mum was crying. Ever the leader Jem immediately took charge, "out you lot. Go find Susan or something. I'll fetch Dad." Silently they tip-toed out, Jem towards his father's study and the rest to the kitchen.
Pausing because the edict not to disturb his father was strong Jem eventually rapped on the door a couple of times and listened for a stern, "enter." He opened the door a crack and peeked around the corner. "Sorry Dad," he said, "but it's Mum." Jem believed his father old at times, but he could move like lightening when the mood took him. It took him now and he was out the door in a flash.
Anne looked so beautiful in the window seat, but it was obvious she was upset. Gilbert gathered her into his arms and held her quietly as sobs wracked her body. Later they returned to the study and Anne laid down on the couch as Gilbert placed Rachel's old tobacco leaf quilt over her chest. He returned to work and let her rest. It had happened often enough lately that he did not need to ask.
Gilbert squinted at his paper and realised the light had grown even dimmer. He lit another lamp which helped. "Isn't it strange." Gilbert startled he hadn't realised she had awoken. "You never know," Anne said. "When it's the last time."
"You do something for years and years, like nursing babies or changing diapers or," she paused swallowing hard, "visiting your mother. Then one day, and only with hindsight, you realise you've done it for the last time."
It had been an occasion such as this a year or so earlier when the children were housebound, running around and up the house screaming like banshees. Much as she adored them their harsh cries and incessant bantering drilled into her brain. Then she recalled that respite was just a ride away.
She'd caught a late train, so dusk was falling by the time she'd arrived. Golden lamp light spilled out the kitchen window into the gloom, her heart lifting at the very sight. Marilla silently enveloped Anne in a warm hug and watched as she took her luggage up.
The gabled room was empty now. After Anne was married it became Dora's for a few years but now it was spare. The word implies coldness but it was far from that, the warm bedspread, lacy pillowcase and doilies on the chest of drawers drew her in. There was an old photo in a silver frame of her and Marilla in younger days. Anne's hair flyaway in the breeze, and catching the light like a halo. The bed looks small, but Anne is reminded of the first night she slept there, how unhappy she'd been. Anne sat on the bed and recalled that small, sad girl who thought she'd come to a place of safety at last only to have it snatched away.
Marilla listened to Anne's steady tread back down the stairs. She had warned Rachel not to make too much of a fuss. "I know, I know," Rachel replied. "Remember I do I commiserate." Marilla raised her eyebrows. Recognising that Anne was at the end of her tether the women pottered around quietly, murmuring necessities to each other but otherwise leaving her alone. Dinner was a simple affair and afterwards they passed a quiet evening in the parlour with only the crackling fire to keep them company.
"Where's Rachel?" Anne asked as she ate her porridge after a bit of a lie in. Susan made a lovely batch, but no one could beat Marilla for smoothness and flavour.
"Off to pick up a few things at the store. She'll be gone most of the morning I expect, catching up on the latest gossip. You can expect a barrage of news when she returns, I wager," Marilla replied with a smile as she poured them both another cup.
Anne felt refreshed in the peaceful kitchen and suggested, "shall we go for a walk? I want to drink in my beautiful Green Gables in your company."
"I'm not as fit as I used to be, Anne," Marilla replied.
"Just a sedate turn around the garden then," Anne pleaded. "We'll take it very gently."
Marilla warned it would be slow, and it was. She leant on Anne's arm as they crept around the garden and Anne was reminded that her mother was getting on. Still, it gave her a chance to really absorb the view. "I never get tired of it," she said contentedly.
"Hm?" Marilla asked she followed the direction of Anne's gaze and smiled. "I'll admit I'm fond of it too. So pleased I never had to sell it, thanks to you and Gilbert. It's comforting to know I can die here."
A cloud of insects buzzed, nearby a bird sang hidden by the leaves and they could hear its mate respond, The garden was lushly green with the rosebush by the door flowering. The house looked humble but to the inhabitants it was home. Anne silently gave thanks to Marilla's shadowy father for his long-ago colour choice. "Tell me about your parents."
"They were good honest folk," Marilla replied. Anne was silent hoping for more. She steered Marilla around a rough patch of ground, and they came to an old seat and sat down for a spell. "Mother could be stern, but she had a musical laugh." Her eyes were misty, and Anne had the distinct impression that Marilla was far away listening to some family joke.
Marilla returned with a laugh, "sorry, I was miles away or rather years I suppose."
"Tell me," Anne urged.
"The family were trying my first attempt at Mother's plum puffs. Let's just say there was room for improvement."
"Marilla!" Anne was shocked. "I thought you came out of the womb knowing how to bake them. They're an extension of your fingertips."
Marilla laughed, "hardly. It just comes down to touch in the end. I hadn't been paying full attention when Mother taught me, I was a bit arrogant I suppose. I recall I wrote out Mother's recipe but that only takes you so far, or so I soon realised."
"What did they say?" Anne asked, intrigued.
"Well, Father was polite enough. Matthew couldn't bake so he was hardly one to criticise, but Mother was never one to mince words. She told me where I'd gone wrong, how the pastry was too chewy and the jam too sweet. You know how my jam is tangy." Anne nodded. "Well, that's because I had to learn how to make it properly. I used to tip in the sugar willy-nilly. Now I measure it in quite carefully. All those little touches I had yet to learn. Marilla never forgot the way her stomach twisted in anticipation as bouncing on her heels she waited for her mother's reaction. Father and Matthew had swallowed theirs in a couple of bites and smiled in appreciation but Mother had chewed hers thoughtfully, "hm," she said taking another small bite. "Not bad I suppose, but," That was enough for Marilla she threw down her tea-towel and stalked out of the kitchen. "I just hated Mother looking over my shoulder all the time," she told Anne.
Anne grinned and Marilla asked, "what are you implying?"
"Nothing," Anne said innocently. "Nothing at all."
Marilla raised her eyebrows, adding, "fiddlesticks. I know that that look."
"Well," Anne prevaricated. "I suppose I can relate is all."
Marilla patted her arm, "shall we continue?" she said nodding towards the barn. "It's been a while since I made it that far, but I'd like to see it again. I used to feel Matthew there."
"Of course, if you're sure?" Anne took Marilla's arm and helped her to her feet. Slowly they made their way down the lawn. Marilla stopped in the doorway and inhaled deeply, "mm, yes. I always think I'll find him pottering away in some deep recess."
"His second home."
"First really. I got the feeling he only came into the house under sufferance. Though it was different when you arrived," she smiled in fond remembrance.
After lunch Rachel burst in full of news, carrying various parcels. "You'll be pleased to know your package arrived Marilla," she said letting everything spill onto the kitchen table.
"Aha, good timing," Marilla exclaimed. "Anne, I sent away for a book for you." Anne was mystified, Marilla seldom wasted money on extravagant presents, she was too canny for that. Anne unwrapped the parcel and a book dropped onto the table with a small thud. "The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner," she read with a sinking heart. "Hm looks interesting," she added with false positivity.
Marilla replied, "I read a review in the church circular, they found it an ingenious exploration of morality. I thought it sounded just the thing for you. Now you two sit in the parlour, I'll set up some tea."
"You probably think I should be able to cope better," Anne said as she and Rachel walked out to the parlour. "After all I have Susan's assistance. You had even more children and you seemed to manage just fine."
"Would you believe me if I said I understood," Rachel replied. "Green Gables has always been a haven to us harried mothers." Anne turned to her in amazement. "I've been known to make my way up the lane when my brood overwhelmed me. Even to nap on the couch on occasion." Anne stared. "I know, I know, but hush don't tell anyone." *
Marilla popped her head in, grinning. "I can vouch for that."
"And what did you do?" Anne queried before Marilla disappeared again.
"Why let her sleep, naturally."
Nothing terribly exciting happened on that visit, but Anne found spending time in Marilla's calm company marvellously invigorating. Just a day or two of respite made all the difference and she could return home refreshed and ready to join the family again.
Anne's consciousness was brought back to the Ingleside study when Gilbert took her hand. She said, "it doesn't happen every time but sometimes I'm taken back to that hopeful little girl. Matthew hadn't said anything you know, to break my bubble. I wondered why for the longest time, but now I think I understand. It can't have been an easy drive, knowing what I was to face but he wanted me to have that one wonderous trip. Now I think of it as a gift to the poor little orphan girl unexpectedly fetched up in his buggy."
She got to her feet and perused the bookshelves noticing a barely touched tome. Pulling it down she flicked through the pages. "Nope," Anne set her book down on her lap. "No, I just can't."
"What is it Anne-girl?" Gilbert asked looking across at her.
Anne let out half a laugh. "Thought I'd give this book Marilla gifted me last year another go, but just no."
"Read me a passage."
"Very well," she flicked through the pages. 'It is a natural peculiarity in me, over which I have not full control. If I contemplate a man's features seriously, mine own gradually assume the very same appearance and character. And what is more, but contemplating a face minutely, I not only attain the same likeness, but, with the likeness, I attain the very same ideas as well as the same mode of arranging them, so that, you see, by looking at a person attentively, I by degrees assume his likeness, and by assuming his likeness I attain to the passion of his most secret thoughts. This, I say is a peculiarity in my nature, a gift of the God that made me; but whether or not given me for a blessing, he knows himself, and so do I.' **
Gilbert whistled, "phew."
"Precisely," Anne agreed. "Turgid stuff. I keep the book out of sentiment, but it's beyond me."
Strange what the children had found in the dress up box, a motley collection of clothing borrowed from the blending of houses. The parents sat around on the couches including Susan naturally. Laughing and applauding at salient moments. Una frowned at times because they did not always react as she'd expect. Rosemary in particular was laughing at what she thought was the most poignant part.
Anne took herself out of the scene for a moment and reflected on her luck. She had to great fortune to be brought up by the kind and loving Cuthbert siblings and now she had created a family of her own. She grieved and would continue to grieve Marilla with all her heart and her grieving would last for a long time, perhaps 'til the end of her life; but that was no tragedy. As with the loss of Joy, Marilla's death would create a pearl as her heart grew around the hurt. Gil glanced at her sharing the humour and noticed that she was far away. He brought her back with a squeeze of her hand and smiled. She clasped him back looked into his eyes, threw back her head and laughed out loud much to Nan's consternation. She'd written a tragedy not a comedy, why didn't the grownups appreciate the difference?
A/N Funny how story titles just appear. I looked for one within Tennyson, but nothing grabbed me. Then I watched the film of a favourite Scottish novel, Sunset Song by Lewis Grassic Gibbon. This was the last line and it caught me. The full quote is, "you can do without day if you've a lamp quiet-lighted and kind in your heart."
* The Most Important Things, oz diva
**The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner (1824), James Hogg. (Incidentally one of my husband's favourite books, make of that what you will). Thank you to Alinyaalethia for the idea, as I said to her, this is next level Marilla characterisation.