L. M. Montgomery, Anne of the Island (1915)
“It’s so very sad and dreadful,” said Anne in a low tone. “Ruby doesn’t seem to realize her condition in the least. […] All the time I’m with her I feel as if I were watching her struggle with an invisible foe ⎯ trying to push it back with such feeble resistance as she has. […]”
But tonight Anne did not feel this so keenly. Ruby was strangely quiet. […]
“How strange the graveyard looks by moonlight!” said Ruby suddenly. “How ghostly!” she shuddered. “Anne, it won’t be long now before I’ll be lying over there. You and Diana and all the rest will be going about, full of life ⎯ and I’ll be there ⎯ in the old graveyard ⎯ dead!”
The surprise of it bewildered Anne. For a few moments she could not speak.
“You know it’s so, don’t you?” said Ruby insistently.
“Yes, I know,” answered Anne in a low tone. “Dear Ruby, I know.”
“Everybody knows it,” said Ruby bitterly. “I know it ⎯ I’ve known it all summer, though I wouldn’t give in. And, oh, Anne” ⎯ she reached out and caught Anne’s hand pleadingly, impulsively ⎯ “I don’t want to die. I’m afraid to die.”
“Why should you be afraid, Ruby?” asked Anne quietly.
“Because ⎯ because ⎯ oh, I’m not afraid but that I’ll go to heaven, Anne. I’m a church member. But ⎯ it’ll be all so different. I think ⎯ and think ⎯ and I get so frightened ⎯ and ⎯ and ⎯ homesick. Heaven must be very beautiful, of course, the Bible says so — but, Anne, it won’t be what I’ve been used to.”
Through Anne’s mind drifted an intrusive recollection of a funny story she had heard Philippa Gordon tell ⎯ the story of some old man who had said very much the same thing about the world to come. It had sounded funny then ⎯ she remembered how she and Priscilla had laughed over it. But it did not seem in the least humorous now, coming from Ruby’s pale, trembling lips. It was sad, tragic ⎯ and true! Heaven could not be what Ruby had been used to. There had been nothing in her gay, frivolous life, her shallow ideals and aspirations, to fit her for that great change, or make the life to come seem to her anything but alien and unreal and undesirable. Anne wondered helplessly what she could say that would help her. Could she say anything? “I think, Ruby,” she began hesitatingly […] “I think, perhaps, we have very mistaken ideas about heaven […] I don’t think it can be so very different from life here as most people seem to think […] only it will be easier to be good and to ⎯ follow the highest. All the hindrances and perplexities will be taken away, and we shall see clearly. Don’t be afraid, Ruby.”
“I can’t help it,” said Ruby pitifully. “Even if what you say about heaven is true ⎯ and you can’t be sure ⎯ it may be only that imagination of yours ⎯ it won’t be just the same. It can’t be. I want to go on living here. I’m so young, Anne. I haven’t had my life. I’ve fought so hard to live ⎯ and it isn’t any use ⎯ I have to die ⎯ and leave everything I care for.” Anne sat in a pain that was almost intolerable. She could not tell comforting falsehoods; and all that Ruby said was so horribly true. She was leaving everything she cared for. She had laid up her treasures on earth only; she had lived solely for the little things of life — the things that pass — forgetting the great things that go onward into eternity, bridging the gulf between the two lives and making of death a mere passing from one dwelling to the other — from twilight to unclouded day.
Ruby sank back on her pillows and sobbed convulsively. Anne pressed her hand in an agony of sympathy — silent sympathy, which perhaps helped Ruby more than broken, imperfect words could have done; for presently she grew calmer and her sobs ceased.
“I’m glad I’ve told you this, Anne,” she whispered. “It has helped me just to say it all out. I’ve wanted to all summer ⎯ every time you came. I wanted to talk it over with you ⎯ but I couldn’t. It seemed as if it would make death so sure if I said I was going to die, or if any one else said it or hinted it. […]”
Anne walked home very slowly in the moonlight. The evening had changed something for her. Life held a different meaning, a deeper purpose. On the surface it would go on just the same; but the deeps had been stirred. It must not be with her as with poor butterfly Ruby. When she came to the end of one life it must not be to face the next with the shrinking terror of something wholly different ⎯ something for which accustomed thought and ideal and aspiration had unfitted her. The little things of life, sweet and excellent in their place, must not be the things lived for; the highest must be sought and followed; the life of heaven must be begun here on earth.
That good night in the garden was for all time. […] There came a summons to a soul in Avonlea that might not be disregarded or evaded. The next morning the word went from house to house that Ruby Gillis was dead. She had died in her sleep, painlessly and calmly, and on her face was a smile ⎯ as if, after all, death had come as a kindly friend to lead her over the threshold, instead of the grisly phantom she had dreaded.
Posted: 22nd July 2019Categories: Literature