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HOME > Classical Novels > Rilla of Ingleside > CHAPTER X THE TROUBLES OF RILLA
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CHAPTER X THE TROUBLES OF RILLA
 October passed out and the dreary1 days of November and December dragged by. The world shook with the thunder of contending armies; Antwerp fell—Turkey declared war—gallant little Serbia gathered herself together and struck a deadly blow at her oppressor; and in quiet, hill-girdled Glen St. Mary, thousands of miles away, hearts beat with hope and fear over the varying dispatches from day to day.  
"A few months ago," said Miss Oliver, "we thought and talked in terms of Glen St. Mary. Now, we think and talk in terms of military tactics and diplomatic intrigue2."
 
There was just one great event every day—the coming of the mail. Even Susan admitted that from the time the mail-courier's buggy rumbled3 over the little bridge between the station and the village until the papers were brought home and read, she could not work properly.
 
"I must take up my knitting then and knit hard till the papers come, Mrs. Dr. dear. Knitting is something you can do, even when your heart is going like a trip-hammer and the pit of your stomach feels all gone and your thoughts are catawampus. Then when I see the headlines, be they good or be they bad, I calm down and am able to go about my business again. It is an unfortunate thing that the mail comes in just when our dinner rush is on, and I think the Government could arrange things better. But the drive on Calais has failed, as I felt perfectly4 sure it would, and the Kaiser will not eat his Christmas dinner in London this year. Do you know, Mrs. Dr. dear,"—Susan's voice lowered as a token that she was going to impart a very shocking piece of information,—"I have been told on good authority—or else you may be sure I would not be repeating it when it concerns a minster—that the Rev5. Mr. Arnold goes to Charlottetown every week and takes a Turkish bath for his rheumatism6. The idea of him doing that when we are at war with Turkey? One of his own deacons has always insisted that Mr. Arnold's theology was not sound and I am beginning to believe that there is some reason to fear it. Well, I must bestir myself this afternoon and get little Jem's Christmas cake packed up for him. He will enjoy it, if the blessed boy is not drowned in mud before that time."
 
Jem was in camp on Salisbury Plain and was writing gay, cheery letters home in spite of the mud. Walter was at Redmond and his letters to Rilla were anything but cheerful. She never opened one without a dread7 tugging8 at her heart that it would tell her he had enlisted9. His unhappiness made her unhappy. She wanted to put her arm round him and comfort him, as she had done that day in Rainbow Valley. She hated everybody who was responsible for Walter's unhappiness.
 
"He will go yet," she murmured miserably10 to herself one afternoon, as she sat alone in Rainbow Valley, reading a letter from him, "he will go yet—and if he does I just can't bear it."
 
Walter wrote that some one had sent him an envelope containing a white feather.
 
"I deserved it, Rilla. I felt that I ought to put it on and wear it—proclaiming myself to all Redmond the coward I know I am. The boys of my year are going—going. Every day two or three of them join up. Some days I almost make up my mind to do it—and then I see myself thrusting a bayonet through another man—some woman's husband or sweetheart or son—perhaps the father of little children—I see myself lying alone torn and mangled11, burning with thirst on a cold, wet field, surrounded by dead and dying men—and I know I never can. I can't face even the thought of it. How could I face the reality? There are times when I wish I had never been born. Life has always seemed such a beautiful thing to me—and now it is a hideous12 thing. Rilla-my-Rilla, if it weren't for your letters—your dear, bright, merry, funny, comical, believing letters—I think I'd give up. And Una's! Una is really a little brick, isn't she? There's a wonderful fineness and firmness under all that shy, wistful girlishness of her. She hasn't your knack13 of writing laugh-provoking epistles, but there's something in her letters—I don't know what—that makes me feel at least while I'm reading them, that I could even go to the front. Not that she ever says a word about my going—or hints that I ought to go—she isn't that kind. It's just the spirit of them—the personality that is in them. Well, I can't go. You have a brother and Una has a friend who is a coward."
 
"Oh, I wish Walter wouldn't write such things," sighed Rilla. "It hurts me. He isn't a coward—he isn't—he isn't!"
 
She looked wistfully about her—at the little woodland valley and the grey, lonely fallows beyond. How everything reminded her of Walter! The red leaves still clung to the wild sweet-briars that overhung a curve of the brook14; their stems were gemmed15 with the pearls of the gentle rain that had fallen a little while before. Walter had once written a poem describing them. The wind was sighing and rustling16 among the frosted brown bracken ferns, then lessening17 sorrowfully away down the brook. Walter had said once that he loved the melancholy18 of the autumn wind on a November day. The old Tree Lovers still clasped each other in a faithful embrace, and the White Lady, now a great white-branched tree, stood out beautifully fine, against the grey velvet19 sky. Walter had named them long ago; and last November, when he had walked with her and Miss Oliver in the Valley, he had said, looking at the leafless Lady, with a young silver moon hanging over her, "A white birch is a beautiful Pagan
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