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HOME > Classical Novels > Rilla of Ingleside > CHAPTER XI DARK AND BRIGHT
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 DARK AND BRIGHT At Christmas the college boys and girls came home and for a little while Ingleside was gay again. But all were not there—for the first time one was missing from the circle round the Christmas table. Jem, of the steady lips and fearless eyes, was far away, and Rilla felt that the sight of his vacant chair was more than she could endure. Susan had taken a stubborn freak and insisted on setting out Jem's place for him as usual, with the twisted little napkin ring he had always had since a boy, and the odd, high Green Gables goblet2 that Aunt Marilla had once given him and from which he always insisted on drinking.
"That blessed boy shall have his place, Mrs. Dr. dear," said Susan firmly, "and do not you feel over it, for you may be sure he is here in spirit and next Christmas he will be here in the body. Wait you till the Big Push comes in the spring and the war will be over in a jiffy."
They tried to think so, but a shadow stalked in the background of their determined3 merrymaking. Walter, too, was quiet and dull, all through the holidays. He showed Rilla a cruel, anonymous4 letter he had received at Redmond—a letter far more conspicuous5 for malice6 than for patriotic7 indignation.
"Nevertheless, all it says is true, Rilla."
Rilla had caught it from him and thrown it into the fire.
"There isn't one word of truth in it," she declared hotly. "Walter, you've got morbid—as Miss Oliver says she gets when she broods too long over one thing."
"I can't get away from it at Redmond, Rilla. The whole college is aflame over the war. A perfectly8 fit fellow, of military age, who doesn't join up is looked upon as a shirker and treated accordingly. Dr. Milne, the English professor, who has always made a special pet of me, has two sons in khaki; and I can feel the change in his manner towards me."
"It's not fair—you're not fit."
"Physically9 I am. Sound as a bell. The unfitness is in the soul and it's a taint10 and a disgrace. There, don't cry, Rilla. I'm not going if that's what you're afraid of. The Piper's music rings in my ears day and night—but I cannot follow."
"You would break mother's heart and mine if you did," sobbed11 Rilla. "Oh, Walter, one is enough for any family."
The holidays were an unhappy time for her. Still, having Nan and Di and Walter and Shirley home helped in the enduring of things. A letter and book came for her from Kenneth Ford12, too; some sentences in the letter made her cheeks burn and her heart beat—until the last paragraph, which sent an icy chill over everything.
"My ankle is about as good as new. I'll be fit to join up in a couple of months more, Rilla-my-Rilla. It will be some feeling to get into khaki all right. Little Ken1 will be able to look the whole world in the face then and owe not any man. It's been rotten lately, since I've been able to walk without limping. People who don't know look at me as much as to say 'Slacker!' Well, they won't have the chance to look it much longer."
"I hate this war," said Rilla bitterly, as she gazed out into the maple13 grove14 that was a chill glory of pink and gold in the winter sunset.
"Nineteen-fourteen has gone," said Dr. Blythe on New Year's Day. "Its sun, which rose fairly, has set in blood. What will nineteen-fifteen bring?"
"Victory!" said Susan, for once laconic15.
"Do you really believe we'll win the war, Susan?" said Miss Oliver drearily16. She had come over from Lowbridge to spend the day and see Walter and the girls before they went back to Redmond. She was in a rather blue and cynical17 mood and inclined to look on the dark side.
"'Believe' we'll win the war!" exclaimed Susan. "No, Miss Oliver, dear, I do not believe—I know. That does not worry me. What does worry me is the trouble and expense of it all. But then you cannot make omelets without breaking eggs, so we must just trust in God and make big guns."
"Sometimes I think the big guns are better to trust in than God," said Miss Oliver defiantly18.
"No, no, dear, you do not. The Germans had the big guns at the Marne, had they not? But Providence19 settled them. Do not ever forget that. Just hold on to that when you feel inclined to doubt. Clutch hold of the sides of your chair and sit tight and keep saying, 'Big guns are good but the Almighty20 is better, and He is on our side, no matter what the Kaiser says about it.' I would have gone crazy many a day lately, Miss Oliver, dear, if I had not sat tight and repeated that to myself. My cousin Sophia is, like you, somewhat inclined to despond. 'Oh, dear me, what will we do if the Germans ever get here,' she wailed21 to me yesterday. 'Bury them,' said I, just as off-hand as that. 'There is plenty of room for the graves.' Cousin Sophia said that I was flippant but I was not flippant, Miss Oliver, dear, only calm and confident in the British navy and our Canadian boys. I am like old Mr. William Pollock of the Harbour Head. He is very old and has been ill for a long time, and one night last week he was so low that his daughter-in-law whispered to some one that she thought he was dead. 'Darn it, I ain't,' he called right out—only, Miss Oliver, dear, he did not use so mild a word as 'darn'—'darn it, I ain't, and I don't mean to die until the Kaiser is well licked.' Now, that, Miss Oliver, dear," concluded Susan, "is the kind of spirit I admire."
"I admire it but I can't emulate22 it," sighed Gertrude. "Before this, I have always been able to escape from the hard things of life for a little while by going into dreamland, and coming back like a giant refreshed. But I can't escape from this."
"Nor I," said Mrs. Blythe. "I hate going to bed now. All my life I've liked going to bed, to have a gay, mad, splendid half-hour of imagining things before sleeping. Now I imagine them still. But such different things."
"I am rather glad when the time comes to go to bed," said Miss Oliver. "I like the darkness because I can be myself in it—I needn't smile or talk bravely. But sometimes my imagination gets out of hand, too, and I see what you do—terrible things—terrible years to come."
"I am very thankful that I never had any imagination to speak of," said Susan. "I have been spared that. I see by this paper that the Crown Prince is killed again. Do you suppose there is any hope of his staying dead this time? And I also see that Woodrow Wilson is going to write another note. I wonder," concluded Susan, with the bitter irony23 she had of late begun to use when referring to the poor President, "if that man's schoolmaster is alive."
In January Jims was five months old and Rilla celebrated24 the anniversary by shortening him.
"He weighs fourteen pounds," she announced jubilantly. "Just exactly what he should weigh at five months, according to Morgan."
There was no longer any doubt in anybody's mind that Jims was getting positively25 pretty. His little cheeks were round and firm and faintly pink, his eyes were big and bright, his tiny paws had dimples at the root of every finger. He had even begun to grow hair, much to Rilla's unspoken relief. There was a pale golden fuzz all over his head that was distinctly visible in some lights. He was a good infant, generally sleeping and digesting as Morgan decreed. Occasionally he smiled but he had never laughed, in spite of all efforts to make him. This worried Rilla also, because Morgan said that babies usually laughed aloud from the third to the fifth month. Jims was five months and had no notion of laughing. Why hadn't he? Wasn't he normal?
One night Rilla came home late from a recruiting meeting at the Glen where she had been giving patriotic recitations. Rilla had never been willing to recite in public before. She was afraid of her tendency to lisp, which had a habit of reviving if she were doing anything that made her nervous. When she had first been asked to recite at the Upper Glen meeting she had refused. Then she began to worry over her refusal. Was it cowardly? What would Jem think if he knew? After two days of worry Rilla phoned to the president of the Patriotic Society that she would recite. She did, and lisped several times, and lay awake most of the night in an agony of wounded vanity. Then two nights after she recited again at Harbour Head. She had been at Lowbridge and over-harbour since then and had become resigned to an occasional lisp. Nobody except herself seemed to mind it. And she was so earnest and appealing and shining-eyed! More than one recruit joined up because Rilla's eyes seemed to look right at him when she passionately26 demanded how could men die better than fighting for the ashes of their fathers and the temples of their gods, or assured her audience with thrilling intensity27 that one crowded hour of glorious life was worth an age without a name. Even stolid28 Miller29 Douglas was so fired one night that it took Mary Vance a good hour to talk him back to sense. Mary Vance said bitterly that if Rilla Blythe felt as bad as she had pretended to feel over Jem's going to the front she wouldn't be urging other girls' brothers and friends to go.
On this particular night Rilla was tired and cold and very thankful to creep into her warm nest and cuddle down between her blankets, though as usual with a sorrowful wonder how Jem and Jerry were faring. She was just getting warm and drowsy30 when Jims suddenly began to cry—and kept on crying.
Rilla curled herself up in her bed and determined she would let him cry. She had Morgan behind her for justification31. Jims was warm, physically comfortable—his cry wasn't the cry of pain—and had his little tummy as full as was good for him. Under such circumstances it would be simply spoiling him to fuss over him, and she wasn't going to do it. He could cry until he got good and tired and ready to go to sleep again.
Then Rilla's imagination began to torment32 her. Suppose, she thought, I was a tiny, helpless creature only five months old, with my father somewhere in France and my poor little mother, who had been so worried about me, in the graveyard33. Suppose I was lying in a basket in a big, black room, without one speck34 of light, and nobody within miles of me, for all I could see or know. Suppose there wasn't a human being anywhere who loved me—for a father who had never seen me couldn't love me very much, especially when he had never written a word to or about me. Wouldn't I cry, too? Wouldn't I feel just so lonely and forsaken
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