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HOME > Classical Novels > Rilla of Ingleside > CHAPTER XV UNTIL THE DAY BREAK
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CHAPTER XV UNTIL THE DAY BREAK
 "The Germans have recaptured Premysl," said Susan despairingly, looking up from her newspaper, "and now I suppose we will have to begin calling it by that uncivilised name again. Cousin Sophia was in when the mail came and when she heard the news she hove a sigh up from the depths of her stomach, Mrs. Dr. dear, and said, 'Ah yes, and they will get Petrograd next I have no doubt.' I said to her, 'My knowledge of geography is not so profound as I wish it was but I have an idea that it is quite a walk from Premysl to Petrograd.' Cousin Sophia sighed again and said, 'The Grand Duke Nicholas is not the man I took him to be.' 'Do not let him know that,' said I. 'It might hurt his feelings and he has likely enough to worry him as it is. But you cannot cheer Cousin Sophia up, no matter how sarcastic1 you are, Mrs. Dr. dear. She sighed for the third time and groaned2 out, 'But the Russians are retreating fast,' and I said, 'Well, what of it? They have plenty of room for retreating, have they not?' But all the same, Mrs. Dr. dear, though I would never admit it to Cousin Sophia, I do not like the situation on the eastern front."  
Nobody else liked it either; but all summer the Russian retreat went on—a long-drawn-out agony.
 
"I wonder if I shall ever again be able to await the coming of the mail with feelings of composure—never to speak of pleasure," said Gertrude Oliver. "The thought that haunts me night and day is—will the Germans smash Russia completely and then hurl3 their eastern army, flushed with victory, against the western front?"
 
"They will not, Miss Oliver dear," said Susan, assuming the role of prophetess.
 
"In the first place, the Almighty4 will not allow it, in the second, Grand Duke Nicholas, though he may have been a disappointment to us in some respects, knows how to run away decently and in order, and that is a very useful knowledge when Germans are chasing you. Norman Douglas declares he is just luring5 them on and killing6 ten of them to one he loses. But I am of the opinion he cannot help himself and is just doing the best he can under the circumstances, the same as the rest of us. So do not go so far afield to borrow trouble, Miss Oliver dear, when there is plenty of it already camping on our very doorstep."
 
Walter had gone to Kingsport the first of June. Nan, Di and Faith had gone also to do Red Cross work in their vacation. In mid-July Walter came home for a week's leave before going overseas. Rilla had lived through the days of his absence on the hope of that week, and now that it had come she drank every minute of it thirstily, hating even the hours she had to spend in sleep, they seemed such a waste of precious moments. In spite of its sadness, it was a beautiful week, full of poignant7, unforgettable hours, when she and Walter had long walks and talks and silences together. He was all her own and she knew that he found strength and comfort in her sympathy and understanding. It was very wonderful to know she meant so much to him—the knowledge helped her through moments that would otherwise have been unendurable, and gave her power to smile—and even to laugh a little. When Walter had gone she might indulge in the comfort of tears, but not while he was here. She would not even let herself cry at night, lest her eyes should betray her to him in the morning.
 
On his last evening at home they went together to Rainbow Valley and sat down on the bank of the brook9, under the White Lady, where the gay revels10 of olden days had been held in the cloudless years. Rainbow Valley was roofed over with a sunset of unusual splendour that night; a wonderful grey dusk just touched with starlight followed it; and then came moonshine, hinting, hiding, revealing, lighting11 up little dells and hollows here, leaving others in dark, velvet12 shadow.
 
"When I am 'somewhere in France,'" said Walter, looking around him with eager eyes on all the beauty his soul loved, "I shall remember these still, dewy, moon-drenched places. The balsam of the fir-trees; the peace of those white pools of moonshine; the 'strength of the hills'—what a beautiful old Biblical phrase that is. Rilla! Look at those old hills around us—the hills we looked up at as children, wondering what lay for us in the great world beyond them. How calm and strong they are—how patient and changeless—like the heart of a good woman. Rilla-my-Rilla, do you know what you have been to me the past year? I want to tell you before I go. I could not have lived through it if it had not been for you, little loving, believing heart."
 
Rilla dared not try to speak. She slipped her hand into Walter's and pressed it hard.
 
"And when I'm over there, Rilla, in that hell upon earth which men who have forgotten God have made, it will be the thought of you that will help me most. I know you'll be as plucky13 and patient as you have shown yourself to be this past year—I'm not afraid for you. I know that no matter what happens, you'll be Rilla-my-Rilla—no matter what happens."
 
Rilla repressed tear and sigh, but she could not repress a little shiver, and Walter knew that he had said enough. After a moment of silence, in which each made an unworded promise to each other, he said, "Now we won't be sober any more. We'll look beyond the years—to the time when the war will be over and Jem and Jerry and I will come marching home and we'll all be happy again."
 
"We won't be—happy—in the same way," said Rilla.
 
"No, not in the same way. Nobody whom this war has touched will ever be happy again in quite the same way. But it will be a better happiness, I think, little sister—a happiness we've earned. We were very happy before the war, weren't we? With a home like Ingleside, and a father and mother like ours we couldn't help being happy. But that happiness was a gift from life and love; it wasn't really ours—life could take it back at any time. It can never take away the happiness we win for ourselves in the way of duty. I've realised that since I went into khaki. In spite of my occasional funks, when I fall to living over things beforehand, I've been happy since that night in May. Rilla, be awfully15 good to mother while I'm away. It must be a horrible thing to be a mother in this war—the mothers and sisters and wives and sweethearts have the hardest times. Rilla, you beautiful little thing, are you anybody's sweetheart? If you are, tell me before I go."
 
"No," said Rilla. Then, impelled16 by a wish to be absolutely frank with Walter in this talk that might be the last they would ever have, she added, blushing wildly in the moonlight, "but if—Kenneth Ford—wanted me to be—"
 
"I see," said Walter. "And Ken's in khaki, too. Poor little girlie, it's a bit hard for you all round. Well, I'm not leaving any girl to break her heart about me—thank God for that."
 
Rilla glanced up at the Manse on the hill. She could see a light in Una Meredith's window. She felt tempted17 to say something—then she knew she must not. It was not her secret: and, anyway, she did not know—she only suspected.
 
Walter looked about him lingeringly and lovingly. This spot had always been so dear to him. What fun they all had had here lang syne18. Phantoms19 of memory seemed to pace the dappled paths and peep merrily through the swinging boughs—Jem and Jerry, bare-legged, sunburned schoolboys, fishing in the brook and frying
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