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HOME > Classical Novels > Rilla of Ingleside > CHAPTER XVI REALISM AND ROMANCE
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 "Warsaw has fallen," said Dr. Blythe with a resigned air, as he brought the mail in one warm August day.  
Gertrude and Mrs. Blythe looked dismally1 at each other, and Rilla, who was feeding Jims a Morganized diet from a carefully sterilized2 spoon, laid the said spoon down on his tray, utterly3 regardless of germs, and said, "Oh, dear me," in as tragic4 a tone as if the news had come as a thunderbolt instead of being a foregone conclusion from the preceding week's dispatches. They had thought they were quite resigned to Warsaw's fall but now they knew they had, as always, hoped against hope.
"Now, let us take a brace5," said Susan. "It is not the terrible thing we have been thinking. I read a dispatch three columns long in the Montreal Herald6 yesterday that proved that Warsaw was not important from a military point of view at all. So let us take the military point of view, doctor dear."
"I read that dispatch, too, and it has encouraged me immensely," said Gertrude. "I knew then and I know now that it was a lie from beginning to end. But I am in that state of mind where even a lie is a comfort, providing it is a cheerful lie."
"In that case, Miss Oliver dear, the German official reports ought to be all you need," said Susan sarcastically7. "I never read them now because they make me so mad I cannot put my thoughts properly on my work after a dose of them. Even this news about Warsaw has taken the edge off my afternoon's plans. Misfortunes never come singly. I spoiled my baking of bread today—and now Warsaw has fallen—and here is little Kitchener bent9 on choking himself to death."
Jims was evidently trying to swallow his spoon, germs and all. Rilla rescued him mechanically and was about to resume the operation of feeding him when a casual remark of her father's sent such a shock and thrill over her that for the second time she dropped that doomed10 spoon.
"Kenneth Ford11 is down at Martin West's over-harbour," the doctor was saying. "His regiment12 was on its way to the front but was held up in Kingsport for some reason, and Ken8 got leave of absence to come over to the Island."
"I hope he will come up to see us," exclaimed Mrs. Blythe.
"He only has a day or two off, I believe," said the doctor absently.
Nobody noticed Rilla's flushed face and trembling hands. Even the most thoughtful and watchful13 of parents do not see everything that goes on under their very noses. Rilla made a third attempt to give the long-suffering Jims his dinner, but all she could think of was the question—Would Ken come to see her before he went away? She had not heard from him for a long while. Had he forgotten her completely? If he did not come she would know that he had. Perhaps there was even—some other girl back there in Toronto. Of course there was. She was a little fool to be thinking about him at all. She would not think about him. If he came, well and good. It would only be courteous14 of him to make a farewell call at Ingleside where he had often been a guest. If he did not come—well and good, too. It did not matter very much. Nobody was going to fret15. That was all settled comfortably—she was quite indifferent—but meanwhile Jims was being fed with a haste and recklessness that would have filled the soul of Morgan with horror. Jims himself didn't like it, being a methodical baby, accustomed to swallowing spoonfuls with a decent interval16 for breath between each. He protested, but his protests availed him nothing. Rilla, as far as the care and feeding of infants was concerned, was utterly demoralized.
Then the telephone-bell rang. There was nothing unusual about the telephone ringing. It rang on an average every ten minutes at Ingleside. But Rilla dropped Jims' spoon again—on the carpet this time—and flew to the 'phone as if life depended on her getting there before anybody else. Jims, his patience exhausted17, lifted up his voice and wept.
"Hello, is this Ingleside?"
"That you, Rilla?" "Yeth—yeth." Oh, why couldn't Jims stop howling for just one little minute? Why didn't somebody come in and choke him?
"Know who's speaking?"
Oh, didn't she know! Wouldn't she know that voice anywhere—at any time?
"It's Ken—isn't it?"
"Sure thing. I'm here for a look-in. Can I come up to Ingleside tonight and see you?"
"Of courthe."
Had he used "you" in the singular or plural18 sense? Presently she would wring19 Jims' neck—oh, what was Ken saying?
"See here, Rilla, can you arrange that there won't be more than a few dozen people round? Understand? I can't make my meaning clearer over this bally rural line. There are a dozen receivers down."
Did she understand! Yes, she understood.
"I'll try," she said.
"I'll be up about eight then. By-by."
Rilla hung up the 'phone and flew to Jims. But she did not wring that injured infant's neck. Instead she snatched him bodily out of his chair, crushed him against her face, kissed him rapturously on his milky20 mouth, and danced wildly around the room with him in her arms. After this Jims was relieved to find that she returned to sanity21, gave him the rest of his dinner properly, and tucked him away for his afternoon nap with the little lullaby he loved best of all. She sewed at Red Cross shirts for the rest of the afternoon and built a crystal castle of dreams, all a-quiver with rainbows. Ken wanted to see her—to see her alone. That could be easily managed. Shirley wouldn't bother them, father and mother were going to the Manse, Miss Oliver never played gooseberry, and Jims always slept the clock round from seven to seven. She would entertain Ken on the veranda22—it would be moonlight—she would wear her white georgette dress and do her hair up—yes, she would—at least in a low knot at the nape of her neck. Mother couldn't object to that, surely. Oh, how wonderful and romantic it would be! Would Ken say anything—he must mean to say something or why should he be so particular about seeing her alone? What if it rained—Susan had been complaining about Mr. Hyde that morning! What if some officious Junior Red called to discuss Belgians and shirts? Or, worst of all, what if Fred Arnold dropped in? He did occasionally.
The evening came at last and was all that could be desired in an evening. The doctor and his wife went to the Manse, Shirley and Miss Oliver went they alone knew where, Susan went to the store for household supplies, and Jims went to Dreamland. Rilla put on her georgette gown, knotted up her hair and bound a little double string of pearls around it. Then she tucked a cluster of pale pink baby roses at her belt. Would Ken ask her for a rose for a keepsake? She knew that Jem had carried to the trenches23 in Flanders a faded rose that Faith Meredith had kissed and given him the night before he left.
Rilla looked very sweet when she met Ken in the mingled24 moonlight and vine shadows of the big veranda. The hand she gave him was cold and she was so desperately25 anxious not to lisp that her greeting was prim26 and precise. How handsome and tall Kenneth looked in his lieutenant's uniform! It made him seem older, too—so much so that Rilla felt rather foolish. Hadn't it been the height of absurdity27 for her to suppose that this splendid young officer had anything special to say to her, little Rilla Blythe of Glen St. Mary? Likely she hadn't understood him after all—he had only meant that he didn't want a mob of folks around making a fuss over him and trying to lionize him, as they had probably done over-harbour. Yes, of course, that was all he meant—and she, little idiot, had gone and vainly imagined that he didn't want anybody but her. And he would think she had manoeuvred everybody away so that they could be alone together, and he would laugh to himself at her.
"This is better luck than I hoped for," said Ken, leaning back in his chair and looking at her with very unconcealed admiration28 in his eloquent29 eyes. "I was sure someone would be hanging about and it was just you I wanted to see, Rilla-my-Rilla."
Rilla's dream castle flashed into the landscape again. This was unmistakable enough certainly—not much doubt as to his meaning here.
"There aren't—so many of us—to poke30 around as there used to be," she said softly.
"No, that's so," said Ken gently. "Jem and Walter and the girls away—it makes a big blank, doesn't it? But—" he leaned forward until his dark curls almost brushed her hair—"doesn't Fred Arnold try to fill the blank occasionally. I've been told so."
At this moment, before Rilla could make any reply, Jims began to cry at the top of his voice in the room whose open window was just above them—Jims, who hardly ever cried in the evening. Moreover, he was crying, as Rilla knew from experience, with a vim31 and energy that betokened32 that he had been already whimpering softly unheard for some time and was thoroughly33 exasperated34. When Jims started in crying like that he made a thorough job of it. Rilla knew that there was no use to sit still and pretend to ignore him. He wouldn't stop; and conversation of any kind was out of the question when such shrieks35 and howls were floating over your head. Besides, she was afraid Kenneth would think she was utterly unfeeling if she sat still and let a baby cry like that. He was not likely acquainted with Morgan's invaluable36 volume.
She got up. "Jims has had a nightmare, I think. He sometimes has one and he is always badly frightened by it. Excuse me for a moment."
Rilla flew upstairs, wishing quite frankly37 that soup tureens had never been invented. But when Jims, at sight of her, lifted his little arms entreatingly38 and swallowed several sobs39, with tears rolling down his cheeks, resentment40 went out of her heart. After all, the poor darling was frightened. She picked him up gently and rocked him soothingly41 until his sobs ceased and his eyes closed. Then she essayed to lay him down in his crib. Jims opened his eyes and shrieked42 a protest. This performance was repeated twice. Rilla grew desperate. She couldn't leave Ken down there alone any longer—she had been away nearly half an hour already. With a resigned air she marched downstairs, carrying Jims, and sat down on the veranda. It was, no doubt, a ridiculous thing to sit and cuddle a contrary war-baby when your best young man was making his farewell call, but there was nothing else to be done.
Jims was supremely43 happy. He kicked his little pink-soled feet rapturously out under his white nighty and gave one of his rare laughs. He was beginning to be a very pretty baby; his golden hair curled in silken ringlets all over his little round head and his eyes were beautiful.
"He's a decorative44 kiddy all right, isn't he?" said Ken.
"His looks are very well," said Rilla, bitterly, as if to imply that they were much the best of him. Jims, being an astute45 infant, sensed trouble in the atmosphere and realized that it was up to him to clear it away. He turned his face up to Rilla, smiled adorably and said, clearly and beguilingly46, "Will—Will."
It was the very first time he had spoken a word or tried to speak. Rilla was so delighted that she forgot her grudge47 against him. She forgave him with a hug and kiss. Jims, understanding that he was restored to favour, cuddled down against her just where a gleam of light from the lamp in the living-room struck across his hair and turned it into a halo of gold against her breast.
Kenneth sat very still and silent, looking at Rilla—at the delicate, girlish silhouette49 of her, her long lashes50, her dented51 lip, her adorable chin. In the dim moonlight, as she sat with her head bent a little over Jims, the lamplight glinting on her pearls until they glistened52 like a slender nimbus, he thought she looked exactly like the Madonna that hung over his mother's desk at home. He carried that picture of her in his heart to the horror of the battlefields of France. He had had a strong fancy for ............
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