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HOME > Classical Novels > Rilla of Ingleside > CHAPTER XVII THE WEEKS WEAR BY
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 Rilla read her first love letter in her Rainbow Valley fir-shadowed nook, and a girl's first love letter, whatever blase1, older people may think of it, is an event of tremendous importance in the teens. After Kenneth's regiment4 had left Kingsport there came a fortnight of dully-aching anxiety and when the congregation sang in Church on Sunday evenings,  
"Oh, hear us when we cry to Thee
For those in peril5 on the sea,"
Rilla's voice always failed her; for with the words came a horribly vivid mind picture of a submarined ship sinking beneath pitiless waves amid the struggles and cries of drowning men. Then word came that Kenneth's regiment had arrived safely in England; and now, at last, here was his letter. It began with something that made Rilla supremely6 happy for the moment and ended with a paragraph that crimsoned7 her cheeks with the wonder and thrill and delight of it. Between beginning and ending the letter was just such a jolly, newsy epistle as Ken3 might have written to anyone; but for the sake of that beginning and ending Rilla slept with the letter under her pillow for weeks, sometimes waking in the night to slip her fingers under and just touch it, and looked with secret pity on other girls whose sweethearts could never have written them anything half so wonderful and exquisite9. Kenneth was not the son of a famous novelist for nothing. He "had a way" of expressing things in a few poignant10, significant words that seemed to suggest far more than they uttered, and never grew stale or flat or foolish with ever so many scores of readings. Rilla went home from Rainbow Valley as if she flew rather than walked.
But such moments of uplift were rare that autumn. To be sure, there was one day in September when great news came of a big Allied11 victory in the west and Susan ran out to hoist12 the flag—the first time she had hoisted13 it since the Russian line broke and the last time she was to hoist it for many dismal14 moons.
"Likely the Big Push has begun at last, Mrs. Dr. dear," she exclaimed, "and we will soon see the finish of the Huns. Our boys will be home by Christmas now. Hurrah15!"
Susan was ashamed of herself for hurrahing16 the minute she had done it, and apologized meekly18 for such an outburst of juvenility19. "But indeed, Mrs. Dr. dear, this good news has gone to my head after this awful summer of Russian slumps21 and Gallipoli setbacks."
"Good news!" said Miss Oliver bitterly. "I wonder if the women whose men have been killed for it will call it good news. Just because our own men are not on that part of the front we are rejoicing as if the victory had cost no lives."
"Now, Miss Oliver dear, do not take that view of it," deprecated Susan. "We have not had much to rejoice over of late and yet men were being killed just the same. Do not let yourself slump20 like poor Cousin Sophia. She said, when the word came, 'Ah, it is nothing but a rift22 in the clouds. We are up this week but we will be down the next.' 'Well, Sophia Crawford,' said I,—for I will never give in to her, Mrs. Dr. dear—'God himself cannot make two hills without a hollow between them, as I have heard it said, but that is no reason why we should not take the good of the hills when we are on them.' But Cousin Sophia moaned on. 'Here is the Gallipolly expedition a failure and the Grand Duke Nicholas sent off, and everyone knows the Czar of Rooshia is a pro-German and the Allies have no ammunition24 and Bulgaria is going against us. And the end is not yet, for England and France must be punished for their deadly sins until they repent25 in sackcloth and ashes.' 'I think myself,' I said, 'that they will do their repenting26 in khaki and trench27 mud, and it seems to me that the Huns should have a few sins to repent of also.' 'They are instruments in the hands of the Almighty28, to purge29 the garner,' said Sophia. And then I got mad, Mrs. Dr. dear, and told her I did not and never would believe that the Almighty ever took such dirty instruments in hand for any purpose whatever, and that I did not consider it decent for her to be using the words of Holy Writ8 as glibly30 as she was doing in ordinary conversation. She was not, I told her, a minister or even an elder. And for the time being I squelched31 her, Mrs. Dr. dear. Cousin Sophia has no spirit. She is very different from her niece, Mrs. Dean Crawford over-harbour. You know the Dean Crawfords had five boys and now the new baby is another boy. All the connection and especially Dean Crawford were much disappointed because their hearts had been set on a girl; but Mrs. Dean just laughed and said, 'Everywhere I went this summer I saw the sign "MEN WANTED" staring me in the face. Do you think I could go and have a girl under such circumstances?' There is spirit for you, Mrs. Dr. dear. But Cousin Sophia would say the child was just so much more cannon32 fodder33."
Cousin Sophia had full range for her pessimism34 that gloomy autumn, and even Susan, incorrigible35 old optimist36 as she was, was hard put to it for cheer. When Bulgaria lined up with Germany Susan only remarked scornfully, "One more nation anxious for a licking," but the Greek tangle37 worried her beyond her powers of philosophy to endure calmly.
"Constantine of Greece has a German wife, Mrs. Dr. dear, and that fact squelches38 hope. To think that I should have lived to care what kind of a wife Constantine of Greece had! The miserable39 creature is under his wife's thumb and that is a bad place for any man to be. I am an old maid and an old maid has to be independent or she will be squashed out. But if I had been a married woman, Mrs. Dr. dear, I would have been meek17 and humble40. It is my opinion that this Sophia of Greece is a minx."
Susan was furious when the news came that Venizelos had met with defeat. "I could spank41 Constantine and skin him alive afterwards, that I could," she exclaimed bitterly.
"Oh, Susan, I'm surprised at you," said the doctor, pulling a long face. "Have you no regard for the proprieties42? Skin him alive by all means but omit the spanking43."
"If he had been well spanked44 in his younger days he might have more sense now," retorted Susan. "But I suppose princes are never spanked, more is the pity. I see the Allies have sent him an ultimatum45. I could tell them that it will take more than ultimatums46 to skin a snake like Constantine. Perhaps the Allied blockade will hammer sense into his head; but that will take some time I am thinking, and in the meantime what is to become of poor Serbia?"
They saw what became of Serbia, and during the process Susan was hardly to be lived with. In her exasperation47 she abused everything and everybody except Kitchener, and she fell upon poor President Wilson tooth and claw.
"If he had done his duty and gone into the war long ago we should not have seen this mess in Serbia," she avowed48.
"It would be a serious thing to plunge51 a great country like the United States, with its mixed population, into the war, Susan," said the doctor, who sometimes came to the defence of the President, not because he thought Wilson needed it especially, but from an unholy love of baiting Susan.
"Maybe, doctor dear—maybe! But that makes me think of the old story of the girl who told her grandmother she was going to be married. 'It is a solemn thing to be married,' said the old lady. 'Yes, but it is a solemner thing not to be,' said the girl. And I can testify to that out of my own experience, doctor dear. And I think it is a solemner thing for the Yankees that they have kept out of the war than it would have been if they had gone into it. However, though I do not know much about them, I am of the opinion that we will see them starting something yet, Woodrow Wilson or no Woodrow Wilson, when they get it into their heads that this war is not a correspondence school. They will not," said Susan, energetically waving a saucepan with one hand and a soup ladle with the other, "be too proud to fight then."
On a pale-yellow, windy evening in October Carl Meredith went away. He had enlisted53 on his eighteenth birthday. John Meredith saw him off with a set face. His two boys were gone—there was only little Bruce left now. He loved Bruce and Bruce's mother dearly; but Jerry and Carl were the sons of the bride of his youth and Carl was the only one of all his children who had Cecilia's very eyes. As they looked lovingly out at him above Carl's uniform the pale minister suddenly remembered the day when for the first and last time he had tried to whip Carl for his prank54 with the eel55. That was the first time he had realised how much Carl's eyes were like Cecilia's. Now he realised it again once more. Would he ever again see his dead wife's eyes looking at him from his son's face? What a bonny, clean, handsome lad he was! It was—hard—to see him go. John Meredith seemed to be looking at a torn plain strewed56 with the bodies of "able-bodied men between the ages of eighteen and forty-five." Only the other day Carl had been a little scrap57 of a boy, hunting bugs58 in Rainbow Valley, taking lizards59 to bed with him, and scandalizing the Glen by carrying frogs to Sunday School. It seemed hardly—right—somehow that he should be an "able-bodied man" in khaki. Yet John Meredith had said no word to dissuade60 him when Carl had told him he must go.
Rilla felt Carl's going keenly. They had always been cronies and playmates. He was only a little older than she was and they had been children in Rainbow Valley together. She recalled all their old pranks61 and escapades as she walked slowly home alone. The full moon peeped through the scudding62 clouds with sudden floods of weird63 illumination, the telephone wires sang a shrill64 weird song in the wind, and the tall spikes65 of withered66, grey-headed golden-rod in the fence corners swayed and beckoned67 wildly to her like groups of old witches weaving unholy spells. On such a night as this, long ago, Carl would come over to Ingleside and whistle her out to the gate. "Let's go on a moon-spree, Rilla," he would say, and the two of them would scamper68 off to Rainbow Valley. Rilla had never been afraid of his beetles69 and bugs, though she drew a hard and fast line at snakes. They used to talk together of almost everything and were teased about each other at school; but one evening when they were about ten years of age they had solemnly promised, by the old spring in Rainbow Valley, that they would never marry each other. Alice Clow had "crossed out" their names on her slate70 in school that day, and it came out that "both married." They did not like the idea at all, hence the mutual71 vow49 in Rainbow Valley. There was nothing like an ounce of prevention. Rilla laughed over the old memory—and then sighed. That very day a dispatch from some London paper had contained the cheerful announcement that "the present moment is the darkest since the war began." It was dark enough, and Rilla wished desperately72 that she could do something besides waiting and serving at home, as day after day the Glen boys she had known went away. If she were only a boy, speeding in khaki by Carl's side to the Western front! She had wished that in a burst of romance when Jem had gone, without, perhaps, really meaning it. She meant it now. There were moments when waiting at home, in safety and comfort, seemed an unendurable thing.
The moon burst triumphantly73 through an especially dark cloud and shadow and silver chased each other in waves over the Glen. Rilla remembered one moonlit evening of childhood when she had said to her mother, "The moon just looks like a sorry, sorry face." She thought it looked like that still—an agonised, care-worn face, as though it looked down on dreadful sights. What did it see on the Western front? In broken Serbia? On shell-swept Gallipoli?
"I am tired," Miss Oliver had said that day, in a rare outburst of impatience75, "of this horrible rack of strained emotions, when every day brings a new horror or the dread74 of it. No, don't look reproachfully at me, Mrs. Blythe. There's nothing heroic abo............
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