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HOME > Classical Novels > Rilla of Ingleside > CHAPTER XIX "THEY SHALL NOT PASS"
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 One cold grey morning in February Gertrude Oliver wakened with a shiver, slipped into Rilla's room, and crept in beside her.  
"Rilla—I'm frightened—frightened as a baby—I've had another of my strange dreams. Something terrible is before us—I know."
"What was it?" asked Rilla.
"I was standing1 again on the veranda2 steps—just as I stood in that dream on the night before the lighthouse dance, and in the sky a huge black, menacing thunder cloud rolled up from the east. I could see its shadow racing3 before it and when it enveloped4 me I shivered with icy cold. Then the storm broke—and it was a dreadful storm—blinding flash after flash and deafening6 peal7 after peal, driving torrents8 of rain. I turned in panic and tried to run for shelter, and as I did so a man—a soldier in the uniform of a French army officer—dashed up the steps and stood beside me on the threshold of the door. His clothes were soaked with blood from a wound in his breast, he seemed spent and exhausted9; but his white face was set and his eyes blazed in his hollow face. 'They shall not pass,' he said, in low, passionate10 tones which I heard distinctly amid all the turmoil11 of the storm. Then I awakened12. Rilla, I'm frightened—the spring will not bring the Big Push we've all been hoping for—instead it is going to bring some dreadful blow to France. I am sure of it. The Germans will try to smash through somewhere."
"But he told you that they would not pass," said Rilla, seriously. She never laughed at Gertrude's dreams as the doctor did.
"I do not know if that was prophecy or desperation, Rilla, the horror of that dream holds me yet in an icy grip. We shall need all our courage before long."
Dr. Blythe did laugh at the breakfast table—but he never laughed at Miss Oliver's dreams again; for that day brought news of the opening of the Verdun offensive, and thereafter through all the beautiful weeks of spring the Ingleside family, one and all, lived in a trance of dread5. There were days when they waited in despair for the end as foot by foot the Germans crept nearer and nearer to the grim barrier of desperate France.
Susan's deeds were in her spotless kitchen at Ingleside, but her thoughts were on the hills around Verdun. "Mrs. Dr. dear," she would stick her head in at Mrs. Blythe's door the last thing at night to remark, "I do hope the French have hung onto the Crow's Wood today," and she woke at dawn to wonder if Dead Man's Hill—surely named by some prophet—was still held by the "poyloos." Susan could have drawn13 a map of the country around Verdun that would have satisfied a chief of staff.
"If the Germans capture Verdun the spirit of France will be broken," Miss Oliver said bitterly.
"But they will not capture it," staunchly said Susan, who could not eat her dinner that day for fear lest they do that very thing. "In the first place, you dreamed they would not—you dreamed the very thing the French are saying before they ever said it—'they shall not pass.' I declare to you, Miss Oliver, dear, when I read that in the paper, and remembered your dream, I went cold all over with awe14. It seemed to me like Biblical times when people dreamed things like that quite frequently.
"I know—I know," said Gertrude, walking restlessly about. "I cling to a persistent15 faith in my dream, too—but every time bad news comes it fails me. Then I tell myself 'mere16 coincidence'—'subconscious memory' and so forth17."
"I do not see how any memory could remember a thing before it was ever said at all," persisted Susan, "though of course I am not educated like you and the doctor. I would rather not be, if it makes anything as simple as that so hard to believe. But in any case we need not worry over Verdun, even if the Huns get it. Joffre says it has no military significance."
"That old sop18 of comfort has been served up too often already when reverses came," retorted Gertrude. "It has lost its power to charm."
"Was there ever a battle like this in the world before?" said Mr. Meredith, one evening in mid-April.
"It's such a titanic19 thing we can't grasp it," said the doctor. "What were the scraps20 of a few Homeric handfuls compared to this? The whole Trojan war might be fought around a Verdun fort and a newspaper correspondent would give it no more than a sentence. I am not in the confidence of the occult powers"—the doctor threw Gertrude a twinkle—"but I have a hunch22 that the fate of the whole war hangs on the issue of Verdun. As Susan and Joffre say, it has no real military significance; but it has the tremendous significance of an Idea. If Germany wins there she will win the war. If she loses, the tide will set against her."
"Lose she will," said Mr. Meredith: emphatically. "The Idea cannot be conquered. France is certainly very wonderful. It seems to me that in her I see the white form of civilization making a determined23 stand against the black powers of barbarism. I think our whole world realizes this and that is why we all await the issue so breathlessly. It isn't merely the question of a few forts changing hands or a few miles of blood-soaked ground lost and won."
"I wonder," said Gertrude dreamily, "if some great blessing24, great enough for the price, will be the meed of all our pain? Is the agony in which the world is shuddering25 the birth-pang of some wondrous26 new era? Or is it merely a futile27
struggle of ants
In the gleam of a million million of suns?
We think very lightly, Mr. Meredith, of a calamity28 which destroys an ant-hill and half its inhabitants. Does the Power that runs the universe think us of more importance than we think ants?"
"You forget," said Mr. Meredith, with a flash of his dark eyes, "that an infinite Power must be infinitely29 little as well as infinitely great. We are neither, therefore there are things too little as well as too great for us to apprehend30. To the infinitely little an ant is of as much importance as a mastodon. We are witnessing the birth-pangs of a new era—but it will be born a feeble, wailing31 life like everything else. I am not one of those who expect a new heaven and a new earth as the immediate32 result of this war. That is not the way God works. But work He does, Miss Oliver, and in the end His purpose will be fulfilled."
"Sound and orthodox—sound and orthodox," muttered Susan approvingly in the kitchen. Susan liked to see Miss Oliver sat upon by the minister now and then. Susan was very fond of her but she thought Miss Oliver liked saying heretical things to ministers far too well, and deserved an occasional reminder33 that these matters were quite beyond her province.
In May Walter wrote home that he had been awarded a D.C. Medal. He did not say what for, but the other boys took care that the Glen should know the brave thing Walter had done. "In any war but this," wrote Jerry Meredith, "it would have meant a V.C. But they can't make V.C.'s as common as the brave things done every day here."
"He should have had the V.C.," said Susan, and was very indignant over it. She was not quite sure who was to blame for his not getting it, but if it were General Haig she began for the first time to entertain serious doubts as to his fitness for being Commander-in-Chief.
Rilla was beside herself with delight. It was her dear Walter who had done this thing—Walter, to whom someone had sent a white feather at Redmond—it was Walter who had dashed back from the safety of the trench34 to drag in a wounded comrade who had fallen on No-man's-land. Oh, she could see his white beautiful face and wonderful eyes as he did it! What a thing to be the sister of such a hero! And he hadn't thought it worth while writing about. His letter was full of other things—little intimate things that they two had known and loved together in the dear old cloudless days of a century ago.
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