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HOME > Classical Novels > Rilla of Ingleside > CHAPTER XX NORMAN DOUGLAS SPEAKS OUT IN MEETING
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CHAPTER XX NORMAN DOUGLAS SPEAKS OUT IN MEETING
 "Where are you wandering, Anne o' mine?" asked the doctor, who even yet, after twenty-four years of marriage, occasionally addressed his wife thus when nobody was about. Anne was sitting on the veranda1 steps, gazing absently over the wonderful bridal world of spring blossom, Beyond the white orchard2 was a copse of dark young firs and creamy wild cherries, where the robins4 were whistling madly; for it was evening and the fire of early stars was burning over the maple5 grove6.  
Anne came back with a little sigh.
 
"I was just taking relief from intolerable realities in a dream, Gilbert—a dream that all our children were home again—and all small again—playing in Rainbow Valley. It is always so silent now—but I was imagining I heard clear voices and gay, childish sounds coming up as I used to. I could hear Jem's whistle and Walter's yodel, and the twins' laughter, and for just a few blessed minutes I forgot about the guns on the Western front, and had a little false, sweet happiness."
 
The doctor did not answer. Sometimes his work tricked him into forgetting for a few moments the Western front, but not often. There was a good deal of grey now in his still thick curls that had not been there two years ago. Yet he smiled down into the starry7 eyes he loved—the eyes that had once been so full of laughter, and now seemed always full of unshed tears.
 
Susan wandered by with a hoe in her hand and her second best bonnet8 on her head.
 
"I have just finished reading a piece in the Enterprise which told of a couple being married in an aeroplane. Do you think it would be legal, doctor dear?" she inquired anxiously.
 
"I think so," said the doctor gravely.
 
"Well," said Susan dubiously9, "it seems to me that a wedding is too solemn for anything so giddy as an aeroplane. But nothing is the same as it used to be. Well, it is half an hour yet before prayer-meeting time, so I am going around to the kitchen garden to have a little evening hate with the weeds. But all the time I am strafing them I will be thinking about this new worry in the Trentino. I do not like this Austrian caper10, Mrs. Dr. dear."
 
"Nor I," said Mrs. Blythe ruefully. "All the forenoon I preserved rhubarb with my hands and waited for the war news with my soul. When it came I shrivelled. Well, I suppose I must go and get ready for the prayer-meeting, too."
 
Every village has its own little unwritten history, handed down from lip to lip through the generations, of tragic13, comic, and dramatic events. They are told at weddings and festivals, and rehearsed around winter firesides. And in these oral annals of Glen St. Mary the tale of the union prayer-meeting held that night in the Methodist Church was destined14 to fill an imperishable place.
 
The union prayer-meeting was Mr. Arnold's idea. The county battalion15, which had been training all winter in Charlottetown, was to leave shortly for overseas. The Four Winds Harbour boys belonging to it from the Glen and over-harbour and Harbour Head and Upper Glen were all home on their last leave, and Mr. Arnold thought, properly enough, that it would be a fitting thing to hold a union prayer-meeting for them before they went away. Mr. Meredith having agreed, the meeting was announced to be held in the Methodist Church. Glen prayer-meetings were not apt to be too well attended, but on this particular evening the Methodist Church was crowded. Everybody who could go was there. Even Miss Cornelia came—and it was the first time in her life that Miss Cornelia had ever set foot inside a Methodist Church. It took no less than a world conflict to bring that about.
 
"I used to hate Methodists," said Miss Cornelia calmly, when her husband expressed surprise over her going, "but I don't hate them now. There is no sense in hating Methodists when there is a Kaiser or a Hindenburg in the world."
 
So Miss Cornelia went. Norman Douglas and his wife went too. And Whiskers-on-the-moon strutted16 up the aisle17 to a front pew, as if he fully11 realized what a distinction he conferred upon the building. People were somewhat surprised that he should be there, since he usually avoided all assemblages connected in any way with the war. But Mr. Meredith had said that he hoped his session would be well represented, and Mr. Pryor had evidently taken the request to heart. He wore his best black suit and white tie, his thick, tight, iron-grey curls were neatly18 arranged, and his broad, red round face looked, as Susan most uncharitably thought, more "sanctimonious19" than ever.
 
"The minute I saw that man coming into the Church, looking like that, I felt that mischief20 was brewing21, Mrs. Dr. dear," she said afterwards. "What form it would take I could not tell, but I knew from face of him that he had come there for no good."
 
The prayer-meeting opened conventionally and continued quietly. Mr. Meredith spoke22 first with his usual eloquence23 and feeling. Mr. Arnold followed with an address which even Miss Cornelia had to confess was irreproachable24 in taste and subject-matter.
 
And then Mr. Arnold asked Mr. Pryor to lead in prayer.
 
Miss Cornelia had always averred25 that Mr. Arnold had no gumption26. Miss Cornelia was not apt to err3 on the side of charity in her judgment27 of Methodist ministers, but in this case she did not greatly overshoot the mark. The Rev28. Mr. Arnold certainly did not have much of that desirable, indefinable quality known as gumption, or he would never have asked Whiskers-on-the-moon to lead in prayer at a khaki prayer-meeting. He thought he was returning the compliment to Mr. Meredith, who, at the conclusion of his address, had asked a Methodist deacon to lead.
 
Some people expected Mr. Pryor to refuse grumpily—and that would have made enough scandal. But Mr. Pryor bounded briskly to his feet, unctuously29 said, "Let us pray," and forthwith prayed. In a sonorous31 voice which penetrated32 to every corner of the crowded building Mr. Pryor poured forth30 a flood of fluent words, and was well on in his prayer before his dazed and horrified33 audience awakened34 to the fact that they were listening to a pacifist appeal of the rankest sort. Mr. Pryor had at least the courage of his convictions; or perhaps, as people afterwards said, he thought he was safe in a church and that it was an excellent chance to air certain opinions he dared not voice elsewhere, for fear of being mobbed. He prayed that the unholy war might cease—that the deluded35 armies b............
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