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HOME > Classical Novels > Rilla of Ingleside > CHAPTER XXVII WAITING
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1st November 1917
"It is November—and the Glen is all grey and brown, except where the Lombardy poplars stand up here and there like great golden torches in the sombre landscape, although every other tree has shed its leaves. It has been very hard to keep our courage alight of late. The Caporetto disaster is a dreadful thing and not even Susan can extract much consolation2 out of the present state of affairs. The rest of us don't try. Gertrude keeps saying desperately3, 'They must not get Venice—they must not get Venice,' as if by saying it often enough she can prevent them. But what is to prevent them from getting Venice I cannot see. Yet, as Susan fails not to point out, there was seemingly nothing to prevent them from getting to Paris in 1914, yet they did not get it, and she affirms they shall not get Venice either. Oh, how I hope and pray they will not—Venice the beautiful Queen of the Adriatic. Although I've never seen it I feel about it just as Byron did—I've always loved it—it has always been to me 'a fairy city of the heart.' Perhaps I caught my love of it from Walter, who worshipped it. It was always one of his dreams to see Venice. I remember we planned once—down in Rainbow Valley one evening just before the war broke out—that some time we would go together to see it and float in a gondola4 through its moonlit streets.
"Every fall since the war began there has been some terrible blow to our troops—Antwerp in 1914, Serbia in 1915; last fall, Rumania, and now Italy, the worst of all. I think I would give up in despair if it were not for what Walter said in his dear last letter—that 'the dead as well as the living were fighting on our side and such an army cannot be defeated.' No it cannot. We will win in the end. I will not doubt it for one moment. To let myself doubt would be to 'break faith.'
"We have all been campaigning furiously of late for the new Victory Loan. We Junior Reds canvassed5 diligently6 and landed several tough old customers who had at first flatly refused to invest. I—even I—tackled Whiskers-on-the-moon. I expected a bad time and a refusal. But to my amazement7 he was quite agreeable and promised on the spot to take a thousand dollar bond. He may be a pacifist, but he knows a good investment when it is handed out to him. Five and a half per cent is five and a half per cent, even when a militaristic government pays it.
"Father, to tease Susan, says it was her speech at the Victory Loan Campaign meeting that converted Mr. Pryor. I don't think that at all likely, since Mr. Pryor has been publicly very bitter against Susan ever since her quite unmistakable rejection8 of his lover-like advances. But Susan did make a speech—and the best one made at the meeting, too. It was the first time she ever did such a thing and she vows9 it will be the last. Everybody in the Glen was at the meeting, and quite a number of speeches were made, but somehow things were a little flat and no especial enthusiasm could be worked up. Susan was quite dismayed at the lack of zeal10, because she had been burningly anxious that the Island should go over the top in regard to its quota11. She kept whispering viciously to Gertrude and me that there was 'no ginger12' in the speeches; and when nobody went forward to subscribe13 to the loan at the close Susan 'lost her head.' At least, that is how she describes it herself. She bounded to her feet, her face grim and set under her bonnet—Susan is the only woman in Glen St. Mary who still wears a bonnet—and said sarcastically14 and loudly, 'No doubt it is much cheaper to talk patriotism15 than it is to pay for it. And we are asking charity, of course—we are asking you to lend us your money for nothing! No doubt the Kaiser will feel quite downcast when he hears of this meeting!"
"Susan has an unshaken belief that the Kaiser's spies—presumably represented by Mr. Pryor—promptly inform him of every happening in our Glen.
"Norman Douglas shouted out 'Hear! Hear!' and some boy at the back said, 'What about Lloyd George?' in a tone Susan didn't like. Lloyd George is her pet hero, now that Kitchener is gone.
"'I stand behind Lloyd George every time,' retorted Susan.
"'I suppose that will hearten him up greatly,' said Warren Mead17, with one of his disagreeable 'haw-haws.'
"Warren's remark was spark to powder. Susan just 'sailed in' as she puts it, and 'said her say.' She said it remarkably18 well, too. There was no lack of 'ginger' in her speech, anyhow. When Susan is warmed up she has no mean powers of oratory19, and the way she trimmed those men down was funny and wonderful and effective all at once. She said it was the likes of her, millions of her, that did stand behind Lloyd George, and did hearten him up. That was the key-note of her speech. Dear old Susan! She is a perfect dynamo of patriotism and loyalty20 and contempt for slackers of all kinds, and when she let it loose on that audience in her one grand outburst she electrified21 it. Susan always vows she is no suffragette, but she gave womanhood its due that night, and she literally22 made those men cringe. When she finished with them they were ready to eat out of her hand. She wound up by ordering them—yes, ordering them—to march up to the platform forthwith and subscribe for Victory Bonds. And after wild applause most of them did it, even Warren Mead. When the total amount subscribed23 came out in the Charlottetown dailies the next day we found that the Glen led every district on the Island—and certainly Susan has the credit for it. She, herself, after she came home that night was quite ashamed and evidently feared that she had been guilty of unbecoming conduct: she confessed to mother that she had been 'rather unladylike.'
"We were all—except Susan—out for a trial ride in father's new automobile24 tonight. A very good one we had, too, though we did get ingloriously ditched at the end, owing to a certain grim old dame—to wit, Miss Elizabeth Carr of the Upper Glen—who wouldn't rein25 her horse out to let us pass, honk26 as we might. Father was quite furious; but in my heart I believe I sympathized with Miss Elizabeth. If I had been a spinster lady, driving along behind my own old nag27, in maiden28 meditation29 fancy free, I wouldn't have lifted a rein when an obstreperous30 car hooted31 blatantly32 behind me. I should just have sat up as dourly33 as she did and said 'Take the ditch if you are determined34 to pass.'
"We did take the ditch—and got up to our axles in sand—and sat foolishly there while Miss Elizabeth clucked up her horse and rattled35 victoriously36 away.
"Jem will have a laugh when I write him this. He knows Miss Elizabeth of old.
19th November 1917
"It is not saved yet—it is still in great danger. But the Italians are making a stand at last on the Piave line. To be sure military critics say they cannot possibly hold it and must retreat to the Adige. But Susan and Gertrude and I say they must hold it, because Venice must be saved, so what are the military critics to do?
"Oh, if I could only believe that they can hold it!
"Our Canadian troops have won another great victory—they have stormed the Passchendaele Ridge38 and held it in the face of all counter attacks. None of our boys were in the battle—but oh, the casualty list of other people's boys! Joe Milgrave was in it but came through safe. Miranda had some bad days until she got word from him. But it is wonderful how Miranda has bloomed out since her marriage. She isn't the same girl at all. Even her eyes seem to have darkened and deepened—though I suppose that is just because they glow with the greater intensity39 that has come to her. She makes her father stand round in a perfectly40 amazing fashion; she runs up the flag whenever a yard of trench41 on the western front is taken; and she comes up regularly to our Junior Red Cross; and she does—yes, she does—put on funny little 'married woman' airs that are quite killing42. But she is the only war-bride in the Glen and surely nobody need grudge43 her the satisfaction she gets out of it.
"The Russian news is bad, too—Kerensky's government has fallen and Lenin is dictator of Russia. Somehow, it is very hard to keep up courage in the dull hopelessness of these grey autumn days of suspense44 and boding45 news. But we are beginning to 'get in a low,' as old Highland46 Sandy says, over the approaching election. Conscription is the real issue at stake and it will be the most exciting election we ever had. All the women 'who have got de age'—to quote Jo Poirier, and who have husbands, sons, and brothers at the front, can vote. Oh, if I were only twenty-one! Gertrude and Susan are both furious because they can't vote.
"'It is not fair,' Gertrude says passionately47. 'There is Agnes Carr who can vote because her husband went. She did everything she could to prevent him from going, and now she is going to vote against the union Government. Yet I have no vote, because my man at the front is only my sweetheart and not my husband!"
"As for Susan, when she reflects that she cannot vote, while a rank old pacifist like Mr. Pryor can—and will—her comments are sulphurous.
"I really feel sorry for the Elliotts and Crawfords and MacAllisters over-harbour. They have always lined up in clearly divided camps of Liberal and Conservative, and now they are torn from their moorings—I know I'm mixing my metaphors49 dreadfully—and set hopelessly adrift. It will kill some of those old Grits50 to vote for Sir Robert Borden's side—and yet they have to because they believe the time has come when we must have conscription. And some poor Conservatives who are against conscription must vote for Laurier, who always has been anathema51 to them. Some of them are taking it terribly hard. Others seem to be in much the same attitude as Mrs. Marshall Elliott has come to be regarding Church union.
"She was up here last night. She doesn't come as often as she used to. She is growing too old to walk this far—dear old 'Miss Cornelia.' I hate to think of her growing old—we have always loved her so and she has always been so good to us Ingleside young fry.
"She used to be so bitterly opposed to Church union. But last night, when father told her it was practically decided52, she said in a resigned tone, 'Well, in a world where everything is being rent and torn what matters one more rending53 and tearing? Anyhow, compared with Germans even Methodists seem attractive to me.'
"Our Junior R.C. goes on quite smoothly54, in spite of the fact that Irene has come back to it—having fallen out with the Lowbridge society, I understand. She gave me a sweet little jab last meeting—about knowing me across the square in Charlottetown 'by my green velvet55 hat.' Everybody knows me by that detestable and detested56 hat. This will be my fourth season for it. Even mother wanted me to get a new one this fall; but I said, 'No.' As long as the war lasts so long do I wear that velvet hat in winter."
23rd November 1917
"The Piave line still holds—and General Byng has won a splendid victory at Cambrai. I did run up the flag for that—but Susan only said 'I shall set a kettle of water on the kitchen range tonight. I notice little Kitchener always has an attack of croup after any British victory. I do hope he has no pro-German blood in his veins57. Nobody knows much about his father's people.'
"Jims has had a few attacks of croup this fall—just the ordinary croup—not that terrible thing he had last year. But whatever blood runs in his little veins it is good, healthy blood. He is rosy58 and plump and curly and cute; and he says such funny things and asks such comical questions. He likes very much to sit in a special chair in the kitchen; but that is Susan's favourite chair, too, and when she wants it, out Jims must go. The last time she put him out of it he turned around and asked solemnly, 'When you are dead, Susan, can I sit in that chair?' Susan thought it quite dreadful, and I think that was when she began to feel anxiety about his possible ancestry59. The other night I took Jims with me for a walk down to the store. It was the first time he had ever been out so late at night, and when he saw the stars he exclaimed, 'Oh, Willa, see the big moon and all the little moons!' And last Wednesday morning, when he woke up, my little alarm clock had stopped because I had forgotten to wind it up. Jims bounded out of his crib and ran across to me, his face quite aghast above his little blue flannel60 pyjamas61. 'The clock is dead,' he gasped62, 'oh Willa, the clock is dead.'
"One night he was quite angry with both Susan and me because we would not give him something he wanted very much. When he said his prayers he plumped down wrathfully, and when he came to the petition 'Make me a good boy' he tacked64 on emphatically, 'and please make Willa and Susan good, 'cause they're not.'
"I don't............
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