At Christmas the college boys and girls came home and for a little whil_ngleside was gay again. But all were not there–for the first time one wa_issing from the circle round the Christmas table. Jem, of the steady lips an_earless eyes, was far away, and Rilla felt that the sight of his vacant chai_as more than she could endure. Susan had taken a stubborn freak and insiste_n setting out Jem's place for him as usual, with the twisted little napki_ing he had always had since a boy, and the odd, high Green Gables goblet tha_unt Marilla had once given him and from which he always insisted on drinking.
"That blessed boy shall have his place, Mrs. Dr. dear," said Susan firmly,
"and do not you feel over it, for you may be sure he is here in spirit an_ext Christmas he will be here in the body. Wait you till the Big Push come_n the spring and the war will be over in a jiffy."
They tried to think so, but a shadow stalked in the background of thei_etermined merrymaking. Walter, too, was quiet and dull, all through th_olidays. He showed Rilla a cruel, anonymous letter he had received a_edmond–a letter far more conspicuous for malice than for patrioti_ndignation.
"Nevertheless, all it says is true, Rilla."
Rilla had caught it from him and thrown it into the fire.
"There isn't one word of truth in it," she declared hotly. "Walter, you've go_orbid–as Miss Oliver says she gets when she broods too long over one thing."
"I can't get away from it at Redmond, Rilla. The whole college is aflame ove_he war. A perfectly fit fellow, of military age, who doesn't join up i_ooked upon as a shirker and treated accordingly. Dr. Milne, the Englis_rofessor, who has always made a special pet of me, has two sons in khaki; an_ can feel the change in his manner towards me."
"It's not fair–you're not fit."
"Physically I am. Sound as a bell. The unfitness is in the soul and it's _aint and a disgrace. There, don't cry, Rilla. I'm not going if that's wha_ou're afraid of. The Piper's music rings in my ears day and night–but _annot follow."
"You would break mother's heart and mine if you did," sobbed Rilla. "Oh, Walter, one is enough for any family."
The holidays were an unhappy time for her. Still, having Nan and Di and Walte_nd Shirley home helped in the enduring of things. A letter and book came fo_er from Kenneth Ford, too; some sentences in the letter made her cheeks bur_nd her heart beat–until the last paragraph, which sent an icy chill ove_verything.
"My ankle is about as good as new. I'll be fit to join up in a couple o_onths more, Rilla-my-Rilla. It will be some feeling to get into khaki al_ight. Little Ken will be able to look the whole world in the face then an_we not any man. It's been rotten lately, since I've been able to walk withou_imping. People who don't know look at me as much as to say 'Slacker!' Well, they won't have the chance to look it much longer."
"I hate this war," said Rilla bitterly, as she gazed out into the maple grov_hat was a chill glory of pink and gold in the winter sunset.
"Nineteen-fourteen has gone," said Dr. Blythe on New Year's Day. "Its sun, which rose fairly, has set in blood. What will nineteen-fifteen bring?"
"Victory!" said Susan, for once laconic.
"Do you really believe we'll win the war, Susan?" said Miss Oliver drearily.
She had come over from Lowbridge to spend the day and see Walter and the girl_efore they went back to Redmond. She was in a rather blue and cynical moo_nd inclined to look on the dark side.
"'Believe' we'll win the war!" exclaimed Susan. "No, Miss Oliver, dear, I d_ot believe–I know. We must just trust in God and make big guns."
"Sometimes I think the big guns are better to trust in than God," said Mis_liver defiantly.
"No, no, dear, you do not. The Germans had the big guns at the Marne, had the_ot? But Providence settled _them._ Do not ever forget _that._ Just hold on t_hat when you feel inclined to doubt. Clutch hold of the sides of your chai_nd sit tight and keep saying, 'Big guns are good but the Almighty is better, and _He_ is on our side, no matter what the Kaiser says about it.' My cousi_ophia is, like you, somewhat inclined to despond. 'Oh, dear me, what will w_o if the Germans ever get here,' she wailed to me yesterday. 'Bury them,'
said I, just as off-hand as that. 'There is plenty of room for the graves.'
Cousin Sophia said that I was flippant but I was not flippant, Miss Oliver, dear, only calm and confident in the British navy and our Canadian boys."
"I hate going to bed now," said Mrs. Blythe. "All my life I've liked going t_ed, to have a gay, mad, splendid half-hour of imagining things befor_leeping. Now I imagine them still. But much different things."
" _I_ am rather glad when the time comes to go to bed," said Miss Oliver. "_ike the darkness because I can be _myself_ in it–I needn't smile or tal_ravely. But sometimes my imagination gets out of hand, too, and I see wha_ou do–terrible things–terrible years to come."
"I am very thankful that I never had any imagination to speak of," said Susan.
"I have been spared _that._ I see by this paper that the Crown Prince i_illed again. Do you suppose there is any hope of his staying dead this time?
And I also see that Woodrow Wilson is going to write another note. I wonder,"
concluded Susan, with the bitter irony she had of late begun to use whe_eferring to the poor President, "if that man's schoolmaster is alive."
In January Jims was five months old and Rilla celebrated the anniversary b_hortening him.
"He weighs fourteen pounds," she announced jubilantly. "Just exactly what h_hould weigh at five months, according to Morgan."
There was no longer any doubt in anybody's mind that Jims was gettin_ositively pretty. His little cheeks were round and firm and faintly pink, hi_yes were big and bright, his tiny paws had dimples at the root of ever_inger. He had even begun to grow hair, much to Rilla's unspoken relief. Ther_as a pale golden fuzz all over his head that was distinctly visible in som_ights. He was a good infant, generally sleeping and digesting as Morga_ecreed. Occasionally he smiled but he had never laughed, in spite of al_fforts to make him. This worried Rilla also, because Morgan said that babie_sually laughed aloud from the third to the fifth month. Jims was five month_nd had no notion of laughing. Why hadn't he? Wasn't he normal?
One night Rilla came home late from a recruiting meeting at the Glen where sh_ad been giving patriotic recitations. Rilla had never been willing to recit_n public before. She was afraid of her tendency to lisp, which had a habit o_eviving if she were doing anything that made her nervous. When she had firs_een asked to recite at the Upper Glen meeting she had refused. Then she bega_o worry over her refusal. Was it cowardly? What would Jem think if he knew?
After two days of worry Rilla phoned to the president of the Patriotic Societ_hat she would recite. She did, and lisped several times, and lay awake mos_f the night in an agony of wounded vanity. Then two nights after she recite_gain at Harbour Head. She had been at Lowbridge and over-harbour since the_nd had become resigned to an occasional lisp. Nobody except herself seemed t_ind it. And she was so earnest and appealing and shining-eyed! More than on_ecruit joined up because Rilla's eyes seemed to look right at _him_ when sh_assionately demanded how could men die better than fighting for the ashes o_heir fathers and the temples of their gods, or assured her audience wit_hrilling intensity that one crowded hour of glorious life was worth an ag_ithout a name. Even stolid Miller Douglas was so fired one night that it too_ary Vance a good hour to talk him back to sense. Mary Vance said bitterl_hat if Rilla Blythe felt as bad as she had pretended to feel over Jem's goin_o the front she wouldn't be urging other girls' brothers and friends to go.
On this particular night Rilla was tired and cold and very thankful to cree_nto her warm nest and cuddle down between her blankets, though as usual wit_ sorrowful wonder how Jem and Jerry were faring. She was just getting war_nd drowsy when Jims suddenly began to cry–and kept on crying. Rilla curle_erself up in her bed and determined she would let him cry. She had Morga_ehind her for justification. Jims was warm, physically comfortable–his cr_asn't the cry of pain–and had his little tummy as full as was good for him.
Under such circumstances it would be simply spoiling him to fuss over him, an_he wasn't going to do it. He could cry until he got good and tired and read_o go to sleep again.
Then Rilla's imagination began to torment her. Suppose, she thought, I was _iny helpless creature only five months old, with my father somewhere i_rance and my poor little mother, who had been so worried about me, in th_raveyard. Suppose I was lying in a basket in a big, black room, without on_peck of light, and nobody within miles of me, for all I could see or know.
Suppose there wasn't a human being anywhere who loved me–for a father who ha_ever seen me couldn't love me very much, especially when he had never writte_ word to or about me. Wouldn't I cry, too? Wouldn't I feel just so lonely an_orsaken and frightened that I'd _have_ to cry?
Rilla hopped out. She picked Jims out of his basket and took him into her ow_ed. His hands _were_ cold, poor mite. But he had promptly ceased to cry. An_hen, as she held him close to her in the darkness, suddenly Jims laughed–_eal, gurgly, chuckly, delighted, delightful laugh.
"Oh, you dear little thing!" exclaimed Rilla. "Are you so pleased at findin_ou're not all alone, lost in a huge, big, black room?" Then she knew sh_anted to kiss him and she did. She kissed his silky, scented little head, sh_issed his chubby little cheek, she kissed his little cold hands. She wante_o squeeze him–to cuddle him, just as she used to squeeze and cuddle he_ittens. Something delightful and yearning and brooding seemed to have take_ossession of her. She had never felt like this before.
In a few minutes Jims was sound asleep; and, as Rilla listened to his soft, regular breathing and felt the little body warm and contented against her, sh_ealized that–at last–she loved her war-baby.
"He has got to be–such–a–darling," she thought drowsily, as she drifted off t_lumberland herself.
In February Jem and Jerry and Robert Grant were in the trenches and a littl_ore tension and dread was added to the Ingleside life. In March "Yiprez," a_usan called it, had come to have a bitter significance. The daily list o_asualties had begun to appear in the papers and no one at Ingleside eve_nswered the telephone without a horrible cold shrinking–for it might be th_tation-master phoning up to say a telegram had come from overseas. No one a_ngleside ever got up in the morning without a sudden piercing wonder ove_hat the day might bring.
"And I used to welcome the mornings so," thought Rilla.
Yet the round of life and duty went steadily on and every week or so one o_he Glen lads who had just the other day been a rollicking schoolboy went int_haki.
"It is bitter cold out tonight, Mrs. Dr. dear," said Susan, coming in out o_he clear starlit crispness of the Canadian winter twilight. "I wonder if th_oys in the trenches are warm."
"How _everything_ comes back to this war," cried Gertrude Oliver. "We can'_et away from it–not even when we talk of the weather. I never go out thes_ark cold nights myself without thinking of the men in the trenches–not onl_our_ men but _everybody's_ men. I would feel the same if there were nobody _new at the front. When I snuggle down in my comfortable bed I am ashamed o_eing comfortable. It seems as if it were wicked of me to be so when many ar_ot."
"I saw Mrs. Meredith down at the store," said Susan, "and she tells me tha_hey are really troubled over Bruce, he takes things so much to heart. He ha_ried himself to sleep for a week, over the starving Belgians. 'Oh, mother,'
he will say to her, so beseeching-like, 'surely the babies are neve_ungry–oh, not the _babies,_ mother! Just say the _babies_ are not hungry, mother.' And she cannot say it because it would not be true, and she is at he_its' end. They try to keep such things from him but he finds them out an_hen they cannot comfort him. It breaks my heart to read about them myself, Mrs. Dr. dear, and I cannot console myself with the thought that the tales ar_ot true. But we must carry on. Jack Crawford says he is going to the wa_ecause he is tired of farming. I hope he will find it a pleasant change. An_rs. Richard Elliott over-harbour is worrying herself sick because she used t_e always scolding her husband about smoking up the parlour curtains. Now tha_e has enlisted she wishes she had never said a word to him. Whiskers-on-the- moon vows he is no pro-German but calls himself a pacifist, whatever that ma_e. It is nothing proper or Whiskers would not be it and that you may tie to.
He says that the big British victory at New Chapelle cost more than it wa_orth and he has forbid Joe Milgrave to come near the house because Joe ran u_is father's flag when the news came. Have you noticed, Mrs. Dr. dear, tha_he Czar has changed that Prish name to Premysl, which proves that the man ha_ood sense, Russian though he is? Joe Vickers told me in the store that he sa_ very queer looking thing in the sky tonight over Lowbridge way. Do yo_uppose it could have been a Zeppelin, Mrs. Dr. dear?"
"I do not think it very likely, Susan."
"Well, I would feel easier about it if Whiskers-on-the-moon were not living i_he Glen. They say he was seen going through strange manoeuvres with a lanter_n his back yard one night lately. Some people think he was signalling."
"To whom–or what?"
"Ah, _that_ is the mystery, Mrs. Dr. dear. In my opinion the Government woul_o well to keep an eye on that man if it does not want us to be all murdere_n our beds some night. Now I shall just look over the papers a minute befor_oing to write a letter to little Jem. Two things I never did, Mrs. Dr. dear, were write letters and read politics. Yet here I am doing both regular and _ind there is something in politics after all. Whatever Woodrow Wilson means _annot fathom but I am hoping I will puzzle it out yet."
Susan, in her pursuit of Wilson and politics, presently came upon somethin_hat disturbed her and exclaimed in a tone of bitter disappointment,
"That devilish Kaiser has only a boil after all."
"Don't swear, Susan," said Dr. Blythe, pulling a long face.
"'Devilish' is not swearing, doctor, dear. I have always understood tha_wearing was taking the name of the Almighty in vain?"
"Well, it isn't–ahem–refined," said the doctor, winking at Miss Oliver.
"No, doctor, dear, the devil and the Kaiser–if so be that they are really tw_ifferent people–are _not_ refined. And you cannot refer to them in a refine_ay. So I abide by what I said, although you may notice that I am careful no_o use such expressions when young Rilla is about. And I maintain that th_apers have no right to say that the Kaiser has pneumonia and raise people'_opes, and then come out and say he has nothing but a boil. A boil, indeed! _ish he was covered with them."
Susan stalked out to the kitchen and settled down to write to Jem; deeming hi_n need of some home comfort from certain passages in his letter that day.
"We're in an old wine cellar tonight, dad," he wrote, "in water to our knees.
Rats everywhere–no fire–a drizzling rain coming down–rather dismal. But i_ight be worse. I got Susan's box today and everything was in tip-top orde_nd we had a feast. Jerry is up the line somewhere and he says the rations ar_ather worse than Aunt Martha's ditto used to be. But here they're no_ad–only monotonous. Tell Susan I'd give a year's pay for a good batch of he_onkey-faces; but don't let that inspire her to send any for they wouldn'_eep.
"We have been under fire since the last week in February. One boy–he was _ova Scotian–was killed right beside me yesterday. A shell burst near us an_hen the mess cleared away he was lying dead–not mangled at all–he just looke_ little startled. It was the first time I'd been close to anything like tha_nd it was a nasty sensation, but one soon gets used to horrors here. We're i_n absolutely different world. The only things that are the same are th_tars–and they are never in their right places, somehow.
"Tell mother not to worry–I'm all right–fit as a fiddle–and glad I came.
There's something across from us here that has got to be wiped out of th_orld, that's all–an emanation of evil that would otherwise poison life fo_ver. It's got to be done, dad, however long it takes, and whatever it costs, and you tell the Glen people this for me. They don't realize yet what it i_as broken loose–I didn't when I first joined up. I thought it was fun. Well, it isn't! But I'm in the right place all right–make no mistake about that.
When I saw what had been done here to homes and gardens and people–well, dad, I seemed to see a gang of Huns marching through Rainbow Valley and the Glen, and the garden at Ingleside. There were gardens over here–beautiful garden_ith the beauty of centuries–and what are they now? Mangled, desecrate_hings! We are fighting to make those dear old places where we had played a_hildren, safe for other boys and girls–fighting for the preservation an_afety of all sweet, wholesome things.
"Whenever any of you go to the station be sure to give Dog Monday a double pa_or me. Fancy the faithful little beggar waiting there for me like that!
Honestly, dad, on some of these dark cold nights in the trenches, it hearten_nd braces me up no end to think that thousands of miles away at the old Gle_tation there is a small spotted dog sharing my vigil.
"Tell Rilla I'm glad her war-baby is turning out so well, and tell Susan tha_'m fighting a good fight against both Huns and cooties."
"Mrs. Dr. dear," whispered Susan solemnly, "what are cooties?"
Mrs. Blythe whispered back and then said in reply to Susan's horrifie_jaculations, "It's always like that in the trenches, Susan."
Susan shook her head and went away in grim silence to re-open a parcel she ha_ewed up for Jem and slip in a fine tooth comb.