"I am very much afraid, Mrs. Dr. dear," said Susan, who had been on _ilgrimage to the station with some choice bones for Dog Monday, "tha_omething terrible has happened. Whiskers-on-the-moon came off the train fro_harlottetown and he was _looking pleased._ I do not remember that I ever sa_im with a smile on in public before. Of course he may have just been gettin_he better of somebody in a cattle deal but I have an awful presentiment tha_he Huns have broken through somewhere."
Perhaps Susan was unjust in connecting Mr. Pryor's smile with the sinking o_he _Lusitania_ , news of which circulated an hour later when the mail wa_istributed. But the Glen boys turned out that night in a body and broke al_is windows in a fine frenzy of indignation over the Kaiser's doings.
"I do not say they did right and I do not say they did wrong," said Susan, when she heard of it. "But I will say that I wouldn't have minded throwing _ew stones myself. One thing is certain–Whiskers-on-the-moon said in the pos_ffice the day the news came, in the presence of witnesses, that folks wh_ould not stay home after they had been warned deserved no better fate. Norma_ouglas is fairly foaming at the mouth over it all. 'If the devil doesn't ge_hose men who sunk the _Lusitania_ then there is no use in there being _evil,' he was shouting in Carter's store last night. Norman Douglas alway_as believed that anybody who opposed _him_ was on the side of the devil, bu_ man like that is bound to be right once in a while. Bruce Meredith i_orrying over the babies who were drowned. And it seems he prayed fo_omething very special last Friday night and didn't get it, and was feelin_uite disgruntled over it. But when he heard about the _Lusitania_ he told hi_other that he understood now why God didn't answer his prayer–He was too bus_ttending to the souls of all the people who went down on the _Lusitania._hat child's brain is a hundred years older than his body, Mrs. Dr. dear. A_or the _Lusitania_. it is an awful occurrence, whatever way you look at it.
But Woodrow Wilson is going to write a note about it, so why worry? A prett_resident!" and Susan banged her pots about wrathfully. President Wilson wa_apidly becoming anathema in Susan's kitchen.
Mary Vance dropped in one evening to tell the Ingleside folks that she ha_ithdrawn all opposition to Miller Douglas's enlisting.
"This _Lusitania_ business was too much for me," said Mary brusquely. "Whe_he Kaiser takes to drowning innocent babies it's high time somebody told hi_here he gets off at. This thing must be fought to a finish. It's been soakin_nto my mind slow but I'm on now. So I up and told Miller he could go as fa_s I was concerned. Old Kitty Alec won't be converted though. If every ship i_he world was submarined and every baby drowned, Kitty wouldn't turn a hair.
But I flatter myself that it was _me_ kept Miller back all along and not th_air Kitty. I may have deceived myself–but we shall see."
They did see. The next Sunday Miller Douglas walked into the Glen Churc_eside Mary Vance in khaki. And Mary was so proud of him that her white eye_airly blazed. Joe Milgrave, back under the gallery, looked at Miller and Mar_nd then at Miranda Pryor, and sighed so heavily that every one within _adius of three pews heard him and knew what his trouble was. Walter Blyth_id not sigh. But Rilla, scanning his face anxiously, saw a look that cut int_er heart. It haunted her for the next week and made an undercurrent o_oreness in her soul, which was externally being harrowed up by the nea_pproach of the Red Cross concert and the worries connected therewith. Th_eese cold had not developed into whooping-cough, so that tangle wa_traightened out. But other things were hanging in the balance; and on th_ery day before the concert came a regretful letter from Mrs. Channing sayin_hat she could not come to sing. Her son, who was in Kingsport with hi_egiment, was seriously ill with pneumonia, and she must go to him at once.
The members of the concert committee looked at each other in blank dismay.
What was to be done?
"This comes of depending on outside help," said Olive Kirk, disagreeably.
"We must do something," said Rilla, too desperate to care for Olive's manner.
"We've advertised the concert everywhere–and crowds are coming–there's even _ig party coming out from town–and we were short enough of music as it was. W_must_ get some one to sing in Mrs. Channing's place."
"I don't know who you can get at this late date," said Olive. "Irene Howar_ould do it; but it is not likely she will after the way she was insulted b_ur society."
"How did our society insult her?" asked Rilla, in what she called her "cold- pale tone." Its coldness and pallor did not daunt Olive.
"You insulted her," she answered sharply. "Irene told me all about it–she wa_iterally _heart-broken._ You told her never to speak to you again–and Iren_old me she simply could not imagine what she had said or done to deserve suc_reatment. That was why she never came to our meetings again but joined i_ith the Lowbridge Red Cross. I do not blame her in the least, and I, for one, will not ask her to _lower herself_ by helping us out of this scrape."
"You don't expect _me_ to ask her?" giggled Amy MacAllister, the other membe_f the committee. "Irene and I haven't spoken for a hundred years. Irene i_lways getting 'insulted' by somebody. But she _is_ a lovely singer, I'l_dmit that, and people would just as soon hear her as Mrs. Channing."
"It wouldn't do any good if _you_ did ask her," said Olive significantly.
"Soon after we began planning this concert, back in April, I met Irene in tow_ne day and asked her if she wouldn't help us out. She said she'd love to bu_he really didn't see how she could when Rilla Blythe was running th_rogramme, after the strange way Rilla had behaved to her. So there it is an_ere we are, and a nice failure our concert will be."
Rilla went home and shut herself up in her room, her soul in a turmoil. Sh_ould not humiliate herself by apologizing to Irene Howard! Irene had been a_uch in the wrong as she had been; and she had told such mean, distorte_ersions of their quarrel everywhere, posing as a puzzled, injured martyr.
Rilla could never bring herself to tell _her_ side of it. The fact that a slu_t Walter was mixed up in it tied her tongue. So most people believed tha_rene had been badly used, except a few girls who had never liked her an_ided with Rilla. And yet–the concert over which she had worked so hard wa_oing to be a failure. Mrs. Channing's four solos were the feature of th_hole programme.
"Miss Oliver, what do you think about it?" she asked in desperation.
"I think Irene is the one who should apologize," said Miss Oliver. "Bu_nfortunately my opinion will not fill the blanks in your programme."
"If I went and apologized meekly to Irene she would sing, I am sure," sighe_illa. "She really loves to sing in public. But I know she'll be nasty abou_t–I feel I'd rather do _anything_ than go. I suppose I _should_ go–if Jem an_erry can face the Huns surely I can face Irene Howard, and swallow my prid_o ask a favour of her for the good of the Belgians. Just at present I fee_hat I _cannot_ do it but for all that I have a presentiment that after suppe_ou'll see me meekly trotting through Rainbow Valley on my way to the Uppe_len Road."
Rilla's presentiment proved correct. After supper she dressed hersel_arefully in her blue, beaded crepe–for vanity is harder to quell than prid_nd Irene always saw any flaw or shortcoming in another girl's appearance.
Besides, as Rilla had told her mother one day when she was nine years old, "I_s easier to behave nicely when you have your good clothes on."
Rilla did her hair very becomingly and donned a long raincoat for fear of _hower. But all the while her thoughts were concerned with the comin_istasteful interview, and she kept rehearsing mentally her part in it. Sh_ished it were over–she wished she had never tried to get up a Belgian Relie_oncert–she wished she had not quarreled with Irene. After all, disdainfu_ilence would have been much more effective in meeting the slur upon Walter.
It was foolish and childish to fly out as she had done–well, she would b_iser in the future, but meanwhile a large and very unpalatable slice o_umble pie had to be eaten, and Rilla Blythe was no fonder of that wholesom_rticle of diet than the rest of us.
By sunset she was at the door of the Howard house–a pretentious abode, wit_hite scroll-work round the eaves and an eruption of bay-windows on all it_ides. Mrs. Howard, a plump, voluble dame, met Rilla gushingly and left her i_he parlour while she went to call Irene. Rilla threw off her rain-coat an_ooked at herself critically in the mirror over the mantel. Hair, hat, an_ress were satisfactory–nothing there for Miss Irene to make fun of. Rill_emembered how clever and amusing she used to think Irene's biting littl_omments about other girls. Well, it had come home to her now.
Presently, Irene skimmed down, elegantly gowned, with her pale, straw-coloure_air done in the latest and most extreme fashion, and an over-lusciou_tmosphere of perfume enveloping her.
"Why how do you do, Miss Blythe?" she said sweetly. "This is a very unexpecte_leasure."
Rilla had risen to take Irene's chilly finger-tips and now, as she sat dow_gain, she saw something that temporarily stunned her. Irene saw it too, a_he sat down, and a little amused, impertinent smile appeared on her lips an_overed there during the rest of the interview.
On one of Rilla's feet was a smart little steel-buckled shoe and a filmy blu_ilk stocking. The other was clad in a stout and rather shabby boot and blac_isle!
Poor Rilla! She had changed, or begun to change her boots and stockings afte_he had put on her dress. _This_ was the result of doing one thing with you_ands and another with your brain. Oh, what a ridiculous position to be in–an_efore Irene Howard of all people–Irene, who was staring at Rilla's feet as i_he had never seen feet before! And once she had thought Irene's manne_erfection! Everything that Rilla had prepared to say vanished from he_emory. Vainly trying to tuck her unlucky foot under her chair, she blurte_ut a blunt statement.
"I have come to athk a favour of you, Irene."
There–lisping! Oh, she had been prepared for humiliation but not to thi_xtent! Really, there were limits!
"Yes?" said Irene in a cool, questioning tone, lifting her shallowly-set, insolent eyes to Rilla's crimson face for a moment and then dropping the_gain as if she could not tear them from their fascinated gaze at the shabb_oot and the gallant shoe.
Rilla gathered herself together. She would _not_ lisp– she _would_ be calm an_omposed.
"Mrs. Channing cannot come because her son is ill in Kingsport, and I hav_ome on behalf of the committee to ask you if you will be so kind as to sin_or us in her place." Rilla enunciated every word so precisely and carefull_hat she seemed to be reciting a lesson.
"It's something of a fiddler's invitation, isn't it?" said Irene, with one o_er disagreeable smiles.
"Olive Kirk asked you to help when we first thought of the concert and yo_efused," said Rilla.
"Why, I could hardly help–then–could I?" asked Irene plaintively. "After yo_rdered me never to speak to you again? It would have been very awkward for u_oth, don't you think?"
Now for the humble pie.
"I want to apologize to you for saying that, Irene." said Rilla steadily. "_hould not have said it and I have been very sorry ever since. Will yo_orgive me?"
"And sing at your concert?" said Irene sweetly and insultingly.
"If you mean," said Rilla miserably, "that I would _not_ be apologizing to yo_f it were not for the concert perhaps that is true. But it is also true tha_ have felt ever since it happened that I should not have said what I did an_hat I have been sorry for it all winter. That is all I can say. If you fee_ou can't forgive me I suppose there is nothing more to be said."
"Oh, Rilla dear, don't snap me up like that," pleaded Irene. "Of course I'l_orgive you–though I did feel awfully about it–how awfully I hope you'll neve_now. I cried for _weeks_ over it. And I hadn't said or done a thing!"
Rilla choked back a retort. After all, there was no use in arguing with Irene, and the Belgians were starving.
"Don't you think you can help us with the concert," she forced herself to say.
Oh, if only Irene would stop looking at that boot! Rilla could just _hear_ he_iving Olive Kirk an account of it.
"I don't see how I really can at the last moment like this," protested Irene.
"There isn't time to learn anything new."
"Oh, you have lots of lovely songs that nobody in the Glen ever heard before,"
said Rilla, who knew Irene had been going to town all winter for lessons an_hat this was only a pretext. "They will all be new down there."
"But I have no accompanist," protested Irene.
"Una Meredith can accompany you," said Rilla.
"Oh, I couldn't ask _her_ ," sighed Irene. "We haven't spoken since last fall.
She was so hateful to me the time of our Sunday-school concert that I simpl_ad to give her up."
Dear, dear, was Irene at feud with everybody? As for Una Meredith bein_ateful to anybody, the idea was so farcical that Rilla had much ado to kee_rom laughing in Irene's very face.
"Miss Oliver is a beautiful pianist and can play any accompaniment at sight,"
said Rilla desperately. "She will play for you and you could run over you_ongs easily tomorrow evening at Ingleside before the concert."
"But I haven't anything to wear. My new evening-dress isn't home fro_harlottetown yet, and I simply cannot wear my old one at such a big affair.
It is too shabby and old-fashioned."
"Our concert," said Rilla slowly, "is in aid of Belgian children who ar_tarving to death. Don't you think you could wear a shabby dress once fo_heir sake, Irene?"
"Oh, don't you think those accounts we get of the conditions of the Belgian_re very much exaggerated?" said Irene. "I'm sure they can't be actuall_starving_ you know, in the twentieth century. The newspapers always colou_hings so highly."
Rilla concluded that she had humiliated herself enough. There was such a thin_s self-respect. No more coaxing, concert or no concert. She got up, boot an_ll.
"I am sorry you can't help us, Irene, but since you cannot we must do the bes_e can."
Now this did not suit Irene at all. She desired exceedingly to sing at tha_oncert, and all her hesitations were merely by way of enhancing the boon o_er final consent. Besides, she really wanted to be friends with Rilla again.
Rilla's whole-hearted, ungrudging adoration had been very sweet incense t_er. _And_ Ingleside was a very charming house to visit, especially when _andsome college student like Walter was home. She stopped looking at Rilla'_eet.
"Rilla, darling, don't be so abrupt. I really want to help you, if I ca_anage it. Just sit down and let's talk it over."
"I'm sorry, but I can't. I have to be home soon–Jims has to be settled for th_ight, you know."
"Oh, yes–the baby you are bringing up by the book. It's perfectly sweet of yo_o do it when you hate children so. How cross you were just because I kisse_im! But we'll forget all that and be chums again, won't we? Now, about th_oncert–I dare say I can run into town on the morning train after my dress, and out again on the afternoon one in plenty of time for the concert, i_ou'll ask Miss Oliver to play for me. _I_ couldn't–she's so dreadfull_aughty and supercilious that she simply paralyses poor little me."
Rilla did not waste time or breath defending Miss Oliver. She coolly thanke_rene, who had suddenly become very amiable and gushing, and got away. She wa_ery thankful the interview was over. But she knew now that she and Iren_ould never be the friends they had been. Friendly, yes–but _friends_ , no.
Nor did she wish it. All winter she had felt under her other and more seriou_orries, a little feeling of regret for her lost chum. Now it was suddenl_one. Irene was not as Mrs. Elliott would say, of the race that knew Joseph.
Rilla did not say or think that she had outgrown Irene. Had the though_ccurred to her she would have considered it absurd when she was not ye_eventeen and Irene was twenty. But it was the truth. Irene was just what sh_ad been a year ago–just what she would always be. Rilla Blythe's nature i_hat year had changed and matured and deepened. She found herself seein_hrough Irene with a disconcerting clearness–discerning under all he_uperficial sweetness, her pettiness, her vindictiveness, her insincerity, he_ssential cheapness. Irene had lost for ever her faithful worshipper.
But not until Rilla had traversed the Upper Glen Road and found herself in th_oon-dappled solitude of Rainbow Valley did she fully recover her composure o_pirit. Then she stopped under a tall wild plum that was ghostly white an_air in its misty spring bloom and laughed.
"There is only one thing of importance just now–and that is that the Allie_in the war," she said aloud. " _Therefore_ , it follows without dispute tha_he fact that I went to see Irene Howard with odd shoes and stockings on is o_no_ importance whatever. Nevertheless, I, Bertha Marilla Blythe, swea_olemnly with the moon as witness"–Rilla lifted her hand dramatically to th_aid moon–"that I will never leave my room again without looking carefully a_both_ my feet.