Susan kept the flag flying at Ingleside all the next day, in honour of Italy'_eclaration of war.
"And not before it was time, Mrs. Dr. dear, considering the way things hav_egun to go on the Russian front. Say what you will, those Russians are kittl_attle, the Grand Duke Nicholas to the contrary notwithstanding. It is _ortunate thing for Italy that she has come in on the right side, but whethe_t is as fortunate for the Allies I will not predict until I know more abou_talians than I do now. However, she will give that old reprobate of a Franci_oseph something to think about. A pretty Emperor indeed–with one foot in th_rave and yet plotting wholesale murder"–and Susan thumped and kneaded he_read with as much vicious energy as she could have expended in punchin_rancis Joseph himself if he had been so unlucky as to fall into her clutches.
Walter had gone to town on the early train, and Nan offered to look after Jim_or the day and so set Rilla free. Rilla was wildly busy all day, helping t_ecorate the Glen hall and seeing to a hundred last things. The evening wa_eautiful, in spite of the fact that Mr. Pryor was reported to have said tha_e "hoped it would rain pitch forks points down," and to have wantonly kicke_iranda's dog as he said it. Rilla, rushing home from the hall, dresse_urriedly. Everything had gone surprisingly well at the last; Irene was eve_hen downstairs practising her songs with Miss Oliver; Rilla was excited an_appy, forgetful even of the Western front for the moment. It gave her a sens_f achievement and victory to have brought her efforts of weeks to such _uccessful conclusion. She knew that there had not lacked people who though_nd hinted that Rilla Blythe had not the tact or patience to engineer _oncert programme. She had shown them! Little snatches of song bubbled up fro_er lips as she dressed. She thought she was looking very well. Excitemen_rought a faint, becoming pink into her round creamy cheeks, quite drownin_ut her few freckles, and her hair gleamed with red-brown lustre. Should sh_ear crab-apple blossoms in it, or her little fillet of pearls? After som_gonised wavering she decided on the crab-apple blossoms and tucked the whit_axen cluster behind her left ear. Now for a final look at her feet. Yes, bot_lippers were on. She gave the sleeping Jims a kiss–what a dear little warm, rosy, satin face he had–and hurried down the hill to the hall. Already it wa_illing–soon it was crowded. Her concert was going to be a brilliant success.
The first three numbers were successfully over. Rilla was in the littl_ressing-room behind the platform, looking out on the moonlit harbour an_ehearsing her own recitations. She was alone, the rest of the performer_eing in the larger room on the other side. Suddenly she felt two soft bar_rms slipping round her waist, then Irene Howard dropped a light kiss on he_heek.
"Rilla, you sweet thing, you're looking _simply angelic_ to-night. You _have_punk–I thought you would feel so badly over Walter's enlisting that you'_ardly be able to bear up at all, and here you are as cool as a cucumber. _ish I had _half_ your nerve."
Rilla stood perfectly still. She felt no emotion whatever–she felt _nothing_.
The world of feeling had just _gone blank_.
"Walter–enlisting"–she heard herself saying–then she heard Irene's affecte_ittle laugh.
"Why, didn't you know? I thought you did of course, or I wouldn't hav_entioned it. I am always putting my foot in it, aren't I? Yes, that is wha_e went to town for to-day–he told me coming out on the train to-night, _I_as the first person he told. He isn't in khaki yet–they were out o_niforms–but he will be in a day or two. I _always_ said Walter had as muc_luck as anybody. I assure you I felt _proud_ of him, Rilla, when he told m_hat he'd done. Oh, there's an end of Rick MacAllister's reading. I must fly.
I promised I'd play for the next chorus–Alice Clow has such a headache."
She was gone–oh, thank God, she was gone! Rilla was alone again, staring ou_t the unchanged, dreamlike beauty of moonlit Four Winds. Feeling was comin_ack to her–a pang of agony so acute as to be almost physical seemed to ren_er apart.
"I _cannot_ bear it," she said. And then came the awful thought that perhap_he _could_ bear it and that there might be years of this hideous sufferin_efore her.
She must get away–she must rush home–she must be alone. She could not go ou_here and play for drills and give readings and take part in dialogues now. I_ould spoil half the concert; but that did not matter–nothing mattered. Wa_his she, Rilla Blythe–this tortured thing, who had been quite happy a fe_inutes ago? Outside, a quartette was singing "We'll never let the old fla_all"–the music seemed to be coming from some remote distance. Why couldn'_he cry, as she had cried when Jem told them he must go? If she could cr_erhaps this horrible something that seemed to have seized on her very lif_ight let go. But no tears came! Where were her scarf and coat? She must ge_way and hide herself like an animal hurt to the death.
Was it a coward's part to run away like this? The question came to he_uddenly as if someone else had asked it. She thought of the shambles of th_landers front–she thought of her brother and her playmate helping to hol_hose fire-swept trenches. What would they think of her if she shirked he_ittle duty here–the humble duty of carrying the programme through for her Re_ross? But she couldn't stay–she couldn't–yet what was it mother had said whe_em went: "When our women fail in courage shall our men be fearless still?"
But this–this was _unbearable._
Still, she stopped half-way to the door and went back to the window. Irene wa_inging now; her beautiful voice–the only real thing about her–soared clea_nd sweet through the building. Rilla knew that the girl's Fairy Drill cam_ext. Could she go out there and play for it? Her head was aching now–he_hroat was burning. Oh, why had Irene told her just then, when telling coul_o no good? Irene had been very cruel. Rilla remembered now that more tha_nce that day she had caught her mother looking at her with an odd expression.
She had been too busy to wonder what it meant. She understood now. Mother ha_nown why Walter went to town but wouldn't tell her until the concert wa_ver. What spirit and endurance mother had!
"I must stay here and see things through," said Rilla, clasping her cold hand_ogether.
The rest of the evening always seemed like a fevered dream to her. Her bod_as crowded by people but her soul was alone in a torture-chamber of its own.
Yet she played steadily for the drills and gave her readings withou_altering. She even put on a grotesque old Irish woman's costume and acted th_art in the dialogue which Miranda Pryor had not taken. But she did not giv_er "brogue" the inimitable twist she had given it in the practices, and he_eadings lacked their usual fire and appeal. As she stood before the audienc_he saw one face only–that of the handsome, dark-haired lad sitting beside he_other–and she saw that same face in the trenches–saw it lying cold and dea_nder the stars–saw it pining in prison–saw the light of its eyes blotte_ut–saw a hundred horrible things as she stood there on the beflagged platfor_f the Glen hall with her own face whiter than the milky crab-blossoms in he_air. Between her numbers she walked restlessly up and down the littl_ressing-room. Would the concert _never_ end!
It ended at last. Olive Kirk rushed up and told her exultantly that they ha_ade a hundred dollars. "That's good," Rilla said mechanically. Then she wa_way from them all–oh, thank God, she was away from them all–Walter wa_aiting for her at the door. He put his arm through hers silently and the_ent together down the moonlit road. The frogs were singing in the marshes, the dim, ensilvered fields of home lay all around them. The spring night wa_ovely and appealing. Rilla felt that its beauty was an insult to her pain.
She would _hate_ moonlight for ever.
"You know?" said Walter.
"Yes. Irene told me," answered Rilla chokingly.
"We didn't want you to know till the evening was over. I knew when you cam_ut for the drill that you had heard. Little sister, I had to do it. _ouldn't live any longer on such terms with myself as I have been since th_Lusitania_ was sunk. When I pictured those dead women and children floatin_bout in that pitiless, ice-cold water–well, at first I just felt a sort o_ausea with life. I wanted to get out of the world where such a thing coul_appen–shake its accursed dust from my feet for ever. Then I knew I had t_o."
"There are–plenty–without you."
"That isn't the point, Rilla-my-Rilla. I'm going for my own sake–to save m_oul alive. It will shrink to something small and mean and lifeless if I don'_o. That would be worse than blindness or mutilation or any of the things I'v_eared."
"You may–be–killed," Rilla hated herself for saying it–she knew it was a wea_nd cowardly thing to say–but she had rather gone to pieces after the tensio_f the evening.
> _"'Comes he slow or comes he fast > It is but death who comes at last.'"_
quoted Walter. "It's not death I fear–I told you that long ago. One can pa_oo high a price for mere life, little sister. There's so much _hideousness_n this war–I've got to go and help wipe it out of the world. I'm going t_ight for the _beauty_ of life, Rilla-my-Rilla–that is _my_ duty. There may b_ higher duty, perhaps–but that is mine. I owe life and Canada _that_ , an_'ve got to pay it. Rilla, to-night for the first time since Jem left I've go_ack my self-respect. I could write poetry," Walter laughed. "I've never bee_ble to write a line since last August. To-night I'm full of it. Littl_ister, be brave–you were so plucky when Jem went."
"This–is–different," Rilla had to stop after every word to fight down a wil_utburst of sobs. "I loved–Jem–of course–but–when–he went–away–we thought–th_ar–would soon–be over–and you are– _everything_ to me, Walter."
"You must be brave to help _me_ , Rilla-my-Rilla. I'm exalted to-night–drun_ith the excitement of victory over myself–but there will be other times whe_t won't be like this–I'll need your help then."
"When–do–you–go?" She must know the worst at once.
"Not for a week–then we go to Kingsport for training. I suppose we'll g_verseas about the middle of July–we don't know."
One week–only one week more with Walter! The eyes of youth did not see how sh_as to go on living.
When they turned in at the Ingleside gate Walter stopped in the shadows of th_ld pines and drew Rilla close to him.
"Rilla-my-Rilla, there were girls as sweet and pure as you in Belgium an_landers. You–even you–know what their fate was. We must make it impossibl_or such things to happen again while the world lasts. You'll help me, won'_ou?"
"I'll try, Walter," she said. "Oh, I _will_ try."
As she clung to him with her face pressed against his shoulder she knew tha_t had to be. She accepted the fact then and there. He must go–her beautifu_alter with his beautiful soul and dreams and ideals. And she had known al_long that it would come sooner or later. She had seen it coming t_er–coming–coming–as one sees the shadow of a cloud drawing near over a sunn_ield, swiftly and inescapably. Amid all her pain she was conscious of an od_eeling of relief in some hidden part of her soul, where a little dull, unacknowledged soreness had been lurking all winter. No one– _no one_ coul_ver call Walter a slacker now.
Rilla did not sleep that night. Perhaps no one at Ingleside did except Jims.
The body grows slowly and steadily, but the soul grows by leaps and bounds. I_ay come to its full stature in an hour. From that night Rilla Blythe's sou_as the soul of a woman in its capacity for suffering, for strength, fo_ndurance.
When the bitter dawn came she rose and went to her window. Below her was a bi_pple-tree, a great swelling cone of rosy blossom. Walter had planted it year_go when he was a little boy. Beyond Rainbow Valley there was a cloudy shor_f morning with little ripples of sunrise breaking over it. The far, col_eauty of a lingering star shone above it. Why, in this world of springtim_oveliness, must hearts break?
Rilla felt arms go about her lovingly, protectingly. It was mother–pale, large-eyed mother.
"Oh, mother, how can you bear it?" she cried wildly.
"Rilla, dear, I've known for several days that Walter meant to go. I've ha_ime to–to rebel and grow reconciled. We must give him up. There is a Cal_reater and more insistent than the call of our love–he has listened to it. W_ust not add to the bitterness of his sacrifice."
" _Our_ sacrifice is greater than _his_ ," cried Rilla passionately. "Our boy_ive only _themselves_. _We_ give them."
Before Mrs. Blythe could reply Susan stuck her head in at the door, neve_roubling over such frills of etiquette as knocking. Her eyes wer_uspiciously red but all she said was, "Will I bring up your breakfast, Mrs.
"No, no, Susan. We will all be down presently. Do you know–that Walter ha_oined up."
"Yes, Mrs. Dr. dear. The doctor told me last night. I suppose the Almighty ha_is own reasons for allowing such things. We must submit and endeavour to loo_n the bright side. It may cure him of being a poet, at least"–Susan stil_ersisted in thinking that poets and tramps were tarred with the sam_rush–"and that would be something. But thank God," she muttered in a lowe_one, "that Shirley is not old enough to go."
"Isn't that the same thing as thanking Him that some other woman's son has t_o in Shirley's place?" asked the doctor, pausing on the threshold.
"No, it is not, doctor dear," said Susan defiantly, as she picked up Jims, wh_as opening his big dark eyes and stretching up his dimpled paws. "Do not yo_ut words in my mouth that I would never dream of uttering. I am a plain woma_nd cannot argue with you, but I do not thank God that anybody has to go. _nly know that it seems they do have to go, unless we all want to b_aiserised.
And now," concluded Susan, tucking Jims in the crook of her gaunt arms an_arching downstairs, "having cried my cry and said my say I shall take _race, and if I cannot look pleasant I will look as pleasant as I can."