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Chapter 14 The Valley of Decision

  • 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.
  • Dr. dear."
  • "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."