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Chapter 16 Realism and Romance

  • "Warsaw has fallen," said Dr. Blythe with a resigned air, as he brought th_ail in one warm August day.
  • Gertrude and Mrs. Blythe looked dismally at each other, and Rilla, who wa_eeding Jims a Morganized diet from a carefully sterilized spoon, laid th_aid spoon down on his tray, utterly regardless of germs, and said, "Oh, dea_e," in as tragic a tone as if the news had come as a thunderbolt instead o_eing a foregone conclusion from the preceding week's dispatches. They ha_hought they were quite resigned to Warsaw's fall but now they knew they had, as always, hoped against hope.
  • "Now, let us take a brace," said Susan. "It is not the terrible thing we hav_een thinking. I read a dispatch three columns long in the Montreal _Herald_esterday that proved that Warsaw was not important from a military point o_iew at all. So let us take the military point of view, doctor dear."
  • "I read that dispatch, too, and it has encouraged me immensely," sai_ertrude. "I knew then and I know now that it was a lie from beginning to end.
  • But I am in that state of mind where even a lie is a comfort, providing it i_ cheerful lie."
  • "In that case, Miss Oliver dear, the German official reports ought to be al_ou need," said Susan sarcastically. "I never read them now because they mak_e so mad I cannot put my thoughts properly on my work after a dose of them.
  • Even this news about Warsaw has taken the edge off my afternoon's plans.
  • Misfortunes never come singly. I spoiled my baking of bread today–and no_arsaw has fallen–and here is little Kitchener bent on choking himself t_eath."
  • Jims was evidently trying to swallow his spoon, germs and all. Rilla rescue_im mechanically and was about to resume the operation of feeding him when _asual remark of her father's sent such a shock and thrill over her that fo_he second time she dropped that doomed spoon.
  • "Kenneth Ford is down at Martin West's over-harbour," the doctor was saying.
  • "His regiment was on its way to the front but was held up in Kingsport fo_ome reason, and Ken got leave of absence to come over to the Island."
  • "I hope he will come up to see us," exclaimed Mrs. Blythe.
  • "He only has a day or two off, I believe," said the doctor absently.
  • Nobody noticed Rilla's flushed face and trembling hands. Even the mos_houghtful and watchful of parents do not see everything that goes on unde_heir very noses. Rilla made a third attempt to give the long-suffering Jim_is dinner, but all she could think of was the question–Would Ken come to se_er before he went away? She had not heard from him for a long while. Had h_orgotten her completely? If he did not come she would know that he had.
  • Perhaps there was even–some other girl back there in Toronto. Of course ther_as. She was a little fool to be thinking about him at all. She would _not_hink about him. If he came, well and good. It would only be courteous of hi_o make a farewell call at Ingleside where he had often been a guest. If h_id not come–well and good, too. It did not matter very much. Nobody was goin_o fret. That was all settled comfortably–she was quite indifferent–bu_eanwhile Jims was being fed with a haste and recklessness that would hav_illed the soul of Morgan with horror. Jims himself didn't like it, being _ethodical baby, accustomed to swallowing spoonfuls with a decent interval fo_reath between each. He protested, but his protests availed him nothing.
  • Rilla, as far as the care and feeding of infants was concerned, was utterl_emoralized.
  • Then the telephone-bell rang. There was nothing unusual about the telephon_inging. It rang on an average every ten minutes at Ingleside. But Rill_ropped Jims' spoon again–on the carpet this time–and flew to the 'phone as i_ife depended on her getting there before anybody else. Jims, his patienc_xhausted, lifted up his voice and wept.
  • "Hello, is this Ingleside?"
  • "Yes."
  • "That you, Rilla?"
  • "Yeth–yeth." Oh, why couldn't Jims stop howling for just one little minute?
  • _Why_ didn't _somebody_ come in and choke him?
  • "Know who's speaking?"
  • Oh, didn't she know! Wouldn't she know that voice anywhere–at any time?
  • "It's Ken–isn't it?"
  • "Sure thing. I'm here for a look-in. Can I come up to Ingleside tonight an_ee you?"
  • "Of courthe."
  • Had he used "you" in the singular or plural sense? Presently she would wrin_ims's neck–oh, _what_ was Ken saying?
  • "See here, Rilla, can you arrange that there won't be more than a few doze_eople round? Understand? I can't make my meaning clearer over this ball_ural line. There are a dozen receivers down."
  • Did she understand! Yes, she understood.
  • "I'll try," she said.
  • "I'll be up about eight then. By-by."
  • Rilla hung up the 'phone and flew to Jims. But she did not wring that injure_nfant's neck. Instead she snatched him bodily out of his chair, crushed hi_gainst her face, kissed him rapturously on his milky mouth, and danced wildl_round the room with him in her arms. After this Jims was relieved to fin_hat she returned to sanity, gave him the rest of his dinner properly, an_ucked him away for his afternoon nap with the little lullaby he loved best o_ll. She sewed at Red Cross shirts for the rest of the afternoon and built _rystal castle of dreams, all a-quiver with rainbows. Ken wanted to see _her_ –to see her _alone_. That could be easily managed. Shirley wouldn't bothe_hem, father and mother were going to the Manse, Miss Oliver never playe_ooseberry, and Jims always slept the clock round from seven to seven. Sh_ould entertain Ken on the veranda–it would be moonlight–she would wear he_hite georgette dress and do her hair _up_ –yes, she would–at least in a lo_not at the nape of her neck. Mother couldn't object to _that_ , surely. Oh, how wonderful and romantic it would be! Would Ken say _anything_ –he must mea_o say _something_ or why should he be so particular about seeing her alone?
  • What if it rained–Susan had been complaining about Mr. Hyde that morning! Wha_f some officious Junior Red called to discuss Belgians and shirts? Or, wors_f all, what if Fred Arnold dropped in? He did occasionally.
  • The evening came at last and was all that could be desired in an evening. Th_octor and his wife went to the Manse, Shirley and Miss Oliver went they alon_new where, Susan went to the store for household supplies, and Jims went t_reamland. Rilla put on her georgette gown, knotted up her hair and bound _ittle double string of pearls around it. Then she tucked a cluster of pal_ink baby roses at her belt. Would Ken ask her for a rose for a keepsake? Sh_new that Jem had carried to the trenches in Flanders a faded rose that Fait_eredith had kissed and given him the night before he left.
  • Rilla looked very sweet when she met Ken in the mingled moonlight and vin_hadows of the big veranda. The hand she gave him was cold and she was s_esperately anxious not to lisp that her greeting was prim and precise. Ho_andsome and tall Kenneth looked in his lieutenant's uniform! It made him see_lder, too–so much so that Rilla felt rather foolish. Hadn't it been th_eight of absurdity for her to suppose that this splendid young officer ha_nything special to say to _her_ , little Rilla Blythe of Glen St. Mary?
  • Likely she hadn't understood him after all–he had only meant that he didn'_ant a mob of folks around making a fuss over him and trying to lionize him, as they had probably done over-harbour. Yes, of course, that was all h_eant–and she, little idiot, had gone and vainly imagined that he didn't wan_nybody but her. And he would think she had manoeuvred everybody away so tha_hey could be alone together, and he would laugh to himself at her.
  • "This is better luck than I hoped for," said Ken, leaning back in his chai_nd looking at her with very unconcealed admiration in his eloquent eyes. "_as sure someone would be hanging about and it was just _you_ I wanted to see, Rilla-my-Rilla."
  • Rilla's dream castle flashed into the landscape again. _This_ was unmistakabl_nough certainly–not much doubt as to his meaning _here_.
  • "There aren't–so many of us–to poke around as there used to be," she sai_oftly.
  • "No, that's so," said Ken gently. "Jem and Walter and the girls away–it make_ big blank, doesn't it? But–" he leaned forward until his dark curls almos_rushed her hair–"doesn't Fred Arnold try to fill the blank occasionally. I'v_een told so."
  • At this moment, before Rilla could make any reply, Jims began to cry at th_op of his voice in the room whose open window was just above them–Jims, wh_ardly _ever_ cried in the evening. Moreover, he was crying, as Rilla kne_rom experience, with a vim and energy that betokened that he had been alread_himpering softly unheard for some time and was thoroughly exasperated. Whe_ims started in crying like that he made a thorough job of it. Rilla knew tha_here was no use to sit still and pretend to ignore him. He wouldn't stop; an_onversation of any kind was out of the question when such shrieks and howl_ere floating over your head. Besides, she was afraid Kenneth would think sh_as utterly unfeeling if she sat still and let a baby cry like that. He wa_ot likely acquainted with Morgan's invaluable volume.
  • She got up. "Jims has had a nightmare, I think. He sometimes has one and he i_lways badly frightened by it. Excuse me for a moment."
  • Rilla flew upstairs, wishing quite frankly that soup tureens had never bee_nvented. But when Jims, at sight of her, lifted his little arms entreatingl_nd swallowed several sobs, with tears rolling down his cheeks, resentmen_ent out of her heart. After all, the poor darling was frightened. She picke_im up gently and rocked him soothingly until his sobs ceased and his eye_losed. Then she essayed to lay him down in his crib. Jims opened his eyes an_hrieked a protest. This performance was repeated twice. Rilla grew desperate.
  • She couldn't leave Ken down there alone any longer–she had been away nearl_alf an hour already. With a resigned air she marched downstairs, carryin_ims, and sat down on the veranda. It was, no doubt, a ridiculous thing to si_nd cuddle a contrary war-baby when your best young man was making hi_arewell call, but there was nothing else to be done.
  • Jims was supremely happy. He kicked his little pink-soled feet rapturously ou_nder his white nighty and gave one of his rare laughs. He was beginning to b_ very pretty baby; his golden hair curled in silken ringlets all over hi_ittle round head and his eyes were beautiful.
  • "He's a decorative kiddy all right, isn't he?" said Ken.
  • "His looks are very well," said Rilla, bitterly, as if to imply that they wer_uch the best of him. Jims, being an astute infant, sensed trouble in th_tmosphere and realized that it was up to him to clear it away. He turned hi_ace up to Rilla, smiled adorably and said, clearly and beguilingly,
  • "Will–Will."
  • It was the very first time he had spoken a word or tried to speak. Rilla wa_o delighted that she forgot her grudge against him. She forgave him with _ug and kiss. Jims, understanding that he was restored to favour, cuddled dow_gainst her just where a gleam of light from the lamp in the living-roo_truck across his hair and turned it into a halo of gold against her breast.
  • Kenneth sat very still and silent, looking at Rilla–at the delicate, girlis_ilhouette of her, her long lashes, her dented lip, her adorable chin. In th_im moonlight, as she sat with her head bent a little over Jims, the lampligh_linting on her pearls until they glistened like a slender nimbus, he though_he looked exactly like the Madonna that hung over his mother's desk at home.
  • He carried that picture of her in his heart to the horror of the battlefield_f France. He had had a strong fancy for Rilla Blythe ever since the night o_he Four Winds dance; but it was when he saw her there, with little Jims i_er arms, that he loved her and realized it. And all the while, poor Rilla wa_itting, disappointed and humiliated, feeling that her last evening with Ke_as spoiled and wondering why things always had to go so contrarily outside o_ooks. She felt too absurd to try to talk. Evidently Ken was completel_isgusted, too, since he was sitting there in such stony silence.
  • Hope revived momentarily when Jims went so thoroughly asleep that she though_t would be safe to lay him down on the couch in the living-room. But when sh_ame out again Susan was sitting on the veranda, loosening her bonnet string_ith the air of one who meant to stay where she was for some time.
  • "Have you got your baby to sleep?" she asked kindly.
  • Your baby! Really, Susan might have more tact.
  • "Yes," said Rilla shortly.
  • Susan laid her parcels on the reed table, as one determined to do her duty.
  • She was very tired but she must help Rilla out. Here was Kenneth Ford who ha_ome to call on the family and they were all unfortunately out, and "the poo_hild" had had to entertain him alone. But Susan had come to her rescue–Susa_ould do her part no matter how tired she was.
  • "Dear me, how you have grown up," she said, looking at Ken's six feet of khak_niform without the least awe. Susan had grown used to khaki now, and a_ixty-four even a lieutenant's uniform is just clothes and nothing else. "I_s an amazing thing how fast children do grow up. Rilla here, now, is almos_ifteen."
  • "I'm going on seventeen, Susan," cried Rilla almost passionately. She was _hole month past sixteen. It was intolerable of Susan.
  • "It seems just the other day that you were all babies," said Susan, ignorin_illa's protest. "You were really the prettiest baby I ever saw, Ken, thoug_our mother had an awful time trying to cure you of sucking your thumb. Do yo_emember the day I spanked you?"
  • "No," said Ken.
  • "Oh well, I suppose you would be too young–you were only about four and yo_ere here with your mother and you insisted on teasing Nan until she cried. _ad tried several ways of stopping you but none availed, and I saw that _panking was the only thing that would serve. So I picked you up and laid yo_cross my knee and lambasted you well. You howled at the top of your voice bu_ou left Nan alone after that."
  • Rilla was writhing. Hadn't Susan _any_ realization that she was addressing a_fficer of the Canadian Army? Apparently she had not. Oh, what would Ke_hink?
  • "I suppose you do not remember the time your mother spanked you either,"
  • continued Susan, who seemed to be bent on reviving tender reminiscences tha_vening. "I shall never, no never, forget it. She was up here one night wit_ou when you were about three, and you and Walter were playing out in th_itchen yard with a kitten. I had a big puncheon of rainwater by the spou_hich I was reserving for making soap. And you and Walter began quarrellin_ver the kitten. Walter was at one side of the puncheon standing on a chair, holding the kitten, and you were standing on a chair at the other side. Yo_eaned across that puncheon and grabbed the kitten and pulled. You were alway_ great hand for taking what you wanted without too much ceremony. Walter hel_n tight and the poor kitten yelled but you dragged Walter and the kitten hal_ver and then you both lost your balance and tumbled into that puncheon, kitten and all. If I had not been on the spot you would both have bee_rowned. I flew to the rescue and hauled you all three out before much har_as done, and your mother, who had seen it all from the upstairs window, cam_own and picked you up, dripping as you were, and gave you a beautifu_panking. Ah," said Susan with a sigh, "those were happy old days a_ngleside."
  • "Must have been," said Ken. His voice sounded queer and stiff. Rilla suppose_e was hopelessly enraged. The truth was he dared not trust his voice lest i_etray his frantic desire to laugh.
  • "Rilla here, now," said Susan, looking affectionately at that unhappy damsel,
  • "never was much spanked. She was a real well-behaved child for the most part.
  • But her father did spank her once. She got two bottles of pills out of hi_ffice and dared Alice Clow to see which of them could swallow all the pill_irst, and if her father had not happened in the nick of time those tw_hildren would have been corpses by night. As it was, they were both sic_nough shortly after. But the doctor spanked Rilla then and there and he mad_uch a thorough job of it that she never meddled with anything in his offic_fterwards. We hear a great deal nowadays of something that is called 'mora_ersuasion,' but in my opinion a good spanking and no nagging afterwards is _uch better thing."
  • Rilla wondered viciously whether Susan meant to relate _all_ the famil_pankings. But Susan had finished with the subject and branched off to anothe_heerful one.
  • "I remember little Tod MacAllister over-harbour killed himself that very way, eating up a whole box of fruitatives because he thought they were candy. I_as a very sad affair. He was," said Susan earnestly, "the very cutest littl_orpse I ever laid my eyes on. It was very careless of his mother to leave th_ruitatives where he could get them, but she was well-known to be a heedles_reature."
  • "Did you see anybody at the store?" asked Rilla desperately, in the faint hop_f directing Susan's conversation into more agreeable channels.
  • "Nobody except Mary Vance," said Susan, "and she was stepping round as bris_s the Irishman's flea."
  • What terrible similes Susan used! Would Kenneth think she acquired them fro_he family!
  • "To hear Mary talk about Miller Douglas you would think he was the only Gle_oy who had enlisted," Susan went on. "But of course she always did brag an_he has some good qualities I am willing to admit, though I did not think s_hat time she chased Rilla here through the village with a dried codfish til_he poor child fell, heels over head, into the puddle before Carter Flagg'_tore."
  • Rilla went cold all over with wrath and shame. Were there any more disgracefu_cenes in her past that Susan could rake up? As for Ken, he could have howle_ver Susan's speeches, but he would not so insult the duenna of his lady, s_e sat with a preternaturally solemn face which seemed to poor Rilla a haught_nd offended one.
  • "I paid eleven cents for a bottle of ink tonight," complained Susan. "Ink i_wice as high as it was last year. Perhaps it is because Woodrow Wilson ha_een writing so many notes. It must cost him considerable. My cousin Sophi_ays Woodrow Wilson is not the man she expected him to be–but then no man eve_as. Being an old maid, I do not know much about men and have never pretende_o, but my cousin Sophia is very hard on them, although she married two o_hem, which you might think was a fair share. Albert Crawford's chimney ble_own in that big gale we had last week, and when Sophia heard the brick_lattering on the roof she thought it was a Zeppelin raid and went int_ysterics. And Mrs. Albert Crawford says that of the two things she would hav_referred the Zeppelin raid."
  • Rilla sat limply in her chair like one hypnotized. She knew Susan would sto_alking when she was ready to stop and that no earthly power could make he_top any sooner. As a rule, she was very fond of Susan but just now she hate_er with a deadly hatred. It was ten o'clock. Ken would soon have to go–th_thers would soon be home–and she had not even had a chance to explain to Ke_hat Fred Arnold filled no blank in her life nor ever could. Her rainbo_astle lay in ruins round her.
  • Kenneth got up at last. He realized that Susan was there to stay as long as h_id, and it was a three mile walk to Martin West's over-harbour. He wondere_f Rilla had put Susan up to this, not wanting to be left alone with him, les_e say something Fred Arnold's sweetheart did not want to hear. Rilla got up, too, and walked silently the length of the veranda with him. They stood ther_or a moment, Ken on the lower step. The step was half sunk into the earth an_int grew thickly about and over its edge. Often crushed by so many passin_eet it gave out its essence freely, and the spicy odour hung round them lik_ soundless, invisible benediction. Ken looked up at Rilla, whose hair wa_hining in the moonlight and whose eyes were pools of allurement. All at onc_e felt sure there was nothing in that gossip about Fred Arnold.
  • "Rilla," he said in a sudden, intense whisper, "you are the sweetest thing."
  • Rilla flushed and looked at Susan. Ken looked, too, and saw that Susan's bac_as turned. He put his arm about Rilla and kissed her. It was the first tim_illa had ever been kissed. She thought perhaps she ought to resent it but sh_idn't. Instead, she glanced timidly into Kenneth's seeking eyes and he_lance was a kiss.
  • "Rilla-my-Rilla," said Ken, "will you promise that you won't let anyone els_iss you until I come back?"
  • "Yes," said Rilla, trembling and thrilling.
  • Susan was turning round. Ken loosened his hold and stepped to the walk.
  • "Good-bye," he said casually. Rilla heard herself saying it just as casually.
  • She stood and watched him down the walk, out of the gate, and down the road.
  • When the fir wood hid him from her sight she suddenly said "Oh," in a choke_ay and ran down to the gate, sweet blossomy things catching at her skirts a_he ran. Leaning over the gate she saw Kenneth walking briskly down the road, over the bars of tree shadows and moonlight, his tall, erect figure grey i_he white radiance. As he reached the turn he stopped and looked back and sa_er standing amid the tall white lilies by the gate. He waved his hand–sh_aved hers–he was gone around the turn.
  • Rilla stood there for a little while, gazing across the fields of mist an_ilver. She had heard her mother say that she loved turns in roads–they wer_o provocative and alluring. Rilla thought she hated them. She had seen Je_nd Jerry vanish from her around a bend in the road–then Walter–and now Ken.
  • Brothers and playmate and sweetheart–they were all gone, never, it might be, to return. Yet still the Piper piped and the dance of death went on.
  • When Rilla walked slowly back to the house Susan was still sitting by th_eranda table and Susan was sniffing suspiciously.
  • "I have been thinking, Rilla dear, of the old days in the House of Dreams, when Kenneth's mother and father were courting and Jem was a little baby an_ou were not born or thought of. It was a very romantic affair and she an_our mother were such chums. To think I should have lived to see her son goin_o the front. As if she had not had enough trouble in her early life withou_his coming upon her! But we must take a brace and see it through."
  • All Rilla's anger against Susan had evaporated. With Ken's kiss still burnin_n her lips, and the wonderful significance of the promise he had aske_hrilling heart and soul, she could not be angry with anyone. She put her sli_hite hand into Susan's brown, work-hardened one and gave it a squeeze. Susa_as a faithful old dear and would lay down her life for any one of them.
  • "You are tired, Rilla dear, and had better go to bed," Susan said, patting he_and. "I noticed you were too tired to talk tonight. I am glad I came home i_ime to help you out. It is very tiresome trying to entertain young men whe_ou are not accustomed to it."
  • Rilla carried Jims upstairs and went to bed, but not before she had sat for _ong time at her window reconstructing her rainbow castle, with several adde_omes and turrets.
  • "I wonder," she said to herself, "if I am, or am not, engaged to Kennet_ord."
  • ** **