Rilla ran down through the sunlit glory of the maple grove behind Ingleside, to her favourite nook in Rainbow Valley. She sat down on a green-mossed ston_mong the fern, propped her chin on her hands and stared unseeingly at th_azzling blue sky of the August afternoon–so blue, so peaceful, so unchanged, just as it had arched over the valley in the mellow days of late summer eve_ince she could remember.
She wanted to be alone–to think things out–to adjust herself, if it wer_ossible, to the new world into which she seemed to have been transplante_ith a suddenness and completeness that left her half bewildered as to her ow_dentity. Was she–could she be–the same Rilla Blythe who had danced at Fou_inds Light six days ago–only six days ago? It seemed to Rilla that she ha_ived as much in those six days as in all her previous life–and if it be tru_hat we should count time by heart-throbs she had. That evening, with it_opes and fears and triumphs and humiliations, seemed like ancient histor_ow. Could she really ever have cried just because she had been forgotten an_ad to walk home with Mary Vance? Ah, thought Rilla sadly, how trivial an_bsurd such a cause of tears now appeared to her. She _could_ cry _now_ with _ight good will–but she would _not_ –she _must_ not. What was it mother ha_aid, looking, with her white lips and stricken eyes, as Rilla had never see_er mother look before,
> _"When our women fail in courage, > Shall our men be fearless still?"_
Yes, that was it. She must be brave–like mother–and Nan–and Faith–Faith, wh_ad cried with flashing eyes, "Oh, if I were only a man, to go too!" Only, when her eyes ached and her throat burned like this she had to hide herself i_ainbow Valley for a little, just to think things out and remember that sh_asn't a child any longer–she was grown-up and women had to face things lik_his. But it was–nice–to get away alone now and then, where nobody could se_er and where she needn't feel that people thought her a little coward if som_ears came in spite of her.
How sweet and woodsey the ferns smelled! How softly the great feathery bough_f the firs waved and murmured over her! How elfinly rang the bells of the
"Tree Lovers"–just a tinkle now and then as the breeze swept by! How purpl_nd elusive the haze where incense was being offered on many an altar of th_ills! How the maple leaves whitened in the wind until the grove seeme_overed with pale silvery blossoms! Everything was just the same as she ha_een it hundreds of times; and yet the whole face of the world seemed changed.
"How wicked I was to wish that something dramatic would happen!" she thought.
"Oh, if we could only have those dear, monotonous, pleasant days back again! _ould never, _never_ grumble about them again."
Rilla's world had tumbled to pieces the very day after the party. As the_ingered around the dinner table at Ingleside, talking of the war, th_elephone had rung. It was a long-distance call from Charlottetown for Jem.
When he had finished talking he hung up the receiver and turned around, with _lushed face and glowing eyes. Before he had said a word his mother and Na_nd Di had turned pale. As for Rilla, for the first time in her life she fel_hat every one must hear her heart beating and that something had clutched a_er throat.
"They are calling for volunteers in town, father," said Jem. "Scores hav_oined up already. I'm going in tonight to enlist."
"Oh–Little Jem," cried Mrs. Blythe brokenly. She had not called him that fo_any years–not since the day he had rebelled against it. "Oh–no–no–Littl_em."
"I must, mother. I'm right–am I not, father?" said Jem.
Dr. Blythe had risen. He was very pale, too, and his voice was husky. But h_id not hesitate.
"Yes, Jem, yes–if you feel that way, yes– "
Mrs. Blythe covered her face. Walter stared moodily at his plate. Nan and D_lasped each others' hands. Shirley tried to look unconcerned. Susan sat as i_aralysed, her piece of pie half-eaten on her plate.
Jem turned to the phone again. "I must ring the manse. Jerry will want to go, too."
At this Nan had cried out "Oh!" as if a knife had been thrust into her, an_ushed from the room. Di followed her. Rilla turned to Walter for comfort bu_alter was lost to her in some reverie she could not share.
"All right," Jem was saying, as coolly as if he were arranging the details o_ picnic. "I thought you would–yes, tonight–the seven o'clock–meet me at th_tation. So long."
"Mrs. Dr. dear," said Susan. "I wish you would wake me up. Am I dreaming–or a_ awake? Does that blessed boy realize what he is saying? Does he mean that h_s going to enlist as a soldier? You do not mean to tell me that they wan_hildren like him! It is an outrage. Surely you and the doctor will not permi_t."
"We can't stop him," said Mrs. Blythe, chokingly. "Oh, Gilbert!"
Dr. Blythe came up behind his wife and took her hand gently, looking down int_he sweet grey eyes that he had only once before seen filled with suc_mploring anguish as now. They both thought of that other time–the day year_go in the House of Dreams when little Joyce had died.
"Would you have him stay, Anne–when the others are going–when he thinks it hi_uty–would you have him so selfish and small-souled?"
"No–no! But–oh–our first-born son–he's only a lad–Gilbert–I'll try to be brav_fter a while–just now I can't. It's all come so suddenly. Give me time."
The doctor and his wife went out of the room. Jem had gone–Walter ha_one–Shirley got up to go. Rilla and Susan remained staring at each othe_cross the deserted table. Rilla had not yet cried–she was too stunned fo_ears. Then she saw that Susan was crying–Susan, whom she had never seen she_ tear before.
"Oh, Susan, will he really go?" she asked.
Susan wiped away her tears, gulped resolutely and got up. "I am going to was_he dishes. That has to be done, even if everybody has gone crazy. There now, dearie, do not you cry. Jem will go, most likely–but the war will be over lon_efore he gets anywhere near it. Let us take a brace and not worry your poo_other."
"In the _Enterprise_ today it was reported that Lord Kitchener says the wa_ill last three years," said Rilla dubiously.
"I am not acquainted with Lord Kitchener," said Susan, composedly, "but I dar_ay he makes mistakes as often as other people. Your father says it will b_ver in a few months and I have as much faith in _his_ opinion as I have i_ord Anybody's."
Jem and Jerry went to Charlottetown that night and two days later they cam_ack in khaki. The Glen hummed with excitement over it. Life at Ingleside ha_uddenly become a tense, strained, thrilling thing. Mrs. Blythe and Nan wer_rave and smiling and wonderful. Already Mrs. Blythe and Miss Cornelia wer_rganizing a Red Cross. The doctor and Mr. Meredith were rounding up the me_or a Patriotic Society. Rilla, after the first shock, reacted to the romanc_f it all, in spite of her heartache. Jem certainly looked magnificent in hi_niform. It _was_ splendid to think of the lads of Canada answering s_peedily and fearlessly and uncalculatingly to the call of their country.
Rilla carried her head high among the girls whose brothers had not s_esponded. In her diary she wrote:
> _"He goes to do what I had done > Had Douglas's daughter been his son_,"
and was sure she meant it. If she were a boy of course she would go, too! Sh_adn't the least doubt of that.
She wondered if it was very dreadful of her to feel glad that Walter hadn'_ot strong as soon as they had wished after the fever.
"I couldn't bear to have Walter go," she wrote. "I love Jem ever so much bu_alter means more to me than anyone in the world and I would _die_ if he ha_o go. He seems so _changed_ these days. He hardly ever talks to me. I suppos_e wants to go, too, and feels badly because he can't. He doesn't go abou_ith Jem and Jerry at all. I shall never forget Susan's face when Jem cam_ome in his khaki. It worked and twisted as if she were going to cry, but al_he said was, 'You look _almost_ like a man in that, Jem.' Jem laughed. _He_ever minds because Susan thinks him just a child still. Everybody seems bus_ut me. I wish there was something I could do but there doesn't seem to b_nything. Mother and Nan and Di are busy all the time and I just wander abou_ike a lonely ghost. What hurts me terribly, though, is that mother's smiles, and Nan's, just seem put on from the outside. Mother's _eyes_ never laugh now.
It makes me feel that I shouldn't laugh either–that it's wicked to fee_laughy._ And it's so hard for me to keep from laughing, even if Jem is goin_o be a soldier. But when I laugh I don't enjoy it either, as I used to do.
There's something behind it all that keeps hurting me–especially when I wak_p in the night. Then I cry because I am afraid that Kitchener of Khartoum i_ight and the war will last for years and Jem may be–but no, I won't write it.
It would make me feel as if it were really going to happen. The other day Na_aid, 'Nothing can ever be quite the same for any of us again.' It made m_eel rebellious. Why shouldn't things be the same again–when everything i_ver and Jem and Jerry are back? We'll all be happy and jolly again and thes_ays will seem just like a bad dream.
"The coming of the mail is the most exciting event of every day now. Fathe_ust snatches the paper–I never saw father snatch before–and the rest of u_rowd round and look at the headlines over his shoulder. Susan vows she doe_ot and will not believe a word the papers say but she always comes to th_itchen door, and listens and then goes back, shaking her head. She i_erribly indignant all the time, but she cooks up all the things Jem like_specially, and she did not make a single bit of fuss when she found Monda_sleep on the spare-room bed yesterday right on top of Mrs. Rachel Lynde'_pple-leaf spread. 'The Almighty only knows where your master will be havin_o sleep before long, you poor dumb beast,' she said as she put him quit_ently out. But she never relents towards Doc. She says the minute he saw Je_n khaki he turned into Mr. Hyde then and there and she thinks that ought t_e proof enough of what he really is. Susan is funny, but she is an old dear.
Shirley says she is one half angel and the other half good cook. But the_hirley is the only one of us she never scolds.
"Faith Meredith is wonderful. I think she and Jem are really engaged now. Sh_oes about with a shining light in her eyes, but her smiles are a little stif_nd starched, just like mother's. I wonder if _I_ could be as brave as she i_f I had a lover and he was going to the war. It is bad enough when it is you_rother. Bruce Meredith cried all night, Mrs. Meredith says, when he heard Je_nd Jerry were going. And he wanted to know if the 'K of K.' his father talke_bout was the King of Kings. He is the dearest kiddy. I just love him–though _on't really care much for children. I don't like babies one bit–though when _ay so people look at me as if I had said something _perfectly shocking._ell, I don't, and I've got to be honest about it. I don't mind _looking_ at _ice clean baby if somebody else holds it –but I wouldn't _touch_ it fo_anything_ and I don't feel a single real spark of interest in it. Gertrud_liver says she just feels the same. (She is the most honest person I know.
She _never_ pretends anything.) She says babies bore her until they are ol_nough to talk and then she likes them–but still a good way off. Mother an_an and Di all adore babies and seem to think I'm unnatural because I don't.
"I haven't seen Kenneth since the night of the party. He was here one evenin_fter Jem came back but I happened to be away. I don't think he mentioned m_t all–at least nobody told me he did and I was _determined_ I wouldn't _ask_ –but I don't care in the least. All _that_ matters _absolutely nothing_ to m_ow. The only thing that does matter is that Jem has volunteered for activ_ervice and will be going to Valcartier in a few more days–my big, splendi_rother Jem. Oh, I'm so proud of him!
"I suppose Kenneth would enlist too if it weren't for his ankle. I think tha_s quite providential. He is his mother's _only_ son and how dreadful sh_ould feel if he went. Only sons should never think of going!"
Walter came wandering through the valley as Rilla sat there, with his hea_ent and his hands clasped behind him. When he saw Rilla he turned abruptl_way; then as abruptly he turned and came back to her.
"Rilla-my-Rilla, what are you thinking of?"
"Everything is so changed, Walter," said Rilla wistfully. "Even you–you'r_hanged. A week ago we were all so happy–and–and–now I just can't _fin_yself_ at all. I'm lost."
Walter sat down on a neighbouring stone and took Rilla's little appealin_and.
"I'm afraid our old world has come to an end, Rilla. We've got to face tha_act."
"It's so terrible to think of Jem," pleaded Rilla. "Sometimes I forget for _ittle while what it really means and feel excited and proud–and then it come_ver me again like a cold wind."
"I envy Jem!" said Walter moodily.
"Envy Jem! Oh, Walter you– _you_ don't want to go too."
"No," said Walter, gazing straight before him down the emerald vistas of th_alley, "no, I _don't_ want to go. That's just the trouble. Rilla, I'_afraid_ to go. I'm a coward."
"You're not!" Rilla burst out angrily. "Why, anybody would be afraid to go.
You might be–why, you might be killed."
"I wouldn't mind _that_ if it didn't hurt," muttered Walter. "I don't thin_'m afraid of death itself–it's of the pain that might come before death–i_ouldn't be so bad to die and have it over–but to keep on dying! Rilla, I'v_lways been afraid of pain–you know that. I can't help it–I shudder when _hink of the possibility of being mangled or–or _blinded._ Rilla, I _cannot_ace _that_ thought. To be blind–never to see the beauty of the worl_gain–moonlight on Four Winds–the stars twinkling through the fir-trees–mis_n the gulf. I ought to go–I ought to _want_ to go–but I don't–I hate th_hought of it–I'm ashamed–ashamed."
"But, Walter, you _couldn't_ go anyhow," said Rilla piteously. She was sic_ith a new terror that Walter _would_ go after all. "You're not stron_nough."
"I _am_. I've felt as fit as ever I did this last month. I'd pass an_xamination–I know it. Everybody thinks I'm not strong yet–and I'm skulkin_ehind that belief. I–I should have been a girl," Walter concluded in a burs_f passionate bitterness.
"Even if you were strong enough, you oughtn't to go," sobbed Rilla. "Wha_ould mother do? She's breaking her heart over Jem. It would kill her to se_ou both go."
"Oh, I'm not going–don't worry. I tell you I'm afraid to go– _afraid._ I don'_ince the matter to myself. It's a relief to own up even to you, Rilla. _ouldn't confess it to anybody else–Nan and Di would despise me. But I hat_he whole thing–the horror, the pain, the ugliness. War isn't a khaki unifor_r a drill parade–everything I've read in old histories haunts me. I lie awak_t night and _see_ things that have happened–see the blood and filth an_isery of it all. And a bayonet charge! If I could face the other things _ould _never_ face that. It turns me sick to think of it–sicker even to thin_f giving it than receiving it–to think of thrusting a bayonet through anothe_an." Walter writhed and shuddered. "I think of these things all the time–an_t doesn't seem to me that Jem and Jerry _ever_ think of them. They laugh an_alk about 'potting Huns'! But it maddens me to see them in the khaki. An_they_ think I'm grumpy because I'm not fit to go." Walter laughed bitterly.
"It is not a nice thing to _feel_ yourself a coward." But Rilla got her arm_bout him and cuddled her head on his shoulder. She was so glad he didn't wan_o go–for just one minute she had been horribly frightened. And it was so nic_o have Walter confiding his troubles to her–to _her_ , not Di. She didn'_eel so lonely and superfluous any longer.
"Don't you despise me, Rilla-my-Rilla?" asked Walter wistfully. Somehow, i_urt him to think Rilla might despise him–hurt him as much as if it had bee_i. He realized suddenly how very fond he was of this adoring kid sister wit_er appealing eyes and troubled, girlish face.
"No, I don't. Why, Walter, hundreds of people feel just as you do. You kno_hat that verse of Shakespeare in the old Fifth Reader says–'the brave man i_ot he who feels no fear.'"
"No–but it is 'he whose noble soul its fear subdues.' I don't do that. W_an't gloss it over, Rilla. I'm a coward."
"You're _not_. Think of how you fought Dan Reese long ago."
"One spurt of courage isn't enough for a lifetime."
"Walter, one time I heard father say that the trouble with you was a sensitiv_ature and a vivid imagination. You _feel_ things before they really come–fee_hem all alone when there isn't anything to help you bear them–to _take away_rom them. It isn't anything to be ashamed of. When you and Jem got your hand_urned when the grass was fired on the sand-hills two years ago Jem made twic_he fuss over the pain that you did. As for this horrid old war, there'll b_lenty to go without you. It won't last long."
"I wish I could believe it. Well, it's supper-time, Rilla. You'd better run. _on't want anything."
"Neither do I. I couldn't eat a mouthful. Let me stay here with you, Walter.
It's such a comfort to talk things over with someone. The rest all think tha_'m too much of a baby to understand."
So they two sat there in the old valley until the evening star shone through _ale-grey, gauzy cloud over the maple grove, and a fragrant dewy darknes_illed their little sylvan dell. It was one of the evenings Rilla was t_reasure in remembrance all her life–the first one on which Walter had eve_alked to her as if she were a woman and not a child. They comforted an_trengthened each other. Walter felt, for the time being at least, that it wa_ot such a despicable thing after all to dread the horror of war; and Rill_as glad to be made the confidante of his struggles–to sympathize with an_ncourage him. She was of importance to somebody.
When they went back to Ingleside they found callers sitting on the veranda.
Mr. and Mrs. Meredith had come over from the manse, and Mr. and Mrs. Norma_ouglas had come up from the farm. Cousin Sophia was there also, sitting wit_usan in the shadowy background. Mrs. Blythe and Nan and Di were away, but Dr.
Blythe was home and so was Dr. Jekyll, sitting in golden majesty on the to_tep. And of course they were all talking of the war, except Dr. Jekyll wh_ept his own counsel and looked contempt as only a cat can. When two peopl_oregathered in those days they talked of the war; and old Highland Sandy o_he Harbour Head talked of it when he was alone and hurled anathemas at th_aiser across all the acres of his farm. Walter slipped away, not caring t_ee or be seen, but Rilla sat down on the steps, where the garden mint wa_ewy and pungent. It was a very calm evening with a dim, golden afterligh_rradiating the Glen. She felt happier than at any time in the dreadful wee_hat had passed. She was no longer haunted by the fear that Walter would go.
"I'd go myself if I was twenty years younger," Norman Douglas was shouting.
Norman always shouted when he was excited. " _I'd_ show the Kaiser a thing o_wo! Did I ever say there wasn't a hell? Of course there's a hell–dozens o_ells–hundreds of hells–where the Kaiser and all his brood are bound for."
" _I_ knew this war was coming," said Mrs. Norman triumphantly. " _I_ saw i_oming right along. _I_ could have told all those stupid Englishmen what wa_head of them. I told _you_ , John Meredith, years ago what the Kaiser was u_o but you wouldn't believe it. You said he would never plunge the world i_ar. Who was right about the Kaiser, John? You–or I? Tell me that."
"You were, I admit," said Mr. Meredith.
"It's too late to admit it now," said Mrs. Norman, shaking her head, as if t_ntimate that if John Meredith _had_ admitted it sooner there might have bee_o war.
"Thank God, England's navy is ready," said the doctor.
"Amen to that," nodded Mrs. Norman. "Bat-blind as most of them were somebod_ad foresight enough to see to _that_ ."
"The British _army_ will settle Germany," shouted Norman. "Just wait till _it_ets into line and the Kaiser will find that real war is a different thin_rom parading round Berlin with your moustaches cocked up."
"Britain hasn't got an army," said Mrs. Norman emphatically. "You needn'_lare at _me_ , Norman. Glaring won't make soldiers out of timothy stalks. _undred thousand men will just be a mouthful for Germany's millions."
"There'll be some tough chewing in the mouthful, I reckon," persisted Norma_aliantly. "Germany'll break her teeth on it. Don't you tell me one Britishe_sn't a match for ten foreigners."
"I am told," said Susan, "that old Mr. Pryor does not believe in this war. _m told that he says England went into it just because she was jealous o_ermany and that she did not really care in the least what happened t_elgium."
"I believe he's been talking some such rot," said Norman. " _I_ haven't hear_im. When I do, Whiskers-on-the-moon won't know what happened to him. Tha_recious relative of mine, Kitty Alec, holds forth to the same effect, _nderstand. Not before _me_ , though–somehow, folks don't indulge in that kin_f conversation in my presence. They've a kind of presentiment that i_ouldn't be healthy for their complaint."
"I am much afraid that this war has been sent as a punishment for our sins,"
said Cousin Sophia, unclasping her pale hands from her lap and reclasping the_olemnly over her stomach. "'The world is very evil–the times are waxin_ate.' "
"Parson here's got something of the same idea," chuckled Norman. "Haven't you, Parson? That's why you preached t'other night on the text 'Without shedding o_lood there is no remission of sins.' I didn't agree with you–wanted to get u_n the pew and shout out that there wasn't a word of sense in what you wer_aying, but Ellen, here, she held me down. I never have any fun sassin_arsons since I got married."
"Without shedding of blood there is no _anything_ ," said Mr. Meredith, in th_entle dreamy way which had an unexpected trick of convincing his hearers. "
_Everything_ , it seems to me, has to be purchased by self-sacrifice. Our rac_as marked every step of its painful ascent with blood. And now torrents of i_ust flow again. No, Mrs. Crawford, I don't think the war has been sent as _unishment for sin. I think it is the price humanity must pay for som_lessing–some advance great enough to be worth the price–which _we_ may no_ive to see but which our children's children will inherit."
"If Jerry is killed will you feel so fine about it?" demanded Norman, who ha_een saying things like that all his life and never could be made to see an_eason why he shouldn't. "Now, never mind kicking me in the shins, Ellen. _ant to see if Parson meant what he said or if it was just a pulpit frill."
Mr. Meredith's face quivered. He had had a terrible hour alone in his study o_he night Jem and Jerry had gone to town. But he answered quietly.
"Whatever I felt, it could not alter my belief–my _assurance_ that a countr_hose sons are ready to lay down their lives in her defence will win a ne_ision because of their sacrifice."
"You _do_ mean it, Parson. I can always tell when people mean what they say.
It's a gift that was born in me. Makes me a terror to most parsons, that! Bu_'ve never caught you yet saying anything you didn't mean. I'm always hoping _ill–that's what reconciles me to going to church. It'd be such a comfort t_e–such a weapon to batter Ellen here with when she tries to civilize me.
Well, I'm off over the road to see Ab. Crawford a minute. The gods be good t_ou all."
"The old pagans!" muttered Susan, as Norman strode away. She did not care i_llen Douglas did hear her. Susan could never understand why fire did no_escend from heaven upon Norman Douglas when he insulted ministers the way h_id. But the astonishing thing was Mr. Meredith seemed really to like hi_rother-in-law.
Rilla wished they would talk of something besides war. She had heard nothin_lse for a week and she was really a little tired of it. Now that she wa_elieved from her haunting fear that Walter would want to go it made her quit_mpatient. But she supposed–with a sigh–that there would be three or fou_onths of it yet.