Rilla of Ingleside by Lucy Maud Montgomery
Chapter XXV. Shirley Goes
"No, Woodrow, there will be no peace without victory," said Susan, sticking her knitting needle viciously through President Wilson's name in the newspaper column. "We Canadians mean to have peace and victory, too. You, if it pleases you, Woodrow, can have the peace without the victory"--and Susan stalked off to bed with the comfortable consciousness of having got the better of the argument with the President. But a few days later she rushed to Mrs. Blythe in red-hot excitement.
"Mrs. Dr. dear, what do you think? A 'phone message has just come through from Charlottetown that Woodrow Wilson has sent that German ambassador man to the right about at last. They tell me that means war. So I begin to think that Woodrow's heart is in the right place after all, wherever his head may be, and I am going to commandeer a little sugar and celebrate the occasion with some fudge, despite the howls of the Food Board. I thought that submarine business would bring things to a crisis. I told Cousin Sophia so when she said it was the beginning of the end for the Allies."
"Don't let the doctor hear of the fudge, Susan," said Anne, with a smile. "You know he has laid down very strict rules for us along the lines of economy the government has asked for."
"Yes, Mrs. Dr. dear, and a man should be master in his own household, and his women folk should bow to his decrees. I flatter myself that I am becoming quite efficient in economizing"--Susan had taken to using certain German terms with killing effect--"but one can exercise a little gumption on the quiet now and then. Shirley was wishing for some of my fudge the other day--the Susan brand, as he called it--and I said 'The first victory there is to celebrate I shall make you some.' I consider this news quite equal to a victory, and what the doctor does not know will never grieve him. I take the whole responsibility, Mrs. Dr. dear, so do not you vex your conscience."
Susan spoiled Shirley shamelessly that winter. He came home from Queen's every week-end, and Susan had all his favourite dishes for him, in so far as she could evade or wheedle the doctor, and waited on him hand and foot. Though she talked war constantly to everyone else she never mentioned it to him or before him, but she watched him like a cat watching a mouse; and when the German retreat from the Bapaume salient began and continued, Susan's exultation was linked up with something deeper than anything she expressed. Surely the end was in sight--would come now before--anyone else--could go.
"Things are coming our way at last. We have got the Germans on the run," she boasted. "The United States has declared war at last, as I always believed they would, in spite of Woodrow's gift for letter writing, and you will see they will go into it with a vim since I understand that is their habit, when they do start. And we have got the Germans on the run, too."
"The States mean well," moaned Cousin Sophia, "but all the vim in the world cannot put them on the fighting line this spring, and the Allies will be finished before that. The Germans are just luring them on. That man Simonds says their retreat has put the Allies in a hole."
"That man Simonds has said more than he will ever live to make good," retorted Susan. "I do not worry myself about his opinion as long as Lloyd George is Premier of England. He will not be bamboozled and that you may tie to. Things look good to me. The U. S. is in the war, and we have got Kut and Bagdad back--and I would not be surprised to see the Allies in Berlin by June--and the Russians, too, since they have got rid of the Czar. That, in my opinion was a good piece of work."
"Time will show if it is," said Cousin Sophia, who would have been very indignant if anyone had told her that she would rather see Susan put to shame as a seer, than a successful overthrow of tyranny, or even the march of the Allies down Unter den Linden. But then the woes of the Russian people were quite unknown to Cousin Sophia, while this aggravating, optimistic Susan was an ever-present thorn in her side.
Just at that moment Shirley was sitting on the edge of the table in the living-room, swinging his legs--a brown, ruddy, wholesome lad, from top to toe, every inch of him--and saying coolly, "Mother and dad, I was eighteen last Monday. Don't you think it's about time I joined up?"
The pale mother looked at him.
"Two of my sons have gone and one will never return. Must I give you too, Shirley?"
The age-old cry--"Joseph is not and Simeon is not; and ye will take Benjamin away." How the mothers of the Great War echoed the old Patriarch's moan of so many centuries agone!
"You wouldn't have me a slacker, mother? I can get into the flying-corps. What say, dad?"
The doctor's hands were not quite steady as he folded up the powders he was concocting for Abbie Flagg's rheumatism. He had known this moment was coming, yet he was not altogether prepared for it. He answered slowly, "I won't try to hold you back from what you believe to be your duty. But you must not go unless your mother says you may."
Shirley said nothing more. He was not a lad of many words. Anne did not say anything more just then, either. She was thinking of little Joyce's grave in the old burying-ground over-harbour--little Joyce who would have been a woman now, had she lived--of the white cross in France and the splendid grey eyes of the little boy who had been taught his first lessons of duty and loyalty at her knee--of Jem in the terrible trenches--of Nan and Di and Rilla, waiting--waiting--waiting, while the golden years of youth passed by--and she wondered if she could bear any more. She thought not; surely she had given enough.
Yet that night she told Shirley that he might go.
They did not tell Susan right away. She did not know it until, a few days later, Shirley presented himself in her kitchen in his aviation uniform. Susan didn't make half the fuss she had made when Jem and Walter had gone. She said stonily, "So they're going to take you, too."
"Take me? No. I'm going, Susan--got to."
Susan sat down by the table, folded her knotted old hands, that had grown warped and twisted working for the Ingleside children to still their shaking, and said:
"Yes, you must go. I did not see once why such things must be, but I can see now."
"You're a brick, Susan," said Shirley. He was relieved that she took it so coolly--he had been a little afraid, with a boy's horror of "a scene." He went out whistling gaily; but half an hour later, when pale Anne Blythe came in, Susan was still sitting there.
"Mrs. Dr. dear," said Susan, making an admission she would once have died rather than make, "I feel very old. Jem and Walter were yours but Shirley is mine. And I cannot bear to think of him flying--his machine crashing down--the life crushed out of his body--the dear little body I nursed and cuddled when he was a wee baby."
"Susan--don't," cried Anne.
"Oh, Mrs. Dr. dear, I beg your pardon. I ought not to have said anything like that out loud. I sometimes forget that I resolved to be a heroine. This--this has shaken me a little. But I will not forget myself again. Only if things do not go as smoothly in the kitchen for a few days I hope you will make due allowance for me. At least," said poor Susan, forcing a grim smile in a desperate effort to recover lost standing, "at least flying is a clean job. He will not get so dirty and messed up as he would in the trenches, and that is well, for he has always been a tidy child."
So Shirley went--not radiantly, as to a high adventure, like Jem, not in a white flame of sacrifice, like Walter, but in a cool, business-like mood, as of one doing something, rather dirty and disagreeable, that had just got to be done. He kissed Susan for the first time since he was five years old, and said, "Good-bye, Susan--mother Susan."
"My little brown boy--my little brown boy," said Susan. "I wonder," she thought bitterly, as she looked at the doctor's sorrowful face, "if you remember how you spanked him once when he was a baby. I am thankful I have nothing like that on my conscience now."
The doctor did not remember the old discipline. But before he put on his hat to go out on his round of calls he stood for a moment in the great silent living-room that had once been full of children's laughter.
"Our last son--our last son," he said aloud. "A good, sturdy, sensible lad, too. Always reminded me of my father. I suppose I ought to be proud that he wanted to go--I was proud when Jem went--even when Walter went --but 'our house is left us desolate.'"
"I have been thinking, doctor," old Sandy of the Upper Glen said to him that afternoon, "that your house will be seeming very big the day."
Highland Sandy's quaint phrase struck the doctor as perfectly expressive. Ingleside did seem very big and empty that night. Yet Shirley had been away all winter except for week-ends, and had always been a quiet fellow even when home. Was it because he had been the only one left that his going seemed to leave such a huge blank--that every room seemed vacant and deserted--that the very trees on the lawn seemed to be trying to comfort each other with caresses of freshly-budding boughs for the loss of the last of the little lads who had romped under them in childhood?
Susan worked very hard all day and late into the night. When she had wound the kitchen clock and put Dr. Jekyll out, none too gently, she stood for a little while on the doorstep, looking down the Glen, which lay tranced in faint, silvery light from a sinking young moon. But Susan did not see the familiar hills and harbour. She was looking at the aviation camp in Kingsport where Shirley was that night.
"He called me 'Mother Susan,'" she was thinking. "Well, all our men folk have gone now--Jem and Walter and Shirley and Jerry and Carl. And none of them had to be driven to it. So we have a right to be proud. But pride--" Susan sighed bitterly--"pride is cold company and that there is no gainsaying."
The moon sank lower into a black cloud in the west, the Glen went out in an eclipse of sudden shadow--and thousands of miles away the Canadian boys in khaki--the living and the dead--were in possession of Vimy Ridge.
Vimy Ridge is a name written in crimson and gold on the Canadian annals of the Great War. "The British couldn't take it and the French couldn't take it," said a German prisoner to his captors, "but you Canadians are such fools that you don't know when a place can't be taken!"
So the "fools" took it--and paid the price.
Jerry Meredith was seriously wounded at Vimy Ridge--shot in the back, the telegram said.
"Poor Nan," said Mrs. Blythe, when the news came. She thought of her own happy girlhood at old Green Gables. There had been no tragedy like this in it. How the girls of to-day had to suffer! When Nan came home from Redmond two weeks later her face showed what those weeks had meant to her. John Meredith, too, seemed to have grown old suddenly in them. Faith did not come home; she was on her way across the Atlantic as a V.A.D. Di had tried to wring from her father consent to her going also, but had been told that for her mother's sake it could not be given. So Di, after a flying visit home, went back to her Red Cross work in Kingsport.
The mayflowers bloomed in the secret nooks of Rainbow Valley. Rilla was watching for them. Jem had once taken his mother the earliest mayflowers; Walter brought them to her when Jem was gone; last spring Shirley had sought them out for her; now, Rilla thought she must take the boys' place in this. But before she had discovered any, Bruce Meredith came to Ingleside one twilight with his hands full of delicate pink sprays. He stalked up the steps of the veranda and laid them on Mrs. Blythe's lap.
"Because Shirley isn't here to bring them," he said in his funny, shy, blunt way.
"And you thought of this, you darling," said Anne, her lips quivering, as she looked at the stocky, black-browed little chap, standing before her, with his hands thrust into his pockets.
"I wrote Jem to-day and told him not to worry 'bout you not getting your mayflowers," said Bruce seriously, "'cause I'd see to that. And I told him I would be ten pretty soon now, so it won't be very long before I'll be eighteen, and then I'll go to help him fight, and maybe let him come home for a rest while I took his place. I wrote Jerry, too. Jerry's getting better, you know."
"Is he? Have you had any good news about him?"
"Yes. Mother had a letter to-day, and it said he was out of danger."
"Oh, thank God," murmured Mrs. Blythe, in a half-whisper.
Bruce looked at her curiously.
"That is what father said when mother told him. But when l said it the other day when I found out Mr. Mead's dog hadn't hurt my kitten--I thought he had shooken it to death, you know--father looked awful solemn and said I must never say that again about a kitten. But I couldn't understand why, Mrs. Blythe. I felt awful thankful, and it must have been God that saved Stripey, because that Mead dog had 'normous jaws, and oh, how it shook poor Stripey. And so why couldn't I thank Him? 'Course," added Bruce reminiscently, "maybe I said it too loud-- 'cause I was awful glad and excited when I found Stripey was all right. I 'most shouted it, Mrs. Blythe. Maybe if I'd said it sort of whispery like you and father it would have been all right. Do you know, Mrs. Blythe"--Bruce dropped to a "whispery" tone, edging a little nearer to Anne--"what I would like to do to the Kaiser if I could?"
"What would you like to do, laddie?"
"Norman Reese said in school to-day that he would like to tie the Kaiser to a tree and set cross dogs to worrying him," said Bruce gravely. "And Emily Flagg said she would like to put him in a cage and poke sharp things into him. And they all said things like that. But Mrs. Blythe"-- Bruce took a little square paw out of his pocket and put it earnestly on Anne's knee--"I would like to turn the Kaiser into a good man--a very good man--all at once if I could. That is what I would do. Don't you think, Mrs. Blythe, that would be the very worstest punishment of all?"
"Bless the child," said Susan, "how do you make out that would be any kind of a punishment for that wicked fiend?"
"Don't you see," said Bruce, looking levelly at Susan, out of his blackly blue eyes, "if he was turned into a good man he would understand how dreadful the things he has done are, and he would feel so terrible about it that he would be more unhappy and miserable than he could ever be in any other way. He would feel just awful--and he would go on feeling like that forever. Yes"--Bruce clenched his hands and nodded his head emphatically, "yes, I would make the Kaiser a good man--that is what I would do--it would serve him 'zackly right."