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Rilla of Ingleside

XI. Dark And Bright
At Christmas the college boys and girls came home and for a little while Ingleside was
gay again. But all were not there--for the first time one was missing from the circle round
the Christmas table. Jem, of the steady lips and fearless eyes, was far away, and Rilla
felt that the sight of his vacant chair was more than she could endure. Susan had taken
a stubborn freak and insisted on setting out Jem's place for him as usual, with the
twisted little napkin ring he had always had since a boy, and the odd, high Green
Gables goblet that Aunt Marilla had once given him and from which he always insisted
on drinking.
"That blessed boy shall have his place, Mrs. Dr. dear," said Susan firmly, "and do not
you feel over it, for you may be sure he is here in spirit and next Christmas he will be
here in the body. Wait you till the Big Push comes in the spring and the war will be over
in a jiffy."
They tried to think so, but a shadow stalked in the background of their determined
merrymaking. Walter, too, was quiet and dull, all through the holidays. He showed Rilla
a cruel, anonymous letter he had received at Redmond--a letter far more conspicuous
for malice than for patriotic indignation.
"Nevertheless, all it says is true, Rilla."
Rilla had caught it from him and thrown it into the fire.
"There isn't one word of truth in it," she declared hotly. "Walter, you've got morbid--as
Miss Oliver says she gets when she broods too long over one thing."
"I can't get away from it at Redmond, Rilla. The whole college is aflame over the war. A
perfectly fit fellow, of military age, who doesn't join up is looked upon as a shirker and
treated accordingly. Dr. Milne, the English professor, who has always made a special
pet of me, has two sons in khaki; and I can feel the change in his manner towards me."
"It's not fair--you're not fit."
"Physically I am. Sound as a bell. The unfitness is in the soul and it's a taint and a
disgrace. There, don't cry, Rilla. I'm not going if that's what you're afraid of. The Piper's
music rings in my ears day and night--but I cannot follow."
"You would break mother's heart and mine if you did," sobbed Rilla. "Oh, Walter, one is
enough for any family."
 
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