Chapter 15: East West, Hame's Best
Author's Note: I often start my chapters by apologizing. Today is no exception. This chapter will be a short one, and while I am sorry for that, it's because what's coming up next should rightfully have its own chapter, and, besides, I don't want to hold off for too long. My exams are coming up again, and I don't know whether I will be able to upload very soon. I do hope so, however, and in the meantime here is a chapter for you. I hope you enjoy, and please review, and rest assured that the upcoming events are much anticipated by myself, and therefore hopefully for you as well.
Love, Evening. :)
"What will you wear to Convocation? You haven't spoken a word about it. You are simply driving me mad thinking of all the grand dresses I could have you wear! If Ken and Walter hadn't had their eyes set on you they would tomorrow night—or all the boys there. Oh, I know you would look delicious in that cream-white dress I've been setting aside for something like this, Una. You don't wear white enough, it would set off your dark hair perfectly."
Una smiled in a mixture of guilt and amusement across the room at Rilla, who was knitting industriously—or trying to—at what was supposed to be a cushion for Pillow, for him to sit on instead of one of the many lying around, when Rilla and Una would no longer be around to shoo him off for Alice.
"We're not going to have Convocation, dear," said Rilla gently. "We hadn't the heart to tell you before, but here it is."
"Well, no matter," declared Alice after a moment's uncomprehending stupor. "I'll hold a party here tomorrow night then, and everyone can come. I know just how to hold a party at a day's notice, when no one else can! I'm mighty proud of it, too. It doesn't have to be very elaborate. It will just be you girls and your beaux."
"I'm afraid it just can't be done, darling. We have all agreed not to have one party at all. It isn't the time to dance and laugh for fun, and all of us want nothing more than to just go home to our families before we're sent off to service. Una and I are still under Nurse Gretchen, you know. It's a rather amazing coincidence."
Nurse Gretchen had, during the last class that afternoon, given a tight-lipped, sensible farewell speech, not unlike her usual delivery of facts, with her snapping voice and no-nonsense way of addressing her class or girls. It being the last class before their disembarkation to service though, some girls had shed a tear or two, just the same.
"She will be a good teacher still," agreed Una.
"No party!" stammered Alice. "Why, it just won't be graduation without a properly gay dance! Rilla dear, you cannot be serious."
"Perfectly so, Alice."
"Everything is changing soon," sighed Una in her ever-wistful way. "We're going off the day after tomorrow, girls, can you realise it?"
"And I'm marrying Henry after my graduation," said Alice, having recovered, with a relish, speaking the words as if holding a jewel in her hands. "There, I will never tire of saying that. It doesn't seem quite possible still, and what with the two of you leaving me so soon! Life just won't be the same in this big ole palace of mine." She shook her head dolefully as if being in the possession of what could be called, by Rilla's standards, a mansion, complete with maids and butler, was a tragedy not to be borne.
"I can't accept it just yet," mused Rilla as she put down her knitting with a sigh. "It does just seem like yesterday when we knew nothing about gauze and bandages and pneumonia and the like. Happy ignorance! I know we are not quite weaned enough for the world just yet, Una, but I do feel like a woman of it. I still remember my bewilderment two months ago when I stepped onto this turf, fresh off our warm, familiar glen—though of course I had gone to Toronto before this, even if it was only once, and my first time."
Secretly, the novelty of the city, though not a particularly big one, had not yet worn off for Rilla, who still took delight in the man with a different girl at six every evening, whom she observed from her bedroom window each day, the brightly-painted shops with dresses with frills and flounces and lace galore in the display windows, and the excitement of it all, in the way a girl of fourteen anticipates her first party, and relishes every moment of her preparation, from the colour of her dress to the type of ices the host would have after dinner.
"It has been a ball living with you two dear, sweet girls," said Alice solemnly. "It just won't be the same without you. As Minnie Mannerton would say, it is the end of an era."
"It was very generous of you to have us stay with you for these two months," said Una, wiping a tear from eyes that were fairly quivering with moisture. Sensitive Una was not much changed in her gentle ways, and was easily induced to tears.
"Oh, pish posh," waved Alice cheerfully. "Please don't make me feel sad, Una, your graduation as a qualified VAD is an occasion to be celebrated, and I want to savour the last day I have with the two of you. Now, I made a chocolate cake this afternoon—the only kind that I can make without burning anything, you remember—and let's have a piece each, as my going-away gift for you."
After two slices of cake and a few tears despite Alice's insistence on staying cheery, Rilla slipped outside the house for a walk in the park. Over the rooftop of the house she had come to love, almost as her own—almost, because nothing could compare to Ingleside—the sun had begun to cast a light golden, illuminating the white walls with a glow that seemed heavenly to Rilla's eyes. The rays of the close of the evening made the park seem greener than ever, with its towering maples and dignified birches and even the quietly friendly grass all over. From the bushes that so many different-hued wildflowers ornamented came the song of the crickets, announcing as they always do the passing of the day, melodious in their simplicity. The plain town road appeared almost red cast in the fingers of the sun, and Rilla's heart went immediately to those of home. How she longed to see Ingleside again! And yet, how she longed to stay in this life that she was beginning to enjoy.
"I never thought I could be happy with so many books," marvelled Rilla to herself. "Why, I don't think I've ever worked so hard before! Miss Oliver would be very proud of me if she had seen me in these past two months, and mother needn't worry about putting me through that course of reading after all. It would never have seemed possible to me before—or anyone who knows me, for that matter. I am rather proud of myself. I do believe I've grown."
The thought made Rilla smile, for a comfortable little voice in her head sang with joy at the prospect of growing, though she hardly knew why—if growing required as much studying as she had done, surely it would not be something she would enjoy.
"Dear old Kingsport," exclaimed Rilla, flinging herself down on a bench with a sigh, "I am going to miss you very much. But then again, I am going home. All the same, you've been a very kind little burg and I'm going to remember my days here. I don't suppose I'm really very different from when I first came, but you have been a nice friend and I hope to come back someday. For now, however, home it will be for me."
And home it was for Rilla, who had never been so happy as when she stepped off the train on a bright blue afternoon with a hand grasping a suitcase with something akin to childlike anticipation and a heart full of yearning for the sprawling green lawn and welcoming white walls of home. They were all there—father, mother, Susan, Miss Oliver and, of course, little Dog Monday. The pastor and his wife were there as well, along with an excited Bruce Meredith, who could hardly stay still at the thought that his Una, with her soft blue eyes and gentle hands, would be home with him again.
The girls were lost in the exclamations, hugs and kisses of their families, and the enthusiastic barking of Dog Monday, who danced around their feet and jumped up at their suitcases, as if saying, "I've missed you so very much! Very very much!" over and over again.
"It hasn't been the same without you, dear," said Anne, her great eyes brimming with tears as she gazed at her daughter lovingly. "Two months have been awfully long without any of my babies at home. Susan and I were pining so terribly that we have barely been able to stand each other!"
Rilla laughed at the idea of Susan and mother fighting—how her mother had missed that uncaring laugh of hers! It rang with all the energy of life, like the bells she always fancied announced the coming of Christmas—why, they couldn't even disagree on the snack to give father when he came home after a late-night call, and always eventually decided on laying out both. But how lovely it was to see everyone again! If only the others were here too!
"Welcome home, Una dear," said Rosemary. "I've missed you so." How thin the girl had grown! And what was that new sparkle in her usually tranquil eyes? Rosemary did not know that despite the trouble of her studies, Una had found a new bliss in Kingsport, one that came back to her more strongly in the comfort of the glen.
John Meredith did not say anything as he held his daughter's hand in one of his and her suitcase in the other. His mind went back to Cecilia, for although he loved Rosemary very dearly, the gentle Cecilia from his youthful days had been his first love, and he held close to her heart the pieces of her that lived on in her children. Her mildness and sensitivity in Una had never escaped him, and in her quietly thrived the spirit that was his first wife and her kind mother. Yes, he had missed her dreadfully, for while he had grown accustomed to his other children leaving his cosy nest, Una had never left home for any considerable period of time, and he had been peculiarly uncomfortable with the absence of the love and warmth that had always been there in the background since she was a tiny child.
"Stripey missed you too," said little Bruce eagerly, tugging at her hand with his brown paw. "He growed bigger since you went, and he kept yowling at his bowl every night when you weren't there to fill it for him. He wanted to sleep on your bed 'zactly like he does every aft'noon but I wouldn't let him. He was mad at me aft' that. He won't talk to me now."
"Is that so?" laughed Una. "Well, let's go back now so I can tell him that he was being a naughty little puss, then."
"I believe you've grown even taller in these two months, Rilla," said the doctor, appraising her with raised eyebrows. "I thought you would have stopped growing already."
"It's no good for a girl to be too tall," disapproved Susan, shaking her head darkly. "You will simply outgrow your strength, Rilla dear, and you are too ridiculously tall enough as it is. Why, we will have to make your dresses longer, now that you cannot fit into them! Cousin Sophia will be moaning over how short your dresses have gotten, and while I do not agree with what that crow thinks of little girls' fashion as a rule, I will have to agree with her when she says so, and I do not want to give Cousin Sophia the satisfaction of Susan Baker nodding her head to her incessant misgivings."
"I am fifteen, Susan!" exclaimed Rilla indignantly. "I am no longer a little girl!"
"How I have missed your claims of being at a ripe old age, Rilla-my-Rilla!" laughed Miss Oliver.