Rilla of Ingleside – Chapter 3: Moonlit Mirth

Rilla, who still buttoned up her eyes when she went to sleep so that she always looked as if she were laughing in her slumber, yawned, stretched, and smiled at Gertrude Oliver. The latter had come over from Lowbridge the previous evening and had been prevailed upon to remain for the dance at the Four Winds lighthouse the next night.

“The new day is knocking at the window. What will it bring us, I wonder.”

Miss Oliver shivered a little. She never greeted the days with Rilla’s enthusiasm. She had lived long enough to know that a day may bring a terrible thing.

“I think the nicest thing about days is their unexpectedness,” went on Rilla. “It’s jolly to wake up like this on a golden-fine morning and wonder what surprise packet the day will hand you. I always day-dream for ten minutes before I get up, imagining the heaps of splendid things that may happen before night.”

“I hope something very unexpected will happen today,” said Gertrude. “I hope the mail will bring us news that war has been averted between Germany and France.”

“Oh—yes,” said Rilla vaguely. “It will be dreadful if it isn’t, I suppose. But it won’t really matter much to us, will it? I think a war would be so exciting. The Boer war was, they say, but I don’t remember anything about it, of course. Miss Oliver, shall I wear my white dress tonight or my new green one? The green one is by far the prettier, of course, but I’m almost afraid to wear it to a shore dance for fear something will happen to it. And will you do my hair the new way? None of the other girls in the Glen wear it yet and it will make such a sensation.”

“How did you induce your mother to let you go to the dance?”

“Oh, Walter coaxed her over. He knew I would be heart-broken if I didn’t go. It’s my first really-truly grown-up party, Miss Oliver, and I’ve just lain awake at nights for a week thinking it over. When I saw the sun shining this morning I wanted to whoop for joy. It would be simply terrible if it rained tonight. I think I’ll wear the green dress and risk it. I want to look my nicest at my first party. Besides, it’s an inch longer than my white one. And I’ll wear my silver slippers too. Mrs. Ford sent them to me last Christmas and I’ve never had a chance to wear them yet. They’re the dearest things. Oh, Miss Oliver, I do hope some of the boys will ask me to dance. I shall die of mortification—truly I will, if nobody does and I have to sit stuck up against the wall all the evening. Of course Carl and Jerry can’t dance because they’re the minister’s sons, or else I could depend on them to save me from utter disgrace.”

“You’ll have plenty of partners—all the over-harbour boys are coming—there’ll be far more boys than girls.”

“I’m glad I’m not a minister’s daughter,” laughed Rilla. “Poor Faith is so furious because she won’t dare to dance tonight. Una doesn’t care, of course. She has never hankered after dancing. Somebody told Faith there would be a taffy-pull in the kitchen for those who didn’t dance and you should have seen the face she made. She and Jem will sit out on the rocks most of the evening, I suppose. Did you know that we are all to walk down as far as that little creek below the old House of Dreams and then sail to the lighthouse? Won’t it just be absolutely divine?”

“When I was fifteen I talked in italics and superlatives too,” said Miss Oliver sarcastically. “I think the party promises to be pleasant for young fry. I expect to be bored. None of those boys will bother dancing with an old maid like me. Jem and Walter will take me out once out of charity. So you can’t expect me to look forward to it with your touching young rapture.”

“Didn’t you have a good time at your first party, though, Miss Oliver?”

“No. I had a hateful time. I was shabby and homely and nobody asked me to dance except one boy, homelier and shabbier than myself. He was so awkward I hated him—and even he didn’t ask me again. I had no real girlhood, Rilla. It’s a sad loss. That’s why I want you to have a splendid, happy girlhood. And I hope your first party will be one you’ll remember all your life with pleasure.”

“I dreamed last night I was at the dance and right in the middle of things I discovered I was dressed in my kimono and bedroom shoes,” sighed Rilla. “I woke up with a gasp of horror.”

“Speaking of dreams—I had an odd one,” said Miss Oliver absently. “It was one of those vivid dreams I sometimes have—they are not the vague jumble of ordinary dreams—they are as clear cut and real as life.”

“What was your dream?”

“I was standing on the veranda steps, here at Ingleside, looking down over the fields of the Glen. All at once, far in the distance, I saw a long, silvery, glistening wave breaking over them. It came nearer and nearer—just a succession of little white waves like those that break on the sandshore sometimes. The Glen was being swallowed up. I thought, ‘Surely the waves will not come near Ingleside’—but they came nearer and nearer—so rapidly—before I could move or call they were breaking right at my feet—and everything was gone—there was nothing but a waste of stormy water where the Glen had been. I tried to draw back—and I saw that the edge of my dress was wet with blood—and I woke—shivering. I don’t like the dream. There was some sinister significance in it. That kind of vivid dream always ‘comes true’ with me.”

“I hope it doesn’t mean there’s a storm coming up from the east to spoil the party,” murmured Rilla.

“Incorrigible fifteen!” said Miss Oliver dryly. “No, Rilla-my-Rilla, I don’t think there is any danger that it foretells anything so awful as that.”

There had been an undercurrent of tension in the Ingleside existence for several days. Only Rilla, absorbed in her own budding life, was unaware of it. Dr. Blythe had taken to looking grave and saying little over the daily paper. Jem and Walter were keenly interested in the news it brought. Jem sought Walter out in excitement that evening.

“Oh, boy, Germany has declared war on France. This means that England will fight too, probably—and if she does—well, the Piper of your old fancy will have come at last.”

“It wasn’t a fancy,” said Walter slowly. “It was a presentiment—a vision—Jem, I really saw him for a moment that evening long ago. Suppose England does fight?”

“Why, we’ll all have to turn in and help her,” cried Jem gaily. “We couldn’t let the ‘old grey mother of the northern sea’ fight it out alone, could we? But you can’t go—the typhoid has done you out of that. Sort of a shame, eh?”

Walter did not say whether it was a shame or not. He looked silently over the Glen to the dimpling blue harbour beyond.