Outside, the Ingleside lawn was full of golden pools of sunshine and plots of alluring shadows. Rilla Blythe was swinging in the hammock under the big Scotch pine, Gertrude Oliver sat at its roots beside her, and Walter was stretched at full length on the grass, lost in a romance of chivalry wherein old heroes and beauties of dead and gone centuries lived vividly again for him.
Rilla was the “baby” of the Blythe family and was in a chronic state of secret indignation because nobody believed she was grown up. She was so nearly fifteen that she called herself that, and she was quite as tall as Di and Nan; also, she was nearly as pretty as Susan believed her to be. She had great, dreamy, hazel eyes, a milky skin dappled with little golden freckles, and delicately arched eyebrows, giving her a demure, questioning look which made people, especially lads in their teens, want to answer it. Her hair was ripely, ruddily brown and a little dent in her upper lip looked as if some good fairy had pressed it in with her finger at Rilla’s christening. Rilla, whose best friends could not deny her share of vanity, thought her face would do very well, but worried over her figure, and wished her mother could be prevailed upon to let her wear longer dresses. She, who had been so plump and roly-poly in the old Rainbow Valley days, was incredibly slim now, in the arms-and-legs period. Jem and Shirley harrowed her soul by calling her “Spider.” Yet she somehow escaped awkwardness. There was something in her movements that made you think she never walked but always danced. She had been much petted and was a wee bit spoiled, but still the general opinion was that Rilla Blythe was a very sweet girl, even if she were not so clever as Nan and Di.
Miss Oliver, who was going home that night for vacation, had boarded for a year at Ingleside. The Blythes had taken her to please Rilla who was fathoms deep in love with her teacher and was even willing to share her room, since no other was available. Gertrude Oliver was twenty-eight and life had been a struggle for her. She was a striking-looking girl, with rather sad, almond-shaped brown eyes, a clever, rather mocking mouth, and enormous masses of black hair twisted about her head. She was not pretty but there was a certain charm of interest and mystery in her face. Even her occasional moods of gloom and cynicism had allurement for Rilla. These moods came only when Miss Oliver was tired. At all other times she was a stimulating companion. Walter and Rilla were her favourites and she was the confidante of the secret wishes and aspirations of both. She knew that Rilla longed to be “out”–to go to parties as Nan and Di did, and to have dainty evening dresses and–beaux! In the plural, at that! As for Walter, Miss Oliver knew that he had written a sequence of sonnets “to Rosamond”–i.e. Faith Meredith–and that he aimed at a Professorship of English literature in some big college. She knew his passionate love of beauty and his equally passionate hatred of ugliness; she knew his strength and his weakness.
Walter was, as ever, the handsomest of the Ingleside boys. Glossy black hair, brilliant dark grey eyes, faultless features. And a poet to his fingertips! Miss Oliver was no partial critic and she knew that Walter Blythe had a wonderful gift. That sonnet sequence was really a remarkable thing for a lad of twenty to write.
Rilla loved Walter with all her heart. He never teased her as Jem and Shirley did. He never called her “Spider.” His pet name for her was “Rilla-my-Rilla”–a little pun on her real name, Marilla. She had been named after Aunt Marilla of Green Gables, but Aunt Marilla had died before Rilla was old enough to know her very well, and Rilla detested the name as being horribly old-fashioned and prim. Why couldn’t they have called her by her first name, Bertha, which was beautiful and dignified, instead of that silly “Rilla”? She did not mind Walter’s version, but nobody else was allowed to call her that, except Miss Oliver now and then. She would have died for Walter if it would have done him any good, so she told Miss Oliver. Rilla was as fond of italics as most girls of fifteen are–and the bitterest drop in her cup was her suspicion that he told Di more of his secrets than he told her.
“He thinks I’m not grown up enough to understand,” she had once lamented rebelliously to Miss Oliver, “but I am! And I would never tell them to a single soul–not even to you, Miss Oliver. I tell you all my own–I just couldn’t be happy if I had any secret from you, dearest–but I would never betray his. I tell him everything–I even show him my diary. And it hurts me dreadfully when he doesn’t tell me things. He shows me all his poems, though–they are marvellous, Miss Oliver. Oh, I just live in the hope that some day I shall be to Walter what Wordsworth’s sister Dorothy was to him. Wordsworth never wrote anything like Walter’s poems–nor Tennyson, either.”
“I wouldn’t say just that. Both of them wrote a great deal of trash,” said Miss Oliver dryly. Then, repenting, as she saw a hurt look in Rilla’s eye, she added hastily, “But I believe Walter will be a great poet, too–some day–and you will have more of his confidence as you grow older.”
“When Walter was in the hospital with typhoid last year I was almost crazy,” sighed Rilla, a little importantly. “They never told me how ill he really was until it was all over–father wouldn’t let them. I’m glad I didn’t know–I couldn’t have borne it. I cried myself to sleep every night as it was. But sometimes,” concluded Rilla bitterly–she liked to speak bitterly now and then in imitation of Miss Oliver–”sometimes I think Walter cares more for Dog Monday than he does for me.”
Dog Monday was the Ingleside dog, so called because he had come into the family on a Monday when Walter had been reading Robinson Crusoe. He really belonged to Jem but was much attached to Walter also. He was lying beside Walter now with nose snuggled against his arm, thumping his tail rapturously whenever Walter gave him a pat. Monday was not a collie or a setter or a hound or a Newfoundland. He was just, as Jem said, “plain dog”–very plain dog, uncharitable people added. Certainly, Monday’s looks were not his strong point. Black spots were scattered at random over his yellow carcass, one of them blotting out an eye. His ears were in tatters, for Monday was never successful in affairs of honour. But he possessed one talisman. He knew that not all dogs could be handsome or eloquent or victorious, but that every dog could love. Inside his homely hide beat the most affectionate, loyal, faithful heart of any dog since dogs were; and something looked out of his brown eyes that was nearer akin to a soul than any theologian would allow. Everybody at Ingleside was fond of him, even Susan.
On this particular afternoon Rilla had no quarrel on hand with existing conditions.
“Hasn’t June been a delightful month?” she asked, looking dreamily afar at the little quiet silvery clouds hanging so peacefully over Rainbow Valley. “We’ve had such lovely times–and such lovely weather. It has just been perfect every way.”
“I don’t half like that,” said Miss Oliver, with a sigh. “It’s ominous–somehow. A perfect thing is a gift of the gods–a sort of compensation for what is coming afterwards. I’ve seen that so often that I don’t care to hear people say they’ve had a perfect time. June has been delightful, though.”
“Of course, it hasn’t been very exciting,” said Rilla. “The only exciting thing that has happened in the Glen for a year was old Miss Mead fainting in Church. Sometimes I wish something dramatic would happen once in a while.”
“Don’t wish it. Dramatic things always have a bitterness for some one. What a nice summer all you gay creatures will have! And me moping at Lowbridge!”
“You’ll be over often, won’t you? There’s going to be lots of fun this summer, though I’ll just be on the fringe of things as usual, I suppose. It’s horrid when people think you’re a little girl when you’re not.”
“There’s plenty of time for you to be grown up, Rilla. Don’t wish your youth away. It goes too quickly. You’ll begin to taste life soon enough.”
“Taste life! I want to eat it,” cried Rilla, laughing. “I want everything–everything a girl can have. I’ll be fifteen in another month, and then nobody can say I’m a child any longer. I heard someone say once that the years from fifteen to nineteen are the best years in a girl’s life. I’m going to make them perfectly splendid–just fill them with fun.”
“There’s no use thinking about what you’re going to do–you are tolerably sure not to do it.”
“Oh, but you do get a lot of fun out of the thinking,” cried Rilla.
“You think of nothing but fun, you monkey,” said Miss Oliver indulgently, reflecting that Rilla’s chin was really the last word in chins. “Well, what else is fifteen for? But have you any notion of going to college this fall?”
“No–nor any other fall. I don’t want to. I never cared for all those ologies and isms Nan and Di are so crazy about. There’s five of us going to college already. Surely that’s enough. There’s bound to be one dunce in every family. I’m quite willing to be a dunce if I can be a pretty, popular, delightful one. I have no talent at all, and you can’t imagine how comfortable it is. Nobody expects me to do anything. And I can’t be a housewifely, cookly creature, either. I hate sewing and dusting, and when Susan couldn’t teach me to make biscuits nobody could. Father says I toil not neither do I spin. Therefore, I must be a lily of the field,” concluded Rilla, with another laugh.
“You are too young to give up your studies altogether, Rilla.”
“Oh, mother will put me through a course of reading next winter. It will polish up her B.A. degree. Luckily I like reading. Don’t look at me so sorrowfully and so disapprovingly, dearest. I can’t be sober and serious–everything looks so rosy and rainbowy to me. Next month I’ll be fifteen and next year sixteen–and then seventeen. Could anything be more enchanting?”
“Rap wood,” said Gertrude Oliver, half laughingly, half seriously. “Rap wood, Rilla-my-Rilla.”