Through the Dark Clouds shining
I have been writing this story in German for a couple of months now (and it has grown much longer than anticipated) and have been asked several times whether there's an English version available. Well – there is now. After very kind encouragement, I have finally decided to try my hand at translating this myself, though the length alone makes the task look quite daunting.
English, as you might have gathered, is only my second language. I'd go so far as to call my English serviceable, though it is by no means perfect. I am, therefore, eternally grateful (with sprinkles an top!) to the lovely Anne O' the Island, who, as my linguistical negative, is investing her time and patience to proof-read this. She has promised to let me make this up to her somehow and I'll hold her to it! Meanwhile, equal thanks is extended to the wonderful oz diva who has kindly agreed to be the co-beta reader of this story and to whom I am also ever so grateful for her amazing help and support. The quality of the story is in no small part thanks to these two lovely ladies (and blame for any surviving mistakes belongs squarely on my shoulders).
Now, the premise of this story is an easy one: it has Rilla as a trained nurse, going to war with the Canadian Army Medical Corps. "Rilla as a nurse?" you might wonder. Well, yes. To me, Rilla is an interesting amalgamation of Anne and Gilbert. She has Anne's impulsiveness, her penchant for romance and above all, her stubbornness. From Gilbert she gets a practicality, an ability to knuckle down, even a certain kind of 'down-to-earthness' a teenaged Anne lacked. 'Rilla of Ingleside' is full of these episodes where Rilla's impulsiveness gets her into scrapes and her stubbornness keeps her locked in them (that green winter hat, anyone?). It also reveals her practical side though, which is far superior to anything Anne at that age has ever shown – caring for Jims and organizing the Junior Red Cross must be top on that list. So yes, I do think that Rilla would make a decent nurse, once she puts her mind to it. How she got there I will let her explain herself in the first full chapter, and how she condones herself will be a major part of this story.
For this story to work, I had to age everyone up by four years. Thus, Rilla was born in July of 1895 and everyone else accordingly. The events of 'Anne of Green Gables' up to 'Rainbow Valley' have taken place as described in the books, just four years earlier. As this is a complete re-write of 'Rilla of Ingleside' no events mentioned in it apply to my story.
The story itself has its first chapter set in August 1916, making Rilla twenty-one years old at the beginning (and thus older and more mature than she is at the end of 'Rilla of Ingleside'). From the first chapter on, the story is told chronologically. The one exception is the prologue which takes place on an as yet unmentioned later date (we will get there though, I promise).
Before I proceed, I should add one warning: This is a story about war or, more precisely, medical care in war. War isn't pretty and neither is medical care sometimes, so this story, while not graphic or gruesome, touches on subjects that might not be for the very faint of heart. So, while I very much hope you'll proceed to read on, please do consider yourself warned.
And now, without further ado, on to a different take on Rilla Blythe's experiences of the Great War.
Prologue – The Last Post
Silently, I stand by as the coffin disappears into the sandy earth.
The sky is low and grey, the rain relentless. I hate the thought of him lying here, without shelter, exposed to rain and cold and snow.
At least he is not alone.
Somewhere behind me the guns thunder and growl, as they have done for years. It sounds far away, but it isn't. To me, it has never been closer.
A hand slides into mine, cold and clammy. It is an offer of comfort, but how can there be comfort in light of what I have lost? What all of us have lost?
With a last, dull, cruel sound the coffin comes to rest. The sound of a bugle rises above the silence. The Last Post. Just how many times has that old melody floated over this country in the past few years alone? This last lament, for times when words have left us?
As the bugle plays the soldier's goodbye, I gaze into the distance. I can see the river from where I stand and, a little to the north, the sea. And somewhere behind it, thousands upon thousands of miles away, lies our home over the ocean.
I wonder if he knew he would never see it again.
There are so many men I've seen perish. More than I dare to remember. Once, I thought it would become easier, because surely, one death resembles another after a while. It did not – perhaps it never could. This death is different from the others, of course it is.
The soldiers shovel earth into the grave and I feel a sudden longing to stop them. A child's fear bubbles up inside me – to be buried alive. But that's nonsense. I know he is dead. I was with him when he died.
I came here to protect him, to protect them all. Naïve, I guess. At the end, I could do no more than hold his hand as he walked the last journey alone. Maybe it helped, holding his hand. Maybe he never even felt it at all. Whoever knows?
A whistle in the distance, then a train comes into view. An unmistakable sign that all this continues still. It is not over yet, though it may feel that way. He is not the first dead of this war, not by far, and he won't be the last, either.
The train moves off and my gaze falls onto the valley, stretching out between the river and my feet. Covering it are rows upon rows of wooden crosses. Hundreds, thousands of them, and yet just a small fraction. To think how many crosses cover the earth of this country, the earth of this world, is nigh on unbearable. A fallen man for every cross, and countless men who will never have a cross at all. Not even that.
I've forgotten what they fought for or why they died. Perhaps I never knew. One thing is certain, though: whatever the purpose and however the end may look – the price was too high.
The title of this story is taken from the song 'Keep the Home Fires Burning' from 1914 (lyrics by Lena Guilbert Ford, music by Ivor Novello).
'The Last Post' is a military bugle call, played traditionally at soldiers' funerals and commemoration ceremonies throughout the Commonwealth.