Emily's Quest

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Chapter 4 i

The year after Mr. Carpenter's death passed quietly for Emily—quietly, pleasantly—perhaps, though she tried to stifle the thought, a little monotonously. No Ilse—no Teddy—no Mr. Carpenter. Perry only very occasionally. But of course in the summer there was Dean. No girl with Dean Priest for a friend could be altogether lonely. They had always been such good friends, ever since the day, long ago, when she had fallen over the rocky bank of Malvern Bay and been rescued by Dean.* It did not matter in the least that he limped slightly and had a crooked shoulder, or that the dreamy brilliance of his green eyes sometimes gave his face an uncanny look. On the whole, there was no one in all the world she liked quite so well as Dean. When she thought this she always italicized the "liked." There were some things Mr. Carpenter had not known.

 

*See Emily of New Moon.

 

Aunt Elizabeth never quite approved of Dean. But then Aunt Elizabeth had no great love for any Priest.

There seemed to be a temperamental incompatibility between the Murrays and the Priests that was never bridged over, even by the occasional marriages between the clans.

"Priests, indeed," Aunt Elizabeth was wont to say contemptuously, relegating the whole clan, root and branch, to limbo with one wave of her thin, unbeautiful Murray hand. "Priests, indeed!"

"Murray is Murray and Priest is Priest and never the twain shall meet," Emily shamelessly mischievously misquoted Kipling once when Dean had asked in pretended despair why none of her aunts liked him.

"Your old Great-aunt Nancy over there at Priest Pond detests me," he said, with the little whimsical smile that sometimes gave him the look of an amused gnome, "And the Ladies Laura and Elizabeth treat me with the frosty politeness reserved by the Murrays for their dearest foes. Oh, I think I know why."

Emily flushed. She, too, was beginning to have an unwelcome suspicion why Aunts Elizabeth and Laura were even more frostily polite to Dean than of yore. She did not want to have it; she thrust it fiercely out and locked the door of thought upon it whenever it intruded there. But the thing whined on her doorstep and would not be banished. Dean, like everything and everybody else, seemed to have changed overnight. And what did the change imply—hint? Emily refused to answer this question. The only answer that suggested itself was too absurd. And too unwelcome.

Was Dean Priest changing from friend to lover? Nonsense. Arrant nonsense. Disagreeable nonsense. For she did not want him as a lover and she did want him madly as a friend. She couldn't lose his friendship. It was too dear, delightful, stimulating, wonderful. Why did such devilish things ever happen? When Emily reached this point in her disconnected musings she always stopped and retraced her mental steps fiercely, terrified to realize that she was almost on the point of admitting that "the something devilish" had already happened or was in process of happening.

In one way it was almost a relief to her when Dean said casually one November evening:

"I suppose I must soon be thinking of my annual migration."

"Where are you going this year?" asked Emily.

"Japan. I've never been there. Don't want to go now particularly. But what's the use of staying? Would you want to talk to me in the sitting-room all winter with the aunts in hearing?"

"No," said Emily between a laugh and a shiver. She recalled one fiendish autumn evening of streaming rain and howling wind when they couldn't walk in the garden but had to sit in the room where Aunt Elizabeth was knitting and Aunt Laura crocheting by the table. It had been awful. And again why? Why couldn't they talk as freely and whimsically and intimately then as they did in the garden? The answer to this at least was not to be expressed in any terms of sex. Was it because they talked of so many things Aunt Elizabeth could not understand and so disapproved of? Perhaps. But whatever the cause Dean might as well have been at the other side of the world for all the real conversation that was possible.

"So I might as well go," said Dean, waiting for this exquisite, tall, white girl in an old garden to say she would miss him horribly. She had said it every one of his flitting autumns for many years. But she did not say it this time. She found she dared not.

Again, why?

Dean was looking at her with eyes that could be tender or sorrowful or passionate, as he willed, and which now seemed to be a mixture of all three expressions. He must hear her say she would miss him. His true reason for going away again this winter was to make her realize how much she missed him—make her feel that she could not live without him.

"Will you miss me, Emily?"

"That goes without saying," answered Emily lightly—too lightly. Other years she had been very frank and serious about it. Dean was not altogether regretful for the change. But he could guess nothing of the attitude of mind behind it. She must have changed because she felt something—suspected something, of what he had striven for years to hide and suppress as rank madness. What then? Did this new lightness indicate that she didn't want to make a too important thing of admitting she would miss him? Or was it only the instinctive defence of a woman against something that implied or evoked too much?

"It will be so dreadful here this winter without you and Teddy and Ilse that I will not let myself think of it at all," went on Emily. "Last winter was bad. And this—I know somehow—will be worse. But I'll have my work."

"Oh, yes, your work," agreed Dean with the little, tolerant, half-amused inflection in his voice that always came now when he spoke of her "work," as if it tickled him hugely that she should call her pretty scribblings "work." Well, one must humour the charming child. He could not have said so more plainly in words. His implications cut across Emily's sensitive soul like a whip-lash. And all at once her work and her ambitions became—momentarily at least—as childish and unimportant as he considered them. She could not hold her own conviction against him. He must know. He was so clever—so well-educated. He must know. That was the agony of it. She could not ignore his opinion. Emily knew deep down in her heart that she would never be able wholly to believe in herself until Dean Priest admitted that she could do something honestly worth while in its way. And if he never admitted it—

"I shall carry pictures of you wherever I go, Star," Dean was saying. Star was his old nickname for her—not as a pun on her name but because he said she reminded him of a star. "I shall see you sitting in your room by that old lookout window, spinning your pretty cobwebs—pacing up and down in this old garden—wandering in the Yesterday Road—looking out to sea. Whenever I shall recall a bit of Blair Water loveliness I shall see you in it. After all, all other beauty is only a background for a beautiful woman."

"Her pretty cobwebs—" ah, there it was. That was all Emily heard. She did not even realize that he was telling her he thought her a beautiful woman.

"Do you think what I write is nothing but cobwebs, Dean?" she asked chokingly.

Dean looked surprised, doing it very well.

"Star, what else is it? What do you think it is yourself? I'm glad you can amuse yourself by writing. It's a splendid thing to have a little hobby of the kind. And if you can pick up a few shekels by it—well, that's all very well too in this kind of a world. But I'd hate to have you dream of being a Brontë or an Austen—and wake to find you'd wasted your youth on a dream."

"I don't fancy myself a Brontë or an Austen," said Emily. "But you didn't talk like that long ago, Dean. You used to think then I could do something some day."

"We don't bruise the pretty visions of a child," said Dean. "But it's foolish to carry childish dreams over into maturity. Better face facts. You write charming things of their kind, Emily. Be content with that and don't waste your best years yearning for the unattainable or striving to reach some height far beyond your grasp."

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