Emily's Quest

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Ii

Nobody, it must be admitted, seemed to regard the match with favour. Emily had a rather abominable time of it for a few weeks. Dr. Burnley raged about the affair and insulted Dean. Aunt Ruth came over and made a scene.

"He's an infidel, Emily."

"He isn't!" said Emily indignantly.

"Well, he doesn't believe what we believe," declared Aunt Ruth as if that ought to settle the matter for any true Murray.

Aunt Addie, who had never forgiven Emily for refusing her son, even though Andrew was now happily and suitably, most suitably, married, was very hard to bear. She contrived to make Emily feel a most condescending pity. She had lost Andrew, so must console herself with lame Jarback Priest. Of course Aunt Addie did not put it in so many blunt words but she might as well have. Emily understood her implications perfectly.

"Of course, he's richer than a young man could be," conceded Aunt Addie.

"And interesting," said Emily. "Most young men are such bores. They haven't lived long enough to learn that they are not the wonders to the world they are to their mothers."

So honours were about even there.

The Priests did not like it any too well either. Perhaps because they did not care to see a rich uncle's possessions thus slipping through the fingers of hope. They said Emily Starr was just marrying Dean for his money, and the Murrays took care that she should hear they had said it. Emily felt that the Priests were continually and maliciously discussing her behind her back.

"I'll never feel at home in your clan," she told Dean rebelliously.

"Nobody will ask you to. You and I, Star, are going to live unto ourselves. We are not going to walk or talk or think or breathe according to any clan standard, be it Priest or Murray. If the Priests disapprove of you as a wife for me the Murrays still more emphatically disapprove of me as a husband for you. Never mind. Of course the Priests find it hard to believe that you are marrying me because you care anything for me. How could you? I find it hard to believe myself."

But you do believe it, Dean? Truly I care more for you than any one in the world. Of course—I told you—I don't love you like a silly, romantic girl."

"Do you love any one else?" asked Dean quietly. It was the first time he had ventured to ask the question.

"No. Of course—you know—I've had one or two broken-backed love affairs—silly schoolgirl fancies. That is all years behind me. Last winter seems like a lifetime—dividing me by centuries from those old follies. I'm all yours, Dean."

Dean lifted the hand he held and kissed it. He had never yet touched her lips.

"I can make you happy, Star. I know it. Old—lame as I am, I can make you happy. I've been waiting for you all my life, my star. That's what you've always seemed to me, Emily. An exquisite, unreachable star. Now I have you—hold you—wear you on my heart. And you will love me yet—some day you will give me more than affection."

The passion in his voice startled Emily a little. It seemed in some way to demand more of her than she had to give. And Ilse, who had graduated from the School of Oratory and had come home for a week before going on a summer concert tour, struck another note of warning that disturbed faintly for a time.

"In some ways, honey, Dean is just the man for you. He's clever and fascinating and not so horribly conscious of his own importance as most of the Priests. But you'll belong to him body and soul. Dean can't bear any one to have any interest outside of him. He must possess exclusively. If you don't mind that—"

"I don't think I do."

"Your writing—"

"Oh, I'm done with that. I seem to have no interest in it since my illness. I saw—then—how little it really mattered—how many more important things there were—"

"As long as you feel like that you'll be happy with Dean. Heigh-ho." Ilse sighed and pulled the blood-red rose that was pinned to her waist to pieces. "It makes me feel fearfully old and wise to be talking like this of your getting married, Emily. It seems so—absurd in some ways. Yesterday we were schoolgirls. To-day you're engaged. To-morrow—you'll be a grandmother."

"Aren't you—isn't there anybody in your own life, Ilse?"

"Listen to the fox that lost her tail. No, thank you. Besides—one might as well be frank. I feel an awful mood of honest confession on me. There's never been anybody for me but Perry Miller. And you've got your claws in him."

Perry Miller. Emily could not believe her ears.

"Ilse Burnley! You've always laughed at him—raged at him—"

"Of course I did. I liked him so much that it made me furious to see him making a fool of himself. I wanted to be proud of him and he always made me ashamed of him. Oh, there were times when he made me mad enough to bite the leg off a chair. If I hadn't cared, do you suppose it would have mattered what kind of a donkey he was? I can't get over it—the 'Burnley sotness,' I suppose. We never change. Oh, I'd have jumped at him—would yet—herring-barrels, Stovepipe Town and all. There you have it. But never mind. Life is very decent without him."

"Perhaps—some day—"

"Don't dream it. Emily, I won't have you setting about making matches for me. Perry never gave me two thoughts—never will. I'm not going to think of him. What's that old verse we laughed over once that last year in high school—thinking it was all nonsense?

 

Since ever the world was spinning And till the world shall end You've your man in the beginning Or you have him in the end, But to have him from start to finish And neither to borrow nor lend Is what all of the girls are wanting And none of the gods can send.

 

"Well, next year I'll graduate. For years after that a career. Oh, I dare say I'll marry some day."

"Teddy?" said Emily, before she could prevent herself. She could have bitten her tongue off the moment the word escaped it.

Ilse gave her a long, keen look, which Emily parried successfully with all the Murray pride—too successfully, perhaps.

"No, not Teddy. Teddy never thought about me. I doubt if he thinks of any one but himself. Teddy's a duck but he's selfish, Emily, he really is."

"No, no," indignantly. She could not listen to this.

"Well, we won't quarrel over it. What difference does it make if he is? He's gone out of our lives anyway. The cat can have him. He's going to climb to the top—they thought him a wow in Montreal. He'll make a wonderful portrait painter—if he can only cure himself of his old trick of putting you into all the faces he paints."

"Nonsense. He doesn't—"

"He does. I've raged at him about it times without number. Of course he denies it. I really think he's quite unconscious of it himself. It's the hang-over from some old unconscious emotion, I suppose—to use the jargon of modern psychologists. Never mind. As I said, I mean to marry sometime. When I'm tired of a career. It's very jolly now—but some day. I'll make a sensible wedding o't, just as you're doing, with a heart of gold and a pocket of silver. Isn't it funny to be talking of marrying some man you've never even seen? What is he doing at this very moment? Shaving—swearing—breaking his heart over some other girl? Still, he's to marry me. Oh, we'll be happy enough, too. And we'll visit each other, you and I—and compare our children—call your first girl Ilse, won't you, friend of my heart—and—and what a devilish thing it is to be a woman, isn't it, Emily?"

Old Kelly, the tin peddler, who had been Emily's friend of many years, had to have his say about it, too. One could not suppress Old Kelly.

"Gurrl dear, is it true that ye do be after going to marry Jarback Praste?"

"Quite true." Emily knew it was of no use to expect Old Kelly to call Dean anything but Jarback. But she always winced.

Old Kelly crabbed his face.

"Ye're too young at the business of living to be marrying any one—laste of all a Praste."

"Haven't you been twitting me for years with my slowness in getting a beau?" asked Emily shyly.

"Gurrl dear, a joke is a joke. But this is beyond joking. Don't be pig-headed now, there's a jewel. Stop a bit and think it over. There do be some knots mighty aisy to tie but the untying is a cat of a different brade. I've always been warning ye against marrying a Praste. 'Twas a foolish thing—I might av known it. I should 've towld ye to marry one."

"Dean isn't like the other Priests, Mr. Kelly. I'm going to be very happy."

Old Kelly shook his bushy, reddish grey head incredulously.

"Then you'll be the first Praste woman that ever was, not aven laving out the ould Lady at the Grange. But she liked a fight every day. It'll be the death av you."

"Dean and I won't fight—at least not every day." Emily was having some fun to herself. Old Kelly's gloomy predictions did not worry her. She took rather an impish delight in egging him on.

"Not if ye give him his own way. He'll sulk if ye don't. All the Prastes sulk if they don't get it. And he'll be that jealous—ye'll never dare spake to another man. Oh, the Prastes rule their wives. Old Aaron Praste made his wife go down on her knees whenever she had a little favour to ask. Me feyther saw it wid his own eyes."

"Mr. Kelly, do you really suppose any man could make me do that?"

Old Kelly's eyes twinkled in spite of himself.

"The Murray knee jints do be a bit stiff for that," he acknowledged, "But there's other things. Do ye be after knowing that his Uncle Jim never spoke when he could grunt and always said 'Ye fool' to his wife when she conterdicted him."

"But perhaps she was a fool, Mr. Kelly."

"Mebbe. But was it polite? I lave it to ye. And his father threw the dinner dishes at his wife whin she made him mad. 'Tis a fact, I'm telling you. Though the old divil was amusing when he was pleased."

"That sort of thing always skips a generation," said Emily. "And if not—I can dodge."

"Gurrl dear, there do be worse things than having a dish or two flung at ye. Ye kin dodge them. But there's things ye can't dodge. Tell me now, do ye know"—Old Kelly lowered his voice ominously—"that 'tis said the Prastes do often get tired av bein' married to the wan woman."

Emily was guilty of giving Mr. Kelly one of the smiles Aunt Elizabeth had always disapproved of.

"Do you really think Dean will get tired of me? I'm not beautiful, dear Mr. Kelly, but I am very interesting."

Old Kelly gathered up his lines with the air of a man who surrenders at discretion.

"Well, gurrl dear, ye do be having a good mouth for kissing, anyway. I see ye're set on it. But I do be thinking the Lord intended ye for something different. Anyway, here's hoping we'll all make a good end. But he knows too much, that Jarback Praste, he's after knowing far too much."

Old Kelly drove off, waiting till he was decently out of earshot to mutter:

"Don't it bate hell? And him as odd-looking as a cross-eyed cat!"

Emily stood still for a few minutes looking after Old Kelly's retreating chariot. He had found the one joint in her armour and the thrust had struck home. A little chill crept over her as if a wind from the grave had blown across her spirit. All at once an old, old story whispered long ago by Great-aunt Nancy to Caroline Priest flashed into her recollection. Dean, so it was said, had seen the Black Mass celebrated.

Emily shook the recollection from her. That was all nonsense—silly, malicious, envious gossip of stay-at-homes. But Dean did know too much. He had eyes that had seen too much. In a way that had been part of the distinct fascination he had always had for Emily. But now it frightened her. Had she not always felt—did she not still feel—that he always seemed to be laughing at the world from some mysterious standpoint of inner knowledge—a knowledge she did not share—could not share—did not, to come down to the bare bones of it, want to share? He had lost some intangible, all-real zest of faith and idealism. It was there deep in her heart—an inescapable conviction, thrust it out of sight as she might. For a moment she felt with Ilse that it was a decidedly devilish thing to be a woman.

"It serves me right for bandying words with Old Jock Kelly on such a subject," she thought angrily.

Consent was never given in set terms to Emily's engagement. But the thing came to be tacitly accepted. Dean was well-to-do. The Priests had all the necessary traditions, including that of a grandmother who had danced with the Prince of Wales at the famous ball in Charlottetown. After all, there would be a certain relief in seeing Emily safely married.

"He won't take her far away from us," said Aunt Laura, who could have reconciled herself to almost anything for that. How could they lose the one bright, gay thing in that faded house?

"Tell Emily," wrote old Aunt Nancy, "that twins run in the Priest family."

But Aunt Elizabeth did not tell her.

Dr. Burnley, who had made the most fuss, gave in when he heard that Elizabeth Murray was overhauling the chests of quilts in the attic of New Moon and that Laura was hemstitching table linen.

"Those whom Elizabeth Murray has joined together let no man put asunder," he said resignedly.

Aunt Laura cupped Emily's face in her gentle hands and looked deep into her eyes. "God bless you, Emily, dear child."

"Very mid-Victorian," commented Emily to Dean. "But I liked it."

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