Emily's Quest

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Ii

They went up to the Disappointed House—through the old orchard full of columbines and along the To-morrow Road, across a pasture field, up a little slope of golden fern, and over an old meandering fence with its longers bleached to a silvery grey, with clusters of wild everlastings and blue asters in its corners, then up the little winding, capricious path on the long fir hill, which was so narrow they had to walk singly and where the air always seemed so full of nice whispery sounds.

When they came to its end there was a sloping field before them, dotted with little, pointed firs, windy, grassy, lovable. And on top of it, surrounded by hill glamour and upland wizardry, with great sunset clouds heaped up over it, the house—their house.

A house with the mystery of woods behind it and around it, except on the south side where the land fell away in a long hill looking down on the Blair Water, that was like a bowl of dull gold now, and across it to meadows of starry rest beyond and the Derry Pond Hills that were as blue and romantic as the famous Alsatian Mountains. Between the house and the view, but not hiding it, was a row of wonderful Lombardy poplars.

They climbed the hill to the gate of a little enclosed garden—a garden far older than the house which had been built on the site of a little log cabin of pioneer days.

"That's a view I can live with," said Dean exultingly. "Oh, 'tis a dear place this. The hill is haunted by squirrels, Emily. And there are rabbits about. Don't you love squirrels and rabbits? And there are any number of shy violets hereabouts in spring, too. There is a little mossy hollow behind those young firs that is full of violets in May—violets,

 

Sweeter than lids of Emily's eyes Or Emily's breath.

 

Emily's a nicer name than Cytherea or Juno, I think. I want you to notice especially that little gate over yonder. It isn't really needed. It opens only into that froggy marsh beyond the wood. But isn't it a gate? I love a gate like that—a reasonless gate. It's full of promise. There may be something wonderful beyond. A gate is always a mystery, anyhow—it lures—it is a symbol. And listen to that bell ringing somewhere in the twilight across the harbour. A bell in twilight always has a magic sound—as if it came from somewhere 'far far in fairyland.' There are roses in that far corner—old-fashioned roses like sweet old songs set to flowering. Roses white enough to lie in your white bosom, my sweet, roses red enough to star that soft dark cloud of your hair. Emily, do you know I'm a little drunk to-night—on the wine of life. Don't wonder if I say crazy things."

Emily was very happy. The old, sweet garden seemed to be talking to her as a friend in the drowsy, winking light. She surrendered herself utterly to the charm of the place. She looked at the Disappointed House adoringly. Such a dear thoughtful little house. Not an old house—she liked it for that—an old house knew too much—was haunted by too many feet that had walked over its threshold—too many anguished or impassioned eyes that had looked out of its windows. This house was ignorant and innocent like herself. Longing for happiness. It should have it. She and Dean would drive out the ghosts of things that never happened. How sweet it would be to have a home of her very own.

"That house wants us as badly as we want it," she said.

"I love you when your tones soften and mute like that, Star," said Dean. "Don't ever talk so to any other man, Emily."

Emily threw him a glance of coquetry that very nearly made him kiss her. He had never kissed her yet. Some subtle prescience always told him she was not yet ready to be kissed. He might have dared it there and then, in that hour of glamour that had transmuted everything into terms of romance and charm—he might even have won her wholly then. But he hesitated—and the magic moment passed. From somewhere down the dim road behind the spruces came laughter. Harmless, innocent laughter of children. But it broke some faintly woven spell.

"Let us go in and see our house," said Dean. He led the way across the wild-grown grasses to the door that opened into the living-room. The key turned stiffly in the rusted lock. Dean took Emily's hand and drew her in.

"Over your own threshold, sweet—"

He lifted his flashlight and threw a circle of shifting light around the unfinished room, with its bare, staring, lathed walls, its sealed windows, its gaping doorways, its empty fireplace—no, not quite empty. Emily saw a little heap of white ashes in it—the ashes of the fire she and Teddy had kindled years ago that adventurous summer evening of childhood—the fire by which they had sat and planned out their lives together. She turned to the door with a little shiver.

"Dean, it looks too ghostly and forlorn. I think I'd rather explore it by daylight. The ghosts of things that never happened are worse than the ghosts of things that did."

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