Emily's Quest

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V

They hung their pictures one day. Emily brought her favourites up, including the Lady Giovanna and Mona Lisa. These two were hung in the corner between the windows.

"Where your writing-desk will be," said Dean. "And Mona Lisa will whisper to you the ageless secret of her smile and you shall put it in a story."

"I thought you didn't want me to write any more stories," said Emily. "You've never seemed to like the fact of my writing."

"That was when I was afraid it would take you away from me. Now, it doesn't matter. I want you to do just as pleases you."

Emily felt indifferent. She had never cared to take up her pen since her illness. As the days passed she felt a growing distaste to the thought of ever taking it up. To think of it meant to think of the book she had burned; and that hurt beyond bearing. She had ceased to listen for her "random word"—she was an exile from her old starry kingdom.

"I'm going to hang old Elizabeth Bas by the fireplace," said Dean. "'Engraving from a portrait by Rembrandt.' Isn't she a delightful old woman, Star, in her white cap and tremendous white ruff collar? And did you ever see such a shrewd, humorous, complacent, slightly contemptuous old face?"

"I don't think I should want to have an argument with Elizabeth," reflected Emily. "One feels that she is keeping her hands folded under compulsion and might box your ears if you disagreed with her."

"She has been dust for over a century," said Dean dreamily. "Yet here she is living on this cheap reprint of Rembrandt's canvas. You are expecting her to speak to you. And I feel, as you do, that she wouldn't put up with any nonsense."

"But likely she has a sweetmeat stored away in some pocket of her gown for you. That fine, rosy, wholesome old woman. She ruled her family—not a doubt of it. Her husband did as she told him—but never knew it."

"Had she a husband?" said Dean doubtfully. "There's no wedding-ring on her finger."

"Then she must have been a most delightful old maid," averred Emily.

"What a difference between her smile and Mona Lisa's," said Dean, looking from one to the other. "Elizabeth is tolerating things—with just a hint of a sly, meditative cat about her. But Mona Lisa's face has that everlasting lure and provocation that drives men mad and writes scarlet pages on dim historical records. La Gioconda would be a more stimulating sweetheart. But Elizabeth would be nicer for an aunt."

Dean hung a little old miniature of his mother up over the mantelpiece. Emily had never seen it before. Dean Priest's mother had been a beautiful woman.

"But why does she look so sad?"

"Because she was married to a Priest," said Dean.

"Will I look sad?" teased Emily.

"Not if it rests with me," said Dean.

But did it? Sometimes that question forced itself on Emily, but she would not answer it. She was very happy two-thirds of that summer—which she told herself was a high average. But in the other third were hours of which she never spoke to any one—hours in which her soul felt caught in a trap—hours when the great, green emerald winking on her finger seemed like a fetter. And once she even took it off just to feel free for a little while—a temporary escape for which she was sorry and ashamed the next day, when she was quite sane and normal again, contented with her lot and more interested than ever in her little grey house, which meant so much to her—"more to me than Dean does," she said to herself once in a three-o'clock moment of stark, despairing honesty; and then refused to believe it next morning.

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