Emily's Quest

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"Emily, I've something to confess, too. May as well get it off my conscience. A lie—an ugly thing. I won you by a lie, I think. Perhaps that is why I couldn't keep you."

"A lie?"

"You remember that book of yours? You asked me to tell you the truth about what I thought of it? I didn't. I lied. It is a good piece of work—very good. Oh, some faults in it of course—a bit emotional—a bit overstrained. You still need pruning—restraint. But it is good. It is out of the ordinary both in conception and development. It has charm and your characters do live. Natural, human, delightful. There, you know what I think of it now."

Emily stared at him, a hot flush suddenly staining the pallor of her tortured little face.

"Good? And I burned it," she said in a whisper.

Dean started.

"You—burned it!"

"Yes. And I can never write it again. Why—why did you lie to me? You?"

"Because I hated the book. You were more interested in it than in me. You would have found a publisher eventually—and it would have been successful. You would have been lost to me. How ugly some motives look when you put them into words. And you burned it? It seems very idle to say I'm bitterly sorry for all this. Idle to ask your forgiveness."

Emily pulled herself together. Something had happened—she was really free—free from remorse, shame, regret. Her own woman once more. The balance hung level between them.

"I must not hold a grudge against Dean for this—like old Hugh Murray," she thought confusedly. Aloud—"But I do—I do forgive it, Dean."

"Thank you." He looked up at the little grey house behind her. "So this is still to be the Disappointed House. Verily, there is a doom on it. Houses, like people, can't escape their doom, it seems."

Emily averted her gaze from the little house she had loved—still loved. It would never be hers now. It was still to be haunted by the ghosts of things that never happened.

"Dean—here is the key."

Dean shook his head. "Keep it till I ask for it. What use would it be to me? The house can be sold, I suppose—though that seems like sacrilege."

There was still something more. Emily held out her left hand with averted face. Dean must take off the emerald he had put on. She felt it drawn from her finger, leaving a little cold band where it had warmed against her flesh, like a spectral circlet. It had often seemed to her like a fetter, but she felt sick with regret when she realized it was gone—forever. For with it went something that had made life beautiful for years—Dean's wonderful friendship and companionship. To miss that—forever. She had not known how bitter a thing freedom could be.

When Dean had limped out of sight Emily went home. There was nothing else to do. With her mocking triumph that Dean had at last admitted she could write.

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