Emily's Quest

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Vi

"There—it's out!"

Emily laid down—or dropped—the letter for a moment. She did not feel either pain or surprise—one does not feel either, I am told, when a bullet strikes the heart. It seemed to her that she had always known this was coming—always. At least, since the night of Mrs. Chidlaw's dinner-dance. And yet, now that it had really happened, it seemed to her that she was suffering everything of death but its merciful dying. In the dim, twilit mirror before her she saw her own face. Had Emily-in-the-glass ever looked like that before? But her room was just the same. It seemed indecent that it should be the same. After a few moments—or years—Emily picked up the letter and read on.

"I'm not in love with Teddy, of course. But he's just got to be a habit with me. I can't do without him—and I either have to do without him or marry him. He won't stand my hesitation any longer. Besides, he's going to be very famous. I shall enjoy being the wife of a famous man. Also, he will have the simoleons, too. Not that I'm altogether mercenary, Emily. I said 'No' to a millionaire last week. A nice fellow, too—but with a face like a good-natured weasel's, if there can be such a thing. And he cried when I told him I wouldn't marry him. Oh, it was ghastly.

"Yes, it's mostly ambition, I grant you. And a certain odd kind of weariness and impatience with my life as it has been these last few years. Everything seems squeezed dry. But I'm really very fond of Teddy—always was. He's nice and companionable—and our taste in jokes is exactly the same. And he never bores me. I have no use for people who bore me. Of course he's too good-looking for a man—he'll always be a target for the head-hunters. But since I don't care too much for him I shan't be tortured by jealousy. In life's morning march when my bosom was young I could have fried in boiling oil anyone—except you—at whom Perry Miller cast a sheep's eye.

"I've thought for years and known for weeks that this was coming some day. But I've been staving Teddy off—I wouldn't let him say the words that would really bind us. I don't know whether I'd ever have scraped up the courage to let him say them, but destiny took a hand. We were out for a spin two weeks ago one evening and a most unseasonable and malignant thunder-storm came up. We had a dreadful time getting back—there was no place on that bare, lonely hill-road we could stop—the rain fell in torrents, the thunder crashed, the lightning flashed. It was unendurable and we didn't endure it. We just tore through it and cussed. Then it cleared off as suddenly as it had began—and my nerves went to pieces—fancy! I have nerves now—and I began to cry like a frightened, foolish baby. And Teddy's arms were about me and he was saying I must marry him—and let him take care of me. I suppose I said I would because it's quite clear he thinks we are engaged. He has given me a blue Chow pup and a sapphire ring—a sapphire he picked up in Europe somewhere—an historic jewel for which a murder was once committed, I believe.

"I think it will be rather nice to be taken care of. Properly. I never was, you know. Dad had no use for me until you found out the truth about Mother—what a witch you were! And after that he adored and spoiled me. But he didn't take any more real care of me than before.

"We are to be married next June. Dad will be pleased, I fancy. Teddy was always the white-haired boy with him. Besides, I think he was beginning to be a little scared I was never going to hook a husband. Dad plumes himself on being a radical but at heart he out-Victorians the Victorians.

"And of course you must be my bridesmaid. Oh, Emily dear, how I wish I could see you to-night—talk with you—one of our old-time spiels—walk with you over the Delectable Mountain and along the ferny, frosted woodside, hang about that old garden by the sea where red poppies blow—all our old familiar places. I wish—I think I really do wish—I was ragged, barefooted, wild Ilse Burnley again. Life is pleasant still—oh, I don't say it isn't. Very pleasant—in spots—like the curate's immortal egg. But the 'first fine careless rapture'—the thrush may recapture it but we never. Emily, old pal, would you turn the clock back if you could?"

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