Some of us can recall the exact time in which we reached certain milestones o_ife's road—the wonderful hour when we passed from childhood to girlhood—th_nchanted, beautiful—or perhaps the shattering and horrible—hour when girlhoo_as suddenly womanhood—the chilling hour when we faced the fact that youth wa_efinitely behind us—the peaceful, sorrowful hour of the realization of age.
Emily Starr never forgot the night when she passed the first milestone, an_eft childhood behind her for ever.
Every experience enriches life and the deeper such an experience, the greate_he richness it brings. That night of horror and mystery and strange deligh_ipened her mind and heart like the passage of years.
It was a night early in July. The day had been one of intense heat. Aun_lizabeth had suffered so much from it that she decided she would not go t_rayer-meeting. Aunt Laura and Cousin Jimmy and Emily went. Before leavin_mily asked and obtained Aunt Elizabeth's permission to go home with Ils_urnley after meeting, and spend the night. This was a rare treat. Aun_lizabeth did not approve of all-night absences as a general thing.
But Dr. Burnley had to be away, and his housekeeper was temporarily laid u_ith a broken ankle. Ilse had asked Emily to come over for the night, an_mily was to be permitted to go. Ilse did not know this—hardly hoped for it, in fact—but was to be informed at prayer-meeting. If Ilse had not been lat_mily would have told her before meeting "went in," and the mischances of th_ight would probably have been averted; but Ilse, as usual, _was_ late, an_verything else followed in course.
Emily sat in the Murray pew, near the top of the church by the window tha_ooked out into the grove of fir and maple that surrounded the little whit_hurch. This prayer-meeting was not the ordinary weekly sprinkling of _aithful few. It was a "special meeting," held in view of the approachin_ommunion Sunday, and the speaker was not young, earnest Mr. Johnson, to who_mily always liked to listen, in spite of her blunder at the Ladies' Ai_upper but an itinerant evangelist lent by Shrewsbury for one night. His fam_rought out a churchful of people, but most of the audience declare_fterwards that they would much rather have heard their own Mr. Johnson. Emil_ooked at him with her level, critical gaze, and decided that he was oily an_nspiritual. She heard him through a prayer, and thought,
"Giving God good advice, and abusing the devil isn't praying."
She listened to his discourse for a few minutes and made up her mind that h_as blatant and illogical and sensational, and then proceeded, coolly, to shu_ind and ears to him and disappear into dreamland—something which she coul_enerally do at will when anxious to escape from discordant realities.
Outside, moonlight was still sifting in a rain of silver through the firs an_aples, though an ominous bank of cloud was making up in the north-west, an_epeated rumblings of thunder came on the silent air of the hot summer night—_indless night for the most part, though occasionally a sudden breath tha_eemed more like a sigh than a breeze brushed through the trees, and set thei_hadows dancing in weird companies. There was something strange about th_ight in its mingling of placid, accustomed beauty with the omens of risin_torm, that intrigued Emily, and she spent half the time of the evangelist'_ddress in composing a mental description of it for her Jimmy-book. The res_f the time she studied such of the audience as were within her range o_ision.
This was something that Emily never wearied of, in public assemblages, and th_lder she grew the more she liked it. It was fascinating to study those varie_aces, and speculate on the histories written in mysterious hieroglyphics ove_hem. They had all their inner, secret lives, those men and women, known to n_ne but themselves and God. Others could only guess at them, and Emily love_his game of guessing. At times it seemed veritably to her that it was mor_han guessing—that in some intense moments she could pass into their souls an_ead therein hidden motives and passions that were, perhaps, a mystery even t_heir possessors. It was never easy for Emily to resist the temptation to d_his when the power came, although she never yielded to it without an uneas_eeling that she was committing trespass. It was quite a different thing fro_oaring on the wings of fancy into an ideal world of creation—quite differen_rom the exquisite, unearthly beauty of "the flash;" neither of these gave he_ny moments of pause or doubt. But to slip on tiptoe through some momentaril_nlatched door, as it were, and catch a glimpse of masked, unuttered, unutterable things in the hearts and souls of others, was something tha_lways brought, along with its sense of power, a sense of the forbidden—_ense even of sacrilege. Yet Emily did not know if she would ever be able t_esist the allure of it—she had always peered through the door and seen th_hings before she realized that she was doing it. They were nearly alway_errible things. Secrets are generally terrible. Beauty is not ofte_idden—only ugliness and deformity.
"Elder Forsyth would have been a persecutor in old times," she thought. "H_as the face of one. This very minute he is loving the preacher because he i_escribing hell, and Elder Forsyth thinks all his enemies will go there. Yes, that is why he is looking pleased. I think Mrs. Bowes flies off on _roomstick o' nights. She _looks_ it. Four hundred years ago she would hav_een a witch, and Elder Forsyth would have burned her at the stake. She hate_verybody—it must be terrible to hate everybody—to have your soul full o_atred. I must try to describe such a person in my Jimmy-book. I wonder i_ate has driven _all_ love out of her soul, or if there is a little bit lef_n it for any one or any thing. If there is it might save her. That would be _ood idea for a story. I must jot it down before I go to bed—I'll borrow a bi_f paper from Ilse. No—here's a bit in my hymn-book. I'll write it now.
"I wonder what all these people would say if they were suddenly asked wha_hey wanted most, and _had_ to answer truthfully. I wonder how many of thes_usbands and wives would like a change? Chris Farrar and Mrs. Chri_ould—everybody knows that. I can't think why I feel so sure that James Beatt_nd _his_ wife would, too. They _seem_ to be quite contented with eac_ther—but once I saw her look at him when she did not know anyone wa_atching—oh, it seemed to me I saw right into her soul, through her eyes, an_he hated him—and feared him. She is sitting there now, beside him, little an_hin and dowdy, and her face is grey and her hair is faded—but she, herself, is one red flame of rebellion. What _she_ wants most is to be free fro_im—or just to _strike back once._ That would satisfy her.
"There's Dean—I wonder what brought him to prayer-meeting? His face is ver_olemn, but his eyes are mocking Mr. Sampson—what's that Mr. Sampson'_aying?—oh, something about the wise virgins. I hate the wise virgins—I thin_hey were horribly selfish. They _might_ have given the poor foolish ones _ittle oil. I don't believe Jesus meant to praise them any more than He mean_o praise the unjust steward—I think he was just trying to warn foolish peopl_hat they must not _be_ careless, and foolish, because if they were, prudent, selfish folks would never help them out. I wonder if it's very wicke_o feel that I'd rather be outside with the foolish ones trying to help an_omfort them, than inside feasting with the wise ones. It would be _mor_nteresting,_ too.
"There's Mrs. Kent and Teddy. Oh, _she_ wants something terribly—I don'_now what it is but it's something she can never get, and the hunger for i_oads her night and day. That is why she holds Teddy so closely—I know. But _on't know what it is that makes her so different from other women. I ca_ever get a peep into _her_ soul—she shuts every one out—the door is neve_nlatched.
"What do _I_ want most? It is to climb the Alpine Path to the very top,
> "And write upon its shining scroll > A woman's humble name.
"We're all hungry. We all want some bread of life—but Mr. Sampson can't giv_t to us. I wonder what _he_ wants most? His soul is so muggy I can't se_nto it. He has a lot of sordid wants—he doesn't want _anything_ enough t_ominate him. Mr. Johnson wants to help people and preach truth—he reall_oes. And Aunt Janey wants most of all to see the whole heathen worl_hristianized. Her soul hasn't any dark wishes in it. I know what Mr.
Carpenter wants—his one lost chance again. Katherine Morris wants her yout_ack—she hates us younger girls _because_ we are young. Old Malcolm Stran_ust wants to live—just one more year—always just one more year—just t_ive—just not to die. It must be horrible to have nothing to live for excep_ust to escape dying. Yet he believes in heaven—he thinks he will go there. I_e could see my flash just once he wouldn't hate the thought of dying so, poo_ld man. And Mary Strang wants to die—before something terrible she is afrai_f tortures her to death. They say it's cancer. There's Mad Mr. Morrison up i_he gallery—we all know what _he_ wants—to find his Annie. Tom Sibley want_he moon, I think—and knows he can never get it—that's why people say he's no_ll there. Amy Crabbe wants Max Terry to come back to her—nothing else matter_o her.
"I must write all these things down in my Jimmy-book to-morrow. They ar_ascinating—but, after all, I like writing of beautiful things better.
Only—these things have a _tang_ beautiful things don't have some way. Thos_oods out there—how wonderful they are in their silver and shadow. Th_oonlight is doing strange things to the tombstones—it makes even the ugl_nes beautiful. But it's terribly hot—it is smothering here—and those thunder- growls are coming nearer. I hope Ilse and I will get home before the stor_reaks. Oh, Mr. Sampson, Mr. Sampson, God isn't an angry God—you don't kno_nything about Him if you say that—He's sorrowful, I'm sure, when we'r_oolish and wicked, but He doesn't fly into tantrums. Your God and Elle_reene's God are exactly alike. I'd like to get up and tell you so, but i_sn't a Murray tradition to sass back in church. You make God ugly—and He'_eautiful. I hate you for making God ugly, you fat little man."
Whereupon Mr. Sampson, who had several times noted Emily's intent, probin_aze, and thought he was impressing her tremendously with a sense of he_nsaved condition, finished with a final urgent whoop of entreaty, and sa_own. The audience in the close, oppressive atmosphere of the crowded, lampli_hurch gave an audible sigh of relief, and scarcely waited for the hymn an_enediction before crowding out to purer air. Emily, caught in the current, and parted from Aunt Laura, was swept out by way of the choir door to the lef_f the pulpit. It was some time before she could disentangle herself from th_hrong and hurry around to the front where she expected to meet Ilse. Here wa_nother dense, though rapidly thinning crowd, in which she found no trace o_lse. Suddenly Emily noticed that she did not have her hymn-book. Hastily sh_ashed back to the choir door. She must have left her hymn-book in the pew—an_t would never do to leave it there. In it she had placed for safe-keeping _lip of paper on which she had furtively jotted down some fragmentary note_uring the last hymn—a rather biting description of scrawny Miss Potter in th_hoir—a couple of satiric sentences regarding Mr. Sampson himself—and a fe_andom fancies which she desired most of all to hide because there was in the_omething of dream and vision which would have made the reading of them b_lien eyes a sacrilege.
Old Jacob Banks, the sexton, a little blind and more than a little deaf, wa_urning out the lamps as she went in. He had reached the two on the wal_ehind the pulpit. Emily caught her hymn-book from the rack—her slip of pape_as not in it. By the faint gleam of light, as Jacob Banks turned out the las_amp, she saw it on the floor, under the seat of the pew in front. She kneele_own and reached after it. As she did so Jacob went out and locked the choi_oor. Emily did not notice his going—the church was still faintly illuminate_y the moon that as yet outrode the rapidly climbing thunder-heads. That wa_ot the right slip of paper after all— _where_ could it be?—oh, here, a_ast. She caught it up and ran to the door which would not open.
For the first time Emily realized that Jacob Banks had gone—that she was alon_n the church. She wasted time trying to open the door—then in calling Mr.
Banks. Finally she ran down the aisle into the front porch. As she did so sh_eard the last buggy turn gridingly at the gate and drive away: at the sam_ime the moon was suddenly swallowed up by the black clouds and the church wa_ngulfed in darkness—close, hot, smothering, almost tangible darkness. Emil_creamed in sudden panic—beat on the door—frantically twisted th_andle—screamed again. Oh, everybody could not have gone—surely somebody woul_ear her! "Aunt Laura"—"Cousin Jimmy"—"Ilse"—then finally in a wail o_espair—"Oh, Teddy—Teddy!"
A blue-white stream of lightning swept the porch, followed by a crash o_hunder. One of the worst storms in Blair Water annals had begun—and Emil_tarr was locked alone in the dark church in the maple woods—she, who ha_lways been afraid of thunderstorms with a reasonless, instinctive fear whic_he could never banish and only partially control.
She sank, quivering, on a step of the gallery stairs, and huddled there in _eap. Surely some one would come back when it was discovered she was missing.
But _would_ it be discovered? Who would miss her? Aunt Laura and Cousi_immy would suppose she was with Ilse, as had been arranged. Ilse, who ha_vidently gone, believing that Emily was not coming with her, would suppos_he had gone home to New Moon. Nobody knew where she was—nobody would com_ack for her. She must stay here in this horrible, lonely, black, echoin_lace—for now the church she knew so well and loved for its old association_f Sunday-school and song and homely faces of dear friends had become _hostly, alien place full of haunting terrors. There was no escape. Th_indows could not be opened. The church was ventilated by transom-like pane_ear the top of them, which were opened and shut by pulling a wire. She coul_ot get up to them, and she could not have got through them if she had.
She cowered down on the step, shuddering from head to foot. By now the thunde_nd lightning were almost incessant: rain blew against the windows, not i_rops but sheets, and intermittent volleys of hail bombarded them. The win_ad risen suddenly with the storm and shrieked around the church. It was no_er old dear friend of childhood, the bat-winged, misty "Wind Woman," but _egion of yelling witches. "The Prince of the Power of the Air rules th_ind," she had heard Mad Mr. Morrison say once. Why should she think of Ma_r. Morrison now? How the windows rattled as if demon riders of the storm wer_haking them! She had heard a wild tale of some one hearing the organ play i_he empty church one night several years ago. _Suppose it began playing now!_o fancy seemed too grotesque or horrible to come true. Didn't the stair_reak? The blackness between the lightnings was so intense that it looke_thick._ Emily was frightened of it touching her and buried her face in he_ap.
Presently, however, she got a grip on herself and began to reflect that sh_as not living up to Murray traditions. Murrays were not supposed to go t_ieces like this. Murrays were not foolishly panicky in thunder-storms. Thos_ld Murrays sleeping in the private graveyard across the pond would hav_corned her as a degenerate descendant. Aunt Elizabeth would have said that i_as the Starr coming out in her. She must be brave: after all, she had live_hrough worse hours than this—the night she had eaten of Lofty John's poisone_pple*—the afternoon she had fallen over the rocks of Malvern Bay. This ha_ome so suddenly on her that she had been in the throes of terror before sh_ould brace herself against it. She _must_ pick up. Nothing dreadful wa_oing to happen to her—nothing worse than staying all night in the church. I_he morning she could attract the attention of some one passing. She had bee_ere over an hour now, and nothing had happened to her—unless indeed her hai_ad turned white, as she understood hair sometimes did. There had been such _unny, crinkly, crawly feeling at the roots of it at times. Emily held out he_ong braid, ready for the next flash. When it came she saw that her hair wa_till black. She sighed with relief and began to chirk up. The storm wa_assing. The thunder-peals were growing fainter and fewer, though the rai_ontinued to fall and the wind to drive and shriek around the church, whinin_hrough the big keyhole eerily.
* See _Emily of New Moon._
Emily straightened her shoulders and cautiously let down her feet to a lowe_tep. She thought she had better try to get back into the church. If anothe_loud came up, the steeple might be struck—steeples were always gettin_truck, she remembered: it might come crashing down on the, porch right ove_er. She would go in and sit down in the Murray pew: she would be cool an_ensible and collected: she was ashamed of her panic—but it _had_ bee_errible.
All around her now was a soft, heavy darkness, still with that same eeri_ensation of something you could touch, born perhaps of the heat and humidit_f the July night. The porch was so small and narrow—she would not feel s_mothered and oppressed in the church.
She put out her hand to grasp a stair rail and pull herself to her crampe_eet. Her hand touched—not the stair rail—merciful heavens, what wa_t?—something _hairy—_ Emily's shriek of horror froze on her lips—paddin_ootsteps passed down the steps beside her; a flash of lightning came and a_he bottom of the steps was a huge black dog, which had turned and was lookin_p at her before he was blotted out in the returning darkness. Even then for _oment she saw his eyes blazing redly at her, like a fiend's.
Emily's hair roots began to crawl and crinkle again—a very large, very col_aterpillar began to creep slowly up her spine. She could not have moved _uscle had life depended on it. She could not even cry out. The only thing sh_ould think of at first was the horrible demon hound of the Manx Castle i_Peveril of the Peak._ For a few minutes her terror was so great that i_urned her physically sick. Then, with an effort which was unchild-like in it_etermination—I think it was at that moment Emily wholly ceased to be _hild—she recovered her self-control. She _would not_ yield to fear—she se_er teeth and clenched her trembling hands; she _would_ be brave—sensible.
That was only a commonplace Blair Water dog which had followed its owner—som_apscallion boy—into the gallery, and got itself left behind. The thing ha_appened before. A flash of lightning showed her that the porch was empty.
Evidently the dog had gone into the church. Emily decided that she would sta_here she was. She had recovered from her panic, but she did not want to fee_he sudden touch of a cold nose or a hairy flank in the darkness. She coul_ever forget the awfulness of the moment when she _had_ touched th_reature.
It must be all of twelve o'clock now—it had been ten when the meeting cam_ut. The noise of the storm had for the most part died away. The drive an_hriek of the wind came occasionally, but between its gusts there was _ilence, broken only by the diminishing raindrops. Thunder still muttere_aintly and lightning came at frequent intervals, but of a paler, gentle_lame—not the rending glare that had seemed to wrap the very building i_ntolerable blue radiance, and scorch her eye. Gradually her heart began t_eat normally. The power of rational thought returned. She did not like he_redicament, but she began to find dramatic possibilities in it. Oh, what _hapter for her diary—or her Jimmy-book—and, beyond it, for that novel sh_ould write some day! It was a situation expressly shaped for the heroine—wh_ust, of course, be rescued by the hero. Emily began constructing th_cene—adding to it—intensifying it—hunting for words to express it. This wa_ather—interesting—after all. Only she wished she knew just where the dog was.
How weirdly the pale lightning gleamed on the gravestones which she could se_hrough the porch window opposite her! How strange the familiar valley beyon_ooked in the recurrent illuminations! How the wind moaned and sighed an_omplained—but it was her own Wind Woman again. The Wind Woman was one of he_hildish fancies that she had carried over into maturity, and it comforted he_ow, with a sense of ancient companionship. The wild riders of the storm wer_one—her fairy friend had come back. Emily gave a sigh that was almost o_ontentment. The worst was over—and really, hadn't she behaved pretty well?
She began to feel quite self-respecting again.
All at once Emily knew she was not alone!
How she knew it she could not have told. She had heard nothing—see_othing—felt nothing: and yet she knew, beyond all doubt or dispute, tha_here was a Presence in the darkness above her on the stairs.
She turned and looked up. It was horrible to look, but it was less horrible t_eel that—Something—was in front of you than that it was behind you. Sh_tared with wildly dilated eyes into the darkness, but she could see nothing.
Then—she heard a low laugh above her—a laugh that almost made her heart sto_eating—the very dreadful, inhuman laughter of the unsound in mind. She di_ot need the lightning flash that came then to tell her that Mad Mr. Morriso_as somewhere on the stairs above her. But it came—she saw him—she felt as i_he were sinking in some icy gulf of coldness—she could not even scream.
The picture of him, etched on her brain by the lightning, never left her. H_as crouched five steps above her, with his gray head thrust forward. She sa_he frenzied gleam of his eyes—the fang-like yellow teeth exposed in _orrible smile—the long, thin, blood-red hand outstretched towards her, almos_ouching her shoulder.
Sheer panic shattered Emily's trance. She bounded to her feet with a piercin_cream of terror.
"Teddy! Teddy! Save me!" she shrieked madly.
She did not know why she called for Teddy—she did not even realize that sh_had_ called him—she only remembered it afterwards, as one might recall th_aking shriek in a nightmare—she only knew that she _must_ have help—tha_he would die if that awful hand touched her. _It must not touch her._
She made a mad spring down the steps, rushed into the church, and up th_isle. She must hide before the next flash came—but not in the Murray pew. H_ight look for her there. She dived into one of the middle pews and crouche_own in its corner on the floor. Her body was bathed in an ice-col_erspiration. She was wholly in the grip of uncontrollable terror. All sh_ould think of was that it must not touch her—that blood-red hand of the ma_ld man.
Moments passed that seemed like years. Presently she heard footsteps—footstep_hat came and went yet seemed to approach her slowly. Suddenly she knew wha_e was doing. He was going into every pew, not waiting for the lightning, t_eel about for her. He _was_ looking for her, then—she had heard tha_ometimes he followed young girls, thinking they were Annie. If he caught the_e held them with one hand and stroked their hair and faces fondly with th_ther, mumbling foolish, senile endearments. He had never harmed anyone, bu_e had never let anyone go until she was rescued by some other person. It wa_aid that Mary Paxton of Derry Pond had never been quite the same again; he_erves never recovered from the shock.
Emily knew that it was only a question of time before he would reach the pe_here she crouched—feeling about with those hands! All that kept her senses i_er frozen body was the thought that if she lost consciousness those hand_ould touch her—hold her—caress her. The next lightning flash showed hi_ntering the adjoining pew. Emily sprang up and out and rushed to the othe_ide of the church. She hid again: he would search her out, but she coul_gain elude him: this might go on all night: a madman's strength would outlas_ers: at last she might fall exhausted and he would pounce on her.
For what seemed hours to Emily, this mad game of hide-and-seek lasted. It wa_n reality about half an hour. She was hardly a rational creature at all, an_ore than her demented pursuer. She was merely a crouching, springing, shrieking thing of horror. Time after time he hunted her out with his cunning, implacable patience. The last time she was near one of the porch doors, and i_esperation she sprang through it and slammed it in his face. With the las_unce of her strength she tried to hold the knob from turning in his grasp.
And as she strove she heard—was she dreaming?—Teddy's voice calling to he_rom the steps outside the outer door.
"Emily—Emily—are you there?"
She did not know how he had come—she did not wonder—she only knew he _was_here!
"Teddy, I'm locked in the church!" she shrieked—"and Mad Mr. Morrison i_ere—oh—quick—quick—save me—save me!"
"The key of the door is hanging up in there on a nail at the right side!"
shouted Teddy. "Can you get it and unlock the door? If you can't I'll smas_he porch window."
The clouds broke at that moment and the porch was filled with moonlight. In i_he saw plainly the big key, hanging high on the wall beside the front door.
She dashed at it and caught it as Mad Mr. Morrison wrenched upon the door an_prang into the porch, his dog behind him. Emily unlocked the outer door an_tumbled out into Teddy's arms just in time to elude that outstretched, blood- red hand. She heard Mad Mr. Morrison give a wild, eerie shriek of despair a_he escaped him.
Sobbing, shaking, she clung to Teddy.
"Oh, Teddy, take me away—take me quick—oh, don't let him touch me, Teddy—don'_et him touch me!"
Teddy swung her behind him and faced Mad Mr. Morrison on the stone step.
"How dare you frighten her so?" he demanded angrily.
Mad Mr. Morrison smiled deprecatingly in the moonlight. All at once he was no_ild or violent—only a heart-broken old man who sought his own.
"I want Annie," he mumbled. "Where is Annie? I thought I had found her i_here. I only wanted to find my beautiful Annie."
"Annie isn't here," said Teddy, tightening his hold on Emily's cold littl_and.
"Can you tell me where Annie is?" entreated Mad Mr. Morrison, wistfully. "Ca_ou tell me where my dark-haired Annie is?"
Teddy was furious with Mad Mr. Morrison for frightening Emily, but the ol_an's piteous entreaty touched him—and the artist in him responded to th_alues of the picture presented against the background of the white, moonli_hurch. He thought he would like to paint Mad Mr. Morrison as he stood there, tall and gaunt, in his gray "duster" coat, with his long white hair and beard, and the ageless quest in his hollow, sunken eyes.
"No—no—I don't know where she is," he said gently, "but I think you will fin_er sometime."
Mad Mr. Morrison sighed.
"Oh, yes. Sometime I will overtake her. Come, my dog, we will seek her."
Followed by his old black dog he went down the steps, across the green an_own the long, wet, tree-shadowed road. So going, he passed out of Emily'_ife. She never saw Mad Mr. Morrison again. But she looked after hi_nderstandingly, and forgave him. To himself he was not the repulsive old ma_e seemed to her; he was a gallant young lover seeking his lost and lovel_ride. The pitiful beauty of his quest intrigued her, even in the shakin_eaction from her hour of agony.
"Poor Mr. Morrison," she sobbed, as Teddy half led, half carried her to one o_he old flat gravestones at the side of the church.
They sat there until Emily recovered composure and managed to tell her tale—o_he outlines of it. She felt she could never tell—perhaps not even write in _immy-book—the whole of its racking horror. _That_ was beyond words.
"And to think," she sobbed, "that the key was there all the time. I never kne_t."
"Old Jacob Banks always locks the front door with its big key on the inside, and then hangs it up on that nail," said Teddy. "He locks the choir door wit_ little key, which he takes home. He has always done that since the time, three years ago, when he lost the big key and was weeks before he found it."
Suddenly Emily awoke to the strangeness of Teddy's coming.
"How did you happen to come, Teddy?"
"Why, I heard you call me," he said. "You did call me, didn't you?"
"Yes," said Emily, slowly, "I called for you when I saw Mad Mr. Morriso_irst. But, Teddy, you couldn't have heard me—you _couldn't._ The Tans_atch is a mile from here."
"I _did_ hear you," said Teddy, stubbornly. "I was asleep and it woke me up.
You called 'Teddy, Teddy, save me'—it was your voice as plain as I ever hear_t in my life. I got right up and hurried on my clothes and came here as fas_s I could."
"How did you know I was here?"
"Why—I don't know," said Teddy confusedly. "I didn't stop to think—I jus_eemed to _know_ you were in the church when I heard you calling me, and _ust get here as quick as I could. It's—it's all—funny," he concluded lamely.
"It's—it's—it frightens me a little." Emily shivered. "Aunt Elizabeth says _ave second sight—you remember Ilse's mother? Mr. Carpenter says I'm psychic—_on't know just what that means, but think I'd rather not be it."
She shivered again. Teddy thought she was cold and, having nothing else to pu_round her, put his arm—somewhat tentatively, since Murray pride and Murra_ignity might be outraged. Emily was not cold in body, but a little chill ha_lown over her soul. Something supernatural—some mystery she could no_nderstand—had brushed too near her in that strange summoning. Involuntaril_he nestled a little closer to Teddy, acutely conscious of the boyis_enderness she sensed behind the aloofness of his boyish shyness. Suddenly sh_new that she liked Teddy better than anybody—better even than Aunt Laura o_lse or Dean.
Teddy's arm tightened a little.
"Anyhow, I'm glad I got here in time," he said. "If I hadn't that crazy ol_an might have frightened you to death."
They sat so for a few minutes in silence. Everything seemed very wonderful an_eautiful—and a little unreal. Emily thought she must be in a dream, or in on_f her own wonder tales. The storm had passed, and the moon was shinin_learly once more. The cool fresh air was threaded with beguiling voices—th_itful voice of raindrops falling from the shaken boughs of the maple wood_ehind them—the freakish voice of the Wind Woman around the white church—th_ar-off, intriguing voice of the sea—and, still finer and rarer, the little, remote, detached voices of the night. Emily heard them all, more with the ear_f her soul than of her body, it seemed, as she had never heard them before.
Beyond were fields and groves and roads, pleasantly suggestive and elusive, a_f brooding over elfish secrets in the moonlight. Silver-white daisies wer_odding and swaying all over the graveyard above graves remembered and grave_orgotten. An owl laughed delightfully to itself in the old pine. At th_agical sound Emily's mystic flash swept over her, swaying her like a stron_ind. She felt as if she and Teddy were all alone in a wonderful new world, created for themselves only out of youth and mystery and delight. They seemed, themselves, to be part of the faint, cool fragrance of the night, of the owl'_aughter, of the daisies blowing in the shadowy air.
As for Teddy, he was thinking that Emily looked very sweet in the pal_oonshine, with her fringed, mysterious eyes and the little dark love-curl_linging to her ivory neck. He tightened his arm a little more—and stil_urray pride and Murray dignity made not a particle of protest.
"Emily," whispered Teddy, "you're the sweetest girl in the world."
The words have been said so often by so many millions of lads to so man_illions of lasses, that they ought to be worn to tatters. But when you hea_hem for the first time, in some magic hour of your teens, they are as new an_resh and wondrous as if they had just drifted over the hedges of Eden. Madam, whoever you are, and however old you are, be honest, and admit that the firs_ime you heard those words on the lips of some shy sweetheart, was the grea_oment of your life. Emily thrilled, from the crown of her head to the toes o_er slippered feet, with a sensation of hitherto unknown and almost terrifyin_weetness—a sensation that was to sense what her "flash" was to spirit. It i_uite conceivable and not totally reprehensible that the next thing tha_appened might have been a kiss. Emily thought Teddy was going to kiss her: Teddy knew he was: and the odds are that he wouldn't have had his face slappe_s Geoff North had had.
But it was not to be. A shadow that had slipped in at the gate and drifte_cross the wet grass, halted beside them, and touched Teddy's shoulder, jus_s he bent his glossy black head. He looked up, startled. Emily looked up.
Mrs. Kent was standing there, bareheaded, her scarred face clear in th_oonlight, looking at them tragically.
Emily and Teddy both stood up so suddenly that they seemed veritably to hav_een jerked to their feet. Emily's fairy world vanished like a dissolvin_ubble. She was in a different world altogether—an absurd, ridiculous one.
Yes, ridiculous. Everything had suddenly become ridiculous. _Could_ anythin_e more ridiculous than to be caught here with Teddy, _by his mother,_ a_wo o'clock at night—what was that horrid word she had lately heard for th_irst time?—oh, yes, _spooning_ —that was it—spooning on George Horton'_ighty-year-old tombstone? That was how other people would look at it. Ho_ould a thing be so beautiful one moment and so absurd the next? She was on_orrible scorch of shame from head to feet. And Teddy—she knew Teddy wa_eeling like a fool.
To Mrs. Kent it was not ridiculous—it was dreadful. To her abnormal jealous_he incident had the most sinister significance. She looked at Emily with he_ollow, hungry eyes.
"So you are trying to steal my son from me," she said. "He is all I have an_ou are trying to steal him."
"Oh, Mother, for goodness' sake, be sensible!" muttered Teddy.
"He—he tells me to be sensible," Mrs. Kent echoed tragically to the moon.
"Yes, sensible," said Teddy angrily. "There's nothing to make such a fus_bout. Emily was locked in the church by accident and Mad Mr. Morrison wa_here, too, and nearly frightened her to death. I came to let her out and w_ere sitting here for a few minutes until she got over her fright and was abl_o walk home. That's all."
"How did you know she was here?" demanded Mrs. Kent.
How indeed! This was a hard question to answer. The truth sounded like _illy, stupid invention. Nevertheless, Teddy told it.
"She called me," he said bluntly.
"And you heard her—a mile away. Do you expect me to believe that?" said Mrs.
Kent, laughing wildly.
Emily had by this time recovered her poise. At no time in her life was Emil_yrd Starr ever disconcerted for long. She drew herself up proudly and in th_im light, in spite of her Starr features, she looked much as Elizabeth Murra_ust have looked thirty years before.
"Whether you believe it or not it is true, Mrs. Kent," she said haughtily. "_m not stealing your son—I do not want him—he can go."
"I'm going to take you home first, Emily," said Teddy. He folded his arms an_hrew back his head and tried to look as stately as Emily. He felt that he wa_ dismal failure at it, but it imposed on Mrs. Kent. She began to cry.
"Go—go," she said. "Go to her—desert me."
Emily was thoroughly angry now. If this irrational woman persisted in making _cene, very well: a scene she should have.
"I won't let him take me home," she said, freezingly. "Teddy, go with you_other."
"Oh, you command him, do you? He must do as you tell him, must he?" cried Mrs.
Kent, who now seemed to lose all control of herself. Her tiny form was shake_ith violent sobs. She wrung her hands.
"He shall choose for himself," she cried. "He shall go with you—or come wit_e. Choose, Teddy, for yourself. You shall not do her bidding. Choose!"
She was fiercely dramatic again, as she lifted her hand and pointed it at poo_eddy.
Teddy was feeling as miserable and impotently angry as any male creature doe_hen two women are quarrelling about him in his presence. He wished himself _housand miles away. What a mess to be in—and to be made ridiculous like thi_efore Emily! Why on earth couldn't his mother behave like other boys'
mothers? Why must she be so intense and exacting? He knew Blair Water gossi_aid she was "a little touched." He did not believe that. But—but—well, i_hort here _was_ a mess. You came back to that every time. What on earth wa_e to do? If he took Emily home he knew his mother would cry and pray fo_ays. On the other hand to desert Emily after her dreadful experience in th_hurch, and leave her to traverse that lonely road alone was unthinkable. Bu_mily now dominated the situation. She was very angry, with the icy anger o_ld Hugh Murray that did not dissipate itself in idle bluster, but wen_traight to the point.
"You are a foolish, selfish woman," she said, "and you will make your son hat_ou."
"Selfish! You call me selfish," sobbed Mrs. Kent. "I live only for Teddy—he i_ll I have to live for."
"You _are_ selfish." Emily was standing straight: her eyes had gone black: her voice was cutting: "the Murray look" was on her face, and in the pal_oonlight it was a rather fearsome thing. She wondered, as she spoke, how sh_new certain things. But she _did_ know them. "You think you love him—it i_nly yourself you love. You are determined to spoil his life. You won't le_im go to Shrewsbury because it will hurt you to let him go away from you. Yo_ave let your jealousy of everything he cares for eat your heart out, an_aster you. You won't bear a little pain for his sake. You are not a mother a_ll. Teddy has a great talent—every one says so. You ought to be proud o_im—you ought to give him his chance. But you won't—and some day he will hat_ou for it—yes, he will."
"Oh, no, no," moaned Mrs. Kent. She held up her hands as if to ward off a blo_nd shrank back against Teddy. "Oh, you are cruel—cruel. You don't know wha_'ve suffered—you don't know what ache is always at my heart. He is all _ave—all. I have nothing else—not even a memory. You don't understand. _an't—I can't give him up."
"If you let your jealousy ruin his life you will lose him," said Emil_nexorably. She had always been afraid of Mrs. Kent. Now she was suddenly n_onger afraid of her—she knew she would never be afraid of her again. "Yo_ate everything he cares for—you hate his friends and his dog and his drawing.
You know you do. But you can't keep him that way, Mrs. Kent. And you will fin_ut when it is too late. Good night, Teddy. Thank you again for coming to m_escue. Good night, Mrs. Kent."
Emily's good night was very final. She turned and stalked across the gree_ithout another glance, holding her head high. Down the wet road sh_arched—at first very angry—then, as anger ebbed, very tired—oh, horribl_ired. She discovered that she was fairly shaking with weariness. The emotion_f the night had exhausted her, and now—what to do? She did not like the ide_f going home to New Moon. Emily felt that she could never face outraged Aun_lizabeth if the various scandalous doings of this night should be discovered.
She turned in at the gate of Dr. Burnley's house. His doors were never locked.
Emily slipped into the front hall as the dawn began to whiten in the sky an_urled up on the lounge behind the staircase. There was no use in waking Ilse.
She would tell her the whole story in the morning and bind her to secrecy—all, at least, except one thing Teddy had said, and the episode of Mrs. Kent. On_as too beautiful, and the other too disagreeable to be talked about. O_ourse, Mrs. Kent wasn't like other women and there was no use in feeling to_adly about it. Nevertheless, she had wrecked and spoiled a frail, beautifu_omething—she had blotched with absurdity a moment that should have bee_ternally lovely. And she had, of course, made poor Teddy feel like an ass.
_That,_ in the last analysis, was what Emily really could not forgive.
As she drifted off to sleep she recalled drowsily the events of tha_ewildering night—her imprisonment in the lonely church—the horror of touchin_he dog—the worse horror of Mad Mr. Morrison's pursuit—her rapture of relie_t Teddy's voice—the brief little moonlit idyll in the graveyard—of all place_or an idyll!—the tragi-comic advent of poor morbid, jealous Mrs. Kent.
"I hope I wasn't too hard on her," thought Emily as she drifted into slumber.
"If I was I'm sorry. I'll have to write it down as a bad deed in my diary. _eel somehow as if I'd grown up all at once tonight—yesterday seems year_way. But what a chapter it will make for my diary. I'll write it all down—al_ut Teddy's saying I was the sweetest girl in the world. _That's_oo—dear—to write. I'll—just— _remember_ it."