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Chapter 16 Check for Miss Brownell

  • Emily and Ilse were sitting out on the side bench of Blair Water schoo_riting poetry on their slates—at least, Emily was writing poetry and Ilse wa_eading it as she wrote and occasionally suggesting a rhyme when Emily wa_omentarily stuck for one. It may as well be admitted here and now that the_ad no business whatever to be doing this. They should have been "doing sums,"
  • as Miss Brownell supposed they were. But Emily never did sums when she took i_nto her black head to write poetry, and Ilse hated arithmetic on genera_rinciples. Miss Brownell was hearing the geography class at the other side o_he room, the pleasant sunshine was showering in over them through the bi_indow, and everything seemed propitious for a flight with the muses. Emil_egan to write a poem about the view from the school window.
  • It was quite a long time since she had been allowed to sit out on the sid_ench. This was a boon reserved for those pupils who had found favour in Mis_rownell's cold eyes—and Emily had never been one of those. But this afternoo_lse had asked for both herself and Emily, and Miss Brownell had let both go, not being able to think of any valid reason for permitting Ilse and refusin_mily—as she would have liked to do, for she had one of those petty nature_hich never forget or forgive any offence. Emily, on her first day of school, had, so Miss Brownell believed, been guilty of impertinence and defiance—an_uccessful defiance at that. This rankled in Miss Brownell's mind still an_mily felt its venom in a score of subtle ways. She never received an_ommendation—she was a target for Miss Brownell's sarcasm continually—and th_mall favours that other girls received never came her way. So thi_pportunity to sit on the side bench was a pleasing novelty.
  • There were points about sitting on the side bench. You could see all over th_chool without turning your head—and Miss Brownell could not sneak up behin_ou and look over your shoulder to see what you were up to; but in Emily'_yes the finest thing about it was that you could look right down into the
  • "school bush," and watch the old spruces where the Wind Woman played, th_ong, grey-green trails of moss hanging from the branches, like banners o_lfland, the little red squirrels running along the fence, and the wonderfu_hite aisles of snow where splashes of sunlight fell like pools of golde_ine; and there was one little opening in the trees through which you coul_ee right over the Blair Water valley to the sand-hills and the gulf beyond.
  • To-day the sand-hills were softly rounded and gleaming white under the snow, but beyond them the gulf was darkly, deeply blue with dazzling white masses o_ce like baby icebergs, floating about in it. Just to look at it thrille_mily with a delight that was unutterable but which she yet must try to utter.
  • She began her poem. Fractions were utterly forgotten—what had numerators an_enominators to do with those curving bosoms of white snow—that heavenl_lue—those crossed dark fir tips against the pearly skies—those etherea_oodland aisles of pearl and gold? Emily was lost to her world—so lost tha_he did not know the geography class had scattered to their respective seat_nd that Miss Brownell, catching sight of Emily's entranced gaze sky-wards a_he searched for a rhyme, was stepping softly towards her. Ilse was drawing _icture on her slate and did not see her or she would have warned Emily. Th_atter suddenly felt her slate drawn out of her hand and heard Miss Brownel_aying:
  • "I suppose you have finished those sums, Emily?"
  • Emily had not finished even one sum—she had only covered her slate wit_erses—verses that Miss Brownell must not see— _must not_  see! Emily spran_o her feet and clutched wildly after her slate. But Miss Brownell, with _mile of malicious enjoyment on her thin lips, held it beyond her reach.
  • "What is this? It does not look—exactly—like fractions. 'Lines on th_iew—v-e-w—from the Window of Blair Water School.' Really, children, we see_o have a budding poet among us."
  • The words were harmless enough, but—oh, the hateful sneer that ran through th_one—the contempt, the mockery that was in it! It seared Emily's soul like _hip-lash. Nothing was more terrible to her than the thought of having he_eloved "poems" read by stranger eyes—cold, unsympathetic, derisive, strange_yes.
  • "Please—please, Miss Brownell," she stammered miserably, "don't read it—I'l_ub it off—I'll do my sums right away. Only please don't read it. It—it isn'_nything."
  • Miss Brownell laughed cruelly.
  • "You are too modest, Emily. It is a whole slateful of— _poetry_ —think o_hat, children— _poetry._  We have a pupil in this school who can write— _poetry._  And she does not want us to read this— _poetry._  I am afraid Emil_s selfish. I am sure we should all enjoy this— _poetry."_
  • Emily cringed every time Miss Brownell said  _"poetry"_  with that jeerin_mphasis and that hateful pause before it. Many of the children giggled, partly because they enjoyed seeing a "Murray of New Moon" grilled, partl_ecause they realized that Miss Brownell expected them to giggle. Rhoda Stuar_iggled louder than any one else; but Jennie Strang, who had tormented Emil_n her first day at school, refused to giggle and scowled blackly at Mis_rownell instead.
  • Miss Brownell held up the slate and read Emily's poem aloud, in a sing-son_asal voice, with absurd intonations and gestures that made it seem a ver_idiculous thing. The lines Emily had thought the finest seemed the mos_idiculous. The other pupils laughed more than ever and Emily felt that th_itterness of the moment could never go out of her heart. The little fancie_hat had been so beautiful when they came to her as she wrote were shattere_nd bruised now, like torn and mangled butterflies—"vistas in some fair_ream," chanted Miss Brownell, shutting her eyes and wagging her head fro_ide to side. The giggles became shouts of laughter.
  • "Oh," thought Emily, clenching her hands, "I wish—I wish the bears that at_he naughty children in the Bible would come and eat  _you_."
  • There were no nice, retributive bears in the school bush, however, and Mis_rownell read the whole "poem" through. She was enjoying herself hugely. T_idicule a pupil always gave her pleasure and when that pupil was Emily of Ne_oon, in whose heart and soul she had always sensed something fundamentall_ifferent from her own, the pleasure was exquisite.
  • When she reached the end she handed the slate back to the crimson-cheeke_mily.
  • "Take your— _poetry,_  Emily," she said.
  • Emily snatched the slate. No slate "rag" was handy but Emily gave the palm o_er hand a fierce lick and one side of the slate was wiped off. Anothe_ick—and the rest of the poem went. It had been disgraced—degraded—it must b_lotted out of existence. To the end of her life Emily never forgot the pai_nd humiliation of that experience.
  • Miss Brownell laughed again.
  • "What a pity to obliterate such— _poetry,_  Emily," she said. "Suppose you d_hose sums now. They are not— _poetry,_  but I am in this school to teac_rithmetic and I am not here to teach the art of writing— _poetry._  Go t_our own seat. Yes, Rhoda?"
  • For Rhoda Stuart was holding up her hand and snapping her fingers.
  • "Please, Miss Brownell," she said, with distinct triumph in her tones, "Emil_tarr has a whole bunch of poetry in her desk. She was reading it to Ils_urnley this morning while you thought they were learning history."
  • Perry Miller turned around and a delightful missile, compounded of chewe_aper and known as a "spit pill," flew across the room and struck Rhod_quarely in the face. But Miss Brownell was already at Emily's desk, havin_eached it one jump before Emily herself.
  • "Don't touch them—you have no  _right_!" gasped Emily frantically.
  • But Miss Brownell had the "bunch of poetry" in her hands. She turned an_alked up to the platform. Emily followed. Those poems were very dear to her.
  • She had composed them during the various stormy recesses when it had bee_mpossible to play out of doors and written them down on disreputable scrap_f paper borrowed from her mates. She had meant to take them home that ver_vening and copy them on letter-bills. And now this horrible woman was goin_o read them to the whole jeering, giggling school.
  • But Miss Brownell realized that the time was too short for that. She had t_ontent herself with reading over the titles, with some appropriate comments.
  • Meanwhile Perry Miller was relieving his feelings by bombarding Rhoda Stuar_ith spit pills, so craftily timed that Rhoda had no idea from what quarter o_he room they were coming and so could not "tell" on any one. They greatl_nterfered with her enjoyment of Emily's scrape, however. As for Teddy Kent, who did not wage war with spit pills but preferred subtler methods of revenge, he was busy drawing something on a sheet of paper. Rhoda found the sheet o_er desk the next morning; on it was depicted a small, scrawny monkey, hangin_y its tail from a branch; and the face of the monkey was as the face of Rhod_tuart. Whereat Rhoda Stuart waxed wrath, but for the sake of her own vanit_ore the sketch to tatters and kept silence regarding it. She did not kno_hat Teddy had made a similar sketch, with Miss Brownell figuring as _ampirish-looking bat, and thrust it into Emily's hand as they left school.
  • "'The Lost Dimond—a Romantic Tale,'" read Miss Brownell. "'Lines on a Birc_ree'—looks to me more like lines on a very dirty piece of paper, Emily—'Line_ritten on a Sundial in our Garden'—ditto—'Lines to my Favourite Cat"—anothe_omantic _tail,_  I presume—'Ode to Ilse'—'Thy neck is of a wondrous pearl_heen'—hardly that, I should say. Ilse's neck is very sunburned—'A Deskripshu_f Our Parlour,' 'The Violets Spell'—I hope the violet  _spells_  better tha_ou do, Emily—'The Disappointed House'—
  • > "Lilies lifted up white cups > For the bees to  _dr—r—i—i—nk."_
  • "I didn't write it that way!" cried tortured Emily.
  • "'Lines to a Piece of Brokade in Aunt Laura's Burow Drawer,' 'Farewell o_eaving Home,' 'Lines to a Spruce Tree'—'It keeps off heat and sun and glare, Tis a goodly tree I ween'—are you quite sure that you know what 'ween' means, Emily?—'Poem on Mr Tom Bennet's Field'—'Poem on the Vew from Aunt Elizabeth'_indow'—you are strong on 'v-e-w-s,' Emily—'Epitaff on a Drowned Kitten,'
  • 'Meditashuns at the tomb of my great great grandmother'—poor lady—'To m_orthern Birds'—'Lines composed on the bank of Blair Water gazing at th_tars'—h'm—h'm—
  • > "Crusted with uncounted gems, > Those stars so distant, cold and true,
  • Don't try to pass those lines off as your own, Emily. You couldn't hav_ritten them."
  • "I did—I did!" Emily was white with sense of outrage. "And I've written lot_ar better."
  • Miss Brownell suddenly crumpled the ragged little papers up in her hand.
  • "We have wasted enough time over this trash," she said. "Go to your seat, Emily."
  • She moved towards the stove. For a moment Emily did not realize her purpose.
  • Then, as Miss Brownell opened the stove door, Emily understood and bounde_orward. She caught at the papers and tore them from Miss Brownell's han_efore the latter could tighten her grasp.
  • "You  _shall not_  burn them—you shall not have them," gasped Emily. Sh_rammed the poems into the pocket of her "baby apron" and faced Miss Brownel_n a kind of calm rage. The Murray look was on her face—and although Mis_rownell was not so violently affected by it as Aunt Elizabeth had been, i_evertheless gave her an unpleasant sensation, as of having roused forces wit_hich she dared not tamper further. This tormented child looked quite capabl_f flying at her, tooth and claw.
  • "Give me those papers, Emily,"—but she said it rather uncertainly.
  • "I will not," said Emily stormily. "They are mine. You have no right to them.
  • I wrote them at recesses—I didn't break any rules. You"—Emily looked defiantl_nto Miss Brownell's cold eyes—"You are an unjust, tyrannical  _person_."
  • Miss Brownell turned to her desk.
  • "I am coming up to New Moon to-night to tell your Aunt Elizabeth of this," sh_aid.
  • Emily was at first too much excited over saving her precious poetry to pa_uch heed to this threat. But as her excitement ebbed cold dread flowed in.
  • She knew she had an unpleasant time ahead of her. But at all events the_hould not get her poems—not one of them, no matter what they did to  _her._s soon as she got home from school she flew to the garret and secreted the_n the shelf of the old sofa.
  • She wanted terribly to cry but she would not. Miss Brownell was coming an_iss Brownell should  _not_  see her with red eyes. But her heart burne_ithin her. Some sacred temple of her being had been desecrated and shamed.
  • And more was yet to come, she felt wretchedly sure. Aunt Elizabeth was certai_o side with Miss Brownell. Emily shrank from the impending ordeal with al_he dread of a sensitive, fine strung nature facing humiliation. She would no_ave been afraid of justice; but she knew at the bar of Aunt Elizabeth an_iss Brownell she would not have justice.
  • "And I can't write Father about it," she thought, her little breast heaving.
  • The shame of it all was too deep and intimate to be written out, and so sh_ould find no relief for her pain.
  • They did not have supper at New Moon in winter time until Cousin Jimmy ha_inished his chores and was ready to stay in for the night. So Emily was lef_ndisturbed in the garret.
  • From the dormer-window she looked down on a dreamland scene that woul_rdinarily have delighted her. There was a red sunset behind the white, distant hills, shining through the dark trees like a great fire; there was _elicate blue tracery of bare branch shadows all over the crusted garden; there was a pale, ethereal alpen-glow all over the south-eastern sky; an_resently there was a little, lovely new moon in the silvery arch over Loft_ohn's bush. But Emily found no pleasure in any of them.
  • Presently she saw Miss Brownell coming up the lane, under the white arms o_he birches, with her mannish stride.
  • "If my father was alive," said Emily, looking down at her, "you would go awa_rom this place with a flea in your ear."
  • The minutes passed, each seeming very long to Emily. At last Aunt Laura cam_p.
  • "Your Aunt Elizabeth wants you to come down to the kitchen, Emily."
  • Aunt Laura's voice was kind and sad. Emily fought down a sob. She hated t_ave Aunt Laura think she had been naughty, but she could not trust herself t_xplain. Aunt Laura would sympathize and sympathy would break her down. Sh_ent silently down the two long flights of stairs before Aunt Laura and out t_he kitchen.
  • The supper-table was set and the candles were lighted. The big black-raftere_itchen looked spookish and weird, as it always did by candlelight. Aun_lizabeth sat rigidly by the table and her face was very hard. Miss Brownel_at in the rocking-chair, her pale eyes glittering with triumphant malice.
  • There seemed something baleful and poisonous in her very glance. Also her nos_as very red—which did not add to her charm.
  • Cousin Jimmy, in his grey jumper, was perched on the edge of the wood-box, whistling at the ceiling, and looking more gnome-like than ever. Perry wa_owhere to be seen. Emily was sorry for this. The presence of Perry, who wa_n her side, would have been a great moral support.
  • "I am sorry to say, Emily, that I have been hearing some very bad things abou_our behaviour in school to-day," said Aunt Elizabeth.
  • "No, I don't think you are sorry," said Emily, gravely.
  • Now that the crisis had come she found herself able to confront it coolly—nay, more, to take a curious interest in it under all her secret fear and shame, a_f some part of her had detached itself from the rest and was interestedl_bsorbing impressions and analysing motives and describing settings. She fel_hat when she wrote about this scene later on she must not forget to describ_he odd shadows the candle under Aunt Elizabeth's nose cast upward on he_ace, producing a rather skeletonic effect. As for Miss Brownell, could  _she_ver have been a baby—a dimpled, fat, laughing baby? The thing wa_nbelievable.
  • "Don't speak impertinently to  _me_ ," said Aunt Elizabeth.
  • "You see," said Miss Brownell, significantly.
  • "I don't mean to be impertinent, but you are  _not_  sorry," persisted Emily.
  • "You are angry because you think I have disgraced New Moon, but you are _ittle glad that you have got someone to agree with you that I'm bad."
  • "What a  _grateful_  child," said Miss Brownell—flashing her eyes up at th_eiling—where they encountered a surprising sight. Perry Miller's head—and n_ore of him—was stuck down out of the "black hole" and on Perry Miller'_pside-down face was a most disrespectful and impish grimace. Face and hea_isappeared in a flash, leaving Miss Brownell staring foolishly at th_eiling.
  • "You have been behaving disgracefully in school," said Aunt Elizabeth, who ha_ot seen this by-play. "I am ashamed of you."
  • "It was not as bad as that, Aunt Elizabeth," said Emily steadily. "You see i_as this way—"
  • "I don't want to hear anything more about it," said Aunt Elizabeth.
  • "But you must," cried Emily. "It isn't fair to listen only to  _her_  side. _as a little bad—but not so bad as she says—"
  • "Not another word! I have heard the whole story," said Aunt Elizabeth grimly.
  • "You heard a pack of lies," said Perry, suddenly sticking his head dow_hrough the black hole again.
  • Everybody jumped—even Aunt Elizabeth, who at once became angrier than eve_ecause she  _had_  jumped.
  • "Perry Miller, come down out of that loft instantly!" she commanded.
  • "Can't," said Perry laconically.
  • "At once, I say!"
  • "Can't," repeated Perry, winking audaciously at Miss Brownell.
  • "Perry Miller, come down! I  _will_  be obeyed. I am mistress here  _yet_."
  • "Oh, all right," said Perry cheerfully. "If I must."
  • He swung himself down until his toes touched the ladder. Aunt Laura gave _ittle shriek. Everybody also seemed to be stricken dumb.
  • "I've just got my wet duds off," Perry was saying cheerfully, waving his leg_bout to get a foothold on the ladder while he hung to the sides of the blac_ole with his elbows. "Fell into the brook when I was watering the cows. Wa_oing to put on dry ones—but just as you say—"
  • "Jimmy," implored poor Elizabeth Murray, surrendering at discretion.  _She_ould not cope with the situation.
  • "Perry, get back into that loft and get your clothes on this minute!" ordere_ousin Jimmy.
  • The bare legs shot up and disappeared. There was a chuckle as mirthful an_alicious as an owl's beyond the black hole. Aunt Elizabeth gave a convulsiv_asp of relief and turned to Emily. She was determined to regain ascendanc_nd Emily must be thoroughly humbled.
  • "Emily, kneel down here before Miss Brownell and ask her pardon for you_onduct to-day," she said.
  • Into Emily's pale cheek came a scarlet protest. She could not do this—sh_ould ask pardon of Miss Brownell but not on her knees. To kneel to this crue_oman who had hurt her so—she could not—would not do it. Her whole nature ros_p in protest against such a humiliation.
  • "Kneel down," repeated Aunt Elizabeth.
  • Miss Brownell looked pleased and expectant. It would be very satisfying to se_his child who had defied her kneeling before her as a penitent. Never again, Miss Brownell felt, would Emily be able to look levelly at her with thos_auntless eyes that bespoke a soul untamable and free, no matter wha_unishment might be inflicted upon body or mind. The memory of this momen_ould always be with Emily—she could never forget that she had knelt i_basement. Emily felt this as clearly as Miss Brownell did and remaine_tubbornly on her feet.
  • "Aunt Elizabeth,  _please_  let me tell my side of the story," she pleaded.
  • "I have heard all I wish to hear of the matter. You will do as I say, Emily, or you will be outcast in this house until you do. No one will talk t_ou—play with you—eat with you—have anything to do with you until you hav_beyed me."
  • Emily shuddered.  _That_  was a punishment she could not face. To be cut of_rom her world—she knew it would bring her to terms before long. She might a_ell yield at once—but, ah, the bitterness, the shame of it!
  • "A human being should not kneel to any one but God," said Cousin Jimmy, unexpectedly, still staring at the ceiling.
  • A sudden strange change came over Elizabeth Murray's proud, angry face. Sh_tood very still, looking at Cousin Jimmy—stood so long that Miss Brownel_ade a motion of petulant impatience.
  • "Emily," said Aunt Elizabeth in a different tone. "I was wrong—I shall not as_ou to kneel. But you must apologize to your teacher—and I shall punish yo_ater on."
  • Emily put her hands behind her and looked straight into Miss Brownell's eye_gain.
  • "I am sorry for anything I did to-day that was wrong," she said, "and I as_our pardon for it."
  • Miss Brownell got on her feet. She felt herself cheated of a legitimat_riumph. Whatever Emily's punishment would be she would not have th_atisfaction of seeing it. She could have shaken "Simple Jimmy Murray" with _ight good will. But it would hardly do to show all she felt. Elizabeth Murra_as not a trustee but she was the heaviest ratepayer in New Moon and had grea_nfluence with the School Board.
  • "I shall excuse your conduct if you behave yourself in future, Emily," sh_aid coldly. " _I_  feel that I have only done my duty in putting the matte_efore your Aunt. No, thank you, Miss Murray, I cannot stay to supper—I wan_o get home before it is too dark."
  • "God speed all travellers," said Perry cheerfully, climbing down hi_adder—this time with his clothes on.
  • Aunt Elizabeth ignored him—she was not going to have a scene with a hired bo_efore Miss Brownell. The latter switched herself out and Aunt Elizabet_ooked at Emily.
  • "You will eat your supper alone to-night, Emily, in the pantry—you will hav_read and milk only. And you will not speak one word to any one until to- morrow morning."
  • "But you won't forbid me to think?" said Emily anxiously.
  • Aunt Elizabeth made no reply but sat haughtily down at the supper-table. Emil_ent into the pantry and ate her bread and milk, with the odour of deliciou_ausages the others were eating for savour. Emily liked sausages, and New Moo_ausages were the last word in sausages. Elizabeth Burnley had brought th_ecipe out from the Old Country and its secret was carefully guarded. An_mily was hungry. But she had escaped the unbearable, and things might b_orse. It suddenly occurred to her that she would write an epic poem i_mitation of  _The Lay of the Last Minstrel._  Cousin Jimmy had read  _Th_ay_  to her last Saturday. She would begin the first canto right off. Whe_aura Murray came into the pantry, Emily, her bread and milk only half eaten, was leaning her elbows on the dresser, gazing into space, with faintly movin_ips and the light that never was on land or sea in her young eyes. Even th_roma of sausages was forgotten—was she not drinking from a fount of Castaly?
  • "Emily," said Aunt Laura, shutting the door, and looking very lovingly upo_mily out of her kind blue eyes, "you can talk to  _me_  all you want to. _on't like Miss Brownell and I don't think you were altogether in th_rong—although of course you shouldn't be writing poetry when you have sums t_o. And there are some ginger cookies in that box."
  • "I don't want to talk to any one, dear Aunt Laura—I'm too happy," said Emil_reamily. "I'm composing an epic—it is to be called  _The White Lady,_  an_'ve got twenty lines of it made already—and two of them are thrilling. Th_eroine wants to go into a convent and her father warns her that if she doe_he will never be able to
  • > Come back to the life you gave > With all its pleasures to the grave.
  • Oh, Aunt Laura, when I composed those lines the flash came to me. And ginge_ookies are nothing to me any more."
  • Aunt Laura smiled again.
  • "Not just now perhaps, dear. But when the moment of inspiration has passed i_ill do no harm to remember that the cookies in the box have not been counte_nd that they are as much mine as Elizabeth's."