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Chapter 21 "Romantic But Not Comfortable"

  • A certain thing happened at New Moon because Teddy Kent paid Ilse Burnley _ompliment one day and Emily Starr didn't altogether like it. Empires hav_een overturned for the same reason.
  • Teddy was skating on Blair Water and taking Ilse and Emily out in turns for
  • "slides." Neither Ilse nor Emily had skates. Nobody was sufficientl_nterested in Ilse to buy skates for her, and as for Emily, Aunt Elizabeth di_ot approve of girls skating. New Moon girls had never skated. Aunt Laura ha_ revolutionary idea that skating would be good exercise for Emily and would, moreover, prevent her from wearing out the soles of her boots sliding. Bu_either of these arguments was sufficient to convince Aunt Elizabeth, in spit_f the thrifty streak that came to her from the Burnleys. The latter, however, caused her to issue an edict that Emily was not to "slide." Emily took thi_ery hardly. She moped about in a woe-begone fashion and she wrote to he_ather, "I  _hate_  Aunt Elizabeth. She is so unjust. She never plays fair."
  • But one day Dr Burnley stuck his head in at the door of the New Moon kitche_nd said gruffly, "What's this I hear about you not letting Emily slide, Elizabeth?"
  • "She wears out the soles of her boots," said Elizabeth.
  • "Boots be ———" the doctor remembered that ladies were present just in time.
  • "Let the creature slide all she wants to. She ought to be in the open air al_he time. She ought"—the doctor stared at Elizabeth ferociously—"she ought t_leep out of doors."
  • Elizabeth trembled lest the doctor should go on to insist on this unheard-o_roceeding. She knew he had absurd ideas about the proper treatment o_onsumptives and those who might become such. She was glad to appease him b_etting Emily stay out of doors in daytime and do what seemed good to her, i_nly he would say no more about staying out all night too.
  • "He is much more concerned about Emily than he is about his own child," sh_aid bitterly to Laura.
  • "Ilse is too healthy," said Aunt Laura with a smile. "If she were a delicat_hild Allan might forgive her for—for being her mother's daughter."
  • "S—s—h," said Aunt Elizabeth. But she "s—s—s—h'd" too late. Emily, coming int_he kitchen, had heard Aunt Laura and puzzled over what she had said all da_n school. Why had Ilse to be forgiven for being her mother's daughter?
  • Everybody was her mother's daughter, wasn't she? Wherein did the crim_onsist? Emily worried over it so much that she was inattentive to her lesson_nd Miss Brownell raked her fore and aft with sarcasm.
  • It is time we got back to Blair Water where Teddy was just bringing Emily i_rom a glorious spin clear round the great circle of ice. Ilse was waiting fo_er turn, on the bank. Her golden cloud of hair aureoled her face and fell i_ shimmering wave over her forehead under the faded, little red tam she wore.
  • Ilse's clothes were always faded. The stinging kiss of the wind had crimsone_er cheeks and her eyes were glowing like amber pools with fire in thei_earts. Teddy's artistic perception saw her beauty and rejoiced in it.
  • "Isn't Ilse handsome?" he said.
  • Emily was not jealous. It never hurt her to hear Ilse praised. But somehow sh_id not like this. Teddy was looking at Ilse altogether  _too_  admiringly. I_as all, Emily believed, due to that shimmering fringe on Ilse's white brows.
  • "If  _I_  had a bang Teddy might think me handsome too," she though_esentfully. "Of course, black hair isn't as pretty as gold. But my forehea_s too high—everybody says so. And I  _did_  look nice in Teddy's pictur_ecause he drew some curls over it."
  • The matter rankled. Emily thought of it as she went home over the sheen of th_rusted snow-field slanting to the light of the winter sunset, and she coul_ot eat her supper because she did not have a bang. All her long hidde_earning for a bang seemed to come to a head at once. She knew there was n_se in coaxing Aunt Elizabeth for one. But when she was getting ready for be_hat night she stood on a chair so that she could see little Emily-in-the- glass, then lifted the curling ends of her long braid and laid them over he_orehead. The effect, in Emily's eyes at least, was very alluring. Sh_uddenly thought—what if she cut a bang herself? It would take only a minute.
  • And once done what could Aunt Elizabeth do? She would be very angry an_oubtless inflict some kind of punishment. But the bang would be there—a_east until it grew out long.
  • Emily, her lips set, went for the scissors. She unbraided her hair and parte_he front tresses. Snip—snip—went the scissors. Glistening locks fell at he_eet. In a minute Emily had her long-desired bang. Straight across her brow_ell the lustrous, softly curving fringe. It changed the whole character o_er face. It made it arch, provocative, elusive. For one brief moment Emil_azed at her reflection in triumph.
  • And then—sheer terror seized her. Oh, what had she done? How angry Aun_lizabeth would be! Conscience suddenly awoke and added its pang also. She ha_een wicked. It was wicked to cut a bang when Aunt Elizabeth had forbidden it.
  • Aunt Elizabeth had given her a home at New Moon—hadn't Rhoda Stuart that ver_ay in school twitted her again with "living on charity?" And she was repayin_er by disobedience and ingratitude. A Starr should not have done that. In _anic of fear and remorse Emily snatched the scissors and cut the bang off—cu_t close against the hair-line. Worse and worse! Emily beheld the result i_ismay. Any one could see that a bang  _had_  been cut, so Aunt Elizabeth'_nger was still to face. And she had made a terrible fright of herself. Emil_urst into tears, snatched up the fallen locks and crammed them into th_aste-basket, blew out her candle and sprang into bed, just as Aunt Elizabet_ame in.
  • Emily burrowed face downward in the pillows, and pretended to be asleep. Sh_as afraid Aunt Elizabeth would ask her some question and insist on he_ooking up while she answered it. That was a Murray tradition—you looke_eople in the face when you spoke to them. But Aunt Elizabeth undressed i_ilence and came to bed. The room was in darkness—thick darkness. Emily sighe_nd turned over. There was a hot gin-jar in the bed, she knew, and her fee_ere cold. But she did not think she ought to have the privilege of the gin- jar. She was too wicked—too ungrateful.
  • " _Do_  stop squirming," said Aunt Elizabeth.
  • Emily squirmed no more—physically at least. Mentally she continued to squirm.
  • She could not sleep. Her feet or her conscience—or both—kept her awake. An_ear, also. She dreaded the morning. Aunt Elizabeth would see then what ha_appened. If it were only over—if the revelation were only over. Emily forgo_nd squirmed.
  • "What makes you so restless to-night?" demanded Aunt Elizabeth, in hig_ispleasure. "Are you taking a cold?"
  • "No, ma'am."
  • "Then go to sleep. I can't bear such wriggling. One might as well have an ee_n bed—O—W!"
  • Aunt Elizabeth, in squirming a bit herself, had put her own foot agains_mily's icy ones.
  • "Goodness, child, your feet are like snow. Here, put them on the gin-jar."
  • Aunt Elizabeth pushed the gin-jar over against Emily's feet. How lovely an_arm and comforting it was!
  • Emily worked her toes against it like a cat. But she suddenly knew she coul_ot wait for morning.
  • "Aunt Elizabeth, I've got something to confess."
  • Aunt Elizabeth was tired and sleepy and did not want confessions just then. I_o very gracious tone she said:
  • "What have you been doing?"
  • "I—I cut a bang, Aunt Elizabeth."
  • "A bang?"
  • Aunt Elizabeth sat up in bed.
  • "But I cut it off again," cried Emily hurriedly. "Right off—close to my head."
  • Aunt Elizabeth got out of bed, lit a candle, and looked Emily over.
  • "Well you  _have_  made a sight of yourself," she said grimly. "I never sa_ny one as ugly as you are this minute. And you have behaved in a mos_nderhanded fashion."
  • This was one of the times Emily felt compelled to agree with Aunt Elizabeth.
  • "I'm sorry," she said, lifting pleading eyes.
  • "You will eat your supper in the pantry for a week," said Aunt Elizabeth. "An_ou will not go to Uncle Oliver's next week when I go. I had promised to tak_ou. But I shall take no one who looks as you do anywhere with me."
  • This was hard. Emily had looked forward to that visit to Uncle Oliver's. Bu_n the whole she was relieved. The worst was over and her feet were gettin_arm. But there was one thing yet. She might as well unburden her hear_ompletely while she was at it.
  • "There's another thing I feel I ought to tell you."
  • Aunt Elizabeth got into bed again with a grunt. Emily took it for permission.
  • "Aunt Elizabeth, you remember that book I found in Dr Burnley's bookcase an_rought home and asked you if I could read it? It was called  _The History o_enry Esmond._  You looked at it and said you had no objections to my readin_istory. So I read it. But, Aunt Elizabeth, it wasn't history—it was a novel.
  • And I  _knew it when I brought it home."_
  • "You know that I have forbidden you to read novels, Emily Starr. They ar_icked books and have ruined many souls."
  • "It was very dull," pleaded Emily, as if dullness and wickedness were quit_ncompatible. "And it made me feel unhappy. Everybody seemed to be in lov_ith the wrong person. I have made up my mind, Aunt Elizabeth, that I wil_ever fall in love. It makes too much trouble."
  • "Don't talk of things you can't understand, and that are not fit for childre_o think about. This is the result of reading novels. I shall tell Dr Burnle_o lock his bookcase up."
  • "Oh, don't do that, Aunt Elizabeth," exclaimed Emily. "There are no mor_ovels in it. But I'm reading such an interesting book over there. It tell_bout everything that's inside of you. I've got as far along as the liver an_ts diseases. The pictures are so interesting. Please let me finish it." Thi_as worse than novels. Aunt Elizabeth was truly horrified. Things that wer_nside of you were not to be read about.
  • "Have you no shame, Emily Starr? If you have not I am ashamed for you. Littl_irls do not read books like that."
  • "But, Aunt Elizabeth, why not? I  _have_  a liver, haven't I—and heart an_ungs—and stomach—and—"
  • "That will do, Emily. Not another word."
  • Emily went to sleep unhappily. She wished she had never said a word about
  • "Esmond." And she knew she would never have a chance to finish that othe_ascinating book. Nor had she. Dr Burnley's bookcase was locked thereafter an_he doctor gruffly ordered her and Ilse to keep out of his office. He was in _ery bad humour about it for he had words with Elizabeth Murray over th_atter.
  • Emily was not allowed to forget her bang. She was twitted and teased in schoo_bout it and Aunt Elizabeth looked at it whenever she looked at Emily and th_ontempt in her eyes burned Emily like a flame. Nevertheless, as th_istreated hair grew out and began to curl in soft little ringlets, Emil_ound consolation. The bang was tacitly permitted, and she felt that her look_ere greatly improved thereby. Of course, as soon as it grew long enough sh_new Aunt Elizabeth would make her brush it back. But for the time being sh_ook comfort in her added beauty.
  • The bang was just about at its best when the letter came from Great-Aun_ancy.
  • It was written to Aunt Laura—Great-Aunt Nancy and Aunt Elizabeth were no_ver-fond of each other—and in it Great-Aunt Nancy said, "If you have _hotograph of that child Emily send it along. I don't want to see  _her;_he's stupid—I know she's stupid. But I want to see what Juliet's child look_ike. Also the child of that fascinating young man, Douglas Starr. He  _was_ascinating. What fools you all were to make such a fuss about Juliet runnin_way with him. If you and Elizabeth had  _both_  run away with somebody i_our running days it would have been better for you."
  • This letter was not shown to Emily. Aunt Elizabeth and Aunt Laura had a lon_ecret consultation and then Emily was told that she was to be taken t_hrewsbury to have her picture taken for Aunt Nancy. Emily was much excite_ver this. She was dressed in her blue cashmere and Aunt Laura put a poin_ace collar on it and hung her Venetian beads over it. And new buttoned boot_ere got for the occasion.
  • "I'm so glad this has happened while I still have my bang," thought Emil_appily.
  • But in the photographer's dressing-room, Aunt Elizabeth grimly proceeded t_rush back her bang and pin it with hairpins.
  • "Oh, please, Aunt Elizabeth, let me have it down," Emily begged. "Just for th_icture. After this I'll brush it back."
  • Aunt Elizabeth was inexorable. The bang was brushed back and the photograp_aken. When Aunt Elizabeth saw the finished result she was satisfied.
  • "She looks sulky; but she is neat; and there is a resemblance to the Murrays _ever noticed before," she told Aunt Laura. "That will please Aunt Nancy. Sh_s very clannish under all her oddness."
  • Emily would have liked to throw every one of the photographs in the fire. Sh_ated them. They made her look hideous. Her face seemed to be  _all_orehead. If they sent Aunt Nancy that Aunt Nancy would think her stupide_han ever. When Aunt Elizabeth did the photograph up in cardboard and tol_mily to take it to the office Emily already knew what she meant to do. Sh_ent straight to the garret and took out of her box the water-colour Teddy ha_ade of her. It was just the same size as the photograph. Emily removed th_atter from its wrappings, spurning it aside with her foot.
  • "That isn't  _me_ ," she said. "I looked sulky because I felt sulky about th_ang. But I hardly ever look sulky, so it isn't fair."
  • She wrapped Teddy's sketch up in the cardboard and then sat down and wrote _etter.
  • > "DEAR GREAT-AUNT NANCY:
  • >
  • > "Aunt Elizabeth had my picture taken to send you but I don't like it becaus_t makes me look too ugly and I am putting another picture in instead. A_artist friend_  made it for me. It is just like me when I am smiling and hav_ bang. I am only _lending_  it to you, not  _giving_  it, because I valew i_ery highly.
  • >
  • > "Your obedient grand niece,
  • >
  • > "EMILY BYRD STARR.
  • >
  • > "P.S. I am not so stupid as you think.
  • >
  • > "E. B. S.
  • >
  • > "P. S. No. 2. I am not stupid  _at all."_
  • Emily put her letter in with the picture—thereby unconsciously cheating th_ost-office—and slipped out of the house to mail it. Once it was safely in th_ost-office she drew a breath of relief. She found the walk home ver_njoyable. It was a bland day in early April and spring was looking at yo_ound the corners. The Wind Woman was laughing and whistling over the we_weet fields; freebooting crows held conferences in the tree-tops; littl_ools of sunshine lay in the mossy hollows; the sea was a blaze of sapphir_eyond the golden dunes; the maples in Lofty John's bush were talking abou_ed buds. Everything Emily had ever read of dream and myth and legend seemed _art of the charm of that bush. She was filled to her finger-tips with _apture of living.
  • "Oh, I smell spring!" she cried as she danced along the brook path.
  • Then she began to compose a poem on it. Everybody who has ever lived in th_orld and could string two rhymes together has written a poem on spring. It i_he most be-rhymed subject in the world—and always will be, because it i_oetry incarnate itself. You can never be a real poet if you haven't made a_east one poem about spring.
  • Emily was wondering whether she would have elves dancing on the brookside b_oonlight, or pixies sleeping in a bed of ferns in her poem, when somethin_onfronted her at a bend in the path which was neither elf nor pixy, bu_eemed odd and weird enough to belong to some of the tribes of Little People.
  • Was it a witch? Or an elderly fay of evil intentions—the bad fairy of al_hristening tales?
  • "I'm the b'y's Aunt Tom," said the appearance, seeing that Emily was to_mazed to do anything but stand and stare.
  • "Oh!" Emily gasped in relief. She was no longer frightened. But what a  _very_eculiar looking lady Perry's Aunt Tom was. Old—so old that it seemed quit_mpossible that she could ever have been young; a bright red hood over crone- like, fluttering grey locks; a little face seamed by a thousand fine, criss- cross wrinkles; a long nose with a knob on the end of it; little twinkling, eager, grey eyes under bristly brows; a ragged man's coat covering her fro_eck to feet; a basket in one hand and a black knobby stick in the other.
  • "Staring wasn't thought good breeding in my time," said Aunt Tom.
  • "Oh!" said Emily again. "Excuse me—How do you do!" she added, with a vagu_rasp after her manners.
  • "Polite—and not too proud," said Aunt Tom, peering curiously at her. "I'v_een up to the big house with a pair of socks for the b'y but 'twas yourself _anted to see."
  • "Me?" said Emily blankly.
  • "Yis. The b'y has been talking a bit of you and a plan kem into my head.
  • Thinks I to myself it's no bad notion. But I'll make sure before I waste m_it o' money. Emily Byrd Starr is your name and Murray is your nature. If _ive the b'y an eddication will ye marry him when ye grow up?"
  • "Me!" said Emily again. It seemed to be all she could say. Was she dreaming?
  • She  _must_  be.
  • "Yis—you. You're half Murray and it'll be a great step up f'r the b'y. He'_mart and he'll be a rich man some day and boss the country. But divil a cen_ill I spend on him unless you promise."
  • "Aunt Elizabeth wouldn't let me," cried Emily, too frightened of this odd ol_ody to refuse on her own account.
  • "If you've got any Murray in you you'll do your own choosing," said Aunt Tom, thrusting her face so close to Emily's that her bushy eyebrows tickled Emily'_ose. "Say you'll marry the b'y and to college he goes."
  • Emily seemed to be rendered speechless. She could think of nothing to say—oh, if she could  _only_  wake up! She could not even run.
  • "Say it!" insisted Aunt Tom, thumping her stick sharply on a stone in th_ath.
  • Emily was so horrified that she might have said something—anything—to escape.
  • But at this moment Perry bounded out of the spruce copse, his face white wit_age, and seized his Aunt Tom most disrespectfully by the shoulder.
  • "You go home!" he said furiously.
  • "Now, b'y dear," quavered Aunt Tom deprecatingly. "I was only trying to do yo_ good turn. I was asking her to marry ye after a bit an—"
  • "I'll do my own asking!" Perry was angrier than ever. "You've likely spoile_verything. Go home—go home, I say!"
  • Aunt Tom hobbled off muttering, "Then I'll know better than to waste me bit o'
  • money. No Murray, no money, me b'y."
  • When she had disappeared down the brook path Perry turned to Emily. From whit_e had gone very red.
  • "Don't mind her—she's cracked," he said. "Of course, when I grow up I mean t_sk you to marry me but—"
  • "I couldn't—Aunt Elizabeth—"
  • "Oh, she will then. I'm going to be premier of Canada some day."
  • "But I wouldn't want—I'm sure I wouldn't—"
  • "You will when you grow up. Ilse is better looking of course, and I don't kno_hy I like you best but I do."
  • "Don't you ever talk to me like this again!" commanded Emily, beginning t_ecover her dignity.
  • "Oh, I won't—not till we grow up. I'm as ashamed of it as you are," said Perr_ith a sheepish grin. "Only I had to say something after Aunt Tom butted i_ike that. I ain't to blame for it so don't you hold it against me. But jus_ou remember that I'm going to ask you some day. And I believe Teddy Kent i_oo."
  • Emily was walking haughtily away but she turned at this to say coolly over he_houlder.
  • "If he does I'll marry him."
  • "If you do I'll knock his head off," shouted Perry in a prompt rage.
  • But Emily walked steadily on home and went to the garret to think things over.
  • "It has been romantic but not comfortable," was her conclusion. And tha_articular poem on spring was never finished.