Emily went up the hill path to keep tryst with Dean at the Disappointed House.
She had had a note from him that day, written on his return from Montreal, asking her to meet him there at dusk. He was waiting for her on the doorstep—eagerly, happily. The robins were whistling softly in the fir copse and the evening was fragrant with the tang of balsam. But the air all about them was filled with the strangest, saddest, most unforgettable sound in nature—the soft, ceaseless wash on a distant shore on a still evening of the breakers of a spent storm. A sound rarely heard and always to be remembered.
It is even more mournful than the rain-wind of night—the heart-break and despair of all creation is in it. Dean took a quick step forward to meet her—then stopped abruptly. Her face—her eyes—what had happened to Emily in his absence? _This_ was not Emily—this strange, white, remote girl of the pale twilight.
"Emily—what is it?" asked Dean—knowing before she told him.
Emily looked at him. If you had to deal a mortal blow why try to lighten it?
"I can't marry you after all, Dean," she said. "I don't love you."
That was all she could say. No excuses—no self-defence. There was none she could make. But it was shocking to see all the happiness wiped out of a human face like that.
There was a little pause—a pause that seemed an eternity with that unbearable sorrow of the sea throbbing through it. Then Dean said still quietly:
"I knew you didn't love me. Yet you were—content to marry me—before this. What has made it impossible?"
It was his right to know. Emily stumbled through her silly, incredible tale.
"You see," she concluded miserably, "when—I can call like that to him across space—I belong to him. He doesn't love me—he never will—but I belong to him… .
Oh, Dean, don't look so. I _had_ to tell you this—but if you wish it—I _will_ marry you—only I felt you must know the whole truth—when I knew it myself."
"Oh, a Murray of New Moon always keeps her word." Dean's face twisted mockingly. "You will marry me—if I want you to. But I don't want it—now. I see how impossible it is just as clearly as you do. I will not marry a woman whose heart is another man's."
"Can you ever forgive me, Dean?"
"What is there to forgive? I can't help loving you and you can't help loving him. We must let it go at that. Even the gods can't unscramble eggs. I should have known that only youth could call to youth—and I was never young. If I ever had been, even though I am old now, I might have held you."
He dropped his poor grey face in his hands. Emily found herself thinking what a nice, pleasant, friendly thing death would be.
But when Dean looked up again his face had changed. It had the old, mocking, cynical look.
"Don't look so tragic, Emily. A broken engagement is a very slight thing nowadays. And it's an ill wind that blows nobody good. Your aunts will thank whatever gods there be and my own clan will think that I have escaped as a bird out of the snare of the fowler. Still—I rather wish that old Highland Scotch grandmother who passed that dangerous chromosome down to you had taken her second sight to the grave with her."
Emily put her hands against the little porch column and laid her head against them. Dean's face changed again as he looked at her. His voice when he spoke was very gentle—though cold and pale. All the brilliance and colour and warmth had gone from it.
"Emily, I give your life back to you. It has been mine, remember, since I saved you that day on Malvern rocks. It's your own again. And we must say good-bye at last—in spite of our old compact. Say it briefly—'all farewells should be sudden when forever.'"
Emily turned and caught at his arm.
"Oh, not good-bye, Dean—not good-bye. Can't we be friends still? I can't live without your friendship."
Dean took her face in his hands—Emily's cold face that he had once dreamed might flush against his kiss—and looked gravely and tenderly into it.
"We can't be friends again, dear."
"Oh, you will forget—you will not always care—"
"A man must die to forget you, I think. No, Star, we cannot be friends. You will not have my love and it has driven everything else out. I am going away.
When I am old—really old—I will come back and we will be friends again, perhaps."
"I can never forgive myself."
"Again I ask what for? I do not reproach you—I even thank you for this year.
It has been a royal gift to me. Nothing can ever take it from me. After all, I would not give that last perfect summer of mine for a generation of other men's happiness. My Star—my Star!"
Emily looked at him, the kiss she had never given him in her eyes. What a lonely place the world would be when Dean was gone—the world that had all at once grown very old. And would she ever be able to forget his eyes with that terrible expression of pain in them?
If he had gone then she would never have been quite free—always fettered by those piteous eyes and the thought of the wrong she had done him. Perhaps Dean realized this, for there was a hint of some malign triumph in his parting smile as he turned away. He walked down the path—he paused with his hand on the gate—he turned and came back.