Emily's idea came to her that evening as she sat idly by her window looking rather drearily out on cold meadows and hills of grey, over which a chilly, lonesome wind blew. She could hear the dry leaves blowing over the garden wall. A few great white flakes were beginning to come down.
She had had a letter from Ilse that day. Teddy's picture, _The Smiling Girl,_ which had been exhibited in Montreal and had made a tremendous sensation, had been accepted by the Paris _Salon._
"I just got back from the coast in time to see the last day of its exhibition here," wrote Ilse. "And it's you—Emily—it's you. Just that old sketch he made of you years ago completed and glorified—the one your Aunt Nancy made you so mad by keeping—remember? There you were smiling down from Teddy's canvas. The critics had a great deal to say about his colouring and technique and
'feeling' and all that sort of jargon. But one said, 'The smile on the girl's face will become as famous as Mona Lisa's.' I've seen that very smile on your face a hundred times, Emily—especially when you were seeing that unseeable thing you used to call your flash. Teddy has caught the very soul of it—not a mocking, challenging smile like Mona Lisa's—but a smile that seems to hint at some exquisitely wonderful secret you could tell if you liked—some whisper eternal—a secret that would make every one happy if they could only get you to tell it. It's only a trick, I suppose— _you_ don't know that secret any more than the rest of us. But the smile suggests that you do—suggests it marvellously. Yes, your Teddy has genius—that smile proves it. What does it feel like, Emily, to realize yourself the inspiration of a genius? I'd give years of my life for such a compliment."
Emily didn't quite know what it felt like. But she did feel a certain small, futile anger with Teddy. What right had he who scorned her love and was indifferent to her friendship to paint her face—her soul—her secret vision—and hang it up for the world to gaze at? To be sure, he had told her in childhood that he meant to do it—and she had agreed then. But everything had changed since then. Everything.
Well, about this story, regarding which Aunt Elizabeth had such an Oliver Twist complex. Suppose she were to write another one—suddenly the idea came.
Suppose she were to expand it into a book. Not like _A Seller of Dreams,_ of course. That old glory could come back no more. But Emily had an instantaneous vision of the new book, as a whole—a witty, sparkling rill of human comedy.
She ran down to Aunt Elizabeth.
"Aunty, how would you like me to write a book for you about those people in my story? Just for you—a chapter every day."
Aunt Elizabeth carefully hid the fact that she was interested.
"Oh, you can if you want to. I wouldn't mind hearing about them. But mind, you are not to put any of the neighbours in."
Emily didn't put any of the neighbours in—she didn't need to. Characters galore trooped into her consciousness, demanding a local habitation and a name. They laughed and scowled and wept and danced—and even made a little love. Aunt Elizabeth tolerated this, supposing you couldn't have a novel without some of it. Emily read a chapter every evening, and Aunt Laura and Cousin Jimmy were allowed to hear it along with Aunt Elizabeth. Cousin Jimmy was in raptures. He was sure it was the most wonderful story ever written.
"I feel young again when I'm listening to you," he said.
"Sometimes I want to laugh and sometimes I want to cry," confessed Aunt Laura.
"I can't sleep for wondering what is going to happen to the _Applegaths_ in the next chapter."
"It might be worse," conceded Aunt Elizabeth. "But I wish you'd cut out what you said about _Gloria Applegath's_ greasy dish-towels. Mrs. Charlie Frost of Derry Pond, will think you mean her. Her towels are always greasy."
"Chips are bound to light somewhere," said Cousin Jimmy. _"Gloria_ is funny in a book, but she'd be awful to live with. Too busy saving the world.
Somebody ought to tell her to read her Bible."
"I don't like _Cissy Applegath,_ though," said Aunt Laura apologetically.
"She has such a supercilious way of speaking."
"A shallow-pated creature," said Aunt Elizabeth.
"It's old _Jesse Applegath_ I can't tolerate," said Cousin Jimmy fiercely.
"A man who would kick a cat just to relieve his feelings! I'd go twenty miles to slap the old he-devil's face. But"—hopefully—"maybe he'll die before long."
"Or reform," suggested Aunt Laura mercifully.
"No, no, don't let him reform," said Cousin Jimmy anxiously. "Kill him off, if necessary, but don't reform him. I wish, though, you'd change the colour of _Peg Applegath's_ eyes. I don't like green eyes—never did."
"But I can't change them. They _are_ green," protested Emily.
"Well, then, _Abraham Applegath's_ whiskers," pleaded Cousin Jimmy. "I like _Abraham._ He's a gay dog. Can't he help his whiskers, Emily?"
Why couldn't they understand? Abraham _had_ whiskers— _wanted_ whiskers—was determined to have whiskers. _She_ couldn't change him.
"It's time we remembered that these people have no real existence," rebuked Aunt Elizabeth.
But once—Emily counted it her greatest triumph—Aunt Elizabeth laughed. She was so ashamed of it she would not even smile all the rest of the reading.
"Elizabeth thinks God doesn't like to hear us laugh," Cousin Jimmy whispered behind his hand to Laura. If Elizabeth had not been lying there with a broken leg Laura would have smiled. But to smile under the circumstances seemed like taking an unfair advantage of her.
Cousin Jimmy went downstairs shaking his head and murmuring, _"How_ does she do it? How _does_ she do it! I can write poetry—but _this._ Those folks are alive!"
One of them was too much alive in Aunt Elizabeth's opinion.
"That _Nicholas Applegath_ is too much like old Douglas Courcy, of Shrewsbury," she said. "I told you not to put any people we knew in it."
"Why, I never saw Douglas Courcy."
"It's him to the life. Even Jimmy noticed it. You must cut him out, Emily."
But Emily obstinately refused to "cut him out." Old _Nicholas_ was one of the best characters in her book. She was very much absorbed in it by this time. The composition of it was never the ecstatic rite the creation of _A Seller of Dreams_ had been, but it was very fascinating. She forgot all vexing and haunting things while she was writing it. The last chapter was finished the very day the splints were taken off Aunt Elizabeth's leg and she was carried down to the kitchen lounge.
"Well, your story has helped," she admitted. "But I'm thankful to be where I can keep my eye on things once more. What are you going to do with your book?
What are you going to call it?"
_"The Moral of the Rose."_
"I don't think that is a good title at all. I don't know what it means—nobody will know."
"No matter. That is the book's name."
Aunt Elizabeth sighed.
"I don't know where you get your stubbornness from, Emily. I'm sure I don't.
You never would take advice. And I know the Courcys will never speak to us again, after the book is published."
"The book hasn't any chance of being published," said Emily gloomily. "They'll send it back, 'damned with faint praise.'"
Aunt Elizabeth had never heard this expression before and she thought Emily had originated it and was being profane.
"Emily," she said sternly, "don't let me ever hear such a word from your lips again. I've more than suspected Ilse of such language—that poor girl never got over her early bringing up—she's not to be judged by _our_ standards. But Murrays of New Moon do _not_ swear."
"It was only a quotation, Aunt Elizabeth," said Emily wearily.
She was tired—a little tired of everything. It was Christmas now and a long, dreary winter stretched before her—an empty, aimless winter. Nothing seemed worth while—not even finding a publisher for _The Moral of the Rose._