She was in such a tumult of feeling when she reached home that she did a thing she was always ashamed of. Perry Miller was waiting in the New Moon garden for her. She had not seen him for a long time and at any other hour would have been glad to see him. Perry's friendship, now that he had finally given up all hope of anything else, was a very pleasant part of her life. He had developed in the last few years—he was manly, humorous, much less boastful. He had even acquired certain fundamental rules of social etiquette and learned not to have too many hands and feet. He was too busy to come often to New Moon, but Emily always enjoyed his visits when he did come—except tonight. She wanted to be alone—to think things over—classify her emotions—revel in her restored sense of self-respect. To pace up and down among the silken poppy-ladies of the garden and talk with Perry was an almost impossible thing. She was in a frenzy of impatience to be rid of him. And Perry did not sense this at all. He had not seen her for a long while—and there were many things to talk over—Ilse's wedding in especial. He kept on asking questions about it until Emily really didn't know what she was saying. Perry was a bit squiffy over the fact that _he_ had not been asked to be groomsman. He thought he had a right to be—the old chum of both.
"I never thought Teddy would turn me down cold like that," he growled. "I suppose he feels himself too big to have Stovepipe Town for groomsman."
Then Emily did her dreadful thing—before she realized what she was saying, in her impatient annoyance with Perry for casting such aspersions on Teddy the words leaped out quite involuntarily.
"You goose. It wasn't Teddy at all. Do you think Ilse would have _you_ as groomsman—when she hoped for years you would be the groom?"
The moment she had spoken she stood aghast, sick with shame and remorse. What had she done? Betrayed friendship—violated confidence—a shameful, unpardonable thing. Could _she,_ Emily Byrd Starr of New Moon, have done _this?_
Perry was standing by the dial staring at her dumbfounded.
"Emily, you don't mean that. Ilse never thought of me that way, did she?"
Emily miserably realized that the spoken word could not be recalled and that the mess she had made of things couldn't be mended by any fibs.
"She did—at one time. Of course she got over it long ago."
_"Me!_ Why, Emily, she always seemed to despise me—always ragging me about something—I never could please her—you remember."
"Oh, I remember," said Emily wearily. "She thought so much of you, she hated to see you fall below her standard. If she hadn't—liked you—do you suppose she would have cared what grammar you used or what etiquette you smashed? I should never have told you this, Perry. I shall be ashamed of it all my life. You must never let her suspect you know."
"Of course not. Anyhow, she's forgotten it long ago."
"Oh—yes. But you can understand why it wouldn't be especially agreeable for her to have you as best man at her wedding. I hated to have you think Teddy such a snob. And now, you won't mind, will you, Perry, if I ask you to go? I'm very tired—and I've so much to do the next two weeks."
"You ought to be in bed, that's a fact," agreed Perry. "I'm a beast to be keeping you up. But when I come here it seems so much like old times I never want to go. What a set of shavers we were! And now Ilse and Teddy are going to be married. We're getting on a bit."
"Next thing you'll be a staid old married man yourself, Perry," said Emily, trying to smile. "I've been hearing things."
"Not on your life! I've given up that idea for good. Not that I'm pining after you yet in particular—only nobody has any flavour after you. I've tried. I'm doomed to die a bachelor. They tell me it's an easy death. But I've got a few ambitions by the tail and I'm not kicking about life. Bye-bye, dear. I'll see you at the wedding. It's in the afternoon, isn't it?"
"Yes." Emily wondered she could speak so calmly of it. "Three o'clock—then supper—and a motor drive to Shrewsbury to catch the evening boat. Perry, Perry, I wish I hadn't told you that about Ilse. It was mean—mean—as we used to say at school—I never thought I could do such a thing."
"Now, don't go worrying over that. I'm as tickled as a dog with two tails to think Ilse ever thought that much of me, at any time. Don't you think I've sense enough to know what a compliment it was? And don't you think I understand what bricks you two girls always were to me and how much I owe you for letting me be your friend? I've never had any illusions about Stovepipe Town or the real difference between us. I wasn't such a fool as not to understand _that._ I've climbed a bit—I mean to climb higher—but you and Ilse were _born_ to it. And you never let me feel the difference as some girls did. I shan't forget Rhoda Stuart's dirty little slurs. So you don't think I'd be such a cur now as to go strutting because I've found out Ilse once had a bit of a fancy for me—or that I'd ever let her think I knew? I've left that much of Stovepipe Town behind, anyhow—even if I still have to think what fork I'll pick up first. Emily— _do_ you remember the night your Aunt Ruth caught me kissing you?"*
*See _Emily Climbs._
"I should think I do."
"The only time I ever did kiss you," said Perry non-sentimentally. "And _it_ wasn't much of a shot, was it? When I think of the old lady standing there in her nightgown with the candle!"
Perry went off laughing and Emily went to her room.
"Emily-in-the-glass," she said almost gaily, "I can look you squarely in the eyes again. I'm not ashamed any longer. He _did_ love me."
She stood there smiling for a little space. And then the smile faded.
"Oh, if I had only got that letter!" she whispered piteously.