Lucy Maud Montgomery

Emily of New Moon

Chapter 14

Fancy Fed

In October Cousin Jimmy began to boil the pigs' potatoes--unromantic name for a most romantic occupation--or so it appeared to Emily, whose love of the beautiful and picturesque was satisfied as it had never yet been on those long, cool, starry twilights of the waning year at New Moon.

There was a clump of spruce-trees in a corner of the old orchard, and under them an immense iron pot was hung over a circle of large stones--a pot so big that an ox could have been comfortably stewed in it. Emily thought it must have come down from the days of fairy tales and been some giant's porridge pot; but Cousin Jimmy told her that it was only a hundred years old and old Hugh Murray had had it sent out from England.

"We've used it ever since to boil the potatoes for the New Moon pigs," he said. "Blair Water folks think it old-fashioned; they've all got boiler-houses now, with built-in boilers; but as long as Elizabeth's boss at New Moon we'll use this."

Emily was sure no built-in boiler could have the charm of the big pot. She helped Cousin Jimmy fill it full of potatoes, after she came from school; then, when supper was over, Cousin Jimmy lighted the fire under it and pottered about it all the evening. Sometimes he poked the fire--Emily loved that part of the performance--sending glorious streams of rosy sparks upward into the darkness; sometimes he stirred the potatoes with a long pole, looking, with his queer, forked grey beard and belted "jumper," just like some old gnome or troll of northland story mixing the contents of a magical cauldron; and sometimes he sat beside Emily on the grey granite boulder near the pot and recited his poetry for her. Emily liked this best of all, for Cousin Jimmy's poetry was surprisingly good--at least in spots--and Cousin Jimmy had "fit audience though few" in this slender little maiden with her pale eager face and rapt eyes.

They were an odd couple and they were perfectly happy together. Blair Water people thought Cousin Jimmy a failure and a mental weakling. But he dwelt in an ideal world of which none of them knew anything. He had recited his poems a hundred times thus, as he boiled the pigs' potatoes; the ghosts of a score of autumns haunted the clump of spruces for him. He was an odd, ridiculous figure enough, bent and wrinkled and unkempt, gesticulating awkwardly as he recited. But it was his hour; he was no longer "simple Jimmy Murray" but a prince in his own realm. For a little while he was strong and young and splendid and beautiful, accredited master of song to a listening, enraptured world. None of his prosperous, sensible Blair Water neighbours ever lived through such an hour. He would not have exchanged places with one of them. Emily, listening to him, felt vaguely that if it had not been for that unlucky push into the New Moon well, this queer little man beside her might have stood in the presence of kings.

But Elizabeth had pushed him into the New Moon well and as a consequence he boiled pigs' potatoes and recited poetry to Emily--Emily, who wrote poetry too, and loved these evenings so much that she could not sleep after she went to bed until she had composed a minute description of them. The flash came almost every evening over something or other. The Wind Woman swooped or purred in the tossing boughs above them--Emily had never been so near to seeing her; the sharp air was full of the pleasant tang of the burning spruce cones Cousin Jimmy shovelled under the pot; Emily's furry kitten, Mike II, frisked and scampered about like a small, charming demon of the night; the fire glowed with beautiful redness and allure through the gloom; there were nice whispery sounds everywhere; the "great big dark" lay spread around them full of mysteries that daylight never revealed; and over all a purple sky powdered with stars.

Ilse and Teddy came, too, on some evenings. Emily always knew when Teddy was coming, for when he reached the old orchard he whistled his "call"--the one he used just for her--a funny, dear little call, like three clear bird notes, the first just medium pitch, the second higher, the third dropping away into lowness and sweetness long-drawn out--like the echoes in the Bugle Song that went clearer and further in their dying. That call always had an odd effect on Emily; it seemed to her that it fairly drew the heart out of her body--and she had to follow it. She thought Teddy could have whistled her clear across the world with those three magic notes. Whenever she heard it she ran quickly through the orchard and told Teddy whether Cousin Jimmy wanted him or not, because it was only on certain nights that Cousin Jimmy wanted anybody but her. He would never recite his poetry to Ilse or Teddy; but he told them fairy stories, and tales about the old dead-and-gone Murrays in the pond graveyard that were as queer, sometimes, as the fairy stories; and Ilse would recite too, doing better there than she ever did anywhere else; and sometimes Teddy lay sprawled out on the ground beside the big pot and drew pictures by the light of the fire--pictures of Cousin Jimmy stirring the potatoes--pictures of Ilse and Emily dancing hand in hand around it like two small witches, pictures of Mike's cunning, little, whiskered face peering around the old boulder, pictures of weird, vague faces crowding in the darkness outside their enchanted circle. They had very wonderful evenings there, those four children.

"Oh, don't you like the world at night, Ilse?" Emily once said rapturously.

Ilse glanced happily around her--poor little neglected Ilse, who found in Emily's companionship what she had hungered for all her short life and who was, even now, being led by love into something of her rightful heritage.

"Yes," she said. "And I always believe there is a God when I'm here like this."

Then the potatoes were done--and Cousin Jimmy gave each of them one before he mixed in the bran; they broke them in pieces on plates of birch-bark, sprinkled them with salt which Emily had cached in a small box under the roots of the biggest spruce, and ate them with gusto. No banquet of gods was ever as delicious as those potatoes. Then finally came Aunt Laura's kind, silvery voice calling through the frosty dark; Ilse and Teddy scampered homewards; and Emily captured Mike II and shut him up safely for the night in the New Moon dog-house which had held no dog for years, but was still carefully preserved and whitewashed every spring. Emily's heart would have broken if anything had happened to Mike II.

"Old Kelly," the tin pedlar, had given him to her. Old Kelly had come round through Blair Water every fortnight from May to November for thirty years, perched on the seat of a bright red pedlar's waggon and behind a dusty, ambling, red pony of that peculiar gait and appearance pertaining to the ponies of country pedlars--a certain placid, unhasting leanness as of a nag that has encountered troubles of his own and has lived them down by sheer patience and staying power. From the bright red waggon proceeded a certain metallic rumbling and clinking as it bowled along, and two huge nests of tin pans on its flat, rope-encircled roof, flashed back the sunlight so dazzlingly that Old Kelly seemed the beaming sun of a little planetary system all his own. A new broom, sticking up aggressively at each of the four corners gave the waggon a resemblance to a triumphal chariot. Emily hankered secretly for a ride in Old Kelly's waggon. She thought it must be very delightful.

Old Kelly and she were great friends. She liked his red, clean-shaven face under his plug hat, his nice, twinkly, blue eyes, his brush of upstanding, sandy hair, and his comical pursed-up mouth, the shape of which was partly due to nature and partly to much whistling. He always had a little three-cornered paper bag of "lemon drops" for her, or a candy stick of many colours, which he smuggled into her pocket when Aunt Elizabeth wasn't looking. And he never forgot to tell her that he supposed she'd soon be thinking of getting married--for Old Kelly thought that the surest way to please a female creature of any age was to tease her about getting married.

One day, instead of candy, he produced a plump grey kitten from the back drawer of his waggon and told her it was for her. Emily received the gift rapturously, but after Old Kelly had rattled and clattered away Aunt Elizabeth told her they did not want any more cats at New Moon.

"Oh, please let me keep it, Aunt Elizabeth," Emily begged. "It won't be a bit of bother to you. I have had experience in bringing up cats. And I'm so lonesome for a kitten. Saucy Sal is getting so wild running with the barn cats that I can't 'sociate with her like I used to do--and she never was nice to cuddle. Please, Aunt Elizabeth."

Aunt Elizabeth would not and did not please. She was in a very bad humour that day, anyhow--nobody knew just why. In such a mood she was entirely unreasonable. She would not listen to anybody--Laura and Cousin Jimmy had to hold their tongues, and Cousin Jimmy was bidden to take the grey kitten down to the Blair Water and drown it. Emily burst into tears over this cruel command, and this aggravated Aunt Elizabeth still further. She was so cross that Cousin Jimmy dared not smuggle the kitten up to the barn as he had at first planned to do.

"Take that beast down to the pond and throw it in and come back and tell me you've done it," said Elizabeth angrily. "I mean to be obeyed--New Moon is not going to be made a dumping-ground for Old Jock Kelly's superfluous cats."

Cousin Jimmy did as he was told and Emily would not eat any dinner. After dinner she stole mournfully away through the old orchard down the pasture to the pond. Just why she went she could not have told, but she felt that go she must. When she reached the bank of the little creek where Lofty John's brook ran into Blair Water, she heard piteous shrieks; and there, marooned on a tiny islet of sere marsh grass in the creek, was an unhappy, little beast, its soaking fur plastered against, its sides, shivering and trembling in the wind of the sharp autumnal day. The old oat-bag in which Cousin Jimmy had imprisoned it was floating out into the pond.

Emily did not stop to think, or look for a board, or count the consequences. She plunged in the creek up to her knees, she waded out to the clump of grass and caught the kitten up. She was so hot with indignation that she did not feel the cold of the water or the chill of the wind as she ran back to New Moon. A suffering or tortured animal always filled her with such a surge of sympathy that it lifted her clean out of herself. She burst into the cook-house where Aunt Elizabeth was frying doughnuts.

"Aunt Elizabeth," she cried, "the kitten wasn't drowned after all--and I am going to keep it."

"You're not," said Aunt Elizabeth.

Emily looked her aunt in the face. Again she felt that odd sensation that had come when Aunt Elizabeth brought the scissors to cut her hair.

"Aunt Elizabeth, this poor little kitten is cold and starving, and oh, so miserable. It has been suffering for hours. It shall not be drowned again."

Archibald Murray's look was on her face and Archibald Murray's tone was in her voice. This happened only when the deeps of her being were stirred by some peculiarly poignant emotion. Just now she was in an agony of pity and anger.

When Elizabeth Murray saw her father looking at her out of Emily's little white face, she surrendered without a struggle, rage at herself as she might afterwards for her weakness. It was her one vulnerable point. The thing might not have been so uncanny if Emily had resembled the Murrays. But to see the Murray look suddenly superimposed like a mask over alien features, was such a shock to her nerves that she could not stand up against it. A ghost from the grave could not have cowed her more speedily.

She turned her back on Emily in silence but Emily knew that she had won her second victory. The grey kitten stayed at New Moon and waxed fat and lovable, and Aunt Elizabeth never took the slightest notice of its existence, save to sweep it out of the house when Emily was not about. But it was weeks before Emily was really forgiven and she felt uncomfortable enough over it. Aunt Elizabeth could be a not ungenerous conqueror but she was very disagreeable in defeat. It was really just as well that Emily could not summon the Murray look at will.