Lucy Maud Montgomery

Emily of New Moon

Chapter 21

"Romantic But Not Comfortable"

A certain thing happened at New Moon because Teddy Kent paid Ilse Burnley a compliment one day and Emily Starr didn't altogether like it. Empires have been 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 sufficiently interested in Ilse to buy skates for her, and as for Emily, Aunt Elizabeth did not approve of girls skating. New Moon girls had never skated. Aunt Laura had a revolutionary idea that skating would be good exercise for Emily and would, moreover, prevent her from wearing out the soles of her boots sliding. But neither of these arguments was sufficient to convince Aunt Elizabeth, in spite of 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 this very hardly. She moped about in a woe-begone fashion and she wrote to her father, "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 kitchen and 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 all the time. She ought"--the doctor stared at Elizabeth ferociously--"she ought to sleep out of doors."

Elizabeth trembled lest the doctor should go on to insist on this unheard-of proceeding. She knew he had absurd ideas about the proper treatment of consumptives and those who might become such. She was glad to appease him by letting Emily stay out of doors in daytime and do what seemed good to her, if only 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," she said bitterly to Laura.

"Ilse is too healthy," said Aunt Laura with a smile. "If she were a delicate child 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 into the kitchen, had heard Aunt Laura and puzzled over what she had said all day in 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 crime consist? Emily worried over it so much that she was inattentive to her lessons and Miss Brownell raked her fore and aft with sarcasm.

It is time we got back to Blair Water where Teddy was just bringing Emily in from a glorious spin clear round the great circle of ice. Ilse was waiting for her turn, on the bank. Her golden cloud of hair aureoled her face and fell in a 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 crimsoned her cheeks and her eyes were glowing like amber pools with fire in their hearts. 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 she did not like this. Teddy was looking at Ilse altogether too admiringly. It was 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 thought resentfully. "Of course, black hair isn't as pretty as gold. But my forehead is too high--everybody says so. And I did look nice in Teddy's picture because he drew some curls over it."

The matter rankled. Emily thought of it as she went home over the sheen of the crusted snow-field slanting to the light of the winter sunset, and she could not eat her supper because she did not have a bang. All her long hidden yearning for a bang seemed to come to a head at once. She knew there was no use in coaxing Aunt Elizabeth for one. But when she was getting ready for bed that 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 her forehead. The effect, in Emily's eyes at least, was very alluring. She suddenly 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 and doubtless inflict some kind of punishment. But the bang would be there--at least until it grew out long.

Emily, her lips set, went for the scissors. She unbraided her hair and parted the front tresses. Snip--snip--went the scissors. Glistening locks fell at her feet. In a minute Emily had her long-desired bang. Straight across her brows fell the lustrous, softly curving fringe. It changed the whole character of her face. It made it arch, provocative, elusive. For one brief moment Emily gazed at her reflection in triumph.

And then--sheer terror seized her. Oh, what had she done? How angry Aunt Elizabeth would be! Conscience suddenly awoke and added its pang also. She had been 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 very day in school twitted her again with "living on charity?" And she was repaying her by disobedience and ingratitude. A Starr should not have done that. In a panic of fear and remorse Emily snatched the scissors and cut the bang off--cut it close against the hair-line. Worse and worse! Emily beheld the result in dismay. Any one could see that a bang had been cut, so Aunt Elizabeth's anger was still to face. And she had made a terrible fright of herself. Emily burst into tears, snatched up the fallen locks and crammed them into the waste-basket, blew out her candle and sprang into bed, just as Aunt Elizabeth came in.

Emily burrowed face downward in the pillows, and pretended to be asleep. She was afraid Aunt Elizabeth would ask her some question and insist on her looking up while she answered it. That was a Murray tradition--you looked people in the face when you spoke to them. But Aunt Elizabeth undressed in silence and came to bed. The room was in darkness--thick darkness. Emily sighed and turned over. There was a hot gin-jar in the bed, she knew, and her feet were 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. And fear, also. She dreaded the morning. Aunt Elizabeth would see then what had happened. If it were only over--if the revelation were only over. Emily forgot and squirmed.

"What makes you so restless to-night?" demanded Aunt Elizabeth, in high displeasure. "Are you taking a cold?"

"No, ma'am."

"Then go to sleep. I can't bear such wriggling. One might as well have an eel in bed--O--W!"

Aunt Elizabeth, in squirming a bit herself, had put her own foot against Emily'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 and warm and comforting it was!

Emily worked her toes against it like a cat. But she suddenly knew she could not wait for morning.

"Aunt Elizabeth, I've got something to confess."

Aunt Elizabeth was tired and sleepy and did not want confessions just then. In no 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 saw any one as ugly as you are this minute. And you have behaved in a most underhanded 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. "And you will not go to Uncle Oliver's next week when I go. I had promised to take you. 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. But on the whole she was relieved. The worst was over and her feet were getting warm. But there was one thing yet. She might as well unburden her heart completely 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 and brought home and asked you if I could read it? It was called The History of Henry Esmond. You looked at it and said you had no objections to my reading history. 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 are wicked books and have ruined many souls."

"It was very dull," pleaded Emily, as if dullness and wickedness were quite incompatible. "And it made me feel unhappy. Everybody seemed to be in love with the wrong person. I have made up my mind, Aunt Elizabeth, that I will never fall in love. It makes too much trouble."

"Don't talk of things you can't understand, and that are not fit for children to think about. This is the result of reading novels. I shall tell Dr Burnley to lock his bookcase up."

"Oh, don't do that, Aunt Elizabeth," exclaimed Emily. "There are no more novels in it. But I'm reading such an interesting book over there. It tells about everything that's inside of you. I've got as far along as the liver and its diseases. The pictures are so interesting. Please let me finish it." This was worse than novels. Aunt Elizabeth was truly horrified. Things that were inside of you were not to be read about.

"Have you no shame, Emily Starr? If you have not I am ashamed for you. Little girls do not read books like that."

"But, Aunt Elizabeth, why not? I have a liver, haven't I--and heart and lungs--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 other fascinating book. Nor had she. Dr Burnley's bookcase was locked thereafter and the doctor gruffly ordered her and Ilse to keep out of his office. He was in a very bad humour about it for he had words with Elizabeth Murray over the matter.

Emily was not allowed to forget her bang. She was twitted and teased in school about it and Aunt Elizabeth looked at it whenever she looked at Emily and the contempt in her eyes burned Emily like a flame. Nevertheless, as the mistreated hair grew out and began to curl in soft little ringlets, Emily found consolation. The bang was tacitly permitted, and she felt that her looks were greatly improved thereby. Of course, as soon as it grew long enough she knew Aunt Elizabeth would make her brush it back. But for the time being she took comfort in her added beauty.

The bang was just about at its best when the letter came from Great-Aunt Nancy.

It was written to Aunt Laura--Great-Aunt Nancy and Aunt Elizabeth were not over-fond of each other--and in it Great-Aunt Nancy said, "If you have a photograph of that child Emily send it along. I don't want to see her; she's stupid--I know she's stupid. But I want to see what Juliet's child looks like. Also the child of that fascinating young man, Douglas Starr. He was fascinating. What fools you all were to make such a fuss about Juliet running away with him. If you and Elizabeth had both run away with somebody in your running days it would have been better for you."

This letter was not shown to Emily. Aunt Elizabeth and Aunt Laura had a long secret consultation and then Emily was told that she was to be taken to Shrewsbury to have her picture taken for Aunt Nancy. Emily was much excited over this. She was dressed in her blue cashmere and Aunt Laura put a point lace collar on it and hung her Venetian beads over it. And new buttoned boots were got for the occasion.

"I'm so glad this has happened while I still have my bang," thought Emily happily.

But in the photographer's dressing-room, Aunt Elizabeth grimly proceeded to brush back her bang and pin it with hairpins.

"Oh, please, Aunt Elizabeth, let me have it down," Emily begged. "Just for the picture. After this I'll brush it back."

Aunt Elizabeth was inexorable. The bang was brushed back and the photograph taken. 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 I never noticed before," she told Aunt Laura. "That will please Aunt Nancy. She is very clannish under all her oddness."

Emily would have liked to throw every one of the photographs in the fire. She hated them. They made her look hideous. Her face seemed to be all forehead. If they sent Aunt Nancy that Aunt Nancy would think her stupider than ever. When Aunt Elizabeth did the photograph up in cardboard and told Emily to take it to the office Emily already knew what she meant to do. She went straight to the garret and took out of her box the water-colour Teddy had made of her. It was just the same size as the photograph. Emily removed the latter from its wrappings, spurning it aside with her foot.

"That isn't me," she said. "I looked sulky because I felt sulky about the bang. 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 a letter.


"Aunt Elizabeth had my picture taken to send you but I don't like it because it makes me look too ugly and I am putting another picture in instead. An artist friend made it for me. It is just like me when I am smiling and have a bang. I am only lending it to you, not giving it, because I valew it very highly.

"Your obedient grand niece,


"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 the post-office--and slipped out of the house to mail it. Once it was safely in the post-office she drew a breath of relief. She found the walk home very enjoyable. It was a bland day in early April and spring was looking at you round the corners. The Wind Woman was laughing and whistling over the wet sweet fields; freebooting crows held conferences in the tree-tops; little pools of sunshine lay in the mossy hollows; the sea was a blaze of sapphire beyond the golden dunes; the maples in Lofty John's bush were talking about red buds. Everything Emily had ever read of dream and myth and legend seemed a part of the charm of that bush. She was filled to her finger-tips with a rapture 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 the world and could string two rhymes together has written a poem on spring. It is the most be-rhymed subject in the world--and always will be, because it is poetry incarnate itself. You can never be a real poet if you haven't made at least one poem about spring.

Emily was wondering whether she would have elves dancing on the brookside by moonlight, or pixies sleeping in a bed of ferns in her poem, when something confronted her at a bend in the path which was neither elf nor pixy, but seemed 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 all christening tales?

"I'm the b'y's Aunt Tom," said the appearance, seeing that Emily was too amazed to do anything but stand and stare.

"Oh!" Emily gasped in relief. She was no longer frightened. But what a very peculiar looking lady Perry's Aunt Tom was. Old--so old that it seemed quite impossible 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 from neck 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 vague grasp after her manners.

"Polite--and not too proud," said Aunt Tom, peering curiously at her. "I've been up to the big house with a pair of socks for the b'y but 'twas yourself I wanted 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 my bit o' money. Emily Byrd Starr is your name and Murray is your nature. If I give 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's smart and he'll be a rich man some day and boss the country. But divil a cent will I spend on him unless you promise."

"Aunt Elizabeth wouldn't let me," cried Emily, too frightened of this odd old body 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's nose. "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 the path.

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 with rage, 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 you a 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 spoiled everything. 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 white he had gone very red.

"Don't mind her--she's cracked," he said. "Of course, when I grow up I mean to ask 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 know why I like you best but I do."

"Don't you ever talk to me like this again!" commanded Emily, beginning to recover her dignity.

"Oh, I won't--not till we grow up. I'm as ashamed of it as you are," said Perry with a sheepish grin. "Only I had to say something after Aunt Tom butted in like that. I ain't to blame for it so don't you hold it against me. But just you remember that I'm going to ask you some day. And I believe Teddy Kent is too."

Emily was walking haughtily away but she turned at this to say coolly over her shoulder.

"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 that particular poem on spring was never finished.