Lucy Maud Montgomery

Emily of New Moon

Chapter 23

Deals with Ghosts

"Your aunt is in the back parlour," said Caroline Priest. "Come this way. Are you tired?"

"No," said Emily, following Caroline and taking her in thoroughly. If Caroline were a witch she was a very small one. She was really no taller than Emily herself. She wore a black silk dress and a little string cap of black net edged with black ruching on her yellowish white hair. Her face was more wrinkled than Emily had ever supposed a face could be and she had the peculiar grey-green eyes which, as Emily afterwards discovered, "ran" in the Priest clan.

"You may be a witch," thought Emily, "but I think I can manage you."

They went through the spacious hall, catching glimpses on either side of large, dim, splendid rooms, then through the kitchen end out of it into an odd little back hall. It was long and narrow and dark. On one side was a row of four, square, small-paned windows, on the other were cupboards, reaching from floor to ceiling, with doors of black shining wood. Emily felt like one of the heroines in Gothic romance, wandering at midnight through a subterranean dungeon, with some unholy guide. She had read The Mysteries of Udolpho and The Romance of the Forest before the taboo had fallen on Dr Burnley's bookcase. She shivered. It was awful but interesting.

At the end of the hall a flight of four steps led up to a door. Beside the steps was an immense black grandfather's clock reaching almost to the ceiling.

"We shut little girls up in that when they're bad," whispered Caroline, nodding at Emily, as she opened the door that led into the back parlour.

"I'll take good care you won't shut me up in it," thought Emily.

The back parlour was a pretty, quaint old room where a table was laid for supper. Caroline led Emily through it and knocked at another door, using a quaint old brass knocker that was fashioned like a chessy-cat, with such an irresistible grin that you wanted to grin, too, when you saw it. Somebody said, "Come in," and they went down another four steps--was there ever such a funny house?--into a bedroom. And here at last was Great-Aunt Nancy Priest, sitting in her arm-chair, with her black stick leaning against her knee, and her tiny white hands, still pretty, and sparkling with fine rings, lying on her purple silk apron.

Emily felt a distinct shock of disappointment. After hearing that poem in which Nancy Murray's beauty of nut-brown hair and starry brown eyes and cheek of satin rose had been be-rhymed she had somehow expected Great-Aunt Nancy, in spite of her ninety years, to be beautiful still. But Aunt Nancy was white-haired and yellow-skinned and wrinkled and shrunken, though her brown eyes were still bright and shrewd. Somehow, she looked like an old fairy--an impish, tolerant old fairy, who might turn suddenly malevolent if you rubbed her the wrong way--only fairies never wore long, gold-tasselled ear-rings that almost touched their shoulders, or white lace caps with purple pansies in them.

"So this is Juliet's girl!" she said, giving Emily one of her sparkling hands. "Don't look so startled, child. I'm not going to kiss you. I never held with inflicting kisses on defenceless creatures simply because they were so unlucky as to be my relatives. Now, who does she look like, Caroline?"

Emily made a mental grimace. Now for another ordeal of comparisons, wherein dead-and-gone noses and eyes and foreheads would be dragged out and fitted on her. She was thoroughly tired of having her looks talked over in every gathering of the clans.

"Not much like the Murrays," said Caroline, peering so closely into her face that Emily involuntarily drew back. "Not so handsome as the Murrays."

"Nor the Starrs either. Her father was a handsome man--so handsome that I'd have run away with him myself if I'd been fifty years younger. There's nothing of Juliet in her that I can see. Juliet was pretty. You are not as good-looking as that picture made you out but I didn't expect you would be. Pictures and epitaphs are never to be trusted. Where's your bang gone, Emily?"

"Aunt Elizabeth combed it back."

"Well, you comb it down again while you're in my house. There's something of your Grandfather Murray about your eyebrows. Your grandfather was a handsome man--and a darned bad-tempered one--almost as bad-tempered as the Priests--hey, Caroline?"

"If you please, Great-Aunt Nancy," said Emily deliberately, "I don't like to be told I look like other people. I look just like myself."

Aunt Nancy chuckled.

"Spunk, I see. Good. I never cared for meek youngsters. So you're not stupid, eh?"

"No, I'm not."

Great-Aunt Nancy grinned this time. Her false teeth looked uncannily white and young in her old, brown face.

"Good. If you've brains it's better than beauty--brains last, beauty doesn't. Me, for example. Caroline here, now, never had either brains nor beauty, had you, Caroline? Come, let's go to supper. Thank goodness, my stomach has stood by me if my good looks haven't."

Great-Aunt Nancy hobbled, by the aid of her stick, up the steps and over to the table. She sat at one end, Caroline at the other, Emily between, feeling rather uncomfortable. But the ruling passion was still strong in her and she was already composing a description of them for the blank book.

"I wonder if anybody will be sorry when you die," she thought, looking intently at Caroline's wizened old face.

"Come now, tell me," said Aunt Nancy. "If you're not stupid, why did you write me such a stupid letter that first time. Lord, but it was stupid! I read it over to Caroline to punish her whenever she is naughty."

"I couldn't write any other kind of a letter because Aunt Elizabeth said she was going to read it."

"Trust Elizabeth for that. Well, you can write what you like here--and say what you like--and do what you like. Nobody will interfere with you or try to bring you up. I asked you for a visit, not for discipline. Thought likely you'd have enough of that at New Moon. You can have the run of the house and pick a beau to your liking from the Priest boys--not that the young fry are what they were in my time."

"I don't want a beau," retorted Emily. She felt rather disgusted. Old Kelly had ranted about beaux half the way over and here was Aunt Nancy beginning on the same unnecessary subject.

"Don't you tell me," said Aunt Nancy, laughing till her gold tassels shook. "There never was a Murray of New Moon that didn't like a beau. When I was your age I had half a dozen. All the little boys in Blair Water were fighting about me. Caroline here now never had a beau in her life, had you, Caroline?"

"Never wanted one," snapped Caroline.

"Eighty and twelve say the same thing and both lie," said Aunt Nancy. "What's the use of being hypocrites among ourselves? I don't say it isn't well enough when men are about. Caroline, do you notice what a pretty hand Emily has? As pretty as mine when I was young. And an elbow like a cat's. Cousin Susan Murray had an elbow like that. It's odd--she has more Murray points than Starr points and yet she looks like the Starrs and not like the Murrays. What odd sums in addition we all are--the answer is never what you'd expect. Caroline, what a pity Jarback isn't home. He'd like Emily--I have a feeling he'd like Emily. Jarback's the only Priest that'll ever go to heaven, Emily. Let's have a look at your ankles, puss."

Emily rather unwillingly put out her foot. Aunt Nancy nodded her satisfaction.

"Mary Shipley's ankle. Only one in a generation has it. I had it. The Murray ankles are thick. Even your mother's ankles were thick. Look at that instep, Caroline. Emily, you're not a beauty but if you learn to use your eyes and hands and feet properly you'll pass for one. The men are easily fooled and if the women say you're not 'twill be held for jealousy."

Emily decided that this was a good opportunity to find out something that had puzzled her.

"Old Mr Kelly said I had come-hither eyes, Aunt Nancy. Have I? And what are come-hither eyes?"

"Jock Kelly's an old ass. You haven't come-hither eyes--it wouldn't be a Murray tradish." Aunt Nancy laughed. "The Murrays have keep-your-distance eyes--and so have you--though your lashes contradict them a bit. But sometimes eyes like that--combined with certain other points--are quite as effective as come-hither eyes. Men go by contraries oftener than not--if you tell them to keep off they'll come on. My own Nathaniel now--the only way to get him to do anything was to coax him to do the opposite. Remember, Caroline? Have another cooky, Emily?"

"I haven't had one yet," said Emily, rather resentfully.

Those cookies looked very tempting and she had been wishing they might be passed. She didn't know why Aunt Nancy and Caroline both laughed. Caroline's laugh was unpleasant--a dry, rusty sort of laugh--"no juice in it," Emily decided. She thought she would write in her description that Caroline had a "thin, rattling laugh."

"What do you think of us?" demanded Aunt Nancy. "Come now, what do you think of us?"

Emily was dreadfully embarrassed. She had just been thinking of writing that Aunt Nancy looked "withered and shrivelled;" but one couldn't say that--one couldn't.

"Tell the truth and shame the devil," said Aunt Nancy.

"That isn't a fair question," cried Emily.

"You think," said Aunt Nancy, grinning, "that I'm a hideous old hag and that Caroline isn't quite human. She isn't. She never was--but you should have seen me seventy years ago. I was handsomest of all the handsome Murrays. The men were mad about me. When I married Nat Priest his three brothers could have cut his throat. One cut his own. Oh, I played havoc in my time. All I regret is I can't live it over. 'Twas a grand life while it lasted. I queened it over them. The women hated me, of course--all but Caroline here. You worshipped me, didn't you, Caroline? And you worship me yet, don't you, Caroline? Caroline, I wish you didn't have a wart on your nose."

"I wish you had one on your tongue," said Caroline waspishly.

Emily was beginning to feel tired and bewildered. It was interesting--and Aunt Nancy was kind enough in her queer way; but at home Ilse and Perry and Teddy would be foregathering in Lofty John's bush for their evening revel, and Saucy Sal would be sitting on the dairy steps, waiting for Cousin Jimmy to give her the froth. Emily suddenly realized that she was as homesick for New Moon as she had been for Maywood her first night at New Moon.

"The child's tired," said Aunt Nancy. "Take her to bed, Caroline. Put her in the Pink Room."

Emily followed Caroline through the back hall, through the kitchen, through the front hall, up the stairs, down a long hall, through a long side hall. Where on earth was she being taken? Finally they reached a large room. Caroline set down the lamp, and asked Emily if she had a nightgown.

"Of course I have. Do you suppose Aunt Elizabeth would have let me come without one?"

Emily was quite indignant.

"Nancy says you can sleep as long as you like in the morning," said Caroline. "Good night. Nancy and I sleep in the old wing, of course, and the rest of us sleep well in our graves."

With this cryptic remark Caroline trotted out and shut the door.

Emily sat down on an embroidered ottoman and looked about her. The window curtains were of faded pink brocade and the walls were hung with pink paper decorated with diamonds of rose chains. It made a very pretty fairy paper, as Emily found by cocking her eyes at it. There was a green carpet on the floor, so lavishly splashed with big pink roses that Emily was almost afraid to walk on it. She decided that the room was a very splendid one.

"But I have to sleep here alone, so I must say my prayers very carefully," she reflected.

She undressed rather hastily, blew out the light and got into bed. She covered herself up to her chin and lay there, staring at the high, white ceiling. She had grown so used to Aunt Elizabeth's curtained bed that she felt curiously unsheltered in this low, modern one. But at least the window was wide open--evidently Aunt Nancy did not share Aunt Elizabeth's horror of night air. Through it Emily could see summer fields lying in the magic of a rising yellow moon. But the room was big and ghostly. She felt horribly far away from everybody. She was lonesome--homesick. She thought of Old Kelly and his toad ointment. Perhaps he did boil the toads alive after all. This hideous thought tormented her. It was awful to think of toads--or anything--being boiled alive. She had never slept alone before. Suddenly she was frightened. How the window rattled. It sounded terribly as if somebody--or something--were trying to get in. She thought of Ilse's ghost--a ghost you couldn't see but could hear and feel was something especially spooky in the way of ghosts--she thought of the stone dogs that went "Wo--or--oo--oo" at midnight. A dog did begin to howl somewhere. Emily felt a cold perspiration on her brow. What had Caroline meant about the rest of them sleeping well in their graves? The floor creaked. Wasn't there somebody--or something--tiptoeing round outside the door? Did something move in the corner? There were mysterious sounds in the long hall.

"I won't be scared," said Emily. "I won't think of those things, and to-morrow I'll write down all about how I feel now."

And then--she did hear something--right behind the wall at the head of her bed. There was no mistake about it. It was not imagination. She heard distinctly strange uncanny rustles--as if stiff silk dresses were rubbing against each other--as if fluttering wings fanned the air--and there were soft, low, muffled sounds like tiny children's cries or moans. They lasted--they kept on. Now and then they would die away--then start up again.

Emily cowered under the bedclothes, cold with real terror. Before, her fright had been only on the surface--she had known there was nothing to fear, even while she feared. Something in her braced her to endure. But this was no mistake--no imagination. The rustles and flutterings and cries and moans were all too real. Wyther Grange suddenly became a dreadful, uncanny place. Ilse was right--it was haunted. And she was all alone here, with miles of rooms and halls between her and any human being. It was cruel of Aunt Nancy to put her in a haunted room. Aunt Nancy must have known it was haunted--cruel old Aunt Nancy with her ghoulish pride in men who had killed themselves for her. Oh, if she were back in dear New Moon, with Aunt Elizabeth beside her. Aunt Elizabeth was not an ideal bedfellow but she was flesh-and-blood. And if the windows were hermetically sealed they kept out spooks as well as night air.

"Perhaps it won't be so bad if I say my prayers over again," thought Emily.

But even this didn't help much.

To the end of her life Emily never forgot that first horrible night at Wyther Grange. She was so tired that sometimes she dozed fitfully off only to be awakened in a few minutes in panic horror, by the rustling and muffled moans behind her bed. Every ghost and groan, every tortured spirit and bleeding nun of the books she had read came into her mind.

"Aunt Elizabeth was right--novels aren't fit to read," she thought. "Oh, I will die here--of fright--I know I will. I know I'm a coward--I can't be brave."

When morning came the room was bright with sunshine and free from mysterious sounds. Emily got up, dressed and found her way to the old wing. She was pale, with black-ringed eyes, but resolute.

"Well, and how did you sleep?" asked Aunt Nancy graciously.

Emily ignored the question.

"I want to go home to-day," she said.

Aunt Nancy stared.

"Home? Nonsense! Are you such a homesick baby as that?"

"I'm not homesick--not very--but I must go home."

"You can't--there's no one here to take you. You don't expect Caroline can drive you to Blair Water, do you?"

"Then I will walk."

Aunt Nancy thumped her stick angrily on the floor.

"You will stay right here until I'm ready for you to go, Miss Puss. I never tolerate any whims but my own. Caroline knows that, don't you, Caroline? Sit down to your breakfast--and eat--eat."

Aunt Nancy glared at Emily.

"I won't stay here," said Emily. "I won't stay another night in that horrible haunted room. It was cruel of you to put me there. If--" Emily gave Aunt Nancy glare for glare--"if I was Salome I'd ask for your head on a charger."

"Hoity-toity! What nonsense is this about a haunted room? We've no ghosts at Wyther Grange. Have we, Caroline? We don't consider them hygienic."

"You have something dreadful in that room--it rustled and moaned and cried all night long right in the wall behind my bed. I won't stay--I won't--"

Emily's tears came in spite of her efforts to repress them. She was so unstrung nervously that she couldn't help crying. It lacked but little of hysterics with her already.

Aunt Nancy looked at Caroline and Caroline looked back at Aunt Nancy.

"We should have told her, Caroline. It's all our fault. I clean forgot--it's so long since any one slept in the Pink Room. No wonder she was frightened. Emily, you poor child, it was a shame. It would serve me right to have my head on a charger, you vindictive scrap. We should have told you."

"Told me--what?"

"About the swallows in the chimney. That was what you heard. The big central chimney goes right up through the walls behind your bed. It is never used now since the fireplaces were built in. The swallows nest there--hundreds of them. They do make an uncanny noise--fluttering and quarrelling as they do."

Emily felt foolish and ashamed--much more ashamed than she needed to feel, for her experience had really been a very trying one, and older folk than she had been woefully frightened o' nights in the Pink Room at Wyther Grange. Nancy Priest had put people into that room sometimes expressly to scare them. But to do her justice she really had forgotten in Emily's case and was sorry.

Emily said no more about going home; Caroline and Aunt Nancy were both very kind to her that day; she had a good nap in the afternoon; and when the second night came she went straight to the Pink Room and slept soundly the night through. The rustles and cries were as distinct as ever but swallows and spectres were two entirely different things.

"After all, I think I'll like Wyther Grange," said Emily.