Lucy Maud Montgomery

Emily of New Moon

Chapter 31

Emily's Great Moment

Emily's convalescence was rather slow. Physically she recovered with normal celerity but a certain spiritual and emotional langour persisted for a time. One cannot go down to the depths of hidden things and escape the penalty. Aunt Elizabeth said she "moped." But Emily was too happy and contented to mope. It was just that life seemed to have lost its savour for a time, as if some spring of vital energy had been drained out of it and refilled slowly.

She had, just then, no one to play with. Perry, Ilse and Teddy had all come down with measles the same day. Mrs Kent at first declared bitterly that Teddy had caught them at New Moon, but all three had contracted them at a Sunday-school picnic where Derry Pond children had been. That picnic infected all Blair Water. There was a perfect orgy of measles. Teddy and Ilse were only moderately ill, but Perry, who had insisted on going home to Aunt Tom at the first symptoms, nearly died. Emily was not allowed to know his danger until it had passed, lest it worry her too much. Even Aunt Elizabeth worried over it. She was surprised to discover how much they missed Perry round the place.

It was fortunate for Emily that Dean Priest was in Blair Water during this forlorn time. His companionship was just what she needed and helped her wonderfully on the road to complete recovery. They went for long walks together all over Blair Water, with Tweed woofing around them, and explored places and roads Emily had never seen before. They watched a young moon grow old, night by night; they talked in dim scented chambers of twilight over long red roads of mystery; they followed the lure of hill winds; they saw the stars rise and Dean told her all about them--the great constellations of the old myths. It was a wonderful month; but on the first day of Teddy's convalescence Emily was off to the Tansy Patch for the afternoon and Jarback Priest walked--if he walked at all--alone.

Aunt Elizabeth was extremely polite to him, though she did not like the Priests of Priest Pond overmuch, and never felt quite comfortable under the mocking gleam of "Jarback's" green eyes and the faint derision of his smile, which seemed to make Murray pride and Murray traditions seem much less important than they really were.

"He has the Priest flavour," she told Laura, "though it isn't as strong in him as in most of them. And he's certainly helping Emily--she has begun to spunk up since he came."

Emily continued to "spunk up" and by September, when the measles epidemic was spent and Dean Priest had gone on one of his sudden swoops over to Europe for the autumn, she was ready for school again--a little taller, a little thinner, a little less childlike, with great grey shadowy eyes that had looked into death and read the riddle of a buried thing, and henceforth would hold in them some haunting, elusive remembrance of that world behind the veil. Dean Priest had seen it--Mr Carpenter saw it when she smiled at him across her desk at school.

"She's left the childhood of her soul behind, though she is still a child in body," he muttered.

One afternoon amid the golden days and hazes of October he asked her gruffly to let him see some of her verses.

"I never meant to encourage you in it," he said. "I don't mean it now. Probably you can't write a line of real poetry and never will. But let me see your stuff. If it's hopelessly bad I'll tell you so. I won't have you wasting years striving for the unattainable--at least I won't have it on my conscience if you do. If there's any promise in it, I'll tell you so just as honestly. And bring some of your stories, too--they're trash yet, that's certain, but I'll see if they show just and sufficient cause for going on."

Emily spent a very solemn hour that evening, weighing, choosing, rejecting. To the little bundle of verse she added one of her Jimmy-books which contained, as she thought, her best stories. She went to school next day, so secret and mysterious that Ilse took offence, started in to call her names--and then stopped. Ilse had promised her father that she would try to break herself of the habit of calling names. She was making fairly good headway and her conversation, if less vivid, was beginning to approximate to New Moon standards.

Emily made a sad mess of her lessons that day. She was nervous and frightened. She had a tremendous respect for Mr Carpenter's opinion. Father Cassidy had told her to keep on--Dean Priest had told her that some day she might really write--but perhaps they were only trying to be encouraging because they liked her and didn't want to hurt her feelings. Emily knew Mr Carpenter would not do this. No matter if he did like her he would nip her aspirations mercilessly if he thought the root of the matter was not in her. If, on the contrary, he bade her God-speed, she would rest content with that against the world and never lose heart in the face of any future criticism. No wonder the day seemed fraught with tremendous issues to Emily.

When school was out Mr Carpenter asked her to remain. She was so white and tense that the other pupils thought she must have been found out by Mr Carpenter in some especially dreadful behaviour and knew she was going to "catch it." Rhoda Stuart flung her a significantly malicious smile from the porch--which Emily never even saw. She was, indeed, at a momentous bar, with Mr Carpenter as supreme judge, and her whole future career--so she believed--hanging on his verdict.

The pupils disappeared and a mellow, sunshiny stillness settled over the old schoolroom. Mr Carpenter took the little packet she had given him in the morning out of his desk, came down the aisle and sat in the seat before her, facing her. Very deliberately he settled his glasses astride his hooked nose, took out her manuscripts and began to read--or rather to glance over them, flinging scraps of comments, mingled with grunts, sniffs and hoots, at her as he glanced. Emily folded her cold hands on her desk and braced her feet against the legs of it to keep her knees from trembling. This was a very terrible experience. She wished she had never given her verses to Mr Carpenter. They were no good--of course they were no good. Remember the editor of the Enterprise.

"Humph!" said Mr Carpenter. "Sunset--Lord, how many poems have been written on 'Sunset'--

The clouds are massed in splendid state
At heaven's unbarred western gate
Where troops of star-eyed spirits wait--

By gad, what does that mean?"

"I--I--don't know," faltered startled Emily, whose wits had been scattered by the sudden swoop of his spiked glance.

Mr Carpenter snorted.

"For heaven's sake, girl, don't write what you can't understand yourself. And this--To Life--'Life, as thy gift I ask no rainbow joy'--is that sincere? Is it, girl? Stop and think. Do you ask 'no rainbow joy' of life?"

He transfixed her with another glare. But Emily was beginning to pick herself up a bit. Nevertheless, she suddenly felt oddly ashamed of the very elevated and unselfish desires expressed in that sonnet.

"No--o," she answered reluctantly, "I do want rainbow joy--lots of it."

"Of course you do. We all do. We don't get it--you won't get it--but don't be hypocrite enough to pretend you don't want it, even in a sonnet. Lines to a Mountain Cascade--'On its dark rocks like the whiteness of a veil around a bride'--Where did you see a mountain cascade in Prince Edward Island?"

"Nowhere--there's a picture of one in Dr Burnley's library."

"A Wood Stream--

The threading sunbeams quiver,
The bending bushes shiver,
O'er the little shadowy river--

There's only one more rhyme that occurs to me and that's 'liver.' Why did you leave it out?"

Emily writhed.

"Wind Song--

I have shaken the dew in the meadows
From the clover's creamy gown--

Pretty, but weak. June--June, for heaven's sake, girl, don't write poetry on June. It's the sickliest subject in the world. It's been written to death."

"No, June is immortal," cried Emily suddenly, a mutinous sparkle replacing the strained look in her eyes. She was not going to let Mr Carpenter have it all his own way.

But Mr Carpenter had tossed June aside without reading a line of it.

"'I weary of the hungry world'--what do you know of the hungry world?--you in your New Moon seclusion of old trees and old maids--but it is hungry. Ode to Winter--the seasons are a sort of disease all young poets must have, it seems--ha! 'Spring will not forget'--that's a good line--the only good line in it. H'm'm--Wanderings--

I've heard the secret of the rune
That the somber pines on the hillside croon--

Have you--have you learned that secret?"

"I think I've always known it," said Emily dreamily. That flash of unimaginable sweetness that sometimes surprised her had just come and gone. "Aim and Endeavour--too didactic--too didactic. You've no right to try to teach until you're old--and then you won't want to--

Her face was like a star all pale and fair--

Were you looking in the glass when you composed that line?"

"No--" indignantly.

"'When the morning light is shaken like a banner on the hill'--a good line--a good line--

Oh, on such a golden morning
To be living is delight--

Too much like a faint echo of Wordsworth. The Sea in September--'blue and austerely bright'--'austerely bright'--child, how can you marry the right adjectives like that? Morning--'all the secret fears that haunt the night'--what do you know of the fears that haunt the night?"

"I know something," said Emily decidedly, remembering her first night at Wyther Grange.

"To a Dead Day--

With the chilly calm on her brow
That only the dead may wear--

Have you even seen the chilly calm on the brow of the dead, Emily?"

"Yes," said Emily softly, recalling that grey dawn in the old house in the hollow.

"I thought so--otherwise you couldn't have written that--and even as it is--how old are you, jade?"

"Thirteen, last May."

"Humph! Lines to Mrs George Irving's Infant Son--you should study the art of titles, Emily--there's a fashion in them as in everything else. Your titles are as out of date as the candles of New Moon--

Soundly he sleeps with his red lips pressed
Like a beautiful blossom close to her breast--

The rest isn't worth reading. September--is there a month you've missed?--'Windy meadows harvest-deep'--good line. Blair Water by Moonlight--gossamer, Emily, nothing but gossamer. The Garden of New Moon--

Beguiling laughter and old song
Of merry maids and men--

Good line--I suppose New Moon is full of ghosts. 'Death's fell minion well fulfilled its part'--that might have passed in Addison's day but not now--not now, Emily--

Your azure dimples are the graves
Where million buried sunbeams play--

Atrocious, girl--atrocious. Graves aren't playgrounds. How much would you play if you were buried?"

Emily writhed and blushed again. Why couldn't she have seen that herself? Any goose could have seen it.

"Sail onward, ships--white wings, sail on,
Till past the horizon's purple bar
You drift from sight.--In flush of dawn
Sail on, and 'neath the evening star--

Trash--trash--and yet there's a picture in it--

Lap softly, purple waves. I dream,
And dreams are sweet--I'll wake no more--

Ah, but you'll have to wake if you want to accomplish anything. Girl, you've used purple twice in the same poem.

Buttercups in a golden frenzy--

'a golden frenzy'--girl, I see the wind shaking the buttercups,

From the purple gates of the west I come--

You're too fond of purple, Emily."

"It's such a lovely word," said Emily.

"Dreams that seem too bright to die--

Seem but never are, Emily--

The luring voice of the echo, fame--

So you've heard it, too? It is a lure and for most of us only an echo. And that's the last of the lot."

Mr Carpenter swept the little sheets aside, folded his arms on the desk, and looked over his glasses at Emily.

Emily looked back at him mutely, nervelessly. All the life seemed to have been drained out of her body and concentrated in her eyes.

"Ten good lines out of four hundred, Emily--comparatively good, that is--and all the rest balderdash--balderdash, Emily."

"I--suppose so," said Emily faintly.

Her eyes brimmed with tears--her lips quivered. She could not help it. Pride was hopelessly submerged in the bitterness of her disappointment. She felt exactly like a candle that somebody had blown out.

"What are you crying for?" demanded Mr Carpenter.

Emily blinked away the tears and tried to laugh.

"I--I'm sorry--you think it's no good--" she said.

Mr Carpenter gave the desk a mighty thump.

"No good! Didn't I tell you there were ten good lines? Jade, for ten righteous men Sodom had been spared."

"Do you mean--that--after all--" The candle was being relighted again.

"Of course, I mean. If at thirteen you can write ten good lines, at twenty you'll write ten times ten--if the gods are kind. Stop messing over months, though--and don't imagine you're a genius either, if you have written ten decent lines. I think there's something trying to speak through you--but you'll have to make yourself a fit instrument for it. You've got to work hard and sacrifice--by gad, girl, you've chosen a jealous goddess. And she never lets her votaries go--even when she shuts her ears for ever to their plea. What have you there?"

Emily, her heart thrilling, handed him her Jimmy-book. She was so happy that it shone through her whole being with a positive radiance. She saw her future, wonderful, brilliant--oh, her goddess would listen to her--"Emily B. Starr, the distinguished poet"--"E. Byrd Starr, the rising young novelist."

She was recalled from her enchanting reverie by a chuckle from Mr Carpenter. Emily wondered a little uneasily what he was laughing at. She didn't think there was anything funny in that book. It contained only three or four of her latest stories--The Butterfly Queen, a little fairy tale; The Disappointed House, wherein she had woven a pretty dream of hopes come true after long years; The Secret of the Glen, which, in spite of its title, was a fanciful little dialogue between the Spirit of the Snow, the Spirit of the Grey Rain, the Spirit of Mist, and the Spirit of Moonshine.

"So you think I am not beautiful when I say my prayers?" said Mr Carpenter.

Emily gasped--realized what had happened--made a frantic grab at her Jimmy-book--missed it. Mr Carpenter held it up beyond her reach and mocked at her.

She had given him the wrong Jimmy-book! And this one, oh, horrors, what was in it? Or rather, what wasn't in it? Sketches of every one in Blair Water--and a full--a very full--description of Mr Carpenter himself. Intent on describing him exactly, she had been as mercilessly lucid as she always was, especially in regard to the odd faces he made on mornings when he opened the school day with a prayer. Thanks to her dramatic knack of word painting, Mr Carpenter lived in that sketch. Emily did not know it, but he did--he saw himself as in a glass and the artistry of it pleased him so that he cared for nothing else. Besides, she had drawn his good points quite as clearly as his bad ones. And there were some sentences in it--"He looks as if he knew a great deal that can never be any use to him"--"I think he wears the black coat Mondays because it makes him feel that he hasn't been drunk at all." Who or what had taught the little jade these things? Oh, her goddess would not pass Emily by!

"I'm--sorry," said Emily, crimson with shame all over her dainty paleness.

"Why, I wouldn't have missed this for all the poetry you've written or ever will write! By gad, its literature--literature--and you're only thirteen. But you don't know what's ahead of you--the stony hills--the steep ascents--the buffets--the discouragements. Stay in the valley if you're wise. Emily, why do you want to write? Give me your reason."

"I want to be famous and rich," said Emily coolly.

"Everybody does. Is that all?"

"No. I just love to write."

"A better reason--but not enough--not enough. Tell me this--if you knew you would be poor as a church mouse all your life--if you knew you'd never have a line published--would you still go on writing--would you?"

"Of course I would," said Emily disdainfully. "Why, I have to write--I can't help it at times--I've just got to."

"Oh--then I'd waste my breath giving advice at all. If it's in you to climb you must--there are those who must lift their eyes to the hills--they can't breathe properly in the valleys. God help them if there's some weakness in them that prevents their climbing. You don't understand a word I'm saying--yet. But go on--climb! There, take your book and go home. Thirty years from now I will have a claim to distinction in the fact that Emily Byrd Starr was once a pupil of mine. Go--go--before I remember what a disrespectful baggage you are to write such stuff about me and be properly enraged."

Emily went, still a bit scared but oddly exultant behind her fright. She was so happy that her happiness seemed to irradiate the world with its own splendour. All the sweet sounds of nature around her seemed like the broken words of her own delight. Mr Carpenter watched her out of sight from the old worn threshold.

"Wind--and flame--and sea!" he muttered. "Nature is always taking us by surprise. This child has--what I have never had and would have made any sacrifice to have. But 'the gods don't allow us to be in their debt'--she will pay for it--she will pay."

At sunset Emily sat in the lookout room. It was flooded with soft splendour. Outside, in sky and trees, were delicate tintings and aerial sounds. Down in the garden Daffy was chasing dead leaves along the red walks. The sight of his sleek, striped sides, the grace of his movements, gave her pleasure--as did the beautiful, even, glossy furrows of the ploughed fields beyond the lane, and the first faint white star in the crystal-green sky.

The wind of the autumn night was blowing trumpets of fairyland on the hills; and over in Lofty John's bush was laughter--like the laughter of fauns. Ilse and Perry and Teddy were waiting there for her--they had made a tryst for a twilight romp. She would go to them--presently--not yet. She was so full of rapture that she must write it out before she went back from her world of dreams to the world of reality. Once she would have poured it into a letter to her father. She could no longer do that. But on the table before her lay a brand-new Jimmy-book. She pulled it towards her, took up her pen, and on its first virgin page she wrote,

New moon,
Blair water,
P. E. island.

October 8th.

I am going to write a diary, that it may be published when I die.