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Authors: L.M. Montgomery

Emily's Quest

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THE AUTHOR

LUCY MAUD MONTGOMERY
was born in Clifton, Prince Edward Island, in 1874. Educated at Prince Edward College, Charlottetown, and Dalhousie University, she embarked on a career in teaching. From 1898 until 1911 she took care of her maternal grandmother in Cavendish, Prince Edward Island, and during this time wrote many poems and stories for Canadian and American magazines.

Montgomery's first novel,
Anne of Green Gables
, met with immediate critical and popular acclaim, and its success, both national and international, led to seven sequels. More autobiographical than the books about Anne is the trilogy of novels about another Island orphan, Emily Starr.

In 1911 Montgomery married the Rev. Ewan Macdonald, a Presbyterian clergyman, and they lived in Ontario, where he was the pastor of parishes in Leaskdale and, later, in Norval. They retired to Toronto in 1936.

Lucy Maud Montgomery died in Toronto in 1942.

THE NEW CANADIAN LIBRARY

General Editor: David Staines

ADVISORY BOARD

Alice Munro

W.H. New

Guy Vanderhaeghe

To Stella Campbell Keller
of the tribe of Joseph

ONE
I

“N
o more cambric tea” had Emily Byrd Starr written in her diary when she came home to New Moon from Shrewsbury, with high school days behind her and immortality before her.

Which was a symbol. When Aunt Elizabeth Murray permitted Emily to drink real tea – as a matter of course and not as an occasional concession – she thereby tacitly consented to let Emily grow up. Emily had been considered grown-up by other people for sometime, especially by Cousin Andrew Murray and Friend Perry Miller, each of whom had asked her to marry him and been disdainfully refused for his pains. When Aunt Elizabeth found this out she knew it was no use to go on making Emily drink cambric tea. Though, even then, Emily had no real hope that she would ever be permitted to wear silk stockings. A silk petticoat might be tolerated, being a hidden thing, in spite of its seductive rustle, but silk stockings were immoral.

So Emily, of whom it was whispered somewhat mysteriously by people who knew her to people who didn't know her,
“she
writes
” was accepted as one of the ladies of New Moon, where nothing had ever changed since her coming there seven years before and where the carved ornament on the sideboard still cast the same queer shadow of an Ethiopian silhouette on exactly the same place on the wall where she had noticed it delightedly on her first evening there. An old house that had lived its life long ago and so was very quiet and wise and a little mysterious. Also a little austere, but very kind. Some of the Blair Water and Shrewsbury people thought it was a dull place and outlook for a young girl and said she had been very foolish to refuse Miss Royal's offer of a “position on a magazine” in New York. Throwing away such a good chance to make something of herself. But Emily, who had very clear-cut ideas of what she was going to make of herself, did not think life would be dull at New Moon or that she had lost her chance of Alpine climbing because she had elected to stay there.

She belonged by right divine to the Ancient and Noble Order of Story-tellers. Born thousands of years earlier she would have sat in the circle around the fires of the tribe and enchanted her listeners. Born in the foremost files of time she must reach her audience through many artificial mediums.

But the materials of story weaving are the same in all ages and all places. Births, deaths, marriages, scandals – these are the only really interesting things in the world. So she settled down very determinedly and happily to her pursuit of fame and fortune – and of something that was neither. For writing, to Emily Byrd Starr, was not primarily a matter of worldly lucre or laurel crown. It was something she
had
to do. A thing – an idea – whether of beauty or ugliness, tortured her until it was “written out.” Humorous and dramatic by instinct, the comedy and tragedy of life enthralled her and demanded expression through her pen. A world of lost but
immortal dreams, lying just beyond the drop-curtain of the real, called to her for embodiment and interpretation – called with a voice she could not – dared not – disobey.

She was filled with youth's joy in mere existence. Life was forever luring and beckoning her onward. She knew that a hard struggle was before her; she knew that she must constantly offend Blair Water neighbours who would want her to write obituaries for them and who, if she used an unfamiliar word, would say contemptuously that she was “talking big”; she knew there would be rejection slips galore; she knew there would be days when she would feel despairingly that she could not write and that it was of no use to try; days when the editorial phrase, “not necessarily a reflection on its merits,” would get on her nerves to such an extent that she would feel like imitating Marie Bashkirtseff and hurling the taunting, ticking, remorseless sitting-room clock out of the window; days when everything she had done or tried to do would slump – become mediocre and despicable; days when she would be tempted to bitter disbelief in her fundamental conviction that there was as much truth in the poetry of life as in the prose; days when the echo of that “random word” of the gods, for which she so avidly listened, would only seem to taunt her with its suggestions of unattainable perfection and loveliness beyond the reach of mortal ear or pen.

She knew that Aunt Elizabeth tolerated but never approved her mania for scribbling. In her last two years in Shrewsbury High School Emily, to Aunt Elizabeth's almost incredulous amazement, had actually earned some money by her verses and stories. Hence the toleration. But no Murray had ever done such a thing before. And there was always that sense, which Dame Elizabeth Murray did not like, of being shut out of something. Aunt Elizabeth really resented the fact
that Emily had another world, apart from the world of New Moon and Blair Water, a kingdom starry and illimitable, into which she could enter at will and into which not even the most determined and suspicious of aunts could follow her. I really think that if Emily's eyes had not so often seemed to be looking at something dreamy and lovely and secretive Aunt Elizabeth might have had more sympathy with her ambitions. None of us, not even self-sufficing Murrays of New Moon, like to be barred out.

II

Those of you who have already followed Emily through her years of New Moon and Shrewsbury
*
must have a tolerable notion what she looked like. For those of you to whom she comes as a stranger let me draw a portrait of her as she seemed to the outward eye at the enchanted portal of seventeen, walking where the golden chrysanthemums lighted up an old autumnal, maritime garden. A place of peace, that garden of New Moon. An enchanted pleasaunce, full of rich, sensuous colours and wonderful spiritual shadows. Scents of pine and rose were in it; boom of bees, threnody of wind, murmurs of the blue Atlantic gulf; and always the soft sighing of the firs in Lofty John Sullivan's “bush” to the north of it. Emily loved every flower and shadow and sound in it, every beautiful old tree in and around it, especially her own intimate, beloved trees – a cluster of wild cherries in the southwest corner, Three Princesses of Lombardy, a certain maiden-like wild plum on the brook path, the big spruce in the centre of the garden, a silver maple and a pine further on, an aspen in another corner always
coquetting with gay little winds, and a whole row of stately white birches in Lofty John's bush.

Emily was always glad that she lived where there were many trees – old ancestral trees, planted and tended by hands long dead, bound up with everything of joy and sorrow that visited the lives in their shadows.

A slender, virginal young thing. Hair like black silk. Purplish-grey eyes, with violet shadows under them that always seemed darker and more alluring after Emily had sat up to some unholy and un-Elizabethan hour completing a story or working out the skeleton of a plot; scarlet lips with a Murray-like crease at the corners; ears with Puckish, slightly pointed tips. Perhaps it was the crease and the ears that made certain people think her something of a puss. An exquisite line of chin and neck; a smile with a trick in it; such a slow-blossoming thing with a sudden radiance of fulfilment. And ankles that scandalous old Aunt Nancy Priest of Priest Pond commended. Faint stains of rose in her rounded cheeks that sometimes suddenly deepened to crimson. Very little could bring that transforming flush – a wind off the sea, a sudden glimpse of blue upland, a flame-red poppy, white sails going out of the harbour in the magic of morning, gulf-waters silver under the moon, a Wedgewood-blue columbine in the old orchard. Or a certain whistle in Lofty John's bush.

With all this – pretty? I cannot tell you. Emily was never mentioned when Blair Water beauties were being tabulated. But no one who looked upon her face ever forgot it. No one, meeting Emily the second time ever had to say “Er – your face seems familiar but –” Generations of lovely women were behind her. They had all given her something of personality. She had the grace of running water. Something, too, of its sparkle and limpidity. A thought swayed her like a strong
wind. An emotion shook her as a tempest shakes a rose. She was one of those vital creatures of whom, when they do die, we say it seems impossible that they can be dead. Against the background of her practical, sensible clan she shone like a diamond flame. Many people liked her, many disliked her. No one was ever wholly indifferent to her.

Once, when Emily had been very small, living with her father down in the little old house at Maywood, where he had died, she had started out to seek the rainbow's end. Over long wet fields and hills she ran, hopeful, expectant. But as she ran the wonderful arch was faded – was dim – was gone. Emily was alone in an alien valley, not too sure in which direction lay home. For a moment her lips quivered, her eyes filled. Then she lifted her face and smiled gallantly at the empty sky.

“There will be other rainbows,” she said.

Emily was a chaser of rainbows.

III

Life at New Moon had changed. She must adjust herself to it. A certain loneliness must be reckoned with. Ilse Burnley, the madcap pal of seven faithful years, had gone to the School of Literature and Expression in Montreal. The two girls parted with the tears and vows of girlhood. Never to meet on quite the same ground again. For, disguise the fact as we will, when friends, even the closest – perhaps the more because of that very closeness – meet again after a separation there is always a chill, lesser or greater, of change. Neither finds the other
quite
the same. This is natural and inevitable. Human nature is ever growing or retrogressing – never stationary. But still, with all our philosophy, who of us can repress a little feeling of bewildered
disappointment when we realise that our friend is not and never can be just the same as before – even though the change may be by way of improvement? Emily, with the strange intuition which supplied the place of experience, felt this as Ilse did not, and felt that in a sense she was bidding good-bye for ever to the Ilse of New Moon days and Shrewsbury years.

Perry Miller, too, former “hired boy” of New Moon, medalist of Shrewsbury High School, rejected but not quite hopeless suitor of Emily, butt of Ilse's rages, was gone. Perry was studying law in an office in Charlottetown, with his eyes fixed firmly on several glittering legal goals. No rainbow ends – no mythical pots of gold for Perry. He knew what
he
wanted would stay put and he was going after it. People were beginning to believe he would get it. After all, the gulf between the law clerk in Mr. Abel's office and the Supreme Court Bench of Canada was no wider than the gulf between that same law clerk and the barefoot gamin of Stovepipe Town-by-the-Harbour.

There was more of the rainbow-seeker in Teddy Kent, of the Tansy Patch. He, too, was going. To the School of Design in Montreal. He, too, knew – had known for years – the delight and allurement and despair and anguish of the rainbow quest.

“Even if we never find it,” he said to Emily, as they lingered in the New Moon garden under the violet sky of a long, wondrous, northern twilight, on the last evening before he went away, “there's something in the search for it that's better than even the finding would be.”

“But we
will
find it,” said Emily, lifting her eyes to a star that glittered over the tip of one of the Three Princesses. Something in Teddy's use of “we” thrilled her with its implications. Emily was always very honest with herself and she never
attempted to shut her eyes to the knowledge that Teddy Kent meant more to her than any one else in the world. Whereas she – what did she mean to him? Little? Much? Or nothing?

She was bareheaded and she had put a star-like cluster of tiny yellow 'mums in her hair. She had thought a good deal about her dress before she decided on her primrose silk. She thought she was looking very well, but what difference did that make if Teddy didn't notice it? He always took her so for granted, she thought a little rebelliously Dean Priest, now, would have noticed it and paid her some subtle compliment about it.

“I don't know,” said Teddy, morosely scowling at Emily's topaz-eyed grey cat, Daffy, who was fancying himself as a skulking tiger in the spirea thicket. “I don't know. Now that I'm really flying the Blue Peter I feel – flat. After all – perhaps I can never do anything worth while. A little knack of drawing – what does it amount to? Especially when you're lying awake at three o'clock at night?”

“Oh, I know that feeling,” agreed Emily. “Last night I mulled over a story for hours and concluded despairingly that I could
never
write – that it was no use to try – that I couldn't do anything really worth while. I went to bed on that note and drenched my pillow with tears. Woke up at three and couldn't even cry. Tears seemed as foolish as laughter – or ambition. I was quite bankrupt in hope and belief. And then I got up in the chilly grey dawn and began a new story. Don't let a three-o'clock-at-night feeling fog your soul.”

“Unfortunately there's a three o'clock every night,” said Teddy. “At that ungodly hour I am always convinced that if you want things
too
much you're not likely ever to get them. And there are two things that I want tremendously. One, of course, is to be a great artist. I never supposed I was a
coward, Emily, but I'm afraid now. If I don't make good! Everybody'll laugh at me. Mother will say she knew it. She hates to see me go really, you know. To go and fail! It would be better not to go.”

“No, it wouldn't,” said Emily passionately, wondering at the same time in the back of her head what was the
other
thing Teddy wanted so tremendously. “You must not be afraid. Father said I wasn't to be afraid of anything in that talk I had with him the night he died. And isn't it Emerson who said, ‘Always do what you are afraid to do'?”

“I'll bet Emerson said that when he'd got through with being afraid of things. It's easy to be brave when you're taking off your harness.”

“You know I believe in you, Teddy,” said Emily softly.

BOOK: Emily's Quest
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