A Hop Out of Kin
Douglas Starr lived two weeks more. In after years when the pain had gone out of their recollection, Emily thought they were the most precious of her memories. They were beautiful weeks–beautiful and not sad. And one night, when he was lying on the couch in the sitting-room, with Emily beside him in the old wing-chair, he went past the curtain–went so quietly and easily that Emily did not know he was gone until she suddenly felt the strange stillness of the room–there was no breathing in it but her own.
“Father–Father!” she cried. Then she screamed for Ellen.
Ellen Greene told the Murrays when they came that Emily had behaved real well, when you took everything into account. To be sure, she had cried all night and hadn’t slept a wink; none of the Maywood people who came flocking kindly in to help could comfort her; but when morning came her tears were all shed. She was pale and quiet and docile.
“That’s right, now,” said Ellen, “that’s what comes of being properly prepared. Your pa was so mad at me for warning you that he wasn’t rightly civil to me since–and him a dying man. But I don’t hold any grudge against him. I did my duty. Mrs Hubbard’s fixing up a black dress for you, and it’ll be ready by supper-time. Your ma’s people will be here to-night, so they’ve telegraphed, and I’m bound they’ll find you looking respectable. They’re well off and they’ll provide for you. Your pa hasn’t left a cent but there ain’t any debts, I’ll say that for him. Have you been in to see the body?”
“Don’t call him that,” cried Emily, wincing. It was horrible to hear Father called that.
“Why not? If you ain’t the queerest child! He makes a better-looking corpse than I thought he would, what with being so wasted and all. He was always a pretty man, though too thin.”
“Ellen Greene,” said Emily, suddenly, “if you say any more of–those things–about Father, I will put the black curse on you!”
Ellen Greene stared.
“I don’t know what on earth you mean. But that’s no way to talk to me, after all I’ve done for you. You’d better not let the Murrays’ hear you talking like that or they won’t want much to do with you. The black curse indeed! Well, here’s gratitude!”
Emily’s eyes smarted. She was just a lonely, solitary little creature and she felt very friendless. But she was not at all remorseful for what she had said to Ellen and she was not going to pretend she was.
“Come you here and help me wash these dishes,” ordered Ellen. “It’ll do you good to have something to take up your mind and then you won’t be after putting curses on people who have worked their fingers to the bone for you.”
Emily, with an eloquent glance at Ellen’s hands, went and got a dish-towel.
“Your hands are fat and pudgy,” she said. “The bones don’t show at all.”
“Never mind sassing back! It’s awful, with your poor pa dead in there. But if your Aunt Ruth takes you she’ll soon cure you of that.”
“Is Aunt Ruth going to take me?”
“I don’t know, but she ought to. She’s a widow with no chick or child, and well-to-do.”
“I don’t think I want Aunt Ruth to take me,” said Emily, deliberately, after a moment’s reflection.
“Well, you won’t have the choosing likely. You ought to be thankful to get a home anywhere. Remember you’re not of much importance.”
“I am important to myself,” cried Emily proudly.
“It’ll be some chore to bring you up,” muttered Ellen. “Your Aunt Ruth is the one to do it, in my opinion. She won’t stand no nonsense. A fine woman she is and the neatest housekeeper on P. E. Island. You could eat off her floor.”
“I don’t want to eat off her floor. I don’t care if a floor is dirty as long as the tablecloth is clean.”
“Well, her tablecloths are clean too, I reckon. She’s got an elegant house in Shrewsbury with bow windows and wooden lace all round the roof. It’s very stylish. It would be a fine home for you. She’d learn you some sense and do you a world of good.”
“I don’t want to learn sense and be done a world of good to,” cried Emily with a quivering lip. “I–I want somebody to love me.”
“Well, you’ve got to behave yourself if you want people to like you. You’re not to blame so much–your pa has spoiled you. I told him so often enough, but he just laughed. I hope he ain’t sorry for it now. The fact is, Emily Starr, you’re queer, and folks don’t care for queer children.”
“How am I queer?” demanded Emily.
“You talk queer–and you act queer–and at times you look queer. And you’re too old for your age–though that ain’t your fault. It comes of never mixing with other children. I’ve always threaped at your father to send you to school–learning at home ain’t the same thing–but he wouldn’t listen to me, of course. I don’t say but what you are as far along in book learning as you need to be, but what you want is to learn how to be like other children. In one way it would be a good thing if your Uncle Oliver would take you, for he’s got a big family. But he’s not as well off as the rest, so it ain’t likely he will. Your Uncle Wallace might, seeing as he reckons himself the head of the family. He’s only got a grown-up daughter. But his wife’s delicate–or fancies she is.”
“I wish Aunt Laura would take me,” said Emily. She remembered that Father had said Aunt Laura was something like her mother.
“Aunt Laura! She won’t have no say in it–Elizabeth’s boss at New Moon. Jimmy Murray runs the farm, but he ain’t quite all there, I’m told–“
“What part of him isn’t there?” asked Emily curiously.
“Laws, it’s something about his mind, child. He’s a bit simple–some accident or other when he was a youngster, I’ve heard. It addled his head, kind of. Elizabeth was mixed up in it some way–I’ve never heard the rights of it. I don’t reckon the New Moon people will want to be bothered with you. They’re awful set in their ways. You take my advice and try to please your Aunt Ruth. Be polite–and well-behaved–mebbe she’ll take a fancy to you. There, that’s all the dishes. You’d better go upstairs and be out of the way.”
“Can I take Mike and Saucy Sal?” asked Emily.
“No, you can’t.”
“They’d be company for me,” pleaded Emily.
“Company or no company, you can’t have them. They’re outside and they’ll stay outside. I ain’t going to have them tracking all over the house. The floor’s been scrubbed.”
“Why didn’t you scrub the floor when Father was alive?” asked Emily. “He liked things to be clean. You hardly ever scrubbed it then. Why do you do it now?”
“Listen to her! Was I to be always scrubbing floors with my rheumatiz? Get off upstairs and you’d better lie down awhile.”
“I’m going upstairs, but I’m not going to lie down,” said Emily. “I’ve got a lot of thinking to do.”
“There’s one thing I’d advise you to do,” said Ellen, determined to lose no chance of doing her duty, “and that is to kneel down and pray to God to make you a good and respectful and grateful child.”
Emily paused at the foot of the stairs and looked back.
“Father said I wasn’t to have anything to do with your God,” she said gravely.
Ellen gasped foolishly, but could not think of any reply to this heathenish statement. She appealed to the universe.
“Did any one ever hear the like!”
“I know what your God is like,” said Emily. “I saw His picture in that Adam-and-Eve book of yours. He has whiskers and wears a nightgown. I don’t like Him. But I like Father’s God.”
“And what is your father’s God like, if I may ask?” demanded Ellen sarcastically.
Emily hadn’t any idea what Father’s God was like, but she was determined not to be posed by Ellen.
“He is clear as the moon, fair as the sun, and terrible as an army with banners,” she said triumphantly.
“Well, you’re bound to have the last word, but the Murrays will teach you what’s what,” said Ellen, giving up the argument. “They’re strict Presbyterians and won’t hold by any of your father’s awful notions. Get off upstairs.”
Emily went up to the south room, feeling very desolate.
“There isn’t anybody in the world who loves me now,” she said, as she curled up on her bed by the window. But she was determined she would not cry. The Murrays, who had hated her father, should not see her crying. She felt that she detested them all–except perhaps Aunt Laura. How very big and empty the world had suddenly become. Nothing was interesting any more. It did not matter that the little squat apple-tree between Adam-and-Eve had become a thing of rose-and-snow beauty–that the hills beyond the hollow were of green silk, purple-misted–that the daffodils were out in the garden–that the birches were hung all over with golden tassels–that the Wind Woman was blowing white young clouds across the sky. None of these things had any charm or consolation for her now. In her inexperience she believed they never would have again.
“But I promised Father I’d be brave,” she whispered, clenching her little fists, “and I will. And I won’t let the Murrays see I’m afraid of them–I won’t be afraid of them!”
When the far-off whistle of the afternoon train blew beyond the hills, Emily’s heart began to beat. She clasped her hands and lifted her face.
“Please help me, Father’s God–not Ellen’s God,” she said. “Help me to be brave and not cry before the Murrays.”
Soon after there was the sound of wheels below–and voices–loud, decided voices. Then Ellen came puffing up the stairs with the black dress–a sleazy thing of cheap merino.
“Mrs Hubbard just got it done in time, thanks be. I wouldn’t ‘a’ had the Murrays see you not in black for the world. They can’t say I haven’t done my duty. They’re all here–the New Moon people and Oliver and his wife, your Aunt Addie, and Wallace and his wife, your Aunt Eva, and Aunt Ruth–Mrs Dutton, her name is. There, you’re ready now. Come along.”
“Can’t I put my Venetian beads on?” asked Emily.
“Did ever any mortal! Venetian beads with a mourning dress! Shame on you! Is this a time to be thinking of vanity?”
“It isn’t vanity!” cried Emily. “Father gave me those beads last Christmas–and I want to show the Murrays that I’ve got something!”
“No more of your nonsense! Come along, I say! Mind your manners–there’s a good deal depends on the impression you make on them.”
Emily walked rigidly downstairs before Ellen and into the parlour. Eight people were sitting around it–and she instantly felt the critical gaze of sixteen stranger eyes. She looked very pale and plain in her black dress; the purple shadows left by weeping made her large eyes look too large and hollow. She was desperately afraid, and she knew it–but she would not let the Murrays see it. She held up her head and faced the ordeal before her gallantly.
“This,” said Ellen, turning her around by the shoulder, “is your Uncle Wallace.”
Emily shuddered and put out a cold hand. She did not like Uncle Wallace–she knew that at once–he was black and grim and ugly, with frowning, bristly brows and a stern, unpitying mouth. He had big pouches under his eyes, and carefully-trimmed black side-whiskers. Emily decided then and there that she did not admire side-whiskers.
“How do you do, Emily?” he said coldly–and just as coldly he bent forward and kissed her cheek.
A sudden wave of indignation swept over Emily’s soul. How dared he kiss her–he had hated her father and disowned her mother! She would have none of his kisses! Flash-quick, she snatched her handkerchief from her pocket and wiped her outraged cheek.
“Well–well!” exclaimed a disagreeable voice from the other side of the room.
Uncle Wallace looked as if he would like to say a great many things but couldn’t think of them. Ellen, with a grunt of despair, propelled Emily to the next sitter.
“Your Aunt Eva,” she said.
Aunt Eva was sitting huddled up in a shawl. She had the fretful face of the imaginary invalid. She shook hands with Emily and said nothing. Neither did Emily.
“Your Uncle Oliver,” announced Ellen.
Emily rather liked Uncle Oliver’s appearance. He was big and fat and rosy and jolly-looking. She thought she would not mind so much if he kissed her, in spite of his bristly white moustache. But Uncle Oliver had learned Uncle Wallace’s lesson.
“I’ll give you a quarter for a kiss,” he whispered genially. A joke was Uncle Oliver’s idea of being kind and sympathetic, but Emily did not know this, and resented it.
“I don’t sell my kisses,” she said, lifting her head as haughtily as any Murray of them all could do.
Uncle Oliver chuckled and seemed infinitely amused and not a bit offended. But Emily heard a sniff across the room.
Aunt Addie was next. She was as fat and rosy and jolly-looking as her husband and she gave Emily’s cold hand a nice, gentle squeeze.
“How are you, dear?” she said.
That “dear” touched Emily and thawed her a trifle. But the next in turn froze her up instantly again. It was Aunt Ruth–Emily knew it was Aunt Ruth before Ellen said so, and she knew it was Aunt Ruth who had “well–welled” and sniffed. She knew the cold, grey eyes, the prim, dull brown hair, the short, stout figure, the thin, pinched, merciless mouth.
Aunt Ruth held out the tips of her fingers, but Emily did not take them.
“Shake hands with your Aunt,” said Ellen in an angry whisper.
“She does not want to shake hands with me,” said Emily, distinctly, “and so I am not going to do it.”
Aunt Ruth folded her scorned hands back on her black silk lap.
“You are a very ill-bred child,” she said; “but of course it was only what was to be expected.”
Emily felt a sudden compunction. Had she cast a reflection on her father by her behaviour? Perhaps after all she should have shaken hands with Aunt Ruth. But it was too late now–Ellen had already jerked her on.
“This is your Cousin, Mr James Murray,” said Ellen, in the disgusted tone of one who gives up something as a bad job and is only anxious to be done with it.
“Cousin Jimmy–Cousin Jimmy,” said that individual. Emily looked steadily at him, and liked him at once without any reservations.
He had a little, rosy, elfish face with a forked grey beard; his hair curled over his head in a most un-Murray-like mop of glossy brown; and his large, brown eyes were as kind and frank as a child’s. He gave Emily a hearty handshake, though he looked askance at the lady across from him while doing it.
“Hello, pussy!” he said.
Emily began to smile at him, but her smile was, as always, so slow in developing that Ellen had whisked her on before it was in full flower, and it was Aunt Laura who got the benefit of it. Aunt Laura started and paled.
“Juliet’s smile!” she said, half under her breath. And again Aunt Ruth sniffed.
Aunt Laura did not look like anyone else in the room. She was almost pretty, with her delicate features and the heavy coils of pale, sleek, fair hair, faintly greyed, pinned closely all around her head. But it was her eyes that won Emily. They were such round blue, blue eyes. One never quite got over the shock of their blueness. And when she spoke it was in a beautiful, soft voice.
“You poor, dear, little child,” she said, and put her arm around Emily for a gentle hug.
Emily returned the hug and had a narrow escape then from letting the Murrays see her cry. All that saved her was the fact that Ellen suddenly pushed her on into the corner by the window.
“And this is your Aunt Elizabeth.”
Yes, this was Aunt Elizabeth. No doubt about that–and she had on a stiff, black satin dress, so stiff and rich that Emily felt sure it must be her very best. This pleased Emily. Whatever Aunt Elizabeth thought of her father, at least she had paid him the respect of her best dress. And Aunt Elizabeth was quite fine looking in a tall, thin, austere style, with clear-cut features and a massive coronet of iron-grey hair under her black lace cap. But her eyes, though steel-blue, were as cold as Aunt Ruth’s, and her long, thin mouth was compressed severely. Under her cool, appraising glance Emily retreated into herself and shut the door of her soul. She would have liked to please Aunt Elizabeth–who was “boss” at New Moon–but she felt she could not do it.
Aunt Elizabeth shook hands and said nothing–the truth being that she did not know exactly what to say. Elizabeth Murray would not have felt “put about” before King or Governor-General. The Murray pride would have carried her through there; but she did feel disturbed in the presence of this alien, level-gazing child who had already shown that she was anything but meek and humble. Though Elizabeth Murray would never have admitted it, she did not want to be snubbed as Wallace and Ruth had been.
“Go and sit on the sofa,” ordered Ellen.
Emily sat on the sofa with her eyes cast down, a slight, black, indomitable little figure. She folded her hands on her lap and crossed her ankles. They should see she had manners.
Ellen had retreated to the kitchen, thanking her stars that that was over. Emily did not like Ellen but she felt deserted when Ellen had gone. She was alone now before the bar of Murray opinion. She would have given anything to be out of the room. Yet in the back of her mind a design was forming of writing all about it in the old account-book. It would be interesting. She could describe them all–she knew she could. She had the very word for Aunt Ruth’s eyes–“stone-grey.” They were just like stones–as hard and cold and relentless. Then a pang tore through her heart. Father could never again read what she wrote in the account-book.
Still–she felt that she would rather like to write it all out. How could she best describe Aunt Laura’s eyes? They were such beautiful eyes–just to call them “blue” meant nothing–hundreds of people had blue eyes–oh, she had it–“wells of blue”–that was the very thing.
And then the flash came!
It was the first time since the dreadful night when Ellen had met her on the doorstep. She had thought it could never come again–and now in this most unlikely place and time it had come–she had seen, with other eyes than those of sense, the wonderful world behind the veil. Courage and hope flooded her cold little soul like a wave of rosy light. She lifted her head and looked about her undauntedly–“brazenly” Aunt Ruth afterwards declared.
“Yes, she would write them all out in the account-book–describe every last one of them–sweet Aunt Laura, nice Cousin Jimmy, grim old Uncle Wallace, and moon-faced Uncle Oliver, stately Aunt Elizabeth and detestable Aunt Ruth.
“She’s a delicate-looking child,” said Aunt Eva, suddenly, in her fretful, colourless voice.
“Well, what else could you expect?” said Aunt Addie, with a sigh that seemed to Emily to hold some dire significance. “She’s too pale–if she had a little colour she wouldn’t be bad-looking.”
“I don’t know who she looks like,” said Uncle Oliver, staring at Emily.
“She is not a Murray, that is plain to be seen,” said Aunt Elizabeth, decidedly and disapprovingly.
“They are talking about me just as if I wasn’t here,” thought Emily, her heart swelling with indignation over the indecency of it.
“I wouldn’t call her a Starr either,” said Uncle Oliver. “Seems to me she’s more like the Byrds–she’s got her grandmother’s hair and eyes.”
“She’s got old George Byrd’s nose,” said Aunt Ruth, in a tone that left no doubt as to her opinion of George’s nose.
“She’s got her father’s forehead,” said Aunt Eva, also disapprovingly.
“She has her mother’s smile,” said Aunt Laura, but in such a low tone that nobody heard her.
“And Juliet’s long lashes–hadn’t Juliet very long lashes?” said Aunt Addie.
Emily had reached the limit of her endurance.
“You make me feel as if I was made up of scraps and patches!” she burst out indignantly.
The Murrays stared at her. Perhaps they felt some compunction–for, after all, none of them were ogres and all were human, more or less. Apparently nobody could think of anything to say, but the shocked silence was broken by a chuckle from Cousin Jimmy–a low chuckle, full of mirth and free from malice.
“That’s right, puss,” he said. “Stand up to them–take your own part.”
“Jimmy!” said Aunt Ruth.
Aunt Ruth looked at Emily.
“When I was a little girl,” she said, “I never spoke until I was spoken to.”
“But if nobody ever spoke until they were spoken to there would be no conversation,” said Emily argumentatively.
“I never answered back,” Aunt Ruth went on severely. “In those days little girls were trained properly. We were polite and respectful to our elders. We were taught our place and we kept it.”
“I don’t believe you ever had much fun,” said Emily–and then gasped in horror. She hadn’t meant to say that out loud–she had only meant to think it. But she had such an old habit of thinking aloud to Father.
“Fun!” said Aunt Ruth, in a shocked tone. “I did not think of fun when I was a little girl.”
“No, I know,” said Emily gravely. Her voice and manner were perfectly respectful, for she was anxious to atone for her involuntary lapse. Yet Aunt Ruth looked as if she would like to box her ears. This child was pitying her–insulting her by being sorry for her–because of her prim, impeccable childhood. It was unendurable–especially in a Starr. And that abominable Jimmy was chuckling again! Elizabeth should suppress him!
Fortunately Ellen Greene appeared at this juncture and announced supper.
“You’ve got to wait,” she whispered to Emily. “There ain’t room for you at the table.”
Emily was glad. She knew she could not eat a bite under the Murray eyes. Her aunts and uncles filed out stiffly without looking at her–all except Aunt Laura, who turned at the door and blew her a tiny, furtive kiss. Before Emily could respond Ellen Greene had shut the door.
Emily was left all alone in the room that was filling with twilight shadows. The pride that had sustained her in the presence of the Murrays suddenly failed her and she knew that tears were coming. She went straight to the closed door at the end of the parlour, opened it, and went in. Her father’s coffin stood in the centre of the small room which had been a bedroom. It was heaped with flowers–the Murrays had done the proper thing in that as in all else. The great anchor of white roses Uncle Wallace had brought stood up aggressively on the small table at the head. Emily could not see her father’s face for Aunt Ruth’s heavily-fragrant pillow of white hyacinths lying on the glass, and she dared not move it. But she curled herself up on the floor and laid her cheek against the polished side of the casket. They found her there asleep when they came in after supper. Aunt Laura lifted her up and said,
“I’m going to take the poor child up to bed–she’s worn right out.”
Emily opened her eyes and looked drowsily about her.
“Can I have Mike?” she said.
“Who is Mike?”
“My cat–my big grey cat.”
“A cat!” exclaimed Aunt Elizabeth in a shocked tone. “You must not have a cat in your bedroom!”
“Why not–for once?” pleaded Laura.
“Certainly not!” said Aunt Elizabeth. “A cat is a most unwholesome thing in a sleeping compartment. I’m surprised at you, Laura! Take the child up to bed and see that there are plenty of bedclothes. It’s a cold night–but let me hear no more talk of sleeping with cats.”
“Mike is a clean cat,” said Emily. “He washes himself–every day.”
“Take her up to bed, Laura!” said Aunt Elizabeth, ignoring Emily.
Aunt Laura yielded meekly. She carried Emily upstairs, helped her undress, and tucked her into bed. Emily was very sleepy. But before she was wholly asleep she felt something, soft and warm and purry and companionable, snuggling down by her shoulder. Aunt Laura had sneaked down, found Mike and brought him up to her. Aunt Elizabeth never knew and Ellen Greene dared not say a word in protest–for was not Laura a Murray of New Moon?