When the Curtain Liftedby@lmmontgomery

When the Curtain Lifted

by L.M. MontgomeryAugust 1st, 2023
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IT would be pleasant to be able to record that after the reconciliation in the lookout Emily and Aunt Elizabeth lived in entire amity and harmony. But the truth was that things went on pretty much the same as before. Emily went softly, and tried to mingle serpent’s wisdom and dove’s harmlessness in practical proportions, but their points of view were so different that there were bound to be clashes; they did not speak the same language, so there was bound to be misunderstanding. And yet there was a difference—a very vital difference. Elizabeth Murray had learned an important lesson—that there was not one law of fairness for children and another for grown-ups. She continued to be as autocratic as ever—but she did not do or say to Emily anything she would not have done or said to Laura had occasion called for it. Emily, on her side, had discovered the fact that, under all her surface coldness and sternness, Aunt Elizabeth really had an affection for her; and it was wonderful what a difference this made. It took the sting out of Aunt Elizabeth’s “ways” and words and healed entirely a certain little half-conscious sore spot that had been in Emily’s heart ever since the incident of the drawn slips at Maywood.
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Emily of New Moon by L. M. Montgomery, is part of the HackerNoon Books Series. You can jump to any chapter in this book here. When the Curtain Lifted

CHAPTER XXX. When the Curtain Lifted

IT would be pleasant to be able to record that after the reconciliation in the lookout Emily and Aunt Elizabeth lived in entire amity and harmony. But the truth was that things went on pretty much the same as before. Emily went softly, and tried to mingle serpent’s wisdom and dove’s harmlessness in practical proportions, but their points of view were so different that there were bound to be clashes; they did not speak the same language, so there was bound to be misunderstanding.

And yet there was a difference—a very vital difference. Elizabeth Murray had learned an important lesson—that there was not one law of fairness for children and another for grown-ups. She continued to be as autocratic as ever—but she did not do or say to Emily anything she would not have done or said to Laura had occasion called for it.

Emily, on her side, had discovered the fact that, under all her surface coldness and sternness, Aunt Elizabeth really had an affection for her; and it was wonderful what a difference this made. It took the sting out of Aunt Elizabeth’s “ways” and words and healed entirely a certain little half-conscious sore spot that had been in Emily’s heart ever since the incident of the drawn slips at Maywood.

“I don’t believe I’m a duty to Aunt Elizabeth any more,” she thought exultantly.

Emily grew rapidly that summer in body, mind and soul. Life was delightful, growing richer every hour, like an unfolding rose. Forms of beauty filled her imagination and were transferred as best she could to paper, though they were never so lovely there, and Emily had the heartbreaking moments of the true artist who discovers that

“Never on painter’s canvas livesThe charm of his fancy’s dream.”

Much of her “old stuff” she burned; even the Child of the Sea was reduced to ashes. But the little pile of manuscripts in the mantel cupboard of the lookout was growing steadily larger. Emily kept her scribblings there now; the sofa shelf in the garret was desecrated; and, besides, she felt somehow that Aunt Elizabeth would never meddle with her “private papers” again, no matter where they were kept. She did not go now to the garret to read or write or dream; her own dear lookout was the best place for that. She loved that quaint, little old room intensely; it was almost like a living thing to her—a sharer in gladness—a comforter in sorrow.

Ilse was growing, too, blossoming out into strange beauty and brilliance, knowing no law but her own pleasure, recognizing no authority but her own whim. Aunt Laura worried over her.

“She will be a woman so soon—and who will look after her? Allan won’t.”

“I’ve no patience with Allan,” said Aunt Elizabeth grimly. “He is always ready to hector and advise other people. He’d better look at home. He’ll come over here and order me to do this or that, or not to do it, for Emily; but if I say one word to him about Ilse he blows the roof off. The idea of a man turning against his daughter and neglecting her as he has neglected Ilse simply because her mother wasn’t all she ought to be—as if the poor child was to blame for that.”

“S—s—sh,” said Aunt Laura, as Emily crossed the sitting-room on her way upstairs.

Emily smiled sadly to herself. Aunt Laura needn’t be “s-s-sh’ing.” There was nothing left for her to find out about Ilse’s mother—nothing, except the most important thing of all, which neither she nor anybody else living knew. For Emily had never surrendered her conviction that the whole truth about Beatrice Burnley was not known. She often worried about it when she lay curled up in her black walnut bed o’nights, listening to the moan of the gulf and the Wind Woman singing in the trees, and drifted into sleep wishing intensely that she could solve the dark old mystery and dissolve its legend of shame and bitterness.

Emily went rather languidly upstairs to the lookout. She meant to write some more of her story, The Ghost of the Well, wherein she was weaving the old legend of the well in the Lee field; but somehow interest was lacking; she put the manuscript back into the mantel cupboard; she read over a letter from Dean Priest which had come that day, one of his fat, jolly, whimsical, delightful letters wherein he had told her that he was coming to stay a month with his sister at Blair Water. She wondered why this announcement did not excite her more. She was tired—her head was aching. Emily couldn’t remember ever having had a headache before. Since she could not write she decided to lie down and be Lady Trevanion for awhile. Emily was Lady Trevanion very often that summer, in one of the dream lives she had begun to build up for herself. Lady Trevanion was the wife of an English earl and, besides being a famous novelist, was a member of the British House of Commons—where she always appeared in black velvet with a stately coronet of pearls on her dark hair. She was the only woman in the House and, as this was before the days of the suffragettes, she had to endure many sneers and innuendoes and insults from the ungallant males around her. Emily’s favourite dream scene was where she rose to make her first speech—a wonderfully thrilling event. As Emily found it difficult to do justice to the scene in any ideas of her own, she always fell back on “Pitt’s reply to Walpole,” which she had found in her Royal Reader, and declaimed it, with suitable variations. The insolent speaker who had provoked Lady Trevanion into speech had sneered at her as a woman, and Lady Trevanion, a magnificent creature in her velvet and pearls, rose to her feet, amid hushed and dramatic silence, and said,

“The atrocious crime of being a woman which the honourable member has, with such spirit and decency, charged upon me, I shall attempt neither to palliate nor deny, but shall content myself with wishing that I may be one of those whose follies cease with their sex and not one of that number who are ignorant in spite of manhood and experience.”

(Here she was always interrupted by thunders of applause.)

But the savour was entirely lacking in this scene today and by the time Emily had reached the line, “But womanhood, Sir, is not my only crime”—she gave up in disgust and fell to worrying over Ilse’s mother again, mixed up with some uneasy speculations regarding the climax of her story about the ghost of the well, mingled with her unpleasant physical sensations.

Her eyes hurt her when she moved them. She was chilly, although the July day was hot. She was still lying there when Aunt Elizabeth came up to ask why she hadn’t gone to bring the cows home from the pasture.

“I—I didn’t know it was so late,” said Emily confusedly. “I—my head aches, Aunt Elizabeth.”

Aunt Elizabeth rolled up the white cotton blind and looked at Emily. She noted her flushed face—she felt her pulse. Then she bade her shortly to stay where she was, went down, and sent Perry for Dr. Burnley.

“Probably she’s got the measles,” said the doctor as gruffly as usual. Emily was not yet sick enough to be gentle over. “There’s an outbreak of them at Derry Pond. Has she had any chance to catch them?”

“Jimmy Joe Belle’s two children were here one afternoon about ten days ago. She played with them—she’s always playing round with people she’s no business to associate with. I haven’t heard that they were or have been sick though.”

Jimmy Joe Belle, when asked plainly, confessed that his “young ones” had come out with measles the very day after they had been at New Moon. There was therefore not much doubt as to Emily’s malady.

“It’s a bad kind of measles apparently,” the doctor said. “Quite a number of the Derry Pond children have died of it. Mostly French though—the kids would be out of bed when they had no business to be and caught cold. I don’t think you need worry about Emily. She might as well have measles and be done with it. Keep her warm and keep the room dark. I’ll run over in the morning.”

For three or four days nobody was much alarmed. Measles was a disease everybody had to have. Aunt Elizabeth looked after Emily well and slept on a sofa which had been moved into the lookout. She even left the window open at night. In spite of this—perhaps Aunt Elizabeth thought because of it—Emily grew steadily sicker, and on the fifth day a sharp change for the worse took place. Her fever went up rapidly, delirium set in; Dr. Burnley came, looked anxious, scowled, changed the medicine.

“I’m sent for to a bad case of pneumonia at White Cross,” he said, “and I have to go to Charlottetown in the morning to be present at Mrs. Jackwell’s operation. I promised her I would go. I’ll be back in the evening. Emily is very restless—that high-strung system of hers is evidently very sensitive to fever. What’s that nonsense she’s talking about the Wind Woman?”

“Oh, I don’t know,” said Aunt Elizabeth worriedly. “She’s always talking nonsense like that, even when she’s well. Allan, tell me plainly—is there any danger?”

“There’s always danger in this type of measles. I don’t like these symptoms—the eruption should be out by now and there’s no sign of it. Her fever is very high—but I don’t think we need be alarmed yet. If I thought otherwise I wouldn’t go to town. Keep her as quiet as possible—humour her whims if you can—I don’t like that mental disturbance. She looks terribly distressed—seems to be worrying over something. Has she had anything on her mind of late?”

“Not that I know of,” said Aunt Elizabeth. She had a sudden bitter realisation that she really did not know much about the child’s mind. Emily would never have come to her with any of her little troubles and worries.

“Emily, what is bothering you?” asked Dr. Burnley softly—very softly. He took the hot, tossing, little hand gently, oh, so gently, in his big one.

Emily looked up with wild, fever-bright eyes.

“She couldn’t have done it—she couldn’t have done it.”

“Of course she couldn’t,” said the doctor cheerily. “Don’t worry—she didn’t do it.”

His eyes telegraphed, “What does she mean?” to Elizabeth, but Elizabeth shook her head.

“Who are you talking about—dear?” she asked Emily. It was the first time she had called Emily “dear.”

But Emily was off on another tack. The well in Mr. Lee’s field was open, she declared. Someone would be sure to fall into it. Why didn’t Mr. Lee shut it up? Dr. Burnley left Aunt Elizabeth trying to reassure Emily on that point and hurried away to White Cross.

At the door he nearly fell over Perry who was curled up on the sandstone slab, hugging his sunburned legs desperately. “How is Emily?” he demanded, grasping the skirt of the doctor’s coat.

“Don’t bother me—I’m in a hurry,” growled the doctor.

“You tell me how Emily is or I’ll hang on to your coat till the seams go,” said Perry stubbornly. “I can’t get one word of sense out of them old maids. You tell me.”

“She’s a sick child but I’m not seriously alarmed about her yet.” The doctor gave his coat another tug—but Perry held on for a last word.

“You’ve got to cure her,” he said. “If anything happens to Emily I’ll drown myself in the pond—mind that.”

He let go so suddenly that Dr. Burnley nearly went headlong on the ground. Then Perry curled up on the doorstep again. He watched there until Laura and Cousin Jimmy had gone to bed and then he sneaked through the house and sat on the stairs, where he could hear any sound in Emily’s room. He sat there all night, with his fists clenched, as if keeping guard against an unseen foe.

Elizabeth Murray watched by Emily until two o’clock, and then Laura took her place.

“She has raved a great deal,” said Aunt Elizabeth. “I wish I knew what is worrying her—there is something, I feel sure. It isn’t all mere delirium. She keeps repeating ‘She couldn’t have done it’ in such imploring tones. I wonder oh, Laura, you remember the time I read her letters? Do you think she means me?”

Laura shook her head. She had never seen Elizabeth so moved.

“If the child—doesn’t get—better—” said Aunt Elizabeth. She said no more but went quickly out of the room.

Laura sat down by the bed. She was pale and drawn with her own worry and fatigue—for she had not been able to sleep. She loved Emily as her own child and the awful dread that had possessed her heart would not lift for an instant. She sat there and prayed mutely. Emily fell into a troubled slumber which lasted until the grey dawn crept into the lookout. Then she opened her eyes and looked at Aunt Laura—looked through her—looked beyond her.

“I see her coming over the fields,” she said in a high, clear voice. “She is coming so gladly—she is singing—she is thinking of her baby—oh, keep her back—keep her back—she doesn’t see the well—it’s so dark she doesn’t see it—oh, she’s gone into it—she’s gone into it!”

Emily’s voice rose in a piercing shriek which penetrated to Aunt Elizabeth’s room and brought her flying across the hall in her flannel nightgown.

“What is wrong, Laura?” she gasped.

Laura was trying to soothe Emily, who was struggling to sit up in bed. Her cheeks were crimson and her eyes had still the same far, wild look.

“Emily—Emily, darling, you’ve just had a bad dream. The old Lee well isn’t open—nobody has fallen into it.”

“Yes, somebody has,” said Emily shrilly. “She has—I saw her—I saw her—with the ace of hearts on her forehead. Do you think I don’t know her?”

She fell back on her pillow, moaned, and tossed the hands which Laura Murray had loosened in her surprise.

The two ladies of New Moon looked at each other across her bed in dismay—and something like terror.

“Who did you see, Emily?” asked Aunt Elizabeth.

“Ilse’s mother—of course. I always knew she didn’t do that dreadful thing. She fell into the old well—she’s there now—go—go and get her out, Aunt Laura. Please.

“Yes—yes, of course we’ll get her out, darling,” said Aunt Laura, soothingly.

Emily sat up in bed and looked at Aunt Laura again. This time she did not look through her—she looked into her. Laura Murray felt that those burning eyes read her soul.

“You are lying to me,” cried Emily. “You don’t mean to try to get her out. You are only saying it to put me off. Aunt Elizabeth,” she suddenly turned and caught Aunt Elizabeth’s hand, “you’ll do it for me, won’t you? You’ll go and get her out of the old well, won’t you?”

Elizabeth remembered that Dr. Burnley had said that Emily’s whims must be humoured. She was terrified by the child’s condition.

“Yes, I’ll get her out if she is in there,” she said. Emily released her hand and sank down. The wild glare left her eyes. A great sudden calm fell over her anguished little face.

“I know you’ll keep your word,” she said. “You are very hard—but you never lie, Aunt Elizabeth.”

Elizabeth Murray went back to her own room and dressed herself with her shaking fingers. A little later, when Emily had fallen into a quiet sleep, Laura went down stairs and heard Elizabeth giving Cousin Jimmy some orders in the kitchen.

“Elizabeth, you don’t really mean to have that old well searched?”

“I do,” said Elizabeth resolutely. “I know it’s nonsense as well as you do. But I had to promise it to quiet her down—and I’ll keep my promise. You heard what she said—she believed I wouldn’t lie to her. Nor will I. Jimmy, you will go over to James Lee’s after breakfast and ask him to come here.”

“How has she heard the story?” said Laura.

“I don’t know—oh, some one has told her, of course—perhaps that old demon of a Nancy Priest. It doesn’t matter who. She has heard it and the thing is to keep her quiet. It isn’t so much of a job to put ladders in the well and get some one to go down it. The thing that matters is the absurdity of it.”

“We’ll be laughed at for a pair of fools,” protested Laura, whose share of Murray pride was in hot revolt. “And besides, it will open up all the old scandal again.”

“No matter. I’ll keep my word to the child,” said Elizabeth stubbornly.

Allan Burnley came to New Moon at sunset, on his way home from town. He was tired, for he had been going night and day for over a week; he was more worried than he had admitted over Emily; he looked old and rather desolate as he stepped into the New Moon kitchen.

Only Cousin Jimmy was there. Cousin Jimmy did not seem to have much to do, although it was a good hay-day and Jimmy Joe Belle and Perry were hauling in the great fragrant, sun-dried loads. He sat by the western window with a strange expression on his face.

“Hello, Jimmy, where are the girls? And how is Emily?”

“Emily is better,” said Cousin Jimmy. “The rash is out and her fever has gone down. I think she’s asleep.”

“Good. We couldn’t afford to lose that little girl, could we, Jimmy?”

“No,” said Jimmy. But he did not seem to want to talk about it. “Laura and Elizabeth are in the sitting-room. They want to see you.” He paused a minute and then added in an eerie way, “There is nothing hidden that shall not be revealed.”

It occurred to Allan Burnley that Jimmy was acting mysteriously. And if Laura and Elizabeth wanted to see him why didn’t they come out? It wasn’t like them to stand on ceremony in this fashion. He pushed open the sitting-room door impatiently.

Laura Murray was sitting on the sofa, leaning her head on its arm. He could not see her face but he felt that she was crying. Elizabeth was sitting bolt upright on a chair. She wore her second-best black silk and her second-best lace cap. And she, too, had been crying. Dr. Burnley never attached much importance to Laura’s tears, easy as those of most women, but that Elizabeth Murray should cry—had he ever seen her cry before?

The thought of Ilse flashed into his mind—his little neglected daughter. Had anything happened to Ilse?

In one dreadful moment Allan Burnley paid the price of his treatment of his child.

“What is wrong?” he exclaimed in his gruffest manner.

“Oh, Allan,” said Elizabeth Murray. “God forgive us—God forgive us all!”

“It—is—Ilse,” said Dr. Burnley, dully.

“No—no—not Ilse.”

Then she told him—she told him what had been found at the bottom of the old Lee well—she told him what had been the real fate of the lovely, laughing young wife whose name for twelve bitter years had never crossed his lips.

It was not until the next evening that Emily saw the doctor. She was lying in bed, weak and limp, red as a beet with the measles rash, but quite herself again. Allan Burnley stood by the bed and looked down at her.

“Emily—dear little child—do you know what you have done for me? God knows how you did it.”

“I thought you didn’t believe in God,” said Emily, wonderingly.

“You have given me back my faith in Him, Emily.”

“Why, what have I done?”

Dr. Burnley saw that she had no remembrance of her delirium. Laura had told him that she had slept long and soundly after Elizabeth’s promise and had awakened with fever gone and the eruption fast coming out. She had asked nothing and they had said nothing.

“When you are better we will tell you all,” he said, smiling down at her. There was something very sorrowful in the smile—and yet something very sweet.

“He is smiling with his eyes as well as his mouth now,” thought Emily.

“How—how did she know?” whispered Laura Murray to him when he went down. “I—can’t understand it, Allan.”

“Nor I. These things are beyond us, Laura,” he answered gravely. “I only know this child has given Beatrice back to me, stainless and beloved. It can be explained rationally enough perhaps. Emily has evidently been told about Beatrice and worried over it—her repeated ‘she couldn’t have done it’ shows that. And the tales of the old Lee well naturally made a deep impression on the mind of a sensitive child keenly alive to dramatic values. In her delirium she mixed this all up with the well-known fact of Jimmy’s tumble into the New Moon well—and the rest was coincidence. I would have explained it all so myself once—but now—now, Laura, I only say humbly, ‘A little child shall lead them.’”

“Our stepmother’s mother was a Highland Scotchwoman. They said she had the second sight,” said Elizabeth. “I never believed in it—before.”

The excitement of Blair Water had died away before Emily was deemed strong enough to hear the story. That which had been found in the old Lee well had been buried in the Mitchell plot at Shrewsbury and a white marble shaft, “Sacred to the memory of Beatrice Burnley, beloved wife of Allan Burnley,” had been erected. The sensation caused by Dr. Burnley’s presence every Sunday in the old Burnley pew had died away. On the first evening that Emily was allowed to sit up Aunt Laura told her the whole story. Her manner of telling stripped it forever of the taint and innuendo left by Aunt Nancy.

“I knew Ilse’s mother couldn’t have done it,” said Emily triumphantly.

“We blame ourselves now for our lack of faith,” said Aunt Laura. “We should have known too—but it did seem black against her at the time, Emily. She was a bright, beautiful, merry creature—we thought her close friendship with her cousin natural and harmless. We know now it was so—but all these years since her disappearance we have believed differently. Mr. James Lee remembers clearly that the well was open the night of Beatrice’s disappearance. His hired man had taken the old rotten planks off it that evening, intending to put the new ones on at once. Then Robert Greerson’s house caught fire and he ran with everybody else to help save it. By the time it was out it was too dark to finish with the well, and the man said nothing about it until the morning. Mr. Lee was angry with him—he said it was a scandalous thing to leave a well uncovered like that. He went right down and put the new planks in place himself. He did not look down in the well—had he looked he could have seen nothing, for the ferns growing out from the sides screened the depths. It was just after harvest. No one was in the field again before the next spring. He never connected Beatrice’s disappearance with the open well—he wonders now that he didn’t. But you see—dear—there had been much malicious gossip—and Beatrice was known to have gone on board The Lady of Winds. It was taken for granted she never came off again. But she did—and went to her death in the old Lee field. It was a dreadful ending to her bright young life—but not so dreadful, after all, as what we believed. For twelve years we have wronged the dead. But—Emily—how could you know?”

“I—don’t—know. When the doctor came in that day I couldn’t remember anything—but now it seems to me that I remember something—just as if I’d dreamed it—of seeing Ilse’s mother coming over the fields, singing. It was dark—and yet I could see the ace of hearts—oh, Aunty, I don’t know—I don’t like to think of it, some way.”

“We won’t talk of it again,” said Aunt Laura gently. “It is one of the things best not talked of—one of God’s secrets.”

“And Ilse—does her father love her now?” asked Emily eagerly.

“Love her! He can’t love her enough. It seems as if he were pouring out on her at once all the shut-up love of those twelve years.”

“He’ll likely spoil her now as much with indulgence as he did before with neglect,” said Elizabeth, coming in with Emily’s supper in time to hear Laura’s reply.

“It will take a lot of love to spoil Ilse,” laughed Laura. “She’s drinking it up like a thirsty sponge. And she loves him wildly in return. There isn’t a trace of grudge in her over his long neglect.”

“All the same,” said Elizabeth grimly, tucking pillows behind Emily’s back with a very gentle hand, oddly in contrast with her severe expression, “he won’t get off so easily. Ilse has run wild for twelve years. He won’t find it so easy to make her behave properly now—if he ever does.”

“Love will do wonders,” said Aunt Laura softly. “Of course, Ilse is dying to come and see you, Emily. But she must wait until there is no danger of infection. I told her she might write—but when she found I would have to read it because of your eyes she said she’d wait till you could read it yourself. Evidently”—Laura laughed again—“evidently Ilse has much of importance to tell you.”

“I didn’t know anybody could be as happy as I am now,” said Emily. “And oh, Aunt Elizabeth, it is so nice to feel hungry again and to have something to chew.”

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