They married in September, before the leaves curled up and fluttered from the trees. It was the kind of day that made autumn drizzle worth it, the last swell of summer before fading. Emily's bouquet had been filled with red roses, cut from the garden at New Moon. That had been Aunt Laura's doing, sweetly Victorian and sentimental.
"But really," Emily wrote in her diary, "there is nothing quite like red roses, after all. Any number of flowers mean the same thing, but none of them have the fullness of colour or the ineffable flavour to them."
"Roses are old-fashioned," said Ilse, not because she really thought that but because she had campaigned fiercely for camellias.
But Teddy's smile on their wedding day, when weighed in the balance, was worth Ilse's grousing. Lorne Halsey stood as best man again, and rolled his eyes comically at seeing Ilse come down the aisle as maid of honour. Emily pressed the heel of her shoe gently into Ilse's foot and Ilse, with truly manful fortitude, held off losing her temper until after the last of the rice had been thrown.
"Teddy Kent could have done better for a best man," Aunt Isabella Hyslop said. "It's bad luck to have the same one twice."
Well, Emily thought privately, Aunt Isabella Hyslop would know, but she held her peace. Halsey did not appear to have heard; his wedding toast done with, he had polished off the next two glasses in quick succession and although he was nothing like tipsy, Cousin Margaret was heard to say something about "those Montreal men". But, Emily philosophised, there was plenty to go around. Aunt Elizabeth had regarded last year's spread with a jaundiced eye: it had been impressive, no doubt, and the Burnleys were proud clan members, but Murrays were Murrays. If Ilse had had a good old-fashioned supper, Aunt Elizabeth made a point of Emily having a frankly mediaeval one, with the apparent aim of rivalling a queen's.
Even with the doors and windows flung open, the heat inside the parlour was dizzying, so Emily wandered out into the garden. The sun was lingering, unwilling to go south for the winter, and Emily lifted her face to it and closed her eyes. Just a few minutes more to be Emily Byrd Starr. She'd signed the registry book hours ago, but no one yet had called her Mrs Kent.
She heard the whistle, long and low, and she picked up her skirts to run to Lofty John's bush. Teddy was there, waiting, grinning like a man on his wedding day should.
"Shall we go, Mrs Kent?" he inquired, and Emily was fiercely glad that he'd been the first to call her that. She was uncertain what she would have said to anyone else. To Teddy, there was only:
"Yes," and she took his outstretched hand.
There was an Indian summer that year, coming anew in late October. Emily and Teddy enjoyed it while it lasted, despite their sweat-slick bodies, and danced in their garden with bare feet. Lady Giovanna kept their secrets behind her lovely, enigmatic face and Elizabeth Bas didn't care, Emily said.
"She has no time for flitting fancies! But there must be fools in this world."
It was not until late November that the frost began in earnest and on that morning, Teddy read his letters with a troubled eye. Emily was not paying attention. Her mind was with the Carters of White Shore, who had developed distinct personalities obligingly enough apart from the youngest daughter, who was swinging wildly between dreamily romantic and viciously cynical depending on how tired Emily was when writing. It was only when Teddy began to play with the letter-opener, a tic that she had not previously been forced to notice, that she looked up.
"What is it?" she asked, touching his hand with her own.
Teddy's mouth twisted, still staring at the letter. "Just my agent in Montreal. Nothing to worry about."
Emily nodded, and did not worry, but instead went back to wrestling with the problem of Prudence Carter. So she was surprised, a few days later, when Teddy said:
"I think I might have to go to Montreal on business."
Emily, caught in the act of contemplating the dark rustle of firs in the November wind, turned from the window. "I beg your pardon?" she inquired.
Teddy gestured slightly with the letter in his right hand and Emily had never resented mere paper and ink before that moment. "Montreal," he said. "I have a contract with the Star."
Emily drew the curtains slowly, and sat down on the ottoman. Two months, she thought, and it seemed like a very short time now, those endless autumn days. She might have asked, "What do you want to do?" or "Shall I stay with the house?" It felt cruel, to leave the Disappointed House so soon, but her Murray soul intervened twixt mind and mouth.
"We shan't need much," she said, "so there's no need to pack up the whole house. You go on ahead and find us lodgings."
Teddy's relief was almost palpable. She had skated over a difficulty as if it did not exist, when he had fretted himself all day about telling her. Now he nearly didn't want to leave; he sensed, somehow, that going to Montreal would be the end of this idyll and the prospect of regular work was less enticing than Emily ensconced in their kitchen. But in his mind he was already half-packed, his fingers itching for a pencil. It was unlikely to lead to great things, drawing cartoons, but Van Gogh hadn't had a wife to support in the manner to which she was accustomed.
"We're flying the Blue Peter again," he said to her. "All persons should report aboard."
Emily's smile was sudden – not the flash, as they had termed it long ago, but warm and affectionate and full of shared amusement. All in all, Teddy thought as he went back out into the hall, it could have gone far worse.
"Well," Emily wrote in her diary, "Teddy has found us rooms in Mont-Royal, and that, as Aunt Elizabeth would say, is that."
"LE PETIT COIN,
"FEBRUARY 3, 19—
"Do you know, if Mrs McDonald says another word about 'those artists', I might just fly at her myself. She doesn't speak like that when Teddy's here – one of those things, I suspect, that are the perks of his sex. I must pour the tea politely in any case, whereas Teddy may escape to his studio.
"But everyone would say I am ungrateful. Mrs McDonald has leased us very good rooms for a very low cost, considering – something that between Teddy's and my incomes we can manage to pay on time. Taking tea with her every Thursday isn't too high a price, and at least Mrs McDonald doesn't sniff. I could never bear that from Aunt Ruth, and Mrs McDonald has no claims on clan feeling.
"Besides, tomorrow I have nothing to do. What a glorious feeling that is, nothing to do! I can walk to the park and see trees again. There is something very comforting about walking through trees. They are ancient, unknowable – they don't care about our little lives. We might as well be butterflies.
"I think I will go to the park. Perhaps Teddy will come, too – he can't be at his desk all day, after all, and I know he would like to do more landscape sketching."
Emily inquired after Teddy's plans that evening at dinner, but he begged off, already behind with the rough drafts of next month's strip. It was alone that Emily strolled along to the park, neatly gloved and coated. Snow crunched satisfyingly under her boots and for a moment, in the shaded light of the fir trees, it was like being back in Blair Water. Almost, at least; and then when she saw the stooped figure down by the lake, with his lolling walk, it was nearly perfect.
She opened her mouth to call out, thought better of it, then thought better of it again. "Dean!"
Dean turned, and even from thirty feet away she could see him smile. She didn't run, for it always made him sardonic, but she walked swifter.
"Emily," he said, and his tone was so light it was as if nothing had ever passed between them. "How are you?"
"Well enough," said Emily, trying to match him, but habit took over and she added more frankly, "Bored."
This surprised a laugh from Dean, apparently genuine, and he said, "I never thought to see you out of Blair Water, not – well. What brings you to Montreal, Star?"
"I – " and Emily found, not for the first time, that she disliked to bring Teddy up in conversation with Dean. But it had to be said. "Teddy's working for the Montreal Star. What about you?"
"Travelling, as is my wont. I meant to return to Blair Water for Christmas," said Dean, who had intended nothing of the kind, "but I weighed the joys of Athens against the joys of a Priest family gathering and found my footsteps lagging."
"I wish you had been there," said Emily. Christmas had been lovely, marred only by Aunt Laura's badly-hidden woe at her leaving again. But conversations with Dean would have improved it even more.
Dean's mouth curled upwards at one side. "Perhaps next year. But – " and he stamped his foot on the ground for emphasis – "snow doesn't agree with me, as you can see."
"Let's find a café, then," said Emily. Montreal did provide some things better than Blair Water did, loath as she was to admit it. They walked side by side, Dean firmly upright and doing his best to disguise his limp as if she hadn't seen it a hundred times before. Priests, Emily thought, as many a Murray had before her.
They sat in the café and drank tea, chatting nearly as easily as always, the way they had been before – well, before everything. Somewhere in her mind, Emily was aware that Dean was directing this, that he was making a point of his ability to be social with her. But after all, if that was what was necessary, Emily was willing to agree to it. She had missed Dean horribly, to begin with, and, besides, here in Montreal she knew no one but Teddy's friends and their fellow lodgers, none of them kindred spirits. Ilse, disobligingly, was living in perfect domestic disharmony in Toronto and Emily got letters every week complaining viciously about Stovepipe Town. She occasionally sent Emily advice on how to handle Teddy:
"Always make him think you might prefer something else," she wrote once. "He gets awfully jealous, manlike, and it's screamingly funny to watch him squirm around because of it. He won't ever start a quarrel, so if you want to really get him mad, you'll have to pick the fight yourself."
"I have no interest in fighting Teddy," Emily wrote by return of post. Quarrelling with Teddy was no fun at all, not the quarrel itself but the silence afterwards.
She did not explain this to Dean. His reaction would have been impossible to judge, and she felt, queerly intense, that she did not want him to know.
They stayed so long in the café talking that they ordered lunch, too, and it was mid-afternoon by the time they sauntered back to Emily's lodgings.
"This is where I leave you, Star," Dean said. "I won't be seeing you for a while, I'm afraid, for I'm heading south to Yankee land."
"I'm sorry to hear that," said Emily, and meant it. She squeezed Dean's hand. She was unsure whether to ask him to write, but he solved her dilemma for her by saying he would without prompting.
They shook hands one last time, and Emily hopped up the stairs to her rooms with the last remnants of the day's pleasure lingering in her smile. Could it be that she had dreaded seeing Dean again – had avoided writing to him – had left the room whenever his name was invoked at a clan gathering? And how simple it had been in reality.
Dean, for his part, was ambling down Sherbrooke Street, not unsatisfied with the way the day had gone. He had exerted himself, he thought, but it had paid off. He was already thinking of what to write.
"I wish I could describe my lodgings to you, but my pen feels inadequate. New York City is never silent, even in the dead of a white night. There is no space for contemplation; everything is set out neatly in nice geometric blocks, and one is continually moving between them. Cities have their own charm, I think – there is something about the constant thrumming of life beneath the surface. Here I never feel that I have time to sit and brood, and that is certainly an attraction. Rural areas lend themselves too much to melodrama."
"Melodrama?" Emily inquired in her next letter, and wrote it in italics three times before scrapping the page and printing it with vicious care. "I hope you aren't referring to The Song of the Shore, and if you are I can name you a baker's dozen of melodramas which are all about the urban lifestyle."
"I would never pass commentary on The Song of the Shore," Dean scrawled from the waiting room at Pennsylvania Station. He paused, and then wrote, "I have lost that right. But I thought it was better than The Moral of the Rose, and I hope I shall say that about every book you write."
Emily read this letter in silence at the breakfast table and Teddy, glancing up, asked her what had made her smile.
"You know your opinion of my writing is worth" and here Emily stopped and changed her next words "a great deal to me. That was pure humbug, Dean."
"I'm glad that you still think so," Dean answered, ignoring the other part. "I am writing this on the deck of the Matsonia, which is a proud vessel and I shall buy prints to send you."
"I am writing this from the old fort on St Helen's Island," Emily sent back, not to be outdone. "Do you know that the man who named it called it after his wife? Very romantic, but I wonder what she thought of it. It can be quite complicated to be immortalised."
"I want to paint you," Teddy said one night, tracing a rough sketch on the white skin of Emily's shoulder.
"You already did," Emily said, eyes half-closed in the darkness.
"Yes," said Teddy, "but – " and he broke off, unable to find the necessary words. "It's not like you now," he finally said. "The Smiling Girl is Emily the unattainable. You – "
" – are entirely attainable," Emily finished for him, and he felt her mordant amusement against his chest.
She agreed, however, and spent several days sitting demurely in Teddy's studio while he drew and redrew her nose. It annoyed her – she had wanted to spend the time writing, for she had a marvellous plot all planned out in her Jimmy-book. It was one thing to outline a structure in one's head, but even the most perfectly diagrammed sentence could be lost in an instant. But this was Teddy's holiday from the Star, his cartoon on hiatus for the spring.
"We could go on a picnic," she said experimentally, trying not to move her mouth.
"I wish you wouldn't talk right now," said Teddy, who had just lost the curve of her lower lip. Emily now resembled a clown far too much for his liking. Emily subsided.
"It's a shame," she wrote to Cousin Jimmy. "I was hoping to be able to come back to Blair Water by now, but Teddy insists that nowhere else will do but his studio."
Sitting took up most of the day, so Emily was less able to take her usual walks. There was a chill in the air, frosting the pavements and killing the early spring flowers. The world seemed very grey that March, for Perry's campaign had stepped-up and Ilse was preoccupied with cowing the spirits of unfortunate voters. Her aunts and Cousin Jimmy still wrote, but even their cheerful missives could not fill the void in Emily's soul.
Dean was still writing, too.
Had she had a friend of her own in Montreal, it might have been different, but the closest poor Emily had was Lorne Halsey, who treated her with a mixture of friendship and hostility. The source of his antagonism she had yet to discover; she was hard-pressed to convince Teddy it even existed. Emily, alone but not defeated, gave Halsey his own back: she was infinitely, achingly polite, but occasionally the old Murray look surfaced.
"It's the old clan devil," Dean wrote, Priest-like. "He's been passed down through the generations, like Melusine and the Angevins."
"Don't be ridiculous," Emily answered. "The Murrays are far too respectable to have a devil in the family." For they were, and besides, the mere suggestion that Andrew, for example, was of the devil's brood was laughable. No salt at all.
Emily by nature was not one who needed company, but like any human being she craved companionship, which was quite a different thing. If Teddy had – but Teddy was spending his days staring with haunted eyes at a canvas that never looked quite right to him. Halsey did his best to encourage him, but Emily could not. Teddy was right – the face, somehow indefinably, was not hers.
"It's not your nose," Teddy said one long three o'clock, gazing at the ceiling. "I know that's right. I'd count your eyelashes if I could, Emily, and measure the thickness against my brush. I have a hundred different shades of red for your mouth."
He had taken to leaving their bed at odd hours of the night, which never failed to wake Emily and which was beginning to irritate her. The first few times she had followed him into the study where he kept his rough sketches and rubbed her thumb over the nape of his bowed head, or put the kettle on. Now, even bereft of his body heat, she curled up and went back to sleep almost defiantly.
"We're coming back to Blair Water in July," Emily wrote to Aunt Elizabeth after this had gone on a month with no sign of abating. It was not that she had discussed this with Teddy. It was simply going to happen.
The Disappointed House looked a little sadder when they eventually returned, but Emily took a vigorous feather duster to it and judged that it seemed brighter afterwards. She had brought her letters from Dean with her – they were still so interesting to read over, even without the other half of the conversation. In his last, he had told her about Paris, and walking through the artists' quarter, which, Dean said, was much less shocking than the biddies of Blair Water supposed. "But I still think you would love it," he added. "There is a street artist at the bottom of the hill who will paint your name in birds – an eagle for E, a magpie for M, and so on. I wish you would come to the café where I write this, and confound these blasted philosophers with your smile, dear, disastrous Star." Emily, unsure of whether she liked being termed "disastrous", nevertheless had been reading it at the end of a long day in which she had only exchanged basic pleasantries with people, even Teddy, and she had crumpled it in her hand as she wished passionately to be in Paris and not Montreal.
She folded the letters neatly and locked them away in the bottom drawer of her desk.
Emily hadn't been expecting to see anyone else that summer apart from the people who usually lived in Blair Water, so Dean's unheralded arrival a week after her was a genuine surprise. He came to call at the Disappointed House, with a smile that was almost unshadowed by pain.
"My star of the morning," he said, taking her hands. "You look wan."
"Oh – I slept badly," said Emily with a jerk of her head. She led Dean into the parlour, where Elizabeth Bas still hung over the fireplace. She looked down on them, unimpressed by something. Emily didn't know what. Dean nodded at the engraving.
"You kept her, I see."
Emily's face felt like it wanted to flush, but she stayed composed. "I think I'd miss her, nowadays."
Dean gave his lopsided shrug. "It was a gift, Star. My wedding present to you – it was half yours anyway, really. You were the one who made it beautiful."
His voice was low, and there was something in his tone that Emily could not – would not – identify. Wilfully, she turned her attention to the teapot and poured him a cup. Dean was not displeased by her reaction.
"I would have thought you'd put The Smiling Girl up," he said. Emily barely contained her flinch, but she saw Dean notice it anyway. "Or not?"
"It feels vain," said Emily, more candidly than she meant to. Dean had a disconcerting habit of pulling the truth from her.
"Only if it's not a true portrait," Dean argued, leaning forward in his seat. "And The Smiling Girl is – exquisite."
Emily's fingers tightened on her cup, and took a careful sip so that she wouldn't have to reply. She swallowed, not meeting Dean's gaze, which felt suddenly heavy and charged with something she remembered from his long courtship of her. She knew desire; when it came with Teddy it felt cleaner, easier, but with Dean it was always as if something alien was knotting her stomach and making her heart beat a step too fast. She took another sip, too aware of the silence for comfort.
"Are you happy, Emily?" Dean asked.
Emily, being of a nature given to introspection, might have weighed the pros and cons of her life with Dean - and had, often, in years passed into the mist. But to do so now - to expose her soul to him, and let him look it over with his disconcerting gaze, would be intolerable. It was one thing to pour out your heart in a letter which was almost like writing in a diary, so far away were you from the recipient; it was another to say the same things in your own voice, to hear yourself sound pathetic, or plaintive, or petulant. She looked into Dean's eyes, too sympathetic for honest friendship, and wondered what he really wanted to know. There was very little wondering to do, really.
"I'm perfectly happy," she said, drawing her shoulders a touch straighter, and infusing her voice with Murrayness.
Dean bowed his head, smiling as if in relief, and Emily tried not to see the satisfaction in his expression. He had drawn his own conclusions.
Teddy came home the next day, still red-eyed and pale from too many late nights. He was quiet all afternoon, preferring to sit and read Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town rather than talk. Emily hardly knew whether to be glad or sorry. She was thinking about Dean, and Dean's expression, going round and round in circles until she was thoroughly sick of herself. Did Dean care for her yet? It seemed so, and Emily was sure she wasn't being vain by thinking it - not at all, because the thought of it twisted her heart in her chest. It was too much to lose a friend like Dean twice in a lifetime – once had been painful enough. When Aunt Laura called and mentioned – delicately – that Dean Priest was home, as if Emily might not have known, Teddy barely reacted. At least, it might have been said that he barely reacted. In truth, his face blanked momentarily before he nodded and changed the subject.
He was even quieter after Aunt Laura left. One of the few things he did say was: "You didn't tell me Dean Priest was back."
Emily said airily, "I didn't think of it. I only found out yesterday myself."
"I see," said Teddy.
"It's rather awful," Emily wrote in her diary, "when the only thing your husband will say to you is 'Pass the salt'."
For Teddy had inherited something from his mother, which Emily had never yet had cause to know: he did not quarrel, as Ilse did, there were not even the warning signs Dean had which she knew how to guard against. Her overwhelming, smothering love, he knew well enough to be unhealthy; her sullenness, he had never thought about, except that it had always made him feel nearly as miserable as she did. Hence, the Disappointed House grew silent again, interrupted only by the scratching of Emily's pen and Dean Priest's voice.
Dean, you see, continued to visit. He haunted the Disappointed House as if it had been the latter days after Emily's accident, when everything he had dreamed of seemed very close. His tone had grown deeper, more intimate, and Emily responded to it, enjoying too much the warmth of his regard. It was a balm to the sting of Teddy's moodiness, which she still could not comprehend; that he was jealous, she could understand, but not this, where they had fought without ever fighting, where there was a wall of ice slowly freezing between them. Had there been a row, she would have felt much better.
"Every woman should sit in the garden at dusk," Dean said one evening, tilting his head as if to see her better. "It suits them so well."
Emily smiled, and accepted the compliment with a downward sweep of eyelashes that quite effectively revenged her on Dean for the question of days ago. She was being completely honest, however, when she said, "I am glad you're here."
"I was...hurt, for a long time," Dean said, his green eyes intent on hers. "But in the end I came to realise, Star, that it doesn't matter who makes you happy, so long as you are." This was patently untrue, and Dean had skimmed over the worst three o'clocks of his life, lying awake thinking of Emily's lips, her skin, her hair coming loose over her shoulders. He still did not buy the Montreal Star, for there had been too many times he'd picked up a Canadian magazine, nostalgic, and seen Emily's flash.
Emily by now had perfected the time-honoured trick of drinking tea in order not to speak. Eventually, she said, "I would like to go to Paris someday, to walk down those streets myself. Your letters were like having only one bite of the apple."
"I'd like to take you," Dean said warmly, and Emily thought about it, thought about walking down the Champs d'Elysées, of the real Mona Lisa, of Marie Antoinette and being somewhere that wasn't Montreal or this silent house. Only for a visit – only for a visit. Aunt Elizabeth would be shocked at her going somewhere as inherently scandalous as Paris. The other Murrays would never forgive her – would probably be more upset at her going to Paris with a Priest as at her leaving the continent at all.
"That would be interesting," she said, demure and utterly without a definite answer.
Dean came again the next day, and the day after that, too. A Priest hadn't been so obviously hanging out for a Murray since – well, since their engagement, but before that must have been Nancy Murray and Nat Priest seventy years ago. And hadn't there been some scandal about that? Harry Priest had cut his throat at the reception. Nothing had ever been said one way or the other, but Nancy Priest had always been a flirt and that just proved it. Well, didn't Emily Starr – there were folks in Blair Water who didn't hold with the fancy way of styling herself Emily Byrd Starr – well, didn't she have the Shipley ankle, just like Nancy? There was a sign if ever there was one. And think of her mother – her mother, mind you, had been respectably married when she eloped, but the sins of the father always visited themselves tenfold on the child. Something in the blood, perhaps. Not the Murray blood, added those with some sense of self-preservation left to them, but perhaps something from Douglas Starr – who had the Starrs been, anyhow? – or one of Juliet Murray's more unfortunate ancestors, ones who had been unlucky enough not to receive the benefit of a Murray upbringing.
Aunt Elizabeth seethed in a dignified fashion, but it was Aunt Laura who eventually said, "Emily, dearest, do you think it wise," and though anyone else would have received a textbook Murray look, to Aunt Laura Emily only flashed:
"I don't see why I shouldn't let an old friend call on me."
"But – you were engaged for so long – "
"Yes, and I broke it off myself. Do people really think I can jilt a man and still have him after me?"
"Oh, Emily," said Aunt Laura, her blue eyes filling. Of course, people did think that, as people in general were wont to do, and especially about the fascinating Emily Byrd Starr who had had a Japanese prince in love with her once.
It led to an uncomfortable three o'clock for Emily, and she slipped from her bed and went down to the study, where she unlocked the bottom drawer of her desk and laid Dean's letters out in front of her. There was nothing – nothing – in them that Aunt Elizabeth wouldn't have read with more complaint than a frown, not that Emily would ever, ever have shown them to her. Her fingers clenched on the arm of the chair just thinking about it. She could read Dean's affection for her in every line, witty, friendly, sympathising with her about the general unpleasantness of living in a city. Funny, how he'd written that one from London. She closed her eyes and thought of the heat of his gaze, green and knowing, of his sardonic smile, and squirmed a little in her seat.
She locked the letters away again and slowly went back up to bed.
Teddy was awake when she came in. He'd been watching the door, and some devil in Emily prompted her to say:
"I'm not dressed enough to have been outside."
Teddy flinched and shrugged it away, which looked odd from a man lying down. "I didn't think you were."
"What did you think?" Emily asked with poisonous sweetness. She came over to the bed and sat down on the opposite side from Teddy.
"Nothing," he said.
"Good," said Emily. She lay down, not touching him. Her fingers were curling into the sheets where Teddy couldn't see, so tense it almost hurt. She was almost asleep when she heard him say, very quietly:
"What's in that drawer?"
She pretended not to have heard. His breathing soon evened out; exhaustion won out over brooding. But Emily lay awake until her bad three o'clock turned into a bad four o'clock, a five o'clock, a six. At quarter to seven she gave up the ghost and got up to wash her face. The Emily-in-the-glass that looked back was haggard; insomnia did her no more favours than it did Teddy.
By the time Dean came round – his visits had started to be earlier and earlier, and to go on for longer – her mind was made up. When he entered, she thought, he knew that something was different.
How to begin, how to break Dean's heart a second time? And this was different – it wasn't as if it were something she had to do. She'd lived with scandal before. But Aunt Ruth couldn't – wouldn't – back her up now, nor would even Aunt Laura or Cousin Jimmy, not on this. Great-Aunt Nancy would have, but Great-Aunt Nancy's support was not the kind of support Emily was sure she wanted to have, not on this.
"Star," Dean said, breaking the awkward pause first, "you know not to listen to those old cats."
"I don't," said Emily, flushing. It was a defensive response, instinctive, and she regretted it. What did Dean have to say about them? He was never in Blair Water if he could help it, could stay away for years at a time. Emily had been miserable after six months. "I mean, I don't want to lose you again, Dean, but you shouldn't – "
Dean's face was serious as he took her hands. "You won't always be here, Emily."
"It's my home," Emily said quietly. This was terrible – almost worse than breaking the engagement – at least Dean hadn't argued with her then. She bit her lip until it whitened, and it appeared to mean something to Dean, because his face seemed to consciously relax.
"I know, Star," he said, and stood. His hands still held hers; she stood with him, looking up into his face. "Your heart and soul is in this place."
Relief flooded Emily – Dean understood, in a way that few others did. Certainly Perry and Ilse and Teddy had taken the first boat off the Island. Dean, who had gone, too, had kept coming back – Emily was not conceited enough to believe that she had been the sole attraction, though this was in reality the case.
"But Star," Dean said, his grip on her hands tightening, "one thing – " and he kissed her, long and slow. Emily's mouth parted and she held onto Dean like a lifeline until her brain returned and she pulled away.
"Dean," she said, trying to think of something to say.
Dean's smile was infinitely sad. "Emily," he said, and turned as if to go. "May I still write?"
"Yes, of course," Emily said, for she had nothing else to say, and the slump of Dean's lopsided shoulders as he walked away left a mark on her soul.
"What has been going on, Madam Emily," Ilse wrote a week later. She'd had a letter from her father which mainly consisting of excoriating everyone who said a slanderous word about the Kents and was now wildly curious. Emily, glad of the opportunity to unburden herself to one who wasn't involved the slightest bit, wrote such a long screed that she narrowly escaped paying extra postage.
"Well, I like that," Ilse replied by return of post. "Playing the noble sufferer all along, was he?" Which was such a dampening judgement on the whole affair that Emily blushed for days. About Teddy, Ilse added, "I told you he was a sulker."
"Your advice and sympathy are always such a comfort to me," Emily informed her politely. Ilse's reply was unprintable.
Dean's letter came a week after that. He was in Toronto, where he had never actually been before. "A mistake," he wrote. "One should always try and see one's own country before someone else's. I think I'll stay in Canada for a long while; it seems I never appreciated it properly." He wrote about the ivy-covered art museum, Fort York – Fort York, Star, do you remember reading about it in the parlour at New Moon? – and most of all about her, questions, was she well, did she finish her book, was she going to return to Montreal.
Emily answered him: yes, no, and thirdly, Murrays don't break their promises. She had not wanted to write that, it had hurt to do so, but it ought to have been done and so she did it.
"I can name you half a dozen who did," Dean replied.
"Don't confuse us with Priests," Emily wrote back, and felt much better for it. She folded Dean's letter up and locked it in the bottom drawer of her desk. She was packing to go back to Montreal, in fact, for she had promised it to Teddy before they ever returned to Blair Water. The letters would be the last thing she put into her suitcase.
There was a clatter from the front door; it was Teddy, coming in from his walk. His manner had been easier after Dean left, but now the constraint that came, came from Emily, who was finding it hard to forgive.
Emily bent her head and wrote a postscript:
"I've sworn all sorts of sacred oaths in my time, most of them with Ilse, and breaking them was nothing. But giving my word is different. I don't know if you understand; I think you would."
Dean, on receiving this, thought that she had broken her word once, or rather he had released her from it, but judged it impolitic to mention it. "I understand," he wrote, and then he set about his next plan of campaign.