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One evening, when the faraway hills and fields were scarfed in gauzy purples and the intervales were brimming with golden mists, Eric carried to the old garden a little limp volume that held a love story. It was the first of its kind he had ever read to her; it was a beautiful and passionate idyll, exquisitely told. He read it to her, lying in the grass at her feet; she listened with her beautiful hands clasped on her lap and her eyes on his face. It was not long and when he had finished he shut the book and looked up at her questioningly. “Do you like it?” he asked. Very slowly she took her slate and wrote. “Yes, I liked it. But it hurt me too. I did not know before that a person could like anything that hurt her. And I do not understand it very well. It is about love and I do not know anything about love. Mother told me once that love was a curse and that I must pray that it would never enter my life. She said it very earnestly and so I believed it. But that book teaches that it is a blessing. Which am I to believe?”
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Una of the Garden
Date of first publication: 1909
L. M. (Lucy Maud) Montgomery (1874-1942)
Una of the Garden
L. M. Montgomery
First published The Housekeeper in five parts, monthly December 1908 through April 1909.
This story was transformed into the novel Kilmeny of the Orchard
An hour after his pupils had gone home Eric Murray came out of the old stone schoolhouse at Stillwater and locked the door. He had lingered behind to solve some problems for his advanced students and now the sunlight was slanting in warm yellow lines through the thick maple grove to the west of the building. A couple of sheep were nibbling the lush grass in a far corner of the playground; the bell one of them wore tinkled faintly and musically on the still, mellow May air. The scene was very peaceful and pastoral—almost too much so, the young man thought with a slight shrug as he stood on the worn steps and gazed about him. How was he going to put in a whole month here, he wondered, with a little smile at his own expense.
“Father would chuckle if he knew I were sick of it already,” he thought as he walked across the playground to the road. “Well, the week is ended at any rate. I’ve earned my own living for five whole days and that is something I could never say before in all my twenty-five years of existence. It’s an exhilarating thought. But teaching a district school is distinctly not exhilarating, at least, in such a well-behaved school as this where the pupils are so painfully good that I haven’t even the traditional excitement of thrashing obstreperous big boys. Everything seems to go by clockwork. Larry must have been a model driller. I feel as if I were only the big cog in an orderly machine. Well, I can surely stand it for a month. Then I’ll tell the pater he can have his own way with me and that he was right and I was wrong.”
He swung into the road with a whistle and walked with a free, easy stride, that was somehow suggestive of reserve strength and power, down the long slope of the hill. The maples crowded thickly to the roadside on either hand and beneath them were beds of tender green, curly young ferns. Here and there a wild plum hung out its feathery bloom like a banner of springtime. The air was fragrant and balmy with wandering breezes. Now and then Eric met some callow lad on horseback or a shrewd-faced farmer in a cart, who nodded and called out cheerily, “Howdy, Master?” He knew most of them already but at the foot of the hill he met two people he did not know. They sat in an old-fashioned, shabby wagon and were watering their horse at the brook.
Eric surveyed them somewhat curiously. They did not look in the least like the ordinary run of Stillwater people. The boy had a distinctly foreign look in spite of the blue-checked shirt and homespun trousers which seemed to be the regulation workaday outfit for the Stillwater farmer lads. He was lithe and long-limbed, with a head of thick, silky, black curls and long, slender hands. His face was delicately featured and olive-tinted, save for the cheeks which had a dusky, crimson bloom that would not have shamed a girl’s. His mouth was red and full and his eyes large and black. He was a handsome fellow but the expression of his face was slightly sullen.
The other occupant of the wagon was a man of about sixty, with iron-gray hair, a harsh-featured face, and deep-set eyes. His mouth was close lipped and relentless and did not look as if it had ever smiled. Indeed, the idea of smiles could not be connected with this man, it was incongruous. Yet there was nothing repellent about the face and there was something in it that attracted Eric’s attention, for he rather prided himself on being a student of physiognomy, and he felt sure that this man was no ordinary Stillwater farmer of the genial, garrulous type with which he had become familiar. Long after the old wagon, with its oddly assorted pair, had gone lumbering up the hill Eric found himself thinking of the stern, heavy-browed man and the black-eyed, red-lipped boy.
Eric Murray himself was good to look upon, tall, broad-shouldered young fellow that he was, with steady, grayish-blue eyes and thick, wavy chestnut hair. He had been the most popular member of his graduating class that spring and the most envied, for his father was a millionaire and Eric was his only son.
IT HURT HIM THAT ANY WOMAN SHOULD LOOK AT HIM LIKE THAT.
Mr. Murray, senior, was a good-hearted, choleric old gentleman who loved this boy of his with the dead mother’s eyes better than anything else on earth and his business next. It had always been an understood thing that Eric was to go into the firm when he was through college and fit himself to carry on its many enterprises. Eric had assented to this without any particular thought, regarding it as a matter of course. But during the preceding winter he had taken a sudden notion that he would like to go in for law. Full of this idea he had gone home to his father and abruptly told him so. If Mr. Murray had kept his temper and discussed the affair reasonably he would probably have soon induced Eric to drop what was after all only a young man’s passing whim. Instead, Mr. Murray grew unwisely angry, thumped and denounced, and finally issued an ultimatum to the effect that Eric might go and study tomfoolery if he liked but that he need not expect any assistance in so doing.
“I will earn my own way through, then,” Eric had retorted hotly.
He flung himself out of his father’s presence in a rather petulant state of mind. He felt that he had been unjustly treated and it angered him. It was time, he said to himself, that his father ceased treating him like a boy who must always be told what was good for him. He would show him that he was able to stand on his own feet.
The next day he received a letter from Lawrence West, a former Academy classmate who was teaching in an up country district. West wrote that his health would not permit him to return to his school duties after the spring vacation in May and he had been unable to find a substitute. He asked Eric to take his place.
“It will be only for four weeks, until the last of June,” he wrote. “The school year ends then and there will be plenty of teachers looking for the place. I have a couple of pupils preparing to try the Academy entrance examinations and I do not like to leave them in the lurch. But the doctor has ordered me off and there is nothing else for it unless you can help me out. Come up and take the school for the rest of the term, you petted son of luxury. It will do you good to learn how rich a man feels when he is earning forty dollars a month by his own unaided efforts.”
Eric had laughed and written Larry that he would go. He went at once. His parting with his father was friendly enough. Mr. Murray shook his son’s hand and brusquely told him to take care of himself, write often and come home when he had worked off his yeasty ideas and was prepared to be sensible.
During the week he had already spent in Stillwater’s green seclusion and tranquility, Eric’s anger had cooled and his ruffled pride had become smooth. He was ready to laugh at himself. After all, he had made a mistake. There were many lawyers in the world, perhaps too many, but there were not too many good, honest men of business, ready to do clean, big things for the comfort and betterment of humanity, to plan great enterprises and carry them through with brain and courage, to manage and control, to aim high and strike one’s aim. That was what he was fitted for and that was what he would do. Meanwhile, for four more weeks he would teach in the Stillwater school as well and worthily as might be. Eric liked to do all he attempted to do in a reliable, clean-cut fashion, leaving no loose ends. So he planned and thought as he walked along. His plans and thoughts were practical; romantic visions played no part in them. The witchery of the spring was all about him in the earth and air and sky; he felt it and loved it and yielded to it as anyone of clean life and sane pulses must do; but he was not beguiled by it into lightly turning to thoughts of love. It thrilled his ambitions rather than his emotions.
Eric had succeeded to Larry’s abiding place as well as his desk. He boarded with Robert Williamson and his wife, an elderly couple who lived on the hill opposite the school. Eric greatly liked Mrs. Williamson, a quiet woman who looked after him in a motherly way. She talked little and her face was marked by the traces of outlived pain. He liked her husband somewhat less, Robert, or Bob, as he was commonly called despite his sixty years. Williamson was a talkative, gossipy man who liked to have a finger in every one’s pie. They supposed Eric to be a poor college student earning his own way through like Larry West. Eric did not disturb this belief although he said nothing to contribute to it.
The Williamsons were at tea when he went in. Eric hung his hat on the whitewashed wall and took his place between window and table.
“You see we’re busy waiting for you,” said old Robert. “You’re late this evening, Master. You’ve missed Alexander Tracy. He was here to ask you up. You’ll need to stand in with him for he’s got a son that may brew up trouble when he starts in to school. Seth Tracy’s a young imp.”
“Perhaps I met Mr. Tracy,” said Eric. “Is he a tall man with gray hair and a dark, stern face?”
“No, he’s a round jolly fellow, is Alec. I reckon the man you met was Thomas Marshall. I saw him driving down the road too. He won’t be troubling you with invitations up—small fear of it. The Marshalls ain’t sociable, to say the least of it. Mother, pass the biscuits to the Master.”
“Who was the young fellow he had with him?” asked Eric.
“That is a Scotchy name for such a face and eyes. I should rather have expected Guiseppe or Angelo. The boy looks like an Italian.”
“Reckon it’s likely, seeing that’s what he is.”
“How happens it that an Italian boy with a Scotch name is living in a place like Stillwater?”
“Well, Master, it was this way. About twenty-two years ago a couple of Italian pack-pedlars came along and called at the Marshall place—a man and his wife. The woman took sick there and old Janet Marshall took her in and nursed her. A baby was born and the woman died. Then the father disappeared and was never seen or heard tell of afterwards and the Marshalls were left with the youngster on their hands. They kept him and brought him up. Folks advised them to send him to the orphan asylum but the Marshalls were never fond of taking advice. They called the child Neil and he’s always lived there. Folks don’t like him. They say he ain’t to be trusted. It’s certain he’s awful hot-tempered and when he went to school he nigh about killed some of the boys he took a spite to. But then I reckon they tormented him a lot. He’s a great hand at the fiddle and likes company but they say he takes sulky spells. ’Twouldn’t be any wonder, living with the Marshalls. They’re all as queer as Dick’s hat-band.”
“Father, you shouldn’t talk so,” said Mrs. Williamson, rebukingly.
“Well now, mother, you know they are. You know they never were like other people. They live away up yonder, Master; half a mile in from the road, with a thick spruce wood ’twixt them and all the rest of the world. They never go anywhere and nobody ever goes there. There’s just old Thomas and his sister Janet and a niece of theirs and this here Neil. They are a queer, dour, cranky lot and I will say it, mother. There, give your old man a cup of tea.”
Shortly before sunset that evening Eric went for a walk. He liked to indulge in long tramps through the Stillwater fields and woods in the sweet mellowness of the spring weather. Most of the Stillwater houses were built along the shore road and about “the Corners”. The farms ran back from them into solitudes of woods and pasture lands.
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