Kilmeny of the Orchard by Lucy Maud Montgomery
Chapter XIX. Victor from Vanquished Issues
Now that everything was settled Eric wished to give up teaching and go back to his own place. True, he had "signed papers" to teach the school for a year; but he knew that the trustees would let him off if he procured a suitable substitute. He resolved to teach until the fall vacation, which came in October, and then go. Kilmeny had promised that their marriage should take place in the following spring. Eric had pleaded for an earlier date, but Kilmeny was sweetly resolute, and Thomas and Janet agreed with her.
"There are so many things that I must learn yet before I shall be ready to be married," Kilmeny had said. "And I want to get accustomed to seeing people. I feel a little frightened yet whenever I see any one I don't know, although I don't think I show it. I am going to church with Uncle and Aunt after this, and to the Missionary Society meetings. And Uncle Thomas says that he will send me to a boarding school in town this winter if you think it advisable."
Eric vetoed this promptly. The idea of Kilmeny in a boarding school was something that could not be thought about without laughter.
"I can't see why she can't learn all she needs to learn after she is married to me, just as well as before," he grumbled to her uncle and aunt.
"But we want to keep her with us for another winter yet," explained Thomas Gordon patiently. "We are going to miss her terrible when she does go, Master. She has never been away from us for a day--she is all the brightness there is in our lives. It is very kind of you to say that she can come home whenever she likes, but there will be a great difference. She will belong to your world and not to ours. That is for the best--and we wouldn't have it otherwise. But let us keep her as our own for this one winter yet."
Eric yielded with the best grace he could muster. After all, he reflected, Lindsay was not so far from Queenslea, and there were such things as boats and trains.
"Have you told your father about all this yet?" asked Janet anxiously.
No, he had not. But he went home and wrote a full account of his summer to old Mr. Marshall that night.
Mr. Marshall, Senior, answered the letter in person. A few days later, Eric, coming home from school, found his father sitting in Mrs. Williamson's prim, fleckless parlour. Nothing was said about Eric's letter, however, until after tea. When they found themselves alone, Mr. Marshall said abruptly,
"Eric, what about this girl? I hope you haven't gone and made a fool of yourself. It sounds remarkably like it. A girl that has been dumb all her life--a girl with no right to her father's name--a country girl brought up in a place like Lindsay! Your wife will have to fill your mother's place,--and your mother was a pearl among women. Do you think this girl is worthy of it? It isn't possible! You've been led away by a pretty face and dairy maid freshness. I expected some trouble out of this freak of yours coming over here to teach school."
"Wait until you see Kilmeny, father," said Eric, smiling.
"Humph! That's just exactly what David Baker said. I went straight to him when I got your letter, for I knew that there was some connection between it and that mysterious visit of his over here, concerning which I never could drag a word out of him by hook or crook. And all he said was, 'Wait until you see Kilmeny Gordon, sir.' Well, I will wait till I see her, but I shall look at her with the eyes of sixty-five, mind you, not the eyes of twenty-four. And if she isn't what your wife ought to be, sir, you give her up or paddle your own canoe. I shall not aid or abet you in making a fool of yourself and spoiling your life."
Eric bit his lip, but only said quietly,
"Come with me, father. We will go to see her now."
They went around by way of the main road and the Gordon lane. Kilmeny was not in when they reached the house.
"She is up in the old orchard, Master," said Janet. "She loves that place so much she spends all her spare time there. She likes to go there to study."
They sat down and talked awhile with Thomas and Janet. When they left, Mr. Marshall said,
"I like those people. If Thomas Gordon had been a man like Robert Williamson I shouldn't have waited to see your Kilmeny. But they are all right--rugged and grim, but of good stock and pith--native refinement and strong character. But I must say candidly that I hope your young lady hasn't got her aunt's mouth."
"Kilmeny's mouth is like a love-song made incarnate in sweet flesh," said Eric enthusiastically.
"Humph!" said Mr. Marshall. "Well," he added more tolerantly, a moment later, "I was a poet, too, for six months in my life when I was courting your mother."
Kilmeny was reading on the bench under the lilac trees when they reached the orchard. She stood up and came shyly forward to meet them, guessing who the tall, white-haired old gentleman with Eric must be. As she approached Eric saw with a thrill of exultation that she had never looked lovelier. She wore a dress of her favourite blue, simply and quaintly made, as all her gowns were, revealing the perfect lines of her lithe, slender figure. Her glossy black hair was wound about her head in a braided coronet, against which a spray of wild asters shone like pale purple stars. Her face was flushed delicately with excitement. She looked like a young princess, crowned with a ruddy splash of sunlight that fell through the old trees.
"Father, this is Kilmeny," said Eric proudly.
Kilmeny held out her hand with a shyly murmured greeting. Mr. Marshall took it and held it in his, looking so steadily and piercingly into her face that even her frank gaze wavered before the intensity of his keen old eyes. Then he drew her to him and kissed her gravely and gently on her white forehead.
"My dear," he said, "I am glad and proud that you have consented to be my son's wife--and my very dear and honoured daughter."
Eric turned abruptly away to hide his emotion and on his face was a light as of one who sees a great glory widening and deepening down the vista of his future.