"May 19, 19--
"This is my birthday. I am fourteen years old today. I wrote a letter 'From myself at fourteen to myself at twenty-four,' sealed it up and put it away in my cupboard, to be opened on my twenty-fourth birthday. I made some predictions in it. I wonder if they will have come to pass when I open it...” --Emily Climbs, L.M. Montgomery
Tomorrow night, I will open my own letter from Fourteen, written ten years ago in the midst of a passionate affair with Maud Montgomery, and with Emily, especially--a passion that will never, ever completely die. It will be ghostly, in a way, reading the letter, and no doubt its contents will seem bare and foolish after a decade of anticipation. But still, I cannot wait.
From Emily's Quest:
On her twenty-fourth birthday Emily opened and read the letter she had written "from herself at fourteen to herself at twenty-four." It was not the amusing performance she had once expected it to be. She sat long at her window with the letter in her hand, watching the light of yellow, sinking stars over the bush that was still called Lofty John's oftener than not, from old habit. What would pop out when she opened that letter? A ghost of first youth? Of ambition? Of vanished love? Of lost friendship? Emily felt she would rather burn the letter than read it. But that would be cowardly. One must face things--even ghosts. With a sudden quick movement she cut open the envelope and took out the letter.
A whiff of old fragrance came with it. Folded in it were some dried rose-leaves--crisp brown things that crumbled to dust under her touch. Yes, she remembered that rose--Teddy had brought it to her one evening when they had been children together and he had been so proud of that first red rose that bloomed on a little house rose-bush Dr. Burnley had given him--the only rose that ever did bloom on it, for that matter. His mother had resented his love for the little plant. One night it was accidentally knocked off the window-sill and broken. If Teddy thought or knew there was any connection between the two facts he never said so. Emily had kept the rose as long as possible in a little vase on her study table; but the night she had written her letter she had taken the limp, faded thing and folded it--with a kiss--between the sheets of paper. She had forgotten that it was there; and now it fell in her hand, faded, unbeautiful, like the rose-hopes of long ago, yet with some faint bitter-sweetness still about it. The whole letter seemed full of it--whether of sense or spirit she could hardly tell.
This letter was, she sternly told herself, a foolish, romantic affair. Something to be laughed at. Emily carefully laughed at some parts of it. How crude--how silly--how sentimental--how amusing! Had she really ever been young and callow enough to write such flowery exultant nonsense? And one would have thought, too, that fourteen regarded twenty-four as verging on venerable.
"Have you written your great book?" airily asked Fourteen in conclusion. "Have you climbed to the very top of the Alpine Path? Oh, Twenty-four, I'm envying you. It must be splendid to be you. Are you looking back patronizingly and pityingly to me? You wouldn't swing on a gate now, would you? Are you a staid old married woman with several children, living in the Disappointed House with One-You-Know-Of? Only don't be stodgy, I implore you, dear Twenty-four. And do be dramatic. I love dramatic things and people. Are you Mrs. ------ ------? What name will fill those blanks? Oh, dear Twenty-four, I put into this letter for you a kiss--and a handful of moonshine--and the soul of a rose--and some of the green sweetness of the old hill field--and a whiff of wild violets. I hope you are happy and famous and lovely; and I hope you haven't quite forgotten
Emily locked the letter away.
"So much for that nonsense," she said scoffingly.
Then she sat down in her chair, and dropped her head on her desk. Little silly, dreamy, happy, ignorant Fourteen! Always thinking that something great and wonderful and beautiful lay in the years ahead. Quite sure that the "mountain purple" could be reached. Quite sure that dreams always came true. Foolish Fourteen, who yet had known how to be happy.
"I'm envying you," said Emily. "I wish I had never opened your letter, foolish little Fourteen. Go back to your shadowy past and don't come again--mocking me. I'm going to have a white night because of you. I'm going to lie awake all night and pity myself."
Yet already the footsteps of destiny were sound-on the stairs--though Emily thought they were only Cousin Jimmy's.
He had come to bring her a letter--a thin letter--and if Emily had not been too much absorbed in herself at fourteen she might have noticed that Cousin Jimmy's eyes were as bright as a cat's and that an air of ill-concealed excitement pervaded his whole being. Moreover that, when she had thanked him absently for the letter and gone back to her desk, he remained in the shadowy hall outside, watching her slyly through the half-open door. At first he thought she was not going to open the letter--she had flung it down indifferently and sat staring at it. Cousin Jimmy went nearly mad with impatience.
But after a few minutes more of absent musing Emily roused herself with a sigh and stretched out a hand for the letter.
"If I don't miss my guess, dear little Emily, you won't sigh when you read what's in that letter," thought Cousin Jimmy exultantly.
Emily looked at the return address in the upper corner, wondering what the Wareham Publishing Company were writing to her about. The big Warehams! The oldest and most important publishing house in America. A circular of some kind, probably. Then she found herself staring incredulously at the typewritten sheet--while Cousin Jimmy performed a noiseless dance on Aunt Elizabeth's braided rug out in the hall.
"I--don't--understand," gasped Emily.
DEAR MISS STARR:--
We take pleasure in advising you that our readers report favourably with regard to your story The Moral of the Rose and if mutually satisfactory arrangements can be made we shall be glad to add the book to our next season's lists. We shall also be interested in hearing of your plans with regard to future writing.
Very sincerely yours, etc.
"I don't understand--" said Emily again.
Cousin Jimmy could hold himself in no longer. He made a sound between a whoop and hurrah. Emily flew across the room and dragged him in.
"Cousin Jimmy, what does this mean? You must know something about it--how did the House of Wareham ever get my book?"
"Have they really accepted it?" demanded Cousin Jimmy.
"Yes. And I never sent it to them. I wouldn't have supposed it was the least use--the Warehams. Am I dreaming?"
"No. I'll tell you--don't be mad now, Emily. You mind Elizabeth asked me to tidy up the garret a month ago. I was moving that old cardboard box you keep a lot of stuff in and the bottom fell out. Everything went--so--all over the garret. I gathered 'em up--and your book manuscript was among 'em. I happened to look at a page--and then I set down--and Elizabeth came up an hour later and found me still a-sitting there on my hams reading. I'd forgot everything. My, but she was mad! The garret not half done and dinner ready. But I didn't mind what she said--I was thinking, 'If that book made me forget everything like that there's something in it. I'll send it somewhere.' And I didn't know anywhere to send it but to the Warehams. I'd always heard of them. And I didn't know how to send it--but I just stuffed it in an old cracker box and mailed it to them offhand."
"Didn't you even send stamps for its return?" gasped Emily, horrified.
"No, never thought of it. Maybe that's why they took it. Maybe the other firms sent it back because you sent stamps."
"Hardly." Emily laughed and found herself crying.
"Emily, you ain't mad at me, are you?"
"No--no--darling--I'm only so flabbergasted, as you say yourself, that I don't know what to say or do. It's all so--the Warehams!"
"I've been watching the mails ever since," chuckled Cousin Jimmy. "Elizabeth has been thinking I've gone clear daft at last. If the story had come back I was going to smuggle it back to the garret--I wasn't going to let you know. But when I saw that thin envelope--I remembered you said once the thin envelopes always had good news--dear little Emily, don't cry!"
"I can't--help it--and oh, I'm sorry for what I called you, little Fourteen. You weren't silly--you were wise--you knew."
"It's gone to her head a little," said Cousin Jimmy to himself. "No wonder--after so many set-backs. But she'll soon be quite sensible again."