Emily's Husband by Lucy Maud Montgomery
Emily Fair got out of Hiram Jameson's waggon at the gate. She took her
satchel and parasol and, in her clear, musical tones, thanked him for
bringing her home. Emily had a very distinctive voice. It was very
sweet always and very cold generally; sometimes it softened to
tenderness with those she loved, but in it there was always an
undertone of inflexibility and reserve. Nobody had ever heard Emily
Fair's voice tremble.
"You are more than welcome, Mrs. Fair," said Hiram Jameson, with a
glance of bold admiration. Emily met it with an unflinching
indifference. She disliked Hiram Jameson. She had been furious under
all her external composure because he had been at the station when she
left the train.
Jameson perceived her scorn, but chose to disregard it.
"Proud as Lucifer," he thought as he drove away. "Well, she's none the
worse of that. I don't like your weak women—they're always sly. If
Stephen Fair don't get better she'll be free and then—"
He did not round out the thought, but he gloated over the memory of
Emily, standing by the gate in the harsh, crude light of the autumn
sunset, with her tawny, brown hair curling about her pale, oval face
and the scornful glint in her large, dark-grey eyes.
Emily stood at the gate for some time after Jameson's waggon had
disappeared. When the brief burst of sunset splendour had faded out
she turned and went into the garden where late asters and
chrysanthemums still bloomed. She gathered some of the more perfect
ones here and there. She loved flowers, but to-night the asters
seemed to hurt her, for she presently dropped those she had gathered
and deliberately set her foot on them.
A sudden gust of wind came over the brown, sodden fields and the
ragged maples around the garden writhed and wailed. The air was raw
and chill. The rain that had threatened all day was very near. Emily
shivered and went into the house.
Amelia Phillips was bending over the fire. She came forward and took
Emily's parcels and wraps with a certain gentleness that sat oddly on
her grim personality.
"Are you tired? I'm glad you're back. Did you walk from the station?"
"No. Hiram Jameson was there and offered to drive me home. I'd rather
have walked. It's going to be a storm, I think. Where is John?"
"He went to the village after supper," answered Amelia, lighting a
lamp. "We needed some things from the store."
The light flared up as she spoke and brought out her strong, almost
harsh features and deep-set black eyes. Amelia Phillips looked like an
overdone sketch in charcoal.
"Has anything happened in Woodford while I've been away?" asked Emily
indifferently. Plainly she did not expect an affirmative answer.
Woodford life was not eventful.
Amelia glanced at her sharply. So she had not heard! Amelia had
expected that Hiram Jameson would have told her. She wished that he
had, for she never felt sure of Emily. The older sister knew that
beneath that surface reserve was a passionate nature, brooking no
restraint when once it overleaped the bounds of her Puritan
self-control. Amelia Phillips, with all her naturally keen insight and
her acquired knowledge of Emily's character, had never been able to
fathom the latter's attitude of mind towards her husband. From the
time that Emily had come back to her girlhood's home, five years
before, Stephen Fair's name had never crossed her lips.
"I suppose you haven't heard that Stephen is very ill," said Amelia
Not a feature of Emily's face changed. Only in her voice when she
spoke was a curious jarring, as if a false note had been struck in a
"What is the matter with him?"
"Typhoid," answered Amelia briefly. She felt relieved that Emily had
taken it so calmly. Amelia hated Stephen Fair with all the intensity
of her nature because she believed that he had treated Emily ill, but
she had always been distrustful that Emily in her heart of hearts
loved her husband still. That, in Amelia Phillips' opinion, would have
betrayed a weakness not to be tolerated.
Emily looked at the lamp unwinkingly.
"That wick needs trimming," she said. Then, with a sudden recurrence
of the untuneful note:
"Is he dangerously ill?"
"We haven't heard for three days. The doctors were not anxious about
him Monday, though they said it was a pretty severe case."
A faint, wraith-like change of expression drifted over Emily's
beautiful face and was gone in a moment. What was it—relief? Regret?
It would have been impossible to say. When she next spoke her vibrant
voice was as perfectly melodious as usual.
"I think I will go to bed, Amelia. John will not be back until late I
suppose, and I am very tired. There comes the rain. I suppose it will
spoil all the flowers. They will be beaten to pieces."
In the dark hall Emily paused for a moment and opened the front door
to be cut in the face with a whip-like dash of rain. She peered out
into the thickly gathering gloom. Beyond, in the garden, she saw the
asters tossed about, phantom-like. The wind around the many-cornered
old farmhouse was full of wails and sobs.
The clock in the sitting-room struck eight. Emily shivered and shut
the door. She remembered that she had been married at eight o'clock
that very morning seven years ago. She thought she could see herself
coming down the stairs in her white dress with her bouquet of asters.
For a moment she was glad that those mocking flowers in the garden
would be all beaten to death before morning by the lash of wind and
Then she recovered her mental poise and put the hateful memories away
from her as she went steadily up the narrow stairs and along the hall
with its curious slant as the house had settled, to her own room under
the north-western eaves.
When she had put out her light and gone to bed she found that she
could not sleep. She pretended to believe that it was the noise of the
storm that kept her awake. Not even to herself would Emily confess
that she was waiting and listening nervously for John's return home.
That would have been to admit a weakness, and Emily Fair, like Amelia,
Every few minutes a gust of wind smote the house, with a roar as of a
wild beast, and bombarded Emily's window with a volley of rattling
drops. In the silences that came between the gusts she heard the soft,
steady pouring of the rain on the garden paths below, mingled with a
faint murmur that came up from the creek beyond the barns where the
pine boughs were thrashing in the storm. Emily suddenly thought of a
weird story she had once read years before and long forgotten—a story
of a soul that went out in a night of storm and blackness and lost its
way between earth and heaven. She shuddered and drew the counterpane
over her face.
"Of all things I hate a fall storm most," she muttered. "It frightens
Somewhat to her surprise—for even her thoughts were generally well
under the control of her unbending will—she could not help thinking
of Stephen—thinking of him not tenderly or remorsefully, but
impersonally, as of a man who counted for nothing in her life. It was
so strange to think of Stephen being ill. She had never known him to
have a day's sickness in his life before. She looked back over her
life much as if she were glancing with a chill interest at a series of
pictures which in no way concerned her. Scene after scene, face after
face, flashed out on the background of the darkness.
Emily's mother had died at her birth, but Amelia Phillips, twenty
years older than the baby sister, had filled the vacant place so well
and with such intuitive tenderness that Emily had never been conscious
of missing a mother. John Phillips, too, the grave, silent, elder
brother, loved and petted the child. Woodford people were fond of
saying that John and Amelia spoiled Emily shamefully.
Emily Phillips had never been like the other Woodford girls and had no
friends of her own age among them. Her uncommon beauty won her many
lovers, but she had never cared for any of them until Stephen Fair,
fifteen years her senior, had come a-wooing to the old, gray,
willow-girdled Phillips homestead.
Amelia and John Phillips never liked him. There was an ancient feud
between the families that had died out among the younger generation,
but was still potent with the older.
From the first Emily had loved Stephen. Indeed, deep down in her
strange, wayward heart, she had cared for him long before the
memorable day when he had first looked at her with seeing eyes and
realized that the quiet, unthought-of child who had been growing up at
the old Phillips place had blossomed out into a woman of strange,
seraph-like beauty and deep grey eyes whose expression was nevermore
to go out of Stephen Fair's remembrance from then till the day of his
John and Amelia Phillips put their own unjustifiable dislike of
Stephen aside when they found that Emily's heart was set on him. The
two were married after a brief courtship and Emily went out from her
girlhood's home to the Fair homestead, two miles away.
Stephen's mother lived with them. Janet Fair had never liked Emily.
She had not been willing for Stephen to marry her. But, apart from
this, the woman had a natural, ineradicable love of making mischief
and took a keen pleasure in it. She loved her son and she had loved
her husband, but nevertheless, when Thomas Fair had been alive she had
fomented continual strife and discontent between him and Stephen. Now
it became her pleasure to make what trouble she could between Stephen
and his wife.
She had the advantage of Emily in that she was always sweet-spoken
and, on the surface, sweet-tempered. Emily, hurt and galled in a score
of petty ways, so subtle that they were beyond a man's courser
comprehension, astonished her husband by her fierce outbursts of anger
that seemed to him for the most part without reason or excuse. He
tried his best to preserve the peace between his wife and mother; and
when he failed, not understanding all that Emily really endured at the
elder woman's merciless hands, he grew to think her capricious and
easily irritated—a spoiled child whose whims must not be taken too
To a certain extent he was right. Emily had been spoiled. The unbroken
indulgence which her brother and sister had always accorded her had
fitted her but poorly to cope with the trials of her new life. True,
Mrs. Fair was an unpleasant woman to live with, but if Emily had
chosen to be more patient under petty insults, and less resentful of
her husband's well-meant though clumsy efforts for harmony, the older
woman could have effected real little mischief. But this Emily refused
to be, and the breach between husband and wife widened insidiously.
The final rupture came two years after their marriage. Emily, in
rebellious anger, told her husband that she would no longer live in
the same house with his mother.
"You must choose between us," she said, her splendid voice vibrating
with all the unleashed emotion of her being, yet with no faltering in
it. "If she stays I go."
Stephen Fair, harassed and bewildered, was angry with the relentless
anger of a patient man roused at last.
"Go, then," he said sternly, "I'll never turn my mother from my door
for any woman's whim."
The stormy red went out of Emily's face, leaving it like a marble
"You mean that!" she said calmly. "Think well. If I go I'll never
"I do mean it," said Stephen. "Leave my house if you will—if you hold
your marriage vow so lightly. When your senses return you are welcome
to come back to me. I will never ask you to."
Without another word Emily turned away. That night she went back to
John and Amelia. They, on their part, welcomed her back gladly,
believing her to be a wronged and ill-used woman. They hated Stephen
Fair with a new and personal rancour. The one thing they could hardly
have forgiven Emily would have been the fact of her relenting towards
But she did not relent. In her soul she knew that, with all her just
grievances, she had been in the wrong, and for that she could not
Two years after she had left Stephen Mrs. Fair died, and his widowed
sister-in-law went to keep house for him. If he thought of Emily he
made no sign. Stephen Fair never broke a word once passed.
Since their separation no greeting or look had ever passed between
husband and wife. When they met, as they occasionally did, neither
impassive face changed. Emily Fair had buried her love deeply. In her
pride and anger she would not let herself remember even where she had
dug its grave.
And now Stephen was ill. The strange woman felt a certain pride in her
own inflexibility because the fact did not affect her. She told
herself that she could not have felt more unconcerned had he been the
merest stranger. Nevertheless she waited and watched for John
At ten o'clock she heard his voice in the kitchen. She leaned out of
the bed and pulled open her door. She heard voices below, but could
not distinguish the words, so she rose and went noiselessly out into
the hall, knelt down by the stair railing and listened. The door of
the kitchen was open below her and a narrow shaft of light struck on
her white, intent face. She looked like a woman waiting for the decree
At first John and Amelia talked of trivial matters. Then the latter
"Did you hear how Stephen Fair was?"
"He's dying," was the brief response.
Emily heard Amelia's startled exclamation. She gripped the square
rails with her hands until the sharp edges dinted deep into her
fingers. John's voice came up to her again, harsh and expressionless:
"He took a bad turn the day before yesterday and has been getting
worse ever since. The doctors don't expect him to live till morning."
Amelia began to talk rapidly in low tones. Emily heard nothing
further. She got up and went blindly back into her room with such
agony tearing at her heartstrings that she dully wondered why she
could not shriek aloud.
Stephen—her husband—dying! In the burning anguish of that moment her
own soul was as an open book before her. The love she had buried rose
from the deeps of her being in an awful, accusing resurrection.
Out of her stupor and pain a purpose formed itself clearly. She must
go to Stephen—she must beg and win his forgiveness before it was too
late. She dared not go down to John and ask him to take her to her
husband. He might refuse. The Phillipses had been known to do even
harder things than that. At the best there would be a storm of protest
and objection on her brother's and sister's part, and Emily felt that
she could not encounter that in her present mood. It would drive her
She lit a lamp and dressed herself noiselessly, but with feverish
haste. Then she listened. The house was very still. Amelia and John
had gone to bed. She wrapped herself in a heavy woollen shawl hanging
in the hall and crept downstairs. With numbed fingers she fumbled at
the key of the hall door, turned it and slipped out into the night.
The storm seemed to reach out and clutch her and swallow her up. She
went through the garden, where the flowers already were crushed to
earth; she crossed the long field beyond, where the rain cut her face
like a whip and the wind almost twisted her in its grasp like a broken
reed. Somehow or other, more by blind instinct than anything else, she
found the path that led through commons and woods and waste valleys to
her lost home.
In after years that frenzied walk through the storm and blackness
seemed as an unbroken nightmare to Emily Fair's recollection. Often
she fell. Once as she did so a jagged, dead limb of fir struck her
forehead and cut in it a gash that marked her for life. As she
struggled to her feet and found her way again the blood trickled down
over her face.
"Oh God, don't let him die before I get to him—don't—don't—don't!"
she prayed desperately with more of defiance than entreaty in her
voice. Then, realizing this, she cried out in horror. Surely some
fearsome punishment would come upon her for her wickedness—she would
find her husband lying dead.
When Emily opened the kitchen door of the Fair homestead Almira
Sentner cried out in her alarm, who or what was this creature with the
white face and wild eyes, with her torn and dripping garments and
dishevelled, wind-writhen hair and the big drops of blood slowly
trickling from her brow?
The next moment she recognized Emily and her face hardened. This
woman, Stephen's sister-in-law, had always hated Emily Fair.
"What do you want here?" she said harshly.
"Where is my husband?" asked Emily.
"You can't see him," said Mrs. Sentner defiantly. "The doctors won't
allow anyone in the room but those he's used to. Strangers excite
The insolence and cruelty of her speech fell on unheeding ears. Emily,
understanding only that her husband yet lived, turned to the hall
"Stand back!" she said in a voice that was little more than a
thrilling whisper, but which yet had in it something that cowed Almira
Sentner's malice. Sullenly she stood aside and Emily went unhindered
up the stairs to the room where the sick man lay.
The two doctors in attendance were there, together with the trained
nurse from the city. Emily pushed them aside and fell on her knees by
the bed. One of the doctors made a hasty motion as if to draw her
back, but the other checked him.
"It doesn't matter now," he said significantly.
Stephen Fair turned his languid, unshorn head on the pillow. His dull,
fevered eyes met Emily's. He had not recognized anyone all day, but he
knew his wife.
"Emily!" he whispered.
Emily drew his head close to her face and kissed his lips
"Stephen, I've come back to you. Forgive me—forgive me—say that you
"It's all right, my girl," he said feebly.
She buried her face in the pillow beside his with a sob.
In the wan, grey light of the autumn dawn the old doctor came to the
bedside and lifted Emily to her feet. She had not stirred the whole
night. Now she raised her white face with dumb pleading in her eyes.
The doctor glanced at the sleeping form on the bed.
"Your husband will live, Mrs. Fair," he said gently. "I think your
coming saved him. His joy turned the ebbing tide in favour of life."
"Thank God!" said Emily.
And for the first time in her life her beautiful voice trembled.