Marigold noticed a change in Murray after that day. She couldn't explain it—couldn't understand it—but there it was. He began putting distance between them, and no matter what she did she couldn't bridge the distance. She finally decided he was just brooding again (he did that whenever he had a new plot for a story in mind) and let it go.
On the bright side, Sylvia had passed her Entrance Exam fairly high up, and plans were going forth for both girls to leave for Charlottetown in September. A letter had come from Lorraine, asking oh, so piteously, if Marigold wouldn't at least come home in August so that they could see her before she left, but Marigold, although longing more than ever for Mother and Cloud of Spruce, had to refuse. It was simply too impractical to go all the way back to Harmony for only a week or two, and then leave again for Queen's. So it was decided that she would stay on at Misty Hollow, and not go back to Cloud of Spruce until the Christmas break.
"It seems ages away," Marigold sighed to Sylvia. "But then, a year seemed like forever when Mums told me I'd have to come here, and now it's almost passed like 'a watch in the night.' " She laughed and then sighed again.
"I can't imagine what this year would have been like without you," Sylvia responded dreamily, leaning her elbows on her open windowsill, her luminous eyes fixed on some distant point. "It doesn't seem possible that there was ever a time we were not friends."
Marigold got up from the low rocking chair and joined Sylvia at the window, putting her arm affectionately around the other girl's shoulders. "It's been a simply splendid year, despite all the troubles," she said. "I wouldn't trade any of my experiences—any, even the bad ones—for anything."
Thundering feet on the stair told them Rosy was coming. Sure enough, in a few moments the girl herself burst into Sylvia's room, her glittering hair disarrayed around her flushed face, her amber eyes gleaming strangely.
"Girls—oh girls!" she gasped.
"What is it?" they both cried.
Rosy waved a piece of paper triumphantly over her head. "In my hand," she declaimed dramatically, "I bear the future of Miss Rosy Miller, famous actress. It's an acceptance to drama school, girls! They've let me in!"
The other two squealed and threw their arms around her. The drama school to which Rosy had applied was very elite; although the Millers had gone ahead with plans for her to leave in the fall, nobody was positive she would be accepted.
Rosy beamed with pleasure. "Mama has bought me the most gorgeous wardrobe to take. She doesn't want me looking provincial next to all those Yankee girls. Oh, I can't wait!"
"I'm thrilled for you," said Marigold. Her heart suddenly filled with lightness. "Isn't life marvelous, girls? Everything is working out just right! Sylvie and I leave for Queen's soon, and Rosy for New York, and Christine and Sophie for Toronto—we're all chasing our hearts' desire. And with determination and talent like ours, how can we not succeed?"
Sylvia's slow, sweet smile broke over her face. Infected by her companions' high spirits, she broke out into musical laughter. "Come girls, this calls for a celebration. A picnic in the woods is in order!"
Giggling merrily, they ran down the stairs and raided the kitchen for food. As it happened, David and Christine were over visiting Sophie and Murray, and eagerly agreed to the idea of a picnic. As the troupe was leaving, Charlie came up the walk. He had gotten out of work early.
Marigold, remembering her promise to be his friend, spoke up first. "Well, come along with us, then. It'll be the last picnic of the summer. It's only fitting that we all be there."
He smiled. "I could ask for nothing better."
The day was perfect, warm and sweet, with all the memories of a golden summer hovering in the soft air, the late flowers blooming beautifully, the trees decked out in their finest greens and yellows, as if putting on the final brave showing before autumn chills drew the life from their veins. Lofty John's bush echoed to jokes and chatter all afternoon. It truly was a picnic the Olympian gods themselves would have envied. Surely, no ambrosia ever tasted sweeter than their sandwiches and lemonade!
As the sun inexorably sank in the west, leaving a sky of fiery reds and deep purples, the party broke up, Charlie and Rosy back to their home, Sophie and Sylvia back to Hope Fulfilled, and the Morgans back to their home. Marigold would have walked back to Misty Hollow on her own, but Murray, in his quiet, gentlemanly way, offered himself unobtrusively as an escort.
They walked in silence for quite a while. Misty Hollow, framed by the dark pines and highlighted by the flower gardens (Marigold had made sure to keep them up after Mickey left), was in view before Murray abruptly spoke.
"Marigold," he said with some desperateness. "I promised myself I wouldn't ask you this—not yet—but I can't let you go out of my life without knowing. Do you—could you ever—is it possible—do you think you could ever care for me?"
The blood was singing through Marigold's veins. She was glad the dusk hid her face as she answered demurely, "Yes, I think I could."
A huge sigh left her companion. "I don't deserve you—I know—and I won't ask you to make any promises yet. I know you have your future, too. But—I just had to know there was a chance for me." He stopped and turned to face her, gripping both her hands tightly. "I promise you, someday I will be worthy of you. When that day comes, I'll ask you—I'll ask you something else."
Marigold felt a choking feeling in her throat. Had she ever thought she was in love with Charlie? That weak, schoolgirl feeling was nothing compared to how she felt now. The intensity of her emotions almost frightened her, and she was so thankful for Murray's self-control. Had he asked her to go away to the moon with him right then, she didn't think she could have refused him. His humility and respect touched her deeply. It was just one of the many things that made her care so deeply for him. She felt that she ought to respond to his statement, but she didn't know what to say.
Thankfully, he didn't seem to require a response. His grip on her hands tightened for a moment, and then released. "In the meantime," he said in an almost-normal tone, "May I write you while you're at Queen's?"
"Yes, please do," Marigold answered, thankful of such a commonplace question to give her a chance to get her emotions back under control. "I'd love to hear all the happenings going on here."
"And you'll write me?"
Two simple sentences, yet to the speakers, they were fraught with meaning.
Murray left her at the gate of Misty Hollow. Marigold leaned on it and watched his back as he wended his way back down the lane. She shivered. Somehow, it didn't seem possible that only moments before her whole world had turned upside down. She tilted her head to gaze upon the last remnants of the sunset.
"I think you'd like him, Dad," she whispered. "He has humor—and strength—and character. And he's so sweet. But I promise, no matter what, I will become a doctor. I made a commitment to that, and no matter what I feel for anyone, I won't turn back."
She sighed and turned to go inside. It was her turn to cook supper, and she didn't want to be late.
In the west, the sun slipped completely below the horizon, leaving behind a faint chill. The summer was over.