Love at First Fight

By Laura Schiller

Based on: Emily of New Moon

Copyright: The heirs of L. M. Montgomery

From the moment Ilse first met the Murrays' new hired boy, she couldn't look away.

It made no sense, really. His straw-colored hair stood out at all angles as if it barely had a nodding acquaintance with a comb; his shirt and trousers were patched and his bare feet were dirty from working in the garden. Perhaps it was the free-and-easy way he moved, like someone who spent lots of time outdoors and didn't worry about knocking over knickknacks or bumping into furniture. Maybe it was the way his big gray eyes seemed to take in everything they saw with wonder and curiosity. Maybe it was the confidence – or arrogance, she later thought – that rolled off him in waves, compelling people to listen and look at him in spite of themselves.

She was on her way to visit Emily and ran into him at the back door.

"Hullo," he said, as if he'd known her every day of his life. "Looking for Emily?"

"Yes."

"I dunno where she is. Should be coming back soon, though. You're Ilse Burnley, ain't you? I'm Perry Miller. The Murrays just hired me on as chore boy for the summer. Say, is it true your dad's an infidel?"

Ilse was startled into speechlessness, but only for a moment. How could he be so blunt – to a stranger and a Burnley, too?

"None of your business, Perry Miller," she flashed. "What he believes is his own affair."

He grinned – a very charming grin – and held up his hands. "All right, no offense. I'm just curious, is all. I've sailed all over the world, you know, and I met Hindus and Mohammedans and all sorts of people, but I never met nobody who didn't believe in any kind of God."

"All over the world?" Ilse raised her eyebrows; it was her turn to be curious.

"Yep. My dad's a sailor. I used to go with him everywhere – New York, Rio, Hong Kong ... it was great fun."

"Golly!" Ilse was impressed. She loved tales of travel and adventure; if she were a boy she might have run away to sea herself. Her unladylike expletive made Perry smile.

"But now I've decided to stay here and get an education," he concluded. "I'll be going to school next fall, probably in your year."

"But won't that be boring after all of your adventures?"

He made a face. "Guess it will. But then, I don't wanna live in Stovepipe Town with my old beast of an aunt forever. And if going to school is the way to get out, I'll take it."

"I think you'll plague Miss Brownell's life out," she remarked, smiling wickedly. "She's a horrid old bat who hates it when people speak their minds."

"Well, she'll just have to put up with me. Just wait, when I'm Prime Minister, she'll be bragging to everyone that she used to be my teacher."

Ilse decided she liked this boy. He was like her – bluntly honest, caring not a penny for manners and conventions. And with such fierce, single-minded ambition as she saw in his face, she had no doubt he would reach that goal.

"Say, Ilse, I'm glad you're here and no one else is around. I've got something to ask you."

"Yes?"

He took his hands out of his pockets and raked them through his curly hair, tangling it up even more.

"You're Emily's best chum, ain't you? Did she tell you what she looks for in a beau?"

"What?"

In any other girl, Ilse's tone of voice would have been called a squeak.

"I want to marry her when we grow up," he said, in the same firm, determined tone he used when he spoke of becoming Prime Minister. "She's the sweetest, nicest girl I ever met. So - Any ideas?"

As he spoke, Ilse could feel the familiar yellow rage starting to boil in the pit of her stomach, with a heat and intensity which alarmed even her. It was his description of Emily that did it – "sweet and nice". Why did all men seem to want girls who were sweet and nice? What about girls with spirit who could fight back in an argument? There was no fun in Emily. And besides, he was completely wrong - Ilse loved her friend, but could not deny that Emily had a heavy dose of Murray pride.

"Don't waste your time," sneered Ilse. "As if she'd ever marry a lowlife from Stovepipe Town. Who do you think you are, you verminous worm? Why, your clothes have more holes than a Swiss cheese."

He shot her a glare that should have singed the bangs on her forehead. "Look who's calling the kettle black, Miss Snob! Don't hold your nose any higher or the birds will poop in it!"

He was right about her clothes – there was an egg stain on her dress and her bonnet was on crooked. But that only made her angrier – and, on a certain level, impressed. He was as good at quarreling as Emily. Later on, she would also remember the flush in his face and the glitter of his eyes – fury certainly suited him.

"At least I don't say 'ain't'," she retorted. "You're so stupid, you wouldn't know good English if it bit you in the – " She mentioned a part of the anatomy which Victorian ladies counted as unmentionable.

"By golly," said Perry, blazing with rage. "If you weren't a girl and Emily's friend, I'd punch your head!"

"I dare you to try, you spineless slimeball!"

For a moment, it looked like he actually would, but then he lowered his fists and turned away with a gesture of supreme contempt.

"Nah, I don't fight girls. They're too weak to make it worth the trouble."

Ilse's Burnley temper reached the boiling point – the one where she didn't care what she did, as long as it destroyed something. She picked up a china mug which was standing on the kitchen counter, hurled it at Perry's cocky, arrogant back, and ran out the door at full speed.

Almost at the same moment, Emily came into the kitchen. There was a daisy chain in her hair and she was murmuring to herself, possibly composing a poem; she didn't notice the spilled tea and shards of porcelain on the floor until just before stepping on them.

"Oh, Perry!" she said, in the reproachful tone which was already becoming familiar.

"It wasn't me!" said Perry indignantly. "It was that – that – Ilse Burnley! She threw it at me! Didn't you hear her yelling?"

Emily giggled. "Ilse was here? That sounds just like her. What did you do to set her off?"

"Nothing! All I said was that I wanted to be Prime Minister when I grow up – " The rest of his plan was better kept silent, at least for now – "And she started hissing and spitting like a mad cat."

"She'll get over it in half an hour," said Emily, with a shrug. "And she's a great friend and lots of fun when she isn't mad. You'll see."

"She's prettier than you, you know," Perry remarked. "But I'm real sorry for the man she's going to marry. She'll probably make his life hell."

"Per-ry!"

"A really interesting hell, though. What does 'verminous' mean anyway?"

While Emily was explaining, Ilse stormed down the road and into her lonely, messy barn of a house like a human tornado. She stomped up to her bedroom, dived headlong onto the bed – mice and cockroaches be hanged – covered her face in the pillow, and screamed.

Then she squeezed the pillow, wiped away a few tears and laughed out loud.

Ah, that was fun. I haven't had such a good row in weeks. Thank you, Perry Miller!