By Laura Schiller

Based on: Kilmeny of the Orchard

Copyright: The heirs of L. M. Montgomery

Elizabeth Williamson could not believe her eyes.

There, standing in the doorway of her own humble home, was the sweetest, loveliest girl she had ever seen. A girl with long, glossy black hair, sea-blue eyes, and a pale, delicate face, who wore a haunting resemblance to a woman eighteen years under the ground.

"Bless my soul," Elizabeth whispered.

The vision smiled nervously, curtsied, and held out a hand.

"Good afternoon, Mrs. Williamson. I am Kilmeny Gordon. May I come in?"

Automatically, Elizabeth assented, ushering Kilmeny into her cozy living room. Kilmeny sat down in an armchair, wide-eyed, quite forgetting her nerves in the excitement of someone else's home.

"You are the kind lady who takes care of Eric," she said, smiling warmly. "He says you are a 'saint in spectacles and calico'. I wanted to thank you for that."

Elizabeth felt a warm rush of affection towards her young tenant and his bride. "Yes, well, I always see to it my boarders are decently treated," she said awkwardly. "Although 'saint' may be taking it a little too far. How about some tea and biscuits, Miss Gordon? You must have come a long way."

"Please call me Kilmeny, and yes, I would like some."

Kilmeny's voice was as lovely as the rest of her. It was almost impossible to believe she had ever been dumb. Elizabeth seized the opportunity to escape briefly into the kitchen and try to calm her ruffled composure.

Margaret's child! Sitting in her living room, talking, engaged to be married to the man who was almost like a son to Elizabeth. And why was Eric not with her? What could be so important to this shy, reclusive girl that she would brave the village alone and knock on the door of a complete stranger?

Never mind, she told herself. Don't meddle. She'll say it herself in her own time.

Once she was back in the living room with the tea and shortbread biscuits, Kilmeny was looking rather subdued, staring out through the window at the fields.

"So...Kilmeny," began Elizabeth, wishing her chatty husband were here to ease the nervous silence beginning to grow. "Have you set a date for the wedding yet?"

"Yes, next spring. Eric wants it to be earlier, but I still have so much to learn about keeping a house...and being among people...that I would rather wait a little longer."

Elizabeth nodded her approval. "Good. And so I suppose you'll be going with him to Queenslea?"

She would miss her well-mannered, warm-hearted tenant, with the eyes so much like her own deceased son's. Lindsay would miss its schoolmaster too.

Kilmeny frowned into her teacup. "Yes..." she said, drawing out the word reluctantly. "That is what worries me. I shall have to go with him to parties and dinners, talk to so many strangers, live in a strange city miles away from home...Eric says I will get used to it, but suppose I can't? And when Eric goes back home, he will see all the beautiful, clever women he went to college with, and...it worries me."

Elizabeth melted. If she had not loved Kilmeny as a daughter before, she certainly did now. So this was why she had come alone.

"Oh, my dear child. Have a little faith, won't you? In yourself and in your betrothed. He loves you very much, you know – you should see him coming back here after spending the day with you, glowing like he's the happiest man in the world. He would have married you even when you couldn't speak. He told me he never felt this way about any girl before – not his college chums, only you."

Kilmeny smiled a little. "That's just what he said," she admitted. "And I suppose as long as we're together, I can live through the rest of it. You really are kind, just as Mother always said."

Her mother. Elizabeth swallowed a surprised exclamation and took a sip of tea instead. She could hardly believe it. Margaret had remembered her...spoken well of her, even after so many years.

"Oh, yes," said Kilmeny, correctly interpreting the look in her hostess's eyes. "You and Father were the only people from Mother's past she ever spoke of. I was always little curious about you, for you see, Mother and Aunt Janet are the only women I have ever known and you are not a bit like them. Also, Mother said that you would have been my godmother...if...if my father had not left."

Elizabeth's restraint could not hold out under that. She had never had a daughter and always wanted one, and now to hear this from Margaret's little girl...! She could not prevent a salty tear or two from dropping into her teacup.

"Oh, Miss Gordon...Kilmeny...you don't know what this means to me, after all these years," she confessed, taking out a handkerchief. "I was that fond of your mother, ever since we were girls. I understand why she wouldn't see me...though I won't deny it was hard, being turned from the door all those years ago. Sometimes I think, if I'd stuck to it a little longer, I might have coaxed her to come out. But you know..."

"Yes, I know." Kilmeny nodded soberly; they had both had their share of Margaret Gordon's iron will and all-consuming pride.

"She didn't stay away because she liked you any less," Kilmeny added. "It was just because she couldn't bear to be stared at, and pitied, and gossiped about. Not that you would gossip, Mrs. Williamson. But the others would have."

"I understand," said Elizabeth.

"We Gordons are strange people," said Kilmeny, with a wry smile reminiscent of her uncle Thomas. "Eric says so. But he likes us all the better for it."

"He's a fine young man, is the Master. A good match for you."

"He's the only match for me," said Kilmeny, her eyes shining.

Elizabeth smiled over her teacup, and thanked her Maker for her new-found goddaughter's happiness.