As ever, the characters are not mine but those of L.M. Montgomery. Those who are not hers belong by rights to Timothy Findley's book The Wars and those who are neither, are, like the idea, all mine own.


There is a silver moon high in the heavens and ringed with a halo that means rain to the superstitious. Beneath the moon, under the yew trees, in the garden of the house on Sussex Avenue, Persis Ford is sitting, and because it is evening her hair is unwound. It is difficult to see in the dark, but in her hair Persis has taken after her mother, it is what her Aunt Anne would call 'living' hair', long and golden, the colour and fineness of the gold that Rumplestiltskin is said to have spun.

Persis sees the halo around the moon, she must do, for her eyes are turned upwards towards the heavens, but she ascribes no purpose to it. If rain is coming, it is a long ways off; earlier in the day the cicadas were singing, a testament to the heat of the noontide. Now, in the moonlight, the crickets are chirruping, and not only the crickets but something more recognizably human too, emanating from the upstairs half of the house on the corner, the one next along, at the very junction of Huron and Sussex. It is Handel, and familiar, endless pleasure endless love*, drifting out of the window and far sweeter to listen to than the yew berries are to smell. Semele enjoys above; yes if there is rain, it has not yet come.

It is with this melismatic musicality and in the glow of the moon that it proves possible to read the letter from Ken that brought her out into the garden to begin with. It came by the afternoon post, but then the cicadas were throbbing and by some miracle the house had contrived to be even more stifling than the back garden. Besides, as Persis could have told anyone who asked, Ken's letters invariably necessitate being read out of doors, full as they are of news of the Glen haunts that filled their summer holidays. Persis had put off the reading of this letter as pleasure to be deferred until the mugginess of the day had vanished and the light that fell through the yews was the gentler, witching beams of the moon. Now she delays the luxury of reading a little longer, and having listened to Handel's aria for soprano voice through once, calls over the garden boarder,

'Nina, are you wedded to that music this evening or can you be tempted away from it with the prospect of news from away?'

Abruptly the music breaks off, the uncompleted phrase winging its way to some heaven for abandoned melodies and the musical vision gives way to another more tangible as the singer appears at her window.

'Always,' she says, her voice sounding like a song even when speaking. This is Nina, an elfin creature with hair like rose-gold, who is seen to best effect when framed as now by her windowsill with its border of morning-glory flowers in the full flush of the moonlight.

Nina belongs to the time when for two years Persis and Ken had lived with her aunt rather than travel the world with their parents. Then, though Toronto, with its serpentine streets running through it like arteries had been hardly new to them, they had nonetheless been bonded to Nina by the shared experience of living away from one's nuclear family. It was a bond further solidified by the fact of Nina and Persis having attended the same collection of understated buildings at the corner of Bloor and Sherbourne, the chief of which was and continues to be 10 Elm Avenue. And though Leslie and Owen were now returned to Sussex Avenue and the Branksome Hall days have become a thing of history, and Ken and Persis have been reinstalled at the house on Sussex with its profusion of yews, their interest in Nina, and her music has not diminished.

'Is it a letter from Ken?' asks Nina in her treble sing-song, her golden head and then her body appearing on the window-ledge as she begins to descend the trellis that bolsters the morning-glories.

'What else?' says Persis, laughter tucked just inside the corners of her lips. The thing to understand about Nina is that she is that rarity who is not and never has fallen in love with Ken Ford, and he and his sister know as much. Persis watches Nina on the trellis and thinks that the other's acrobatics are in no ways restricted to the voice.

Could you sing like that, do you think?'

'Oh I expect so,' says Nina carelessly, jumping with fluidity onto the ground, 'I sang Undina** while dancing once when I is at school.'

As if to prove the plausibility of this, she rises up onto her toes and holding her arms horizontal to her body, begins to spin her way across the lawn to the border between the two houses singing, songs my mother taught me, that haunting gypsy melody of Dvorjak, in the days long vanished, leaping octaves effortlessly and neatly elluding a cluster of roses as she traverses the border and alights on the Fords' lawn. She stops as she settles herself beside Persis, tucking her knees under her chin and clasping her hands about her ankles.

'Auntie will be glad to have me out of the house,' Nina says as she settles, 'she has been hearing nothing but Handel, and the same Handel, for nearly an hour now. They are threatening me with Tatiana at the conservatory this term, and I hope they follow it up, because it will be good to have words I am at home with again after all this time. English is not a language meant to lie high in the voice. But you were telling me about Ken and Your Island.'

Always when Nina speaks of Prince Edward Island, Persis can see the capitals, 'Your Island,' as if there were no other island in the world. The laughter that has been threatening this last little while suddenly bursts forth, like a Rusalka rising from its lake, silvery as the moon and pealing like the St. James bells as they ring the changes.

'Is that meant for me or the letter?' asks Nina, her eyes shining with reflected moonlight.

'Both,' says Persis, 'the combined notion that anyone could tire of your voice, I expect, and the fact that Ken always could write a good letter. Here, come nearer and take it to pieces with me.'

The noxious smell of the ripe yew berries notwithstanding the two girls stretch out under their branches and read over the news from Glen St. Mary. Defying all probability, Nina does manage to draw nearer her friend, and because she was combing her hair out as she sang, it like Persis's is loose, and it slips as she rests her chin on her elbow, mingling with that of her friend, so that rose-gold and honey are woven together in the moonlight.

The heat, Ken writes, has followed him to the Island and the sweetbriar had earlier in the day half choked them, rendering a gathering on the Ingleside lawn impossible. Like the counter at Eatons, the one with all the scents, do you remember, he has written.

'Do you remember?' asks Nina, sweeping her hair back over her shoulder and looking to Persis, whose face is flooded with moonlight and who is smiling at the memory Ken has evoked –those seemingly endless shopping excursions with mother near to Christmastime as children –not for nothing had she and Ken come to prefer the openness of the Toronto markets. That of course, is a memory linked to those years when Christmas had been spent at home, a thing which had not happened often in childhood –all those years travelling abroad for Owen Ford's books.

'Yes,' Persis says, 'I remember, though it seems ages ago. How we hated that counter. Let's go on, shall we? There's nearly enough for a short story at least, here, all this paper. I dread to think what the postage cost him.'

'Then don't think of it,' says Nina.

It was the wrong afternoon to try for company, Ken had written, everyone is cross from the heat or pretty near to being, and up at the Manse one of Mrs. Meredith's pupils was merrily mangling 'A Scottish Soldier' –you know the one about being far from home or however it goes. 'These green hills are not my land's hills' –is that the refrain? I haven't your memory for music –to say nothing of Nina's – and never will have if I live three-score-years-and-ten. Anyway, whichever McAllister it was –or perhaps a Crawford? – playing, she was doing so jolly unevenly, in cut time rather than common time, I think Una said (that incidentally tells you everything you need to know about the sound of it –you know better than anyone how slow Una is to condemn anything –all those years being close to her).

'Close' is hardly how Persis would describe the friendship Ken has touched on. She and Una share a tentative bond born of a long afternoon in each other's company quilting for a mission project so obscure that Persis has now forgotten its purpose. She remembers only that she made an effort to try and get to know Faith's quiet and unassuming sister, almost entirely for her own sake but not a little because Ethel Reese had been sitting opposite her trying to learn news of Ken.

According to Ken in this most recent letter, even Una had caught a little impatience off of the others, beating out the rhythm of the piece on a nearby stone in very careful common time, so at least we heard it as it ought to have sounded, Ken wrote.

Jerry lost patience with the music altogether and demanded to know 'why in the name of all held sacred Rosemary couldn't have given the child something less apt?' You're frowning I know, but don't worry, that last is Jerry verbatim, not me being informal, honest. Jerry reckoned it was bad enough that politics should have gotten into the papers and his father's sermons without getting into the music Mrs. Meredith gave her pupils and I'm inclined to agree.

I suppose you've had your share of political shop too, what with dad and his friends from the paper, and the house so near to Queens Park? Be an angel, will you and write to me one of your long, chatty letters about what they've been saying –maybe 'doing the voices' the way you used to do when we were kidlets? Now you are making a face, I know –you're sick to death of war talk and I haven't forgotten, not least because it may yet come to nothing. I hope to goodness you're right there –it will be infuriating if it should and this ankle keeps me out of it. If you can't run to writing about it and if it doesn't cost the earth, send The Globe on to me, won't you, or at least a section of it? I've not seen a copy in weeks and all the Glen paper is good for is an exercise in proofreading.

The garden of the Sussex Avenue house is suddenly resplendent with the sound of Nina's laughter in its treble splendour as it runs the gamut of the musical spectrum from Middle C to Top C to the C above that.

'You are making a face,' she says to Persis when she had recovered sufficiently to speak.

'So were you not half a minute ago,' Persis protests. 'You're thinking that never mind the music, it is worse that politics should get into his letters to me, and I agree entirely. As for The Globe, he won't see a section of it until he's safely returned home –it would cost the earth to send it and he ought to know as much. Besides, I don't believe he couldn't find a copy if he went looking.'

Anyway, Faith tried to reason Jerry into sense and Nan said the music wasn't as bad as all that, but she must have said it out of contrariness because Persis, it was.

'Of course it was,' says Nina with a singer's indignity, 'how is it that song goes, there is a soldier, A Scottish Soldier, Who soldiered far away, and wandered far away? Of all the music to be persecuted by, it isn't even good music.'

'It sounds all right when you sing it,' says Persis to tease her friend. Nina, singer of Undina, Semele, and perhaps of Tatiana in the near future, tosses her head elegantly, her hair rippling down her back like water. I should hope so, says that toss of the head, when you and Auntie have been plagued only by Handel this last hour. The effect is spoiled by the warmth that undercuts the elegance, she too is teasing.

'You,' Persis says, slipping her arm through Nina's, 'are by way of being one of the most musically snobbish creatures I have ever met, but you're lovely for all that. I'll write and tell Ken you take his side in all of this, shall I?'

'Yes do,' says Nina, who makes no effort to protest the implications of musical snobbery, 'what else does he say?'

''Rather a lot to judge from this,' says Persis, 'and the bulk of it about that folksong you've such a horror of –no don't pinch me, I'm on your side and his in this, it's gruesomely sentimental.'

I thought of you and Nina and mother and wondered aloud why no one had told the pianist to think in two and not four, which was, of course, entirely the wrong thing to say.

'I don't care if she thinks in one, two or ten,' said Jerry, dark as ever, 'just so long as it –oh there is a God after all –He has set me at liberty when I is in trouble.' It was a relief, I can tell you, to hear an end of it, and you remember how Jerry always has a piece of scripture tucked up his sleeve to suit the occasion.

Jem grinned and demanded my opinion of the McAllister (Crawford?) playing because wasn't I from the 'Choral Capital of the Nation' or some such? I said 'Choral Capital of North America' as grandly as I could with a straight face (please write soon and say I got that right!) but wouldn't satisfy him as to an opinion. I'm spoiled by your playing and mother's and he knows it or he wouldn't have asked.

Carl had it about right I think when he said 'to say that music is getting on your nerves, Jem, Jerry, you're making more noise the pair of you than it ever did.' The poor lad was nettled because they –or the music –had driven some pet specimen of his away. Didn't the girls jump when he said as much! I forget when I'm away from the Island that the Blythe and Meredith lasses haven't your tolerance for creepy things. All those long months living with black flies –I bet there are masses around the yews now, are there? And of course you can't kill a spider or the money goes out of a house, so you've always insisted.

Nina shudders impressively. 'I don't think I'd like to be crept up on by insects very much,' she says.' I don't even have the tolerance to put up with mosquitoes in the hot months.'

'Does anyone?' says Persis, tugging impulsively at a strand of Nina's hair as she says it.

'Well, you've never minded them much,' says Nina, and she ducks for self-preservation further into the shadow of the yew trees. As she does so she seems to absorb the halo of the moon so that her hair, warm and golden, though not so long as Persis's, shimmers like starlight under its silvery beams.

'They don't bite me enough to make me mind,' Persis says, looking up from the letter and at the heavens where a handful of bats are threading their way between the scintillating warp of the summer triangle. 'It's mother they go after. Uncle Gil says it's something to do with blood-type, but he may well have made that up to stop me pestering him with questions –I was forever coming up with new ones for him. Besides, you wouldn't notice insects either if you had Ken for a brother and a handful of holidays in North Ontario –you can't go there and not learn to live with black flies. But I have about as much relish as you,' adds Persis meditatively, 'for the thought of some 'creepy thing' crawling up my ankles at no notice.'

After that, Ken writes, they all retreated to the shelter of the spare room that he and Persis had shared as children on protracted visits to Ingleside to escape the the trauma of the out-of-time music because there it had not been 'sun drenched and stifling.'

'That has a wonderful sound to it,' says Nina, even as Persis read it, 'you could sing a line like that.'

'I thought you said English isn't meant to lie high in the voice?'

'I did, but I didn't say it couldn't be sung at all. Give it to someone like you, who can sing out of the base of the earth, all those low ledger lines I haven't got.'

Persis shakes her head. 'I haven't got them either, I just haven't got your top notes. I might stretch to that song that nettled Jerry, how did it go, there was a soldier, a Scottish soldier…'

'Don't,' says Nina emphatically, swatting Persis with hands that easily stretch over an octave on the piano.

'What did I tell you?' says Persis, 'no top notes, and no middle register, though I think I can say with security my playing makes up for it. I can't begin to think how you could go wrong with a song like the one the McAllister –'

'Crawford, I thought,' interjects Nina, a question in her voice.

'One of them anyway, was playing. Now if he'd said the child was struggling over Minuet in G …'

'Anyone can play that one if they put in the time,' says Nina, and Persis gives up. They agree over the humming of the crickets that if Ken never writes more than the odd letter to his sister the world will be cheated of something good.

Love as ever to all at home, Ken finishes, I'd say give my best to Nina, but if I know you, she's reading alongside you, so I'll just say tell the Rosses hullo from me and be sure to say to little Stuart I haven't forgotten the outing I promised him to Hanlan's Point.

Persis begins to fold the letter up and Nina to sit upright again when they are stopped by the implausible postcript Ken has affixed and the moonlight catches. It runs,

P.S. I ought to have said before, there is to be a dance at the Harbour light and I've let them talk me into going –it stopped me thinking of the Scottish soldier and his green hills anyway, and gave us something pleasant to talk of.

'He's mad,' says Persis to Nina and the yew trees, 'to be thinking of trying to dance on that ankle.'

'But of course he'll go,' says Nina, shaking her head at the ridiculousness of the idea, 'No one is ever to tell me again that it is only sopranos who preen; he's acting just like a peacock wanting to show off its lovely feathers come what may. Don't you dare write that into your answer.'

'I'll take out the bit about the sopranos and say it comes from me' says Persis, 'it might as well. Really, he's quite mad,' and so saying, she folds the letter in thirds and puts it by, meaning to take it into the house and leave it where her mother can find it at some later date. Then she grimaces and reflects that just because Ken is well shot of that awful and sentimental folksong does not mean he has not left her with an earworm for the rest of the evening, such as it is, and it runs there is a soldier, a Scottish soldier, who soldiered far away, and wandered far away…

'Sing something Nina, won't you?' she asks.

Not for nothing has Nina won herself a place at the Royal Conservatory of Music, she is a singer to her innermost core, and singing is instinctive with her as breathing. Lying stretched lengthwise on the lawn of the Sussex Avenue house she turns over onto her back, presses her shoulders against the grass and looking up at the stars sings of the bliss of Semele again; the Scottish Soldier is forgotten, Zeus's thunderbolts are rendered useless, his lightening safeguarded to the moonstruck-blue eyes of the singer as pleasure and love run on without end and Handel again takes precedence.


* an aria from Handel's Semele, and sung by the eponymous heroine, it tells of the happiness of Semele and Zeus before the intervention of Juno.

**Undina, and later Tatiana also, are both heroines in operas by Tchaikovsky. Undina is an obscure three-act opera about a mermaid, but Tatiana is by far the better known of the two, as the letter-writing heroine from Eugene Onegin.