This story picks up the thread of my writing on Carl and Persis, not quite where O Silver Moon came to an end, but resuming the story some years ahead. It's a story I've been promising some of you for a while. With luck it's been worth waiting for.

As ever the characters belong to L. M. Montgomery and those that do not are inspired by her.


Calm fell. From Heaven distilled a clemency;

There was peace on earth, and silence in the sky;

Some could, some could not, shake off misery:

The Sinister Spirit sneered: 'It had to be!'

And again the Spirit of Pity whispered, 'Why?'

-'And there was great calm' Thomas Hardy


'Tell me about the house we are going to,' says Carl as the train rattles its way from Southampton to Oxford. When they first made arrangements to move to the university it had seemed far off and distant, something that would not come to pass for many years. There had been no reason for Carl to try and conjure a picture -clear or otherwise -of the place they were going to or the life they would build there. Now, after weeks of traveling from Canada, the details firmly in place, and the reality of what they are doing before him, his curiosity is piqued.

'You're under the funny impression I've seen it,' says Persis mildly.

'Haven't you though?'

'Don't you think I'd have written to tell you I was going halfway 'round the world to England to go traipsing all over North Oxford for a house?'

'Well…'

'Here,' says Persis relenting, 'there's an account of it in Nina's letter if you want to read it. She's the one who did all the rushing about in the time she didn't have.'

'Bit of a risk, wasn't it?' says Carl impishly, 'trusting her with something like that?' He doesn't mean it; he has always liked the musically minded Nina, long-time friend of Persis, an Persis knows as much.

'I've trusted her with more important things before now,' she says and parts with the letter. Carl takes it, turns it sideways -the better to read with one good eye -and settles back in his seat to peruse the contents.

I knew it was right for you when I saw the yew trees, writes Nina of the house in Norham Gardens. I know those were really a thing you and I shared, but I can't picture you drawing under anything but yew trees, and I like to think that in this academic world of sciences and spires you are moving into there will still be room for me to come visit when I'm not having to die of consumption, or love, or something equally awful at Covent Garden. So even though the yew trees are really ours, yours and mine and Ken's, as soon as I saw the garden was full of them, I knew the house would be right.

The other point in its favour was the name, 'Silver Moon.' I never have found out what it was about my singing that aria of Rusalka's that could make moonlight out of your eyes, but I let you twist my arm into singing it at your wedding, so suppose it matters, and don't quite dare ask why.

It isn't a big house by a long way, but there is a south-facing front room, and a sitting room with a fire, and a kitchen big enough to move around in –certainly big enough to go through the fussy process that is making yew berry tartlets in –with a doorframe rather than a door but opposite the front room so as to catch the excess sunlight. (On the days when that's not possible –and there will be days like that, I can promise you – it's been painted a soft yellow colour that will make even the electric look warm.)

The rest I'll leave you to discover, if only for the sake of the postage, but you must promise to write and tell me how I've done. In the meantime dream a spire for me –goodness knows you'll have enough of them to spare.

Love and best wishes,

Nina

'There aren't any spires though,' says Carl not without confusion, looking from Nina's letter to the view out the window of the Oxford station as the train settles into its platform. He wonders for a moment if it is simply that the spires in question are too far to his right, if he were to twist far enough round in his seat they might not loom into view as lampposts have been known to do before now. Ever so gently Persis disabuses him of this notion.

'You won't see them from here,' she says, 'you want to climb St. Michael's tower, or something else equally high, for that.'

'How do you know?' Carl wants to know, 'don't tell me you've travelled here too?' By then his focus has shifted from the window to a case lodged in the overhead rack of the compartment they are sitting in.

'It was years ago,' says Persis, 'before the war. Ken will remember it better; we were both children at the time. We were halfway between home and somewhere else so stopped a day at Oxford. I can't remember what building we scaled then to see the spires, only that that was how we discovered mum didn't have a taste for heights.'

'It's a shorter list, isn't it,' says Carl, scoring a victory against the case he's been wrestling with, 'to ask where you haven't travelled for the sake of your father's books.'

'Very probably. Here, let me be useful,' and threading her arm through his, she begins to navigate the way out of the train and through the station.

The house is much as Nina describes it, small and improbably put together, with one side taller than the other in a way that suggests a church steeple. There is no front garden; like so many English houses is pressed up against the pavement. There is, however, something of a yard round the back, and in it, as Nina said there would be, are yew trees. After so many noble poplars and stately willows the yew trees that whisper of Sussex Avenue and Toronto are like coming home.

There is a flash of net curtain from the neighbouring house –a rambling Victorian affair with windows buried in tracery –and then a young woman is coming down the walk calling out to them in a voice that would do well as a BBC continuity announcer's, were it not so soft, 'you must be the people from Canada I was told to expect. I've been watching for you to give you the key.'

She is a slight, even nondescript person, with hair in a colour that best described as field-mouse, and that seems to fade into the tweed of her clothing. She would be captured best, Persis thinks, by the muted and fleeting aspect of water-colour.

'You will be the Miss Glover we were told to look for then' says Persis.

'Oh no,' says the woman purporting to be someone other than Miss Glover, 'I haven't been Miss Glover to anyone since college.' She shivers a little and rubs at her arms through the tweed of her coat. Then she smiles, and though it is the slightest hint of a smile it betrays something about her that is almost beautiful. 'I've even cured the vicar of calling me that,' she tells them, and laughs. The laugher resolves the question of her beauty; it is light and bright as a full peal of bells at a wedding.

'People who know me,' she goes on, 'have always called me Mia for everyday –except mother; I'm always Amelia to mother.' A cloud passes over her forehead and then vanishes as she brightens again. 'I do hope,' she says, 'you'll call me Mia too. I like you already; it would be so nice if we could get to know one another.'

'It would be a pretty poor beginning,' says Carl comfortably, 'if we had resolved to alienate our nearest neighbours.'

'Oh I'm glad,' says Mia, her gloved hands extended towards them both in greeting and to part with the keys to the house. 'Here, the long slim key is the front door, and that fat tarnished one undoes the door at the back…I think the small gold one is for the windows in the sitting room, but you'll have to try it and see. There's milk, bread, cheese and things in the kitchen, and a cut of lamb from the butcher. I do hope that's all right, only it seemed easier than expecting you to find your way to the shops your first day in a strange place. It's what I'd want done if it were me but mother seemed to think I was interfering.'

'It was very thoughtful of you,' says Persis, pressing Mia's hand and accepting the keys.

'We've been travelling what feels ages and I don't suppose I'll have the energy to face the city centre until at least tomorrow. Come in, won't you, and have tea or something? As a thank-you?'

'Yes, do,' says Carl, 'I expect we can look out the tea things without too much trouble.'

'No, no, I couldn't,'' says Mia, 'not when you're still in the throes of unpacking and putting things to rights. Travelling has a way of relocating the most ordinary things to extraordinary places. China gets wrapped up in down quilts for safekeeping, books knock elbows with jumpers, and things like that. I remember from college life. Come back with me, won't you? Mother's lying down and I think has actually fallen asleep, so it's quite all right. There's no chance of you meeting her.'

'Is she so dreadful,' asks Carl in spite of himself.

'The thing to understand about mother,' says Mia with a flash of sharp humour that penetrates and ennobles what are otherwise unremarkable hazel eyes, 'is that she has Opinions. She has them on everything and everyone and she doesn't mind who hears them.'

It is not long before they are all three established in the Glover sitting room, Mia looking especially faded and dwarfed by the ungainly furniture. Persis might render Mia in watercolour, but nothing but oils and perhaps a bold charcoal would suit to capture the sprawling mass of the Glover house. Mia fusses over a tea service of Royal Albert design, and while straining China tea three ways, parts unconcernedly with college gossip, although by her own admission she has not seen the inside of an Oxford college since the war ended seven years ago.

'Mother collects students,' Mia says by way of explanation, 'she's forever having them round to tea, and sometimes taking the suitable ones in as lodgers.'

As if to reinforce the truth of this a terrific noise strikes up overhead, reminiscent of a rabbit being slaughtered by a cat. On this basis Persis and Carl both ignore it, having had their share of significantly worse sounds. Mia flinches, causes the tea to overrun both strainer and the teacup under her current administration, and says, 'I'll take that one, it's all right.'

Still with apology Mia says, 'That's Laurence Hodges,' a hint of regret in her voice. 'He's our current lodger and you mustn't take him as an accurate sample of our music generally. I don't think mother would have agreed to have him on at the house in the first place if she had realised he was an aspiring violinist.'

'Is that what he's doing?' asks Carl, who would probably not otherwise have guessed.

'Lamentably,' says Mia with a return of that sharp dry humour that puts such colour into her eyes.

'He plays all hours of the day and night. We're crossing our fingers, mother and I, that St. Edmund's will give him a room for his honours year. If they will then someone else can find out if he ever does succeed at playing.' She passes round a plate of Victoria biscuits and shakes her head. 'I shouldn't be hard on him really, he's a perfectly lovely young man in every other respect. Though I do worry…'

There comes over the wail of the music the thumping of something heavy and wooden against the floor.

'Oh dear, he has woken her,' says Mia.

'We'd better let you get on then,' says Persis. Mia begins to object but Persis says, 'No really, don't worry about the tea; I haven't quite lost the idea that accepting a second cup from a stranger is bad manners anyway. It always was in India.'

'Was it?'

'It was. It was a signal to leave. Now look, you've done more than your share –you must come round to us next time and let us redress the tea economy. Will you?'

Mia promises she will, but not a day before they have settled into Oxford life. Then she leads them through the labyrinth of overgrown furniture to the front door, before disappearing into the chaos of wailing violins and wooden canes in the upper part of the house.


At Silver Moon Carl and Persis wander through the house, discovering its angles and corners as they strip the furniture of dust covers. The stairs up to the first floor are perhaps the most striking feature, steeply sloped, full of sharp turns and inexplicably, devoid of a handrail. At their base is a fire-screen that has been shunted ineffectively out of the way, jutting out just enough to trip up an unsuspecting passer-by. Between them, Persis and Carl relocate it so that it shelters the empty fireplace, and nerve themselves to start unpacking.

As they do so they find the veracity of Mia's earlier remembrances of packing and unpacking to be born out. Nestled among the linen and quilts is a framed drawing of a young Stuart Ross on his older brother's bicycle. A passle of letters, still with their envelopes and smelling faintly of hyacinths and summer, surfaces in Carl's copy of To Build a Fire. Where Angels Fear to Tread exposes a photo of a younger Carl, still with both his eyes and his arms wrapped around what looks like nothing so much as a young wolf. The picture has been doing duty as a bookmark.

'Who took this?' asks Persis, extricating the photo and holding it out to Carl, who has been until that moment mired in sorting so many books into what –to him –passes for order. He takes the picture, and seems to study it, turning it over, and peering at the inscription as if fishing for details.

'Journalist fellow took it, I think,' says Carl, passing a hand over his eyes. 'You know, one of those people who wasn't a soldier but had wound up overseas so that someone could tell the newspapers back home what to print. Seemed to feel our bringing dogs into that mess would make for a good story, and was nice enough to send a copy of the picture back to me once he'd had it developed. Or something like that. The edges are blurry.'

The edges of the photo are no such thing. A bit worn, perhaps, from their protracted residence in the world of E.M. Forster, but the details they capture, the mud and the chain of the fence, those things are clear enough. Of Lucy, the German Shepherd in his arms there is a stream of what feels infinite memories; his teaching her to take and carry messages; her bounding up to meet him when he visited the kennel; the weight of her head on his shoulder as they read over the news from Sussex Ave; Lucy bounding towards him like a meteor as she made her mad bid to save his life. It is the specifics of this image though, the occasion that warranted its existence that is hazy.

'Must have been spring,' Carl says, setting the picture for safekeeping on a nearby windowsill. 'There's fireweed coming through the mud.'

A set of a dozen cast-iron and enamelled tea bowls comes to light less improbably ensconced in so many tea towels.

'They did survive,' says Persis, her relief palpable.

'You didn't really think they wouldn't?' Carl asks as he coaxes the lid off of the chest containing crockery altogether more practical if less well-loved.

'It was the easier thing to worry about,' says Persis as she stacks the teabowls in twos atop the creamy kitchen counter. She is awash in the last of that afternoon's sunlight, so that even worn out with travelling she looks to Carl every bit as golden and full of moonlight and prose as the young woman he fell in love with. She had been more inclined to reality than dreaming even then, he remembers, and then it had made sense because to dream one's way through a war was a terrible and dangerous thing. It would be pleasant though, Carl thinks, now that the world is beginning to reassemble itself, to put back together all the pieces that fell apart in the fight for goodness, to learn what she was like when dreaming.

'Beginnings are always difficult,' Carl offers, abandoning the pots and pans if favour of slipping his arms around her, 'but I think we could be at home here. Not because of the people or the name of the house or even the yew tress but…'he grows thoughtful, reaching for words that will articulate and justify his certainty.

'Of course we'll be at home here,' says Persis, turning to look at him and finding his eyes bright with anticipation.

'I could be at home wherever you were. You are home to me.'

Away in the distance one of the college bells chimes the hour, then continues to call out an invitation to evensong. There will be music and candles, and some other evening, Carl thinks, they will make time for the excursion. It is enough tonight to put the finishing touches on the house called Silver Moon, to lay down the roots that will make it theirs.