Una Tells a Lie
It was awfully quiet in Rainbow Valley these days. Faith and Jerry were off with Jem at Redmond; Di and Nan and Walter were teaching; Carl and Shirley were at Queen's. Sometimes Una forgot that they were all quite grown up now. You could still find Rilla Blythe dreaming in a sunny nook from time to time, or Carl and Shirley fishing for trout in the reed-lined pond on weekends. Una herself liked to read in the shade beneath the White Lady. She was rarely interrupted there.
This morning, Una did not have a book with her. In fact, it was so early that the feeble light sifting through the birches would not have illuminated a page. She walked like this when she could not sleep. In the mists of early morning, Rainbow Valley seemed to lie on a border between two worlds, simultaneously immediate and ethereal. Una had never told anyone, but she often felt close to her mother in these early morning reveries, when time seemed irrelevant and distance immaterial.
Una wandered along the brook for a while, until she came to a little maple grove. The gray haze was lightening into the pale yellow of morning, illuminating the trees and what lay under them.
Suddenly, something moved in the grove, and Una leapt backward in surprise. Whatever it was, it was big and dark, and it should not have been in Rainbow Valley in the pre-dawn gloom.
Una recalled the debacle of Henry Warren's ghost and resolved to stand her ground. She was eighteen years old now, and growing into her courage. Una peered through the mist to see what — or whom — lurked under the maples.
When the shape resolved into sense, Una's hand flew to her mouth, but did not quite stifle her surprised "Oh!"
The apparition was none other than Mary Vance — a Mary Vance who had just awoken in the arms of a still-sleeping Miller Douglas.
Mary's own eyes flew wide as she took in her predicament, responding to Una's surprise with a similar cry of her own.
Una had begun to back away from the grove, but Mary leapt to her feet and called to her. "Una, wait! Come back here a minute! Oh, this is a fine kettle of fish!"
This commotion roused Miller from his slumber. Sitting up, he seemed shocked to find Mary standing over him.
"Una!" Mary called. "Come back!"
Una gulped, but stopped backing away.
"What happened?" Miller asked Mary, seemingly too groggy to have noticed Una yet.
"Oh, we fell asleep!" Mary replied, giving him a little kick of frustration.
"Ouch! You mean we've been here all night?!"
"It certainly seems that way," Mary scowled.
"What . . ." Una began, but could not seem to find words.
"Oh, come here, Una, and I'll explain everything," Mary said.
Una was in no doubt that this was true, but she was not sure that she wanted to hear everything that Mary might explain.
"We came down here last night," Mary said, twisting her skirt through her fingers, "to get away for a little while. We were only talking, Una, true's you live, and we must have just . . . fallen asleep."
A certain tone of amazement in Mary's voice, coupled with the look of dawning horror on Miller's face, convinced Una that this was probably the truth.
"You just . . . fell asleep?" she asked tremulously.
"Of course we did," answered Mary. "Didn't we, Miller?"
At Mary's prodding, Miller spoke to Una, possibly for the first time ever. "It was just an accident. Honest, Una."
"Oh, we're in for it now," Mary groaned. "Old Kitty Alec will have your hide and Cornelia will never let you come around the place ever again! Never!"
"I'm sorry, Mary," Miller said, sounding like he meant it. "I shouldn't have fallen asleep!"
"Well, I guess I fell asleep same as you," Mary said, justly. "And I suppose we'll both be in for it when we get home."
"Could we try to explain?" Miller asked, forlorn.
"How?" Mary seemed on the verge of tears. "Your aunt won't believe us any more'n Cornelia will."
Mary wrung her hands and Miller looked stricken. Una glanced from one to the other, wishing there were something she could do. It had been an accident, she felt sure of it. It seemed terribly unfair that Mary and Miller should be kept apart forever for such a mistake, as surely they would be. Oh, what would Mrs. Elliott say about this? Unless . . .
"No," said Una quietly.
Mary and Miller stared at her, uncomprehending.
"No, you won't be kept apart," Una said more firmly, though she trembled slightly as she spoke. "Miller, you run home now and go straight to the morning chores. If your aunt misses you, just say you were out in the barn early. And Mary . . . you were with me, weren't you? We stayed up late talking and fell asleep in my room. We'll go right now and apologize to Mrs. Elliott for worrying her when you didn't come home last night."
Mary's white eyes had gone very round. "Una . . . you would . . . lie? For me?"
Una bit her lip. "Well, I don't like it very much," she confessed. "But I'm afraid they might not believe you as I do, and . . . oh, Mary, you could be in real trouble over this."
Miller was already on his feet, brushing leaves and grass from his coat. He paused to pluck a particularly conspicuous twig from Mary's hair. The tender gesture tugged at Una's heart. Miller Douglas might not be her own ideal of romance, but Una knew that he cared for Mary and wouldn't willingly do anything either to hurt her or to hurt his own chances of winning the approval of Mrs. Marshall Elliott.
"Go on then, Miller," Una said, afraid she might lose her nerve if they lingered too long.
Miller started for home, but took only one step before he turned back to give Mary a chaste peck on the cheek. Mary blushed furiously, and Una studied her feet.
When Miller had disappeared into the mist, Mary linked arms with Una. "Thanks, Una. Truly. I never would have asked you to do it, or even thought of it myself. I'm sorry to make you lie, but I'm real grateful."
"You really do care for Miller, don't you Mary?" Una asked.
"I do," Mary answered, more earnestly than Una was used to hearing her. "Cornelia doesn't approve and I don't know what I can do to change her mind. She says Miller comes from a low family, and I don't see how there's any getting around how he was born!"*
"It's not fair," Una sympathized. "But maybe one day it won't matter so much."
"One fine day, perhaps, but I can't see how."
"Things change," Una said. "I often wish they didn't, but perhaps sometimes they change for the better."
"Well, all I know's I owe you a favor, Una. And so does Miller. You're right — we could be in a lick of trouble for this. Real trouble, not kid stuff."
Una returned Mary's squeeze. "I don't like to lie, Mary. But you didn't really do anything wrong. Jerry told me once that when two choices both seem wrong, I must trust in my conscience. And I think it will rest easy over this."
The rising sun had burned off the last of the mist. Mary and Una walked arm-in-arm down the red shore road to tell their lie, both feeling for the first time that they were friends rather than playmates.
*"'I won't have Miller Douglas hanging round Mary,' she said crisply. 'He comes of a low family. His father was a sort of outcast from the Douglases — they never really counted him in — and his mother was one of those terrible Dillons from the Harbour Head.'" Miss Cornelia in Rilla of Ingleside, chapter 1: "Glen Notes and Other Matters"