The story I want to share, the tale of Father Cassidy in Emily of New Moon, is looked on a little darkly in some parts of L.M. Montgomery studies. Part of this is because the Emily books can be read as a conversation about how Emily negotiates her world, particularly with regard to the men in her life. I spoke of her schoolmaster a couple of weeks ago, Mr. Carpenter who ruined his own life but through his brusque manner was able to help fan into flame the threatened spark of Emily’s literary ability. But there is also Dean Priest, who saves Emily’s life just as she is about to come into her teen years. In their encounter he claims her for his future wife, reshaping her imaginatively into an Egyptian priestess (i.e., temple prostitute?). One of the critical tensions in the trilogy is Emily’s struggle to come to terms with this man. Even granted that girls came earlier into womanhood a century ago, the Dean Priest scenes are more than a little creepy and yet are crafted in some of Montgomery’s most evocative prose.
Then we have Father Cassidy, who is read by some as another adult male shaping and forming the girl into his imaginary wont. I’m not so sure, though. Certainly, the father-mentor-brother-lover-friend lines blur in the Emily series, so Aunt Elizabeth is really kind of a female grandfather and Cousin Jimmy a non-adult man. I like these readings, but I want to step outside of them for a minute to look at Father Cassidy.
There are very few well-drawn Catholic figures in Montgomery’s work, and I think this is one of them. In this case, she uses the Catholic stereotypes to work for her. Instead of shoreline white trash or ignorant Acadian farmboys, she has with Father Cassidy a whimsical adult who is a friend of fairyland–I would argue even a kindred spirit.
Montgomery’s brilliant children often lose some of their brilliance as they settle into adulthood; readers complain that Anne disappears as the Anne books progress. I think Montgomery tries to stop that regression by creating an adult version of “kindred spirits,” what her best friend had once called “the race that knows Joseph.” In Anne’s House of Dreams and the early Ingleside books, the race that knows Joseph are a quiet collective of resonant souls. As Anne must learn in Anne of Green Gables that kindred spirits come in all shape and sizes, the race that knows Joseph has a diversity of personalities and points of view. Throughout her books, Montgomery uses these little cyphers to join together kindred spirits, things like the “household of faith,” those that have heard the “horns of elfland” or are “that kind of people” that see rock people on the Island’s north shores, those who are of the “sect of dreamers” or are “children of light.”
I want to read Father Cassidy in this category of characters.
The scene is one of crisis for little orphan girl Emily. She is creative and completely misunderstood in her old-fashioned household. Besides the daily persecution against her imagination, she is being blamed for the actions of her neighbour, Lofty John, who has threatened to mow down the little wood at the edge of the New Moon property–the wood that provides shade and beauty and blocks the wind. Trust me, as a child who grew up in a draughty house at the top of a hill in rural PEI, we would have dearly loved a grove on the west side of our house. The New Moon people were about to lose that gift and Emily was distraught.
“One day by the banks of Blair Water Emily sat down and wept” (ch. 18). Her close friend, Teddy, happens upon her and gives Emily the idea that Lofty John’s priest could be petitioned for help,
“Because the Catholics have to do just what their priests tell them to, haven’t they?” (ch. 18).
After turning the task over in her mind, determined and afraid, Emily decides to make the long walk to throw herself upon the mercies of Father Cassidy.
You have to read the passage with your imagination of an Irish Catholic PEI accent. Is Father Cassidy of the race that knows Joseph or one of the dark figures of Emily’s life? Or perhaps he is both? In any case, allow yourself to switch perspectives as you read: think of yourself as a little Scotch Presbyterian girl encountering a Catholic priest for the first time, and think of yourself as a country priest who has Emily Byrd Starr wander into his garden. Perhaps I can win you over to the idea that Fr. Cassidy holds “a passport to the geography of fairyland” (The Alpine Path ch. 5).
Emily went home with a determined twist to her mouth. She ate as much supper as she could–which wasn’t much, for Aunt Elizabeth’s face would have destroyed her appetite if she had had any–and then sneaked out of the house by the front door. Cousin Jimmy was working in his garden but he did not call her. Cousin Jimmy was always very sorrowful now. Emily stood a moment on the Grecian porch and looked at Lofty John’s bush–green-bosomed, waving, all lovely. Would it be a desecrated waste of stumps by Monday night?
Goaded by the thought Emily cast fear and hesitation to the winds and started briskly off down the lane. When she reached the gate she turned to the left on the long red road of mystery that ran up the Delectable Mountain. She had never been on that road before; it ran straight to White Cross; Emily was going to the parish house there to interview Father Cassidy. It was two miles to White Cross and Emily walked it all too soon–not because it was a beautiful road of wind and wild fern, haunted by little rabbits–but because she dreaded what awaited her at the end. She had been trying to think what she should say–how she should say it; but her invention failed her. She had no acquaintance with Catholic priests, and couldn’t imagine how you should talk to them at all. They were even more mysterious and unknowable than ministers. Suppose Father Cassidy should be dreadfully angry at her daring to come there and ask a favour. Perhaps it was a dreadful thing to do from every point of view. And very likely it would do no good. Very likely Father Cassidy would refuse to interfere with Lofty John, who was a good Catholic, while she was, in his opinion, a heretic. But for any chance, even the faintest, of averting the calamity impending over New Moon, Emily would have faced the entire Sacred College.
Horribly frightened, miserably nervous as she was, the idea of turning back never occurred to her. She was only sorry that she hadn’t put on her Venetian beads. They might have impressed Father Cassidy.
Although Emily had never been to White Cross she knew the parish house when she saw it–a fine, tree-embowered residence near the big white chapel with the flashing gilt cross on its spire and the four gilt angels, one on each of the little spires at the corners. Emily thought them very beautiful as they gleamed in the light of the lowering sun, and wished they could have some on the plain white church at Blair Water. She couldn’t understand why Catholics should have all the angels. But there was not time to puzzle over this, for the door was opening and the trim little maid was looking a question.
“Is–Father Cassidy–at–home?” asked Emily, rather jerkily.
“Come in,” said the little maid. Evidently there was no difficulty about seeing Father Cassidy–no mysterious ceremonies such as Emily had half expected, even if she were allowed to see him at all. She was shown into a book-lined room and left there, while the maid went to call Father Cassidy, who, she said, was working in the garden. That sounded quite natural and encouraging. If Father Cassidy worked in a garden, he could not be so very terrible.
Emily looked about her curiously. She was in a very pretty room–with cosy chairs, and pictures and flowers. Nothing alarming or uncanny about it–except a huge black cat who was sitting on the top of one of the bookcases. It was really an enormous creature. Emily adored cats and had always felt at home with any of them. But she had never seen such a cat as this. What with its size and its insolent, gold-hued eyes, set like living jewels in its black velvet face, it did not seem to belong to the same species as nice, cuddly, respectable kittens at all. Mr Dare would never have had such a beast about his manse. All Emily’s dread of Father Cassidy returned.
And then in came Father Cassidy, with the friendliest smile in the world. Emily took him in with her level glance as was her habit–or gift–and never again in the world was she the least bit afraid of Father Cassidy. He was big and broad-shouldered, with brown eyes and brown hair; and his very face was so deeply tanned from his inveterate habit of going about bareheaded in merciless sunshine, that it was brown, too. Emily thought he looked just like a big nut–a big, brown, wholesome nut.
Father Cassidy looked at her as he shook hands; Emily had one of her visitations of beauty just then. Excitement had brought a wildrose hue to her face, the sunlight brought out the watered-silk gloss of her black hair; her eyes were softly dark and limpid; but it was at her ears Father Cassidy suddenly bent to look. Emily had a moment of agonized wonder if they were clean.
“She’s got pointed ears,” said Father Cassidy, in a thrilling whisper. “Pointed ears! I knew she came straight from fairyland the minute I saw her. Sit down, Elf–if elves do sit–sit down and give me the latest news av Titania’s court.”
Emily’s foot was now on her native heath. Father Cassidy talked her language, and he talked it in such a mellow, throaty voice, slurring his “ofs” ever so softly as became a proper Irishman. But she shook her head a little sadly. With the burden of her errand on her soul she could not play the part of ambassadress from Elfland.
“I’m only Emily Starr of New Moon,” she said; and then gasped hurriedly, because there must be no deception–no sailing under false colours, “and I’m a Protestant.”
“And a very nice little Protestant you are,” said Father Cassidy. “But for sure I’m a bit disappointed. I’m used to Protestants–the woods hereabouts being full av them–but it’s a hundred years since the last elf called on me.”
Emily stared. Surely Father Cassidy wasn’t a hundred years old. He didn’t look more than fifty. Perhaps, though, Catholic priests did live longer than other people. She didn’t know exactly what to say so she said, a bit lamely,
“I see you have a cat.”
“Wrong.” Father Cassidy shook his head and groaned dismally. “A cat has me.”
Emily gave up trying to understand Father Cassidy. He was nice but ununderstandable. She let it go at that. And she must get on with her errand.
“You are a kind of minister, aren’t you?” she asked timidly. She didn’t know whether Father Cassidy would like being called a minister.
“Kind av,” he agreed amiably. “And you see ministers and priests can’t do their own swearing. They have to keep cats to do it for them. I never knew any cat that could sware as genteelly and effectively as the B’y.”
“Is that what you call him?” asked Emily, looking at the black cat in some awe. It seemed hardly safe to discuss him right before his face.
“That’s what he calls himself. My mother doesn’t like him because he steals the cream. Now, _I_ don’t mind his doing that; no, it’s his way av licking his jaws after it that I can’t stand. Oh, B’y, we’ve a fairy calling on us. Be excited for once, I implore you–there’s a duck av a cat.”
The B’y refused to be excited. He winked an insolent eye at Emily.
“Have you any idea what goes on in the head av a cat, elf?”
What queer questions Father Cassidy asked. Yet Emily thought she would like his questions if she were not so worried. Suddenly Father Cassidy leaned across the table and said,
“Now, just what’s bothering you?”
“I’m so unhappy,” said Emily piteously.
“So are lots av other people. Everybody is unhappy by spells, But creatures who have pointed ears shouldn’t be unhappy. It’s only mortals who should be that.”
“Oh, please–please–” Emily wondered what she should call him. Would it offend him if a Protestant called him “Father”? But she had to risk it–“please, Father Cassidy, I’m in such trouble and I’ve come to ask a great favour of you.”
Emily told him the whole tale from beginning to end–the old Murray-Sullivan feud, her erstwhile friendship with Lofty John, the Big Sweet apple, the unhappy consequence, and Lofty John’s threatened revenge. The B’y and Father Cassidy listened with equal gravity until she had finished. Then the B’y winked at her, but Father Cassidy put his long brown fingers together.
“Humph,” he said.
(“That’s the first time,” reflected Emily, “that I’ve ever heard anyone outside of a book say ‘Humph.'”)
“Humph,” said Father Cassidy again. “And you want me to put a stop to this nefarious deed?”
“If you can,” said Emily. “Oh, it would be so splendid if you could. Will you–will you?”
Father Cassidy fitted his fingers still more carefully together.
“I’m afraid I can hardly invoke the power av the keys to prevent Lofty John from disposing as he wishes av his own lawful property, you know, elf.”
Emily didn’t understand the allusion to the keys but she did understand that Father Cassidy was declining to bring the lever of the Church to bear on Lofty John. There was no hope, then. She could not keep the tears of disappointment out of her eyes.
“Oh, come now, darling, don’t cry,” implored Father Cassidy. “Elves never cry–they can’t. It would break my heart to discover you weren’t av the Green Folk. You may call yourself av New Moon and av any religion you like, but the fact remains that you belong to the Golden Age and the old gods. That’s why I must save your precious bit av greenwood for you.”
“I think it can be done,” Father Cassidy went on. “I think if I go to Lofty John and have a heart-to-heart talk with him I can make him see reason. Lofty John and I are very good friends. He’s a reasonable creature, if you know how to take him–which means to flatter his vanity judiciously. I’ll put it to him, not as priest to parishioner, but as man to man, that no decent Irishman carries on a feud with women and that no sensible person is going to destroy for nothing but a grudge those fine old trees that have taken half a century to grow and can never be replaced. Why the man who cuts down such a tree except when it is really necessary should be hanged as high as Haman on a gallows made from the wood
(Emily thought she would write that last sentence of Father Cassidy’s down in Cousin Jimmy’s blank book [her writing diary] when she got home.)
“But I won’t say THAT to Lofty John,” concluded Father Cassidy. “Yes, Emily av New Moon, I think we can consider it a settled thing that your bush will not be cut down.”
Suddenly Emily felt very happy. Somehow she had entire confidence in Father Cassidy. She was sure he would twist Lofty John around his little finger.
“Oh, I can never thank you enough!” she said earnestly.
“That’s true, so don’t waste breath trying. And now tell me things. Are there any more av you? And how long have you been yourself?”
“I’m twelve years old–I haven’t any brothers or sisters. And I think I’d better be going home.”
“Not till you’ve had a bite av lunch.”
“Oh, thank you, I’ve had my supper.”
“Two hours ago and a two-mile walk since. Don’t tell me. I’m sorry I haven’t any nectar and ambrosia on hand–such food as elves eat–and not even a saucer av moonshine–but my mother makes the best plum cake av any woman in P. E. Island. And we keep a cream cow. Wait here a bit. Don’t be afraid av the B’y. He eats tender little Protestants sometimes, but he never meddles with leprechauns.”
When Father Cassidy came back his mother came with him, carrying a tray. Emily had expected to see her big and brown too, but she was the tiniest woman imaginable, with snow-white, silky hair, mild blue eyes, and pink cheeks.
“Isn’t she the sweetest thing in the way av mothers?” asked Father Cassidy. “I keep her to look at. Av course–” Father Cassidy dropped his voice to a pig’s whisper–“there’s something odd about her. I’ve known that woman to stop right in the middle av housecleaning, and go off and spend an afternoon in the woods. Like yourself, I’m thinking she has some truck with fairies.”
Mrs Cassidy smiled, kissed Emily, said she must go out and finish her preserving, and trotted off.
“Now you sit right down here, Elf, and be human for ten minutes and we’ll have a friendly snack.”
Emily was hungry–a nice comfortable feeling she hadn’t experienced for a fortnight. Mrs Cassidy’s plum cake was all her reverend son claimed, and the cream cow seemed to be no myth.
“What do you think av me now?” asked Father Cassidy suddenly, finding Emily’s eyes fixed on him speculatively.
Emily blushed. She had been wondering if she dared ask another favour of Father Cassidy.
“I think you are awfully good,” she said.
“I am awfully good,” agreed Father Cassidy. “I’m so good that I’ll do what you want me to do–for I feel there’s something else you want me to do.”
“I’m in a scrape and I’ve been in it all summer. You see”–Emily was very sober–“I am a poetess.”
“Holy Mike! That is serious. I don’t know if I can do much for you. How long have you been that way?”
“Are you making fun of me?” asked Emily gravely.
Father Cassidy swallowed something besides plum cake.
“The saints forbid! It’s only that I’m rather overcome. To be after entertaining a lady av New Moon–and an elf–and a poetess all in one is a bit too much for a humble praste like meself. Have another slice av cake and tell me all about it.”
“It’s like this–I’m writing an epic.”
Father Cassidy suddenly leaned over and gave Emily’s wrist a little pinch.
“I just wanted to see if you were real,” he explained. “Yes–yes, you’re writing an epic–go on. I think I’ve got my second wind now.”
“I began it last spring. I called it The White Lady first but now I’ve changed it to The Child of the Sea. Don’t you think that’s a better title?”
“I’ve got three cantos done, and I can’t get any further because there’s something I don’t know and can’t find out. I’ve been so worried about it.”
“What is it?”
“My epic,” said Emily, diligently devouring plum cake, “is about a very beautiful high-born girl who was stolen away from her real parents when she was a baby and brought up in a woodcutter’s hut.”
“One av the seven original plots in the world,” murmured Father Cassidy.
“Nothing. Just a bad habit av thinking aloud. Go on.”
“She had a lover of high degree but his family did not want him to marry her because she was only a woodcutter’s daughter–”
“Another of the seven plots–excuse me.”
“–so they sent him away to the Holy Land on a crusade and word came back that he was killed and then Editha–her name was Editha–went into a convent–”
Emily paused for a bite of plum cake and Father Cassidy took up the strain.
“And now her lover comes back very much alive, though covered with Paynim scars, and the secret av her birth is discovered through the dying confession av the old nurse and the birthmark on her arm.”
“How did you know?” gasped Emily in amazement.
“Oh, I guessed it–I’m a good guesser. But where’s your bother in all this?”
“I don’t know how to get her out of the convent,” confessed Emily. “I thought perhaps you would know how it could be done.”
Again Father Cassidy fitted his fingers.
“Let us see, now. It’s no light matter you’ve undertaken, young lady. How stands the case? Editha has taken the veil, not because she has a religious vocation but because she imagines her heart is broken. The Catholic Church does not release its nuns from their vows because they happen to think they’ve made a little mistake av that sort. No, no–we must have a better reason. Is this Editha the sole child av her real parents?”
“Oh, then the way is clear. If she had had any brothers or sisters you would have had to kill them off, which is a messy thing to do. Well, then, she is the sole daughter and heiress av a noble family who have for years been at deadly feud with another noble family–the family av the lover. Do you know what a feud is?”
“Of course,” said Emily disdainfully. “And I’ve got all that in the poem already.”
“So much the better. This feud has rent the kingdom in twain and can only be healed by an alliance between Capulet and Montague.”
“Those aren’t their names.”
“No matter. This, then, is a national affair, with far-reaching issues, therefore an appeal to the Supreme Pontiff is quite in order. What you want,” Father Cassidy nodded solemnly, “is a dispensation from Rome.”
“Dispensation is a hard word to work into a poem,” said Emily.
“Undoubtedly. But young ladies who will write epic poems and who will lay the scenes thereof amid times and manners av hundreds av years ago, and will choose heroines of a religion quite unknown to them, must expect to run up against a few snags.”
“Oh, I think I’ll be able to work it in,” said Emily cheerfully. “And I’m so much obliged to you. You don’t know what a relief it is to my mind. I’ll finish the poem right up now in a few weeks. I haven’t done a thing at it all summer. But then of course I’ve been busy. Ilse Burnley and I have been making a new language.”
“Making a–new–excuse me. Did you say language?”
“What’s the matter with English? Isn’t it good enough for you, you incomprehensible little being?”
“Oh, yes. THAT isn’t why we’re making a new one. You see in the spring, Cousin Jimmy got a lot of French boys to help plant the potatoes. I had to help too, and Ilse came to keep me company. And it was so annoying to hear those boys talking French when we couldn’t understand a word of it. They did it just to make us mad. Such jabbering! So Ilse and I just made up our minds we’d invent a new language that THEY couldn’t understand. We’re getting on fine and when the potato picking time comes we’ll be able to talk to each other and those boys won’t be able to understand a word we’re saying. Oh, it will be great fun!”
“I haven’t a doubt. But two girls who will go to all the trouble av inventing a new language just to get square with some poor little French boys–you’re beyond me,” said Father Cassidy, helplessly. “Goodness knows what you’ll be doing when you grow up. You’ll be Red Revolutionists. I tremble for Canada.”
“Oh, it isn’t a trouble–it’s fun. And all the girls in school are just wild because they hear us talking in it and can’t make it out. We can talk secrets right before them.”
“Human nature being what it is, I can see where the fun comes in all right. Let’s hear a sample av your language.”
“Nat millan O ste dolman bote ta Shrewsbury fernas ta poo litanos,” said Emily glibly. “That means, ‘Next summer I am going to Shrewsbury woods to pick strawberries.’ I yelled that across the playground to Ilse the other day at recess and oh, how everybody stared.”
“Staring, is it? I should say so. My own poor old eyes are all but dropping out av me head. Let’s hear a bit more av it.”
“Mo tral li dead seb ad li mo trene. Mo bertral seb mo bertrene das sten dead e ting setra. THAT means ‘My father is dead and so is my mother. My grandfather and grandmother have been dead a long time.” We haven’t invented a word for ‘dead’ yet. I think I will soon be able to write my poems in our language and then Aunt Elizabeth will not be able to read them if she finds them.”
“Have you written any other poetry besides your epic?”
“Oh, yes–but just short pieces–dozens of them.”
“H’m. Would you be so kind as to let me hear one av them?”
Emily was greatly flattered. And she did not mind letting Father Cassidy hear her precious stuff.
“I’ll recite my last poem,” she said, clearing her throat importantly. “It’s called Evening Dreams.”
Father Cassidy listened attentively. After the first verse a change came over his big brown face, and he began patting his finger tips together. When Emily finished she hung down her lashes and waited tremblingly. What if Father Cassidy said it was no good? No, he wouldn’t be so impolite–but if he bantered her as he had done about her epic–she would know what that meant.
Father Cassidy did not speak all at once. The prolonged suspense was terrible to Emily. She was afraid he could not praise and did not want to hurt her feelings by dispraise. All at once her “Evening Dreams” seemed trash and she wondered how she could ever have been silly enough to repeat it to Father Cassidy.
Of course, it was trash. Father Cassidy knew that well enough. All the same, for a child like this–and rhyme and rhythm were flawless–and there was one line–just one line–“the light of faintly golden stars”–for the sake of that line Father Cassidy suddenly said,
“Keep on–keep on writing poetry.”
“You mean–?” Emily was breathless.
“I mean you’ll be able to do something by and by. Something–I don’t know how much–but keep on–keep on.”
Emily was so happy she wanted to cry. It was the first word of commendation she had ever received except from her father–and a father might have too high an opinion of one. THIS was different. To the end of her struggle for recognition Emily never forgot Father Cassidy’s “Keep on” and the tone in which he said it.
“Aunt Elizabeth scolds me for writing poetry,” she said wistfully. “She says people will think I’m as simple as Cousin Jimmy.”
“The path of genius never did run smooth. But have another piece av cake–do, just to show there’s something human about you.”
“Ve, merry ti. O del re dolman cosey aman ri sen ritter. THAT means, ‘No, thank you. I must be going home before it gets dark.'”
“I’ll drive you home.”
“Oh, no, no. It’s very kind of you”–the English language was quite good enough for Emily now, “but I’d rather walk. “It’s–it’s–such good exercise.”
“Meaning,” said Father Cassidy with a twinkle in his eye, “that we must keep it from the old lady? Good-bye, and may you always see a happy face in your looking-glass!”
Emily was too happy to be tired on the way home. There seemed to be a bubble of joy in her heart–a shimmering, prismatic bubble. When she came to the top of the big hill and looked across to New Moon, her eyes were satisfied and loving. How beautiful it was,
lying embowered in the twilight of the old trees; the tips of the loftiest spruces came out in purple silhouette against the northwestern sky of rose and amber; down behind it the Blair Water dreamed in silver; the Wind Woman had folded her misty bat-wings in a valley of sunset and stillness lay over the world like a blessing. Emily felt sure everything would be all right. Father Cassidy would manage it in some way.
And he had told her to “keep on.”