This is a story excerpt from Isaac’s Decision, and it’s one of my favorite scenes. This scene ends with Emily leaving the schoolhouse with Isaac who hasn’t talked to her in three years. Back in September, I wrote a post about searching for a book for Emily to do her report on, and I was intrigued with the book called The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner by James Hogg. At the time, I picked it to be the book Emily uses for the report (and yes, she did cheat because she didn’t actually read it but had Isaac tell her about it while she was disguised as Elmer). Emily’s not exactly the type of person who does everything she’s supposed to. She was supposed to read Emma by Jane Austen, but it wasn’t her type of book and instead of trudging through a “dry book”, she opted to cheat. But to be fair, she did try to read Emma. She just kept falling asleep (literally).
So that’s the background to the story excerpt. Isaac doesn’t know she was Elmer, getting the book information out of him, though he connects the dots later in the story. While I stop today’s post where Isaac’s ready to take Emily home, I plan to do that part of the chapter tomorrow. (So stay tuned for more. ;))
Okay. There are two reasons why I love this scene as much as I do.
1. It shows the contrast between Emily and Eva. From Emily’s perspective, Eva’s boring. From Eva’s perspective, Emily doesn’t understand the necessity of being a proper young lady. I love both Emily and Eva, but these two will never be friends. Their personalities conflict way too much, and you know, it might be fun to have them together in an interview in a couple of days. (I’ll see what I can do on that one.) I do plan to write Eva’s romance, so this scene also lays down a great foundation for establishing her personality.
2. This scene also presents the moral of the book: the true character of a person is determined by the choices they make. This is where The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner by James Hogg comes into play, and I had no idea it would work into the plot of Isaac’s Decision as well as it does. (This scene between Emily and Eva took me back to my college days where I had to take a book and argue a certain point that opposed another viewpoint. Fun stuff. I used to enjoy those papers, believe it or not. Who says romance authors can’t be deep? LOL) The moral of the book also plays very well into the title. This story has more to do with the decisions the characters make than I ever imagined it would. It’s primarily about the decision Isaac makes to marry Emily, but other characters have to make their own decisions, too. The secondary prominent decision, of course is the one Dave will have to make in regards to Neil–hold a grudge or forgive?
So anyway, here’s the scene:
Shortly before lunch, Eva called Emily up the front of the room where she sat at her desk, her hands neatly folded over the assignment Emily turned in. By Eva’s stiff posture and the serious expression on her face, Emily knew this wasn’t going to be good. Reluctant, she shut her dime novel and headed for the front of the room, hoping her apprehension didn’t show. Did Eva know she didn’t really read the book?
Swallowing the lump in her throat, she reached Eva’s desk and quietly asked, “Yes?”
Keeping her voice low, Eva said, “I thought you chose Emma to do your report on.”
“I changed my mind.”
With a sigh, Eva glanced at the papers in front of her and thumbed through them. “I’m not sure this is appropriate material for a young woman to be reading.”
Frowning, she asked, “What’s wrong with it?”
“Nothing if you’re a man, I suppose,” Eva said, turning her gaze back up so she was looking at Emily. “But even if you were a man, I couldn’t submit something like this to the school board to demonstrate that you’re learning something worthwhile.”
“There are themes you bring up that suggest you lack a proper understanding of the Christian faith.”
“Can you give me some examples of that?” Emily demanded, her apprehension departing.
“You misunderstand the nature of good and evil, for one. You suggest that the main character was justified in murdering people because he did it to get rid of enemies of God.”
“No, I didn’t write that. I wrote that he used a process of reasoning that led him to the conclusion that he was right in killing those people. It was his thought process that justified him to himself. I don’t believe morality is subjective like the character does.”
“The way you worded it suggests otherwise.”
“Then I fear you did a poor job of reading what I wrote,” Emily argued, an underlying tension in her tone.
A look of indignation crossed Eva’s face for a second, and then she cleared her throat and squared her shoulders back. “Another reason why this is inappropriate is because of its violent content. Maybe if you were a man, a book featuring an antihero with a desire to murder others would be somewhat feasible, but the subject matter contained here—” she motioned to the papers—”is offensive to a lady’s sensibilities.”
Emily’s skin bristled. “The matter of good and evil is just as relevant to a lady as it is a man.”
“You’re missing the point. The point is, books like Emma is perfect for—”
“Emma was boring. It didn’t tackle anything as gripping as the struggle of good and evil. It was about a woman who tried to play matchmaker but paired up the wrong people. She was annoying because she imposed her will on other people, and the book didn’t challenge my thinking or make me question morality. That was the purpose of this assignment, was it not?”
“Emma is a delightful story regarding the power of love finding a way to connect people regardless of obstacles that come their way. And if you read it long enough, you would understand that Emma truly desired to do good when she wanted to see Harriet with a man of notable social standing. An annoying character wouldn’t go through all the trouble she did for Harriet. Now, I implore you to finish Emma and do your report on that.”
“I don’t want to finish Emma. This is the report I’m turning in.” She pointed to the papers.
“I will not have the school board thinking I teach my pupils to gain entertainment from excessive violence.”
“I’m not the one who missed the point of the book, Eva. You are.” Leaning forward, Emily hissed, “That book makes people think about choices that are right and choices that are wrong. It looks into accountability and our responsibility to choose good even when we desire to do bad. If you see where the road took the main character, then you’ll understand why I wrote that just because we justify a choice to ourselves, it doesn’t mean it’s the right one. That is why morality can’t be subjective. We need an objective standard to go by. The character took something objective and twisted it in such a way where right became wrong and wrong became right. Don’t you see how relevant this is to your pupils who are the future of this nation? What if everyone ended up like the main character in this book?”
“I’m not arguing about the moral lesson you gaining from this book. I’m saying the serial killing is too violent, especially for a young woman.” After a very tense moment, Eva handed the pages to Emily. “I refuse to turn this into the school board as an example of what you’re learning under my guidance.”
Crossing her arms, Emily said, “And I refuse to do a report on Emma.”
Eva set the papers on the desk and made eye contact with her. “If you intend to keep going to school, you’ll do what I say.”
It took Emily a moment to realize what Eva was telling her. She narrowed her eyes at the teacher. “Very well, Eva. Have it your way.”
Eva stood up, her shoulders back and a look of indignation on her face. “When we are in the schoolhouse, you will address me as Miss Connealy. It is a matter of respect. I would never refer to an instructor by the first name.”
“Well, that’s the difference between us, Eva. I don’t get uptight when it comes to opening my mind to new ideas, like what a woman should and should not be allowed to read. You will keep your mind closed to new possibilities, and in so doing, you will live a pathetic and lonely experience as an old maid since no man wants to be with a woman who’s continually uptight.”
Eva gasped. “I’d watch your words, Emily! It is not befitting for a proper lady to talk in such a way.”
“I’ve got better things to do with my time than to spend it on etiquette, Eva. I want to enjoy my life, not waste it away with my nose stuck in a boring, old book while I criticize those who don’t share my reading taste.”
Eva’s lips formed a thin line, but Emily decided she’d had enough. She wouldn’t waste one more minute in this place or with Miss-Holier-Than-Thou Eva Connealy. Spinning on her heel, she ignored the stares of the students who had stopped their work to listen to her argue with Eva. She made her way over to Isaac who had the good sense to keep his gaze on the paper on his desk. The fact that he’d stopped writing was a dead giveaway that he’d been listening along with the others.
“Take me home,” Emily demanded, her anger prompting her to hold back her tears at the moment and emboldening her enough to confront him in front of everyone.
Isaac’s head shot up, his eyes wide and his mouth open in shock.
The silence hanging in the air was so profound that Emily swore time stood still. She maintained eye contact while she waited for him to respond. When his gaze flickered to Eva, she snapped, “Either you take me home or I’ll walk.”
“Oh, Emily, be serious,” Eva called out. “You can’t walk all the way home in the cold weather.”
Still looking at Isaac, she said, “Don’t tell me what I can and can’t do. I’m not a child!” When Isaac returned his gaze to hers, she softly asked, “So what’s it going to be?”
Isaac slowly stood up and went to the back of the room. Relieved because she really didn’t want to walk all the way home, she followed him. He handed her her coat so she slipped it on and bundled up for the cold while he put his coat and hat on. She told herself not to look back at Eva because that might give Eva a bit of power over her if she knew she bothered Emily as much as she did, but she couldn’t resist. She didn’t know whether she was relieved or dismayed that Eva had sat back down and was quietly working on whatever it was she worked on at that desk. Probably boring teacher work. That’s all Eva Connealy ever did: boring things. And then she’d pass judgments on people who didn’t share her boring interests. Maybe boring was the reason Dave Larson wanted his son to be with her. Maybe Dave was just as boring as she was.
Emily yanked on her gloves and threw the door open. Her body was so hot with her simmering rage that she didn’t notice the bitter wind that pierced her face. She didn’t bother to see if Isaac followed her to the buckboard he’d brought out with those his father deemed worthy of taking to the schoolhouse. Gritting her teeth, she hopped into it, not caring if the wind blew her dress so her petticoats were exposed. She sat and waited, aware that Isaac’s footsteps were quickly approaching.
(will continue tomorrow)