"St. Elmo, the purity of your motives will never be questioned, for none who knows you could believe you capable of dissembling in this matter; and my heart can scarcely contain its joy when I look forward to your future, so bright with promise, so full of usefulness. The marked change in your manner during the past two years has prepared this community for the important step you are to take to-day, and your influence with young men will be incalculable. Once your stern bitterness rendered you an object of dread; now I find that you are respected, and people here watch your conduct with interest, and even with anxiety. Ah, St. Elmo, I never imagined earth held as much pure happiness as is my portion to-day. To see you one of God's anointed! To see you ministering in the temple! Oh! to know that when I am gone to rest you will take my place, guard my flock, do your own work and poor Murray's, and finish mine! This, this is indeed the crowning blessing of my old age."
For some minutes, Mr. Hammond sobbed; and lifting his face, Mr. Murray answered:
"As I think of the coming years consecrated to Christ, passed peacefully in endeavoring to atone for the injury and suffering I have inflicted on my fellow-creatures; oh! as the picture of a calm, useful, holy future rises before me, I feel indeed that I am unworthy, most unworthy of my peace; but, thank God!
'Oh! I see the crescent promise of my spirit hath not set; Ancient founts of inspiration well through all my fancy yet.'"
It was a beautiful Sabbath morning, just one year after Edna's departure, and the church was crowded to its utmost capacity, for people had come for many miles around to witness a ceremony, the announcement of which had given rise to universal comment. As the hour approached for the ordination of St. Elmo Murray to the ministry of Jesus Christ, even the doors were filled with curious spectators; and when Mr. Hammond and St. Elmo walked down the aisle, and the old man seated himself in a chair within the altar, there was a general stir in the congregation.
The officiating minister had come from a distant city to perform a ceremony of more than usual interest; and when he stood up in the pulpit, and the organ thundered through the arches, St. Elmo bowed his head on his hand, and sat thus during the hour that ensued.
The ordination sermon was solemn and eloquent, and preached from the text in Romans:
"For when ye were the servants of sin, ye were free from righteousness. But now being made free from sin, and become servants to God, ye have your fruit unto holiness, and the end everlasting life."
Then the minister, having finished his discourse, came down before the altar and commenced the services; but Mr. Murray sat motionless, with his countenance concealed by his hand. Mr. Hammond approached and touched him, and, as he rose, led him to the altar, and presented him as a candidate for ordination.
There, before the shining marble pulpit which he had planned and built in the early years of his life, for the idol of his youth, stood St. Elmo; and the congregation, especially those of his native village, looked with involuntary admiration and pride at the erect, powerful form, clad in its suit of black—at the nobly proportioned head, where gray locks were visible.
"But if there be any of you who knoweth any impediment or crime, for the which he ought not to be received into this holy ministry, let him come forth, in the name of God, and show what the crime or impediment is."
The preacher paused, the echo of his words died away, and perfect silence reigned. Suddenly St. Elmo raised his eyes from the railing of the altar, and, turning his face slightly, looked through the eastern window at the ivy-draped vault where slept Murray and Annie. The world was silent, but conscience and the dead accused him. An expression of intolerable pain crossed his handsome features, then his hands folded themselves tightly together on the top of the marble balustrade, and he looked appealingly up to the pale Jesus staggering under his cross.
At that instant a spotless white pigeon from the belfry found its way into the church through the open doors, circled once around the building, fluttered against the window, hiding momentarily the crown of thorns, and, frightened and confused, fell upon the fluted pillar of the pulpit.
An electric thrill ran through the congregation; and as the minister resumed the services, he saw on St. Elmo's face a light, a great joy, such as human countenances rarely wear this side of the grave.
When Mr. Murray knelt and the ordaining hands were laid upon his head, a sob was heard from the pew where his mother sat, and the voice of the preacher faltered as he delivered the Bible to the kneeling man, saying:
"Take thou authority to preach the word of God, and to administer the holy sacraments in the congregation."
There were no dry eyes in the entire assembly, save two that looked out, coldly blue, from the pew where Mrs. Powell sat like a statue, between her daughter and Gordon Leigh.
Mr. Hammond tottered across the altar, and knelt down close to Mr. Murray; and many who knew the history of the pastor's family, wept as the gray head fell on the broad shoulder of St. Elmo, whose arm was thrown around the old man's form, and the ordaining minister, with tears rolling over his face, extended his hands in benediction above them.
"The peace of God, which passeth all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in the knowledge and love of God, and of His Son Jesus Christ our Lord; and the blessing of God Almighty, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, be among you, and remain with you alway."
And all hearts and lips present whispered "Amen!" and the organ and the choir broke forth in a grand "Gloria in excelsis."
Standing there at the chancel, purified, consecrated henceforth unreservedly to Christ, Mr. Murray looked so happy, so noble, so worthy of his high calling, that his proud, fond mother thought his face was fit for an archangel's wings.
Many persons who had known him in his boyhood, came up with tears in their eyes, and wrung his hand silently. At last Huldah pointed to the white pigeon, that was now beating its wings against the gilded pipes of the organ, and said, in that singularly sweet, solemn, hesitating tone, with which children approach sacred things:
"Oh, Mr. Murray! when it fell on the pulpit, it nearly took my breath away, for I almost thought it was the Holy Ghost."
Tears, which till then he had bravely kept back, dripped over his face, as he stooped and whispered to the little orphan:
"Huldah, the Holy Spirit, the Comforter, came indeed; but it was not visible, it is here in my heart."
The congregation dispersed. Mrs. Murray and the preacher and Huldah went to the carriage; and, leaning on Mr. Murray's arm, Mr. Hammond turned to follow, but observing that the church was empty, the former said:
"After a little I will come."
The old man walked on, and Mr. Murray went back and knelt, resting his head against the beautiful glittering balustrade, within which he hoped to officiate through the remaining years of his earthly career.
Once the sexton, who was waiting to lock up the church, looked in, saw the man praying alone there at the altar, and softly stole away.
When St. Elmo came out, the churchyard seemed deserted; but as he crossed it, going homeward, a woman rose from one of the tombstones and stood before him—the yellow-haired Jezebel, with sapphire eyes and soft, treacherous red lips, who had goaded him to madness and blasted the best years of his life.
At sight of her he recoiled, as if a cobra had started up in his path.
"St. Elmo, my beloved! in the name of other days stop and hear me. By the memory of our early love, I entreat you!"
She came close to him, and the alabaster face was marvelously beautiful in its expression of penitential sweetness.
"St. Elmo, can you never forgive me for the suffering I caused you in my giddy girlhood?"
She took his hand and attempted to raise it to her lips; but shaking off her touch, he stepped back, and steadily they looked in each other's eyes.
"Agnes, I forgive you. May God pardon your sins, as He has pardoned mine!"
He turned away, but she seized his coat-sleeve and threw herself before him, standing with both hands clasping his arm.
"If you mean what you say, there is happiness yet in store for us. Oh, St. Elmo! how often have I longed to come and lay my head down on your bosom, and tell you all. But you were so stern and harsh I was afraid. To-day when I saw you melted, when the look of your boyhood came dancing back to your dear eyes, I was encouraged to hope that your heart had softened also toward one, who so long possessed it. Is there hope for your poor Agnes? Hope that the blind, silly girl, who, ignorant of the value of the treasure, slighted and spurned it, may indeed be pardoned, when, as a woman realizing her folly, and sensible at last of the nobility of a nature she once failed to appreciate, she comes and says—what it is so hard for a woman to say—'Take me back to your heart, gather me up in your arms, as in the olden days, because—because I love you now; because only your love can make me happy.' St. Elmo, we are no longer young; but believe me when I tell you that at last—at last— your own Agnes loves you as she never loved any one, even in her girlhood. Once I preferred my cousin Murray to you; but think how giddy I must have been, when I could marry before a year had settled the sod on his grave? I did not love my husband, but I married him for the same reason that I would have married you then. And yet for that there is some palliation. It was to save my father from disgrace that I sacrificed myself; for money entrusted to his keeping—money belonging to his orphan ward—had been used by him in a ruinous speculation, and only prompt repayment could prevent exposure. Remember I was so young, so vain, so thoughtless then! St. Elmo, pity me! love me! take me back to your heart! God is my witness that I do love you entirely now! Dearest, say, 'Agnes, I will forgive all, and trust you and love you as in the days long past.'"
She tried to put her arms up around his neck and to rest her head on his shoulder; but he resisted and put her at arm's length from him.
Holding her there, he looked at her with a cold scorn in his eyes, and a heavy shadow darkening the brow that five minutes before had been so calm, so bright.
"Agnes, how dare you attempt to deceive me after all that has passed between us? Oh, woman! In the name of all true womanhood I could blush for you!"
She struggled to free herself, to get closer to him, but his stern grasp was relentless; and as tears poured down her cheeks, she clasped her hands and sobbed out:
"You do not believe that I really love you! Oh! do not look at me so harshly! I am not deceiving you; as I hope for pardon and rest for my soul—as I hope to see my father's face in heaven—I am not deceiving you! I do—I do love you! When I spoke to you about Gertrude, it cost me a dreadful pang; but I thought you loved her because she resembled me; and for my child's sake I crushed my own hopes—I wanted, if possible, to save her from suffering. But you only upbraided and heaped savage sarcasms upon me. Oh, St. Elmo! if you could indeed see my poor heart, you would not look so cruelly cold. You ought to know that I am terribly in earnest when I can stoop to beg for the ruins of a heart, which in its freshness I once threw away, and trampled on."
He had seen her weep before, when it suited her purpose, and he only smiled and answered: "Yes, Agnes, you ruined and trampled it in the mire of sin; but I have rebuilt it, and, by the mercy of God, I hope I have purified it. Look you, woman! when you overturned the temple, you crumbled your own image that was set up there; and I long, long ago swept out and gave to the hungry winds the despised dust of that broken idol, and over my heart you can reign no more! The only queen it has known since that awful night twenty-three years ago, when my faith, hope, charity were all strangled in an instant by the velvet hand I had kissed in my doting fondness—the only queen my heart has acknowledged since then, is one who, in her purity soars like an angel above you and me, and her dear name is—Edna Earl."
"Edna Earl!—a puritanical fanatic! Nay, a Pharisee! A cold prude, a heartless blue! A woman with some brain and no feeling, who loves nothing but her own fame, and has no sympathy with your nature. St. Elmo, are you insane! Did you not see that letter from Estelle to your mother, stating that she, Edna, would certainly be married in February to the celebrated Mr. Manning, who was then on his way to Rome to meet her? Did you see that letter?"
"And discredit it? Blindness, madness, equal to my own in the days gone by! Edna Earl exists no longer; she was married a month ago. Here, read for yourself, or you will believe that I fabricate the whole."
She held a newspaper before his eyes and he saw a paragraph, marked with a circle of ink, "Marriage in Literary Circles":
"The very reliable correspondent of the New York—writes from Rome that the Americans now in that city are on the qui vive concerning a marriage announced to take place on Thursday next at the residence of the American Minister. The very distinguished parties are Miss Edna Earl, the gifted and exceedingly popular young authoress, whose works have given her an enviable reputation, even on this side of the Atlantic, and Mr. Douglass G. Manning, the well-known and able editor of the—Magazine. The happy pair will start, immediately after the ceremony, on a tour through Greece and the Holy Land."
Mr. Murray opened the paper, glanced at the date, and his swarthy face paled as he put his hands over his eyes.
Mrs. Powell came nearer, and once more touched his hand; but, with a gesture of disgust, he pushed her aside.
"Away! Not a word—not one word more! You are not worthy to take my darling's name upon your lips! She may be Manning's wife—God forbid it!—or she may be in her grave. I have lost her, I know; but if I never see her dear angel face again in this world, it will be in consequence of my sins, and of yours; and with God's help I mean to live out the remainder of my days, so that at last I shall meet her in eternity! Leave me, Agnes! Do not make me forget the vows I have to-day taken upon myself, in the presence of the world and of my Maker. In future, keep out of my path, which will never cross yours; do not rouse the old hate toward you, which I am faithfully striving to overcome. The first time I went to the communion-table, after the lapse of all those dreary years of sin and desperation, I asked myself, 'Have I a right to the sacrament of the Lord's Supper?—can I face God and say I forgive Agnes Powell?' Finally, after a hard struggle, I said, from the depths of my heart, 'Even as I need and hope for forgiveness myself, I do fully forgive her.' Mark you, it was my injuries that I pardoned, your treachery that I forgave. But recollect there is a mournful truth in those words—THERE IS NO PARDON FOR DESECRATED IDEALS! Once, in the flush of my youth, I selected you as the beau ideal of beautiful, perfect womanhood; but you fell from that lofty pedestal where my ardent, boyish love set you for worship, and you dragged me down, down, almost beyond the pale of God's mercy! I forgive all my wrongs, but 'take you back, love you?' Ah! I can never love anyone, I never, even in my boyhood, loved you, as I love my pure darling, my own Edna! Her memory is all I have to cheer me in my lonely work. I do not believe that she is married; no, no, but she is in her grave. For many days past I have been oppressed by a horrible presentiment that she has gone to her rest in Christ—that the next steamer will bring me tidings of her death. Do not touch me, Agnes! If there be any truth in what you have to-day asserted so solemnly (though I can not believe it, for if you ridiculed and disliked me in my noble youth, how can you love the same man in the melancholy wreck of his hopes?), if there be a shadow of truth in your words, you are indeed to be pitied. Ah! you and I have learned at a terrible price the deceitfulness of riches, the hollowness of this world's pleasures; and both have writhed under the poisonous fangs that always dart from the dregs of the cup of sin, which you and I have drained. Experience must have taught you, also, what I was so long in learning—the utter hopelessness of peace for heart and soul save only through that religion, which so far subdues even my sinful, vindictive, satanic nature, that I can say to you—you who blasted all my earthly happiness—I forgive you my sufferings, and hope that God will give you that pardon and comfort which after awful conflicts I have found at last. Several times you have thrust yourself into my presence; but if there remains any womanly delicacy in your nature you will avoid me henceforth when I tell you that I loath the sight of one whose unwomanliness stabbed my trust in womanhood, and sunk me so low that I lost Edna Earl. Agnes, go yonder—where I have spent so many hours of agony—yonder to the graves of your victims as well as mine. Go down on your knees yonder, and pray for yourself, and may God help you!"
He pointed to the gray vault and the slab that covered Annie and Murray Hammond; and disengaging her fingers, which still clutched his sleeve, he turned quickly and walked away.
Her mournful eyes, strained wide and full of tears, followed him till his form was no longer visible; and sinking down on the monument—whence she had risen at his approach—she shrouded her fair, delicate features, and rocked herself to and fro.
"How lovely! Oh! I did not think there was any place half so beautiful this side of heaven!"
With his head on his mother's bosom, Felix lay near the window of an upper room, looking out over the Gulf of Genoa.
The crescent curve of the olive-mantled Apennines girdled the city in a rocky clasp, and mellowed by distance and the magic enamelling of evening light, each particular peak rose against the chrysoprase sky like a pyramid of lapis lazuli, around whose mighty base rolled soft waves of golden haze.
Over the glassy bosom of the gulf, where glided boats filled with gay, pleasure-seeking Italians, floated the merry strains of a barcarole, with the silvery echo of "Fidulin" keeping time with the silvery gleam of the dipping oars.
"And the sun went into the west, and down Upon the water stooped an orange cloud, And the pale milky reaches flushed, as glad To wear its colors; and the sultry air Went out to sea, and puffed the sails of ships With thymy wafts, the breath of trodden grass."
"Lift me up, mamma! higher, higher yet. I want to see the sun. There! it has gone—gone down into the sea. I can't bear to see it set to-day. It seemed to say good-bye to me just then. Oh, mamma, mamma! I don't want to die. The world is so beautiful, and life is so sweet up here in the sunshine and the starlight, and it is so cold and dark down there in the grave. Oh! where is Edna? Tell her to come quick and sing something to me."
The cripple shuddered and shut his eyes. He had wasted away, until he looked a mere shadow of humanity, and his governess stooped and took him from his mother's arms as if he were a baby.
"Edna, talk to me! Oh! don't let me get afraid to die. I—"
She laid her lips on his, and the touch calmed their shivering; and, after a moment, she began to repeat the apocalyptic vision of heaven:
"And there shall be no night there; and they need no candle, neither light of the sun; for the Lord God giveth them light; and they shall reign for ever and ever."
"But, Edna, the light does not shine down there in the grave. If you could go with me—"
"A better and kinder Friend will go with you, dear Felix."
She sang with strange pathos "Motet," that beautiful arrangement of "The Lord is my Shepherd."
As she reached that part where the words, "Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death," are repeated, the weak, quavering voice of the sick boy joined hers; and, when she ceased, the emaciated face was placid, the great dread had passed away for ever.
Anxious to divert his thoughts, she put into his hand a bunch of orange flowers and violets, which had been sent to her that day by Mr. Manning; and taking a book from the bed, she resumed the reading of "The Shepherd of Salisbury Plain," to which the invalid had never wearied of listening.
But she soon saw that for once he was indifferent; and, understanding the expression of the eyes that gazed out on the purple shadows shrouding the Apennines, she closed the volume, and laid the sufferer back on his pillow.
While she was standing before a table, preparing some nourishment to be given to him during the night, Mrs. Andrews came close to her and whispered:
"Do you see much change? Is he really worse, or do my fears magnify every bad symptom?"
"He is much exhausted, but I trust the stimulants will revive him. You must go to bed early, and get a good sound sleep, for you look worn out. I will wake you if I see any decided change in him."
Mrs. Andrews hung for some time over her child's pillow, caressing him, saying tender, soothing, motherly things; and, after a while, she and Hattie kissed him, and went into the adjoining room, leaving him to the care of one whom he loved better than all the world beside.
It was late at night before the sound of laughter, song and chatter died away in the streets of Genoa the magnificent. While the human tide ebbed and flowed under the windows, Felix was restless, and his companion tried to interest him by telling him the history of the Dorias, and of the siege during which Massena won such glory. Her conversation drifted away, even to Ancona, and that sad, but touching incident, which Sismondi records, of the noble, patriotic young mother, who gave to a starving soldier the milk that her half- famished babe required, and sent him, thus refreshed and strengthened, to defend the walls of her beleaguered city.
The boy's fondness for history showed itself even then, and he listened attentively to her words.
At length silence reigned through the marble palaces, and Edna rose to place the small lamp in an alabaster vase.
As she did so, something flew into her face, and fluttered to the edge of the vase, and as she attempted to brush it off, she started back, smothering a cry of horror. It was the Sphinx Atropos, the Death's Head Moth; and there, upon its breast, appallingly distinct, grinned the ghastly, gray human skull. Twice it circled rapidly round the vase, uttering strange, stridulous sounds, then floated up to the canopy overarching Felix's bed, and poised itself on the carved frame, waiting and flapping its wings, vulture-like. Shuddering from head to foot, notwithstanding the protest which reason offered against superstition, the governess sat down to watch the boy's slumber.
His eyes were closed, and she hoped that he slept; but presently he feebly put out his skeleton hand and took hers.
"Edna, mamma cannot hear me, can she?"
"She is asleep, but I will wake her if you wish it."
"No, she would only begin to cry, and that would worry me. Edna, I want you to promise me one thing—" He paused a few seconds and sighed wearily.
"When you all go back home, don't leave me here; take me with you, and lay my poor little deformed body in the ground at 'The Willows,' where the sea will sing over me. We were so happy there! I always thought I should like my grave to be under the tallest willow, where our canary's cage used to hang. Edna, I don't think you will live long—I almost hope you won't—and I want you to promise me, too, that you will tell them to bury us close together; so that the very moment I rise out of my grave, on the day of judgment, I will see your face! Sometimes, when I think of the millions and millions that will be pressing up for their trial before God's throne, on that great, awful day, I am afraid I might lose or miss you in the crowd, and never find you again; but, you know, if our coffins touch, you can stretch out your hand to me as you rise, and we can go together. Oh! I want your face to be the last I see here, and the first— yonder."
He raised his fingers slowly, and they fell back wearily on the coverlet.
"Don't talk so, Felix. Oh, my darling' God will not take you away from me. Try to sleep, shut your eyes; you need rest to compose you."
She knelt down, kissed him repeatedly, and laid her face close to his on the pillow; and he tried to turn and put his emaciated arm around her neck.
"Edna, I have been a trouble to you for a long time, but you will miss me when I am gone, and you will have nothing to love. If you live long, marry Mr. Manning, and let him take care of you. Don't work so hard, dear Edna; only rest, and let him make you happy. Before I knew you I was always wishing to die; but now I hate to leave you all alone, my own dear, pale Edna."
"Oh, Felix, darling! hush! Go to sleep. You wring my heart!"
Her sobs distressed him, and, feebly patting her cheek, he said:
"Perhaps if you will sing me something low, I may go to sleep, and I want to hear your voice once more. Sing me that song about the child and the rose-bush, that Hattie likes so much."
"Not that! anything but that! It is too sad, my precious little darling."
"But I want to hear it; please, Edna."
It was a painful task that he imposed, but his wishes ruled her; and she tried to steady her voice as she sang, in a very low, faltering tone, the beautiful, but melancholy ballad. Tears rolled over her face as she chanted the verses; and when she concluded, he repeated very faintly:
"Sweetly it rests, and on dream-wings flies, To play with the angels in paradise!"
He nestled his lips to hers, and, after a little while, murmured:
"Good-night, my darling!"
She gave him a stimulating potion, and arranged his head comfortably. Ere long his heavy breathing told her that he slept, and, stealing from his side, she sat down in a large chair near the head of his bed, and watched him.
For many months he had been failing, and they had travelled from place to place, hoping against hope that each change would certainly be beneficial.
Day and night Edna had nursed him, had devoted every thought, almost every prayer to him; and now her heart seemed centred in him. Scenery, music, painting, rare MSS., all were ignored; she lived only for that poor dependent boy, and knew not a moment of peace when separated from him. She had ceased to study aught but his comfort and happiness, had written nothing save letters to friends; and notwithstanding her anxiety concerning the cripple, the frequent change of air had surprisingly improved her own health. For six months she had escaped the attacks so much dreaded, and began to believe her restoration complete, though the long banished color obstinately refused to return to her face, which seemed unable to recover its rounded outline. Still, she was very grateful for the immunity from suffering, especially as it permitted more unremitting attendance upon Felix.
She knew that his life was flickering out gently but surely; and now, as she watched the pale, pinched features, her own quivered, and she clasped her hands and wept, and stifled a groan.
She had prayed so passionately and continually that he might be spared to her; but it seemed that whenever her heart-strings wrapped themselves around an idol, a jealous God tore them loose, and snatched away the dear object, and left the heart to bleed. If that boy died, how utterly desolate and lonely she would be; nothing left to care for and to cling to, nothing to claim as her own, and anoint with the tender love of her warm heart.
She had been so intensely interested in the expansion of his mind, had striven so tirelessly to stimulate his brain, and soften and purify his heart; she had been so proud of his rapid progress, and so ambitious for his future, and now the mildew of death was falling on her fond hopes. Ah! she had borne patiently many trials, but this appeared unendurable. She had set all her earthly happiness on a little thing—the life of a helpless cripple; and as she gazed through her tears at that shrunken, sallow face, so dear to her, it seemed hard! hard! that God denied her this one blessing. What was the praise and admiration of all the world in comparison with the loving light in that child's eyes, and the tender pressure of his lips?
The woman's ambition had long been fully satisfied, and even exacting conscience, jealously guarding its shrine, saw daily sacrifices laid thereon, and smiled approvingly upon her; but the woman's hungry heart cried out, and fought fiercely, famine-goaded, for its last vanishing morsel of human love and sympathy. Verily, these bread-riots of the heart are fearful things, and crucified consciences too often mark their track.
The little figure on the bed was so motionless that Edna crept nearer and leaned down to listen to the breathing; and her tears fell on his thick, curling hair, and upon the orange-blossoms and violets.
Standing there she threw up her clenched hands and prayed sobbingly:
"My Father! spare the boy to me! I will dedicate anew my life and his to thy work! I will make him a minister of thy word, and he shall save precious souls. Oh! do not take him away! If not for a lifetime, at least spare him a few years! Even one more year, O my God!"
She walked to the window, rested her forehead against the stone facing, and looked out; and the wonderful witchery of the solemn night wove its spell around her. Great, golden stars clustered in the clear heavens, and were reflected in the calm, blue pavement of the Mediterranean, where not a ripple shivered their shining images. A waning crescent moon swung high over the eastern crest of the Apennines, and threw a weird light along the Doria's marble palace, and down on the silver gray olives, on the glistening orange-groves, snow-powdered with fragrant bloom, and in that wan, mysterious, and most melancholy light—
"The old, miraculous mountains heaved in sight, One straining past another along the shore The way of grand, dull Odyssean ghosts, Athirst to drink the cool, blue wine of seas, And stare on voyagers."
From some lofty campanile, in a distant section of the silent city, sounded the angelus bell; and from the deep shadow of olive, vine, and myrtle that clothed the amphitheatre of hills, the convent bells caught and reechoed it.
"Nature comes sometimes, And says, 'I am ambassador for God';"
and the splendor of the Italian night spoke to Edna's soul, as the glory of the sunset had done some years before, when she sat in the dust in the pine glades at Le Bocage; and she grew calm once more, while out of the blue depths of the starlit sea came a sacred voice, that said to her aching heart:
"Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you; not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid."
The cup was not passing away; but courage to drain it was given by Him who never calls his faithful children into the gloom of Gethsemane without having first stationed close at hand some strengthening angel. The governess went back to the bed, and there, on the pillow, rested the moth, which at her approach flew away with a humming sound, and disappeared.
After another hour she saw that a change was stealing over the boy's countenance, and his pulse fluttered more feebly against her cold fingers. She sprang into the next room, shook his mother, and hastened back, trying to rouse the dying child, and give him some stimulants. But though the large, black eyes opened when she raised his head, there was no recognition in their fixed gaze; for the soul was preparing for its final flight, and was too busy to look out of its windows.
In vain they resorted to the most powerful restoratives; he remained in the heavy stupor, with no sign of animation, save the low irregular breath, and the weak flutter of the thread-like pulse.
Mrs. Andrews wept aloud and wrung her hands, and Hattie cried passionately, as she stood in her long white nightgown at the side of her brother's bed; but there were no tears on Edna's cold, gray face. She had spent them all at the foot of God's throne; and now that He had seen fit to deny her petition, she silently looked with dry eyes at the heavy rod that smote her.
The night waned, the life with it; now and then the breathing seemed to cease, but after a few seconds a faint gasp told that the clay would not yet forego its hold on the soul that struggled to be free.
The poor mother seemed almost beside herself, as she called on her child to speak to her once more.
"Sing something, Edna; oh! perhaps he will hear! It might rouse him!"
The orphan shook her head, and dropped her face on his.
"He would not hear me; no, no! He is listening to the song of those whose golden harps ring in the New Jerusalem."
Out of the whitening east rose the new day, radiant in bridal garments, wearing a star on its pearly brow; and the sky flushed, and the sea glowed, while silvery mists rolled up from the purple mountain gorges, and rested awhile on the summits of the Apennines, and sunshine streamed over the world once more.
The first rays flashed into the room, kissing the withered flowers on the bosom of the cripple, and falling warm and bright on the cold eyelids and the pulseless temples. Edna's hand was pressed to his heart, and she knew that it had given its last throb; knew that Felix Andrews had crossed the sea of glass, and in the dawn of the Eternal day wore the promised morning-star, and stood in peace before the Sun of Righteousness.
* * * * * * *
During the two days that succeeded the death of Felix, Edna did not leave her room; and without her knowledge Mrs. Andrews administered opiates that stupefied her. Late on the morning of the third she awoke, and lay for some time trying to collect her thoughts.
Her mind was clouded, but gradually it cleared, and she strained her ears to distinguish the low words spoken in the apartment next to her own. She remembered, as in a feverish dream, all that passed on the night that Felix died; and pressing her hand over her aching forehead, she rose and sat on the edge of her bed.
The monotonous sounds in the neighboring room swelled louder for a few seconds, and now she heard very distinctly the words:
"And I heard a voice from heaven, saying unto me, Write, Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord from henceforth."
She shivered, and wrapped around her shoulders a bright blue shawl that had been thrown over the foot of the bed.
Walking across the floor, she opened the door, and looked in.
The boy's body had been embalmed, and placed in a coffin which rested in the centre of the room; and an English clergyman, a friend of Mr. Manning's, stood at the head of the corpse, and read the burial service.
Mrs. Andrews and Hattie were weeping in one corner and Mr. Manning leaned against the window, with his hand on Lila's curls. As the door swung open and Edna entered, he looked up.
Her dressing gown of gray merino trailed on the marble floor, and her bare feet gleamed like ivory, as one hand caught up the soft merino folds sufficiently to enable her to walk. Over the blue shawl streamed her beautiful hair, making the wan face look even more ghastly by contrast with its glossy jet masses.
She stood irresolute, with her calm, mournful eyes riveted on the coffin, and Mr. Manning saw her pale lips move as she staggered toward it. He sprang to meet and intercept her, and she stretched her hands in the direction of the corpse, and smiled strangely, murmuring like one in a troubled dream:
"You need not be afraid, little darling, 'there is no night there.'"
She reeled and put her hand to her heart, and would have fallen, but Mr. Manning caught and carried her back to her room.
For two weeks she hovered on the borders of eternity; and often the anxious friends who watched her, felt that they would rather see her die than endure the suffering through which she was called to pass.
She bore it silently, meekly, and when the danger seemed over, and she was able to sleep without the aid of narcotics, Mrs. Andrews could not bear to look at the patient white face, so hopelessly calm.
No allusion was made to Felix, even after she was able to sit up and drive; but once, when Mr. Manning brought her some flowers, she looked sorrowfully at the snowy orange-blossoms, whose strong perfume made her turn paler, and said faintly:
"I shall never love them or violets again. Take them away, Hattie, out of my sight; put them on your brother's grave. They smell of death."
From that day she made a vigorous effort to rouse herself, and the boy's name never passed her lips; though she spent many hours over a small manuscript which she found among his books, directed to her for revision. "Tales for Little Cripples," was the title he had given it, and she was surprised at the beauty and pathos of many of the sentences. She carefully revised and rewrote it, adding a brief sketch of the young writer, and gave it to his mother.
About a month after Felix's death the governess seemed to have recovered her physical strength, and Mrs. Andrews announced her intention of going to Germany. Mr. Manning had engagements that called him to France, and, on the last day of their stay at Genoa, he came as usual to spend the evening with Edna.
A large budget of letters and papers had arrived from America; and when he gave her the package containing her share, she glanced over the directions, threw them unopened into a heap on the table, and continued the conversation in which she was engaged, concerning the architecture of the churches in Genoa.
Mrs. Andrews had gone to the vault where the body of her son had been temporarily placed, and Edna was alone with the editor.
"You ought to look into your papers; they contain very gratifying intelligence for you. Your last book has gone through ten editions, and your praises are chanted all over your native land. Surely, if ever a woman had adulation enough to render her perfectly happy and pardonably proud, you are the fortunate individual. Already your numerous readers are inquiring when you will give them another book."
She leaned her head back against her chair, and the little hands caressed each other as they rested on her knee, while her countenance was eloquent with humble gratitude for the success that God had permitted to crown her efforts; but she was silent.
"Do you intend to write a book of travels, embracing the incidents that have marked your tour? I see the public expect it."
"No, sir. It seems now a mere matter of course that all scribblers who come to Europe, should afflict the reading world with an account of what they saw or failed to see. So many noble books have been already published, thoroughly describing this continent, that I have not the temerity, the presumption to attempt to retouch the grand old word-pictures. At present, I expect to write nothing. I want to study some subjects that greatly interest me, and I shall try to inform and improve myself, and keep silent until I see some phase of truth neglected, or some new aspect of error threatening mischief in society. Indeed, I have great cause for gratitude in my literary career. At the beginning I felt apprehensive that I was destined to sit always under the left hand of fortune, whom Michael Angelo designed as a lovely woman seated on a revolving wheel, throwing crowns and laurel wreaths from her right hand, while only thorns dropped in a sharp, stinging shower from the other; but, after a time, the wheel turned, and now I feel only the soft pattering of the laurel leaves. God knows I do most earnestly appreciate His abundant blessing upon what I have thus far striven to effect; but, until I see my way clearly to some subject of importance which a woman's hand may touch, I shall not take up my pen. Books seem such holy things to me, destined to plead either for or against their creators in the final tribunal, that I dare not lightly or hastily attempt to write them; and I can not help thinking that the author who is less earnestly and solemnly impressed with the gravity, and, I may almost say, the sanctity of his or her work, is unworthy of it, and of public confidence. I dare not, even if I could, dash off articles and books as the rower shakes water-drops from his oars; and I humbly acknowledge that what success I may have achieved is owing to hard, faithful work. I have received so many kind letters from children, that some time, if I live to be wise enough, I want to write a book especially for them. I am afraid to attempt it just now; for it requires more mature judgment and experience, and greater versatility of talent to write successfully for children than for grown persons. In the latter, one is privileged to assume native intelligence and cultivation; but the tender, untutored minds of the former permit no such margin; and this fact necessitates clearness and simplicity of style, and power of illustration that seem to me very rare. As yet I am conscious of my incapacity for the mission of preparing juvenile books; but perhaps, if I study closely the characteristics of young people, I shall learn to understand them more thoroughly. So much depends on the proper training of our American youth, especially in view of the great political questions that now agitate the country, that I confess I feel some anxiety on the subject."
"But, Edna, you will not adhere to your resolution of keeping silent. The public is a merciless task-master; your own ambition will scourge you on; and having once put your hand to the literary plough, you will not be allowed to look back. Rigorously the world exacts the full quota of the author's arura."
"Yes, sir; but 'he that plougheth should plough in hope'; and when I can see clearly across the wide field, and drive the gleaming share of truth straight and steady to the end, then, and not till then, shall I render my summer-day's arura. Meantime, I am resolved to plough no crooked, shallow furrows on the hearts of our people,"
At length when Mr. Manning rose to say good-night, he looked gravely at the governess, and asked:
"Edna, can not Lila take the vacant place in your sad heart?"
"It is not vacant, sir. Dear memories walk to and fro therein, weaving garlands of immortelles—singing sweet tunes of days and years—that can never die. Hereafter I shall endeavor to entertain the precious guests I have already, and admit no more. The past is the realm of my heart; the present and future the kingdom where my mind must dwell, and my hands labor."
With a sigh he went away, and she took up the letters and began to read them. Many were from strangers, and they greatly cheered and encouraged her; but finally she opened one, whose superscription had until this instant escaped her cursory glance. It was from Mr. Hammond, and contained an account of Mr. Murray's ordination. She read and re-read it, with a half-bewildered expression in her countenance, for the joy seemed far too great for credence. She looked again at the date and signature, and passing her hand over her brow, wondered if there could be any mistake. The paper fell into her lap, and a cry of delight rang through the room.
"Saved—purified—consecrated henceforth to God's holy work? A minister of Christ? O most merciful God! I thank Thee! My prayers are answered with a blessing I never dared to hope for, or even to dream of! Can I ever, ever be grateful enough? A pastor, holding up pure hands! Thank God! my sorrows are all ended now; there is no more grief for me. Ah! what a glory breaks upon the future! What though I never see his face in this world? I can be patient indeed; for now I know, oh! I know that I shall surely see it yonder!"
She sank on her knees at the open window, and wept for the first time since Felix died. Happy, happy tears mingled with broken words of rejoicing, that seemed a foretaste of heaven.
Her heart was so full of gratitude and exultation that she could not sleep, and she sat down and looked over the sea while her face was radiant and tremulous. The transition from patient hopelessness and silent struggling—this most unexpected and glorious fruition of the prayers of many years—was so sudden and intoxicating, that it completely unnerved her.
She could not bear this great happiness as she had borne her sorrows, and now and then she smiled to find tears gushing afresh from her beaming eyes.
Once, in an hour of sinful madness, Mr. Murray had taken a human life, and ultimately caused the loss of another; but the waves that were running high beyond the mole told her in thunder-tones that he had saved, had snatched two lives from their devouring rage. And the shining stars overhead grouped themselves into characters that said to her, "Judge not, that ye be not judged"; and the ancient mountains whispered, "Stand still, and see the salvation of God!" and the grateful soul of the lonely woman answered:
"That all the jarring notes of life Seem blending in a psalm, And all the angels of its strife Slow rounding into calm."
Immediately after her return to New York, Edna resumed her studies with renewed energy, and found her physical strength recruited and her mind invigorated by repose. Her fondness for Hattie induced her to remain with Mrs. Andrews in the capacity of governess, though her position in the family had long ceased to resemble in any respect that of a hireling. Three hours of each day were devoted to the education of the little girl, who, though vastly inferior in mental endowments to her brother, was an engaging and exceedingly affectionate child, fully worthy of the love which her gifted governess lavished upon her. The remainder of her time Edna divided between study, music, and an extensive correspondence, which daily increased.
She visited little, having no leisure and less inclination to fritter away her morning in gossip and chit-chat; but she set apart one evening in each week for the reception of her numerous kind friends, and of all strangers who desired to call upon her. These reunions were brilliant and delightful, and it was considered a privilege to be present at gatherings where eminent men and graceful, refined, cultivated Christian women assembled to discuss ethical and aesthetic topics, which all educated Americans are deemed capable of comprehending.
Edna's abhorrence of double entendre and of the fashionable sans souci style of conversation, which was tolerated by many who really disliked but had not nerve enough to frown it down, was not a secret to any one who read her writings or attended her receptions. Without obtruding her rigid views of true womanly delicacy and decorum upon any one, her deportment under all circumstances silently published her opinion of certain latitudinarian expressions prevalent in society.
She saw that the growing tendency to free and easy manners and colloquial license was rapidly destroying all reverence for womanhood; was levelling the distinction between ladies' parlors and gentlemen's clubrooms; was placing the sexes on a platform of equality which was dangerous to feminine delicacy, that God-built bulwark of feminine purity and of national morality.
That time-honored maxim, "Honi soit qui mal y pense," she found had been distorted from its original and noble significance, and was now a mere convenient India-rubber cloak, stretched at will to cover and excuse allusions which no really modest woman could tolerate. Consequently, when she heard it flippantly pronounced in palliation of some gross offense against delicacy, she looked more searchingly into the characters of the indiscreet talkers, and quietly intimated to them that their presence was not desired at her receptions. Believing that modesty and purity were twin sisters, and that vulgarity and vice were rarely if ever divorced, Edna sternly refused to associate with those whose laxity of manners indexed, in her estimation, a corresponding laxity of morals. Married belles and married beaux she shunned and detested, regarding them as a disgrace to their families, as a blot upon all noble womanhood and manhood, and as the most dangerous foes to the morality of the community, in which they unblushingly violated hearthstone statutes and the venerable maxims of social decorum.
The ostracized banded in wrath, and ridiculed her antiquated prudery; but knowing that the pure and noble mothers, wives, and daughters, honored and trusted her, Edna gave no heed to raillery and envious malice, but resolutely obeyed the promptings of her womanly intuitions.
Painful experience had taught her the imprudence, the short-sighted policy of working until very late at night; and in order to take due care of her health, she wisely resorted to a different system of study, which gave her more sleep, and allowed her some hours of daylight for her literary labors.
In the industrial pursuits of her own sex she was intensely interested, and spared no trouble in acquainting herself with the statistics of those branches of employment already open to them; consequently she was never so happy as when the recipient of letters from the poor women of the land, who thanked her for the words of hope, advice, and encouragement which she constantly addressed to them.
While the world honored her, she had the precious assurance that her Christian countrymen loved and trusted her. She felt the painful need of Mr. Manning's society, and even his frequent letters did not fully satisfy her; but as he had resolved to remain in Europe, at least for some years, she bore the irreparable loss of his counsel and sympathy, as she bore all other privations, bravely and quietly.
Now and then alarming symptoms of the old suffering warned her of the uncertainty of her life; and after much deliberation, feeling that her time was limited, she commenced another book.
Mr. Hammond wrote begging her to come to him, as he was now hopelessly infirm and confined to his room; but she shrank from a return to the village so intimately associated with events which she wished if possible to forget; and, though she declined the invitation, she proved her affection for her venerable teacher, by sending him every day a long, cheerful letter.
Since her departure from the parsonage, Mrs. Murray had never written to her; but through Mr. Hammond's and Huldah's letters, Edna learned that Mr. Murray was the officiating minister in the church which he had built in his boyhood; and now and then the old pastor painted pictures of life at Le Bocage, that brought happy tears to the orphan's eyes. She heard from time to time of the good the new minister was accomplishing among the poor; of the beneficial influence he exerted, especially over the young men of the community; of the charitable institutions to which he was devoting a large portion of his fortune; of the love and respect, the golden opinions he was winning from those whom he had formerly estranged by his sarcastic bitterness.
While Edna fervently thanked God for this most wonderful change, she sometimes repeated exultingly:
"Man-like is it to fall into sin, Fiend-like is it to dwell therein, Christ-like is it for sin to grieve, God-like is it all sin to leave!"
One darling rose-hued dream of her life was to establish a free- school and circulating library in the village of Chattanooga; and keeping this hope ever in view, she had denied herself all superfluous luxuries, and jealously hoarded her savings.
She felt now that, should she become an invalid, and incapable of writing or teaching, the money made by her books, which Mr. Andrews had invested very judiciously, would at least supply her with the necessities of life.
One evening she held her weekly reception as usual, though she had complained of not feeling quite well that day.
A number of carriages stood before Mrs. Andrews's door and many friends who laughed and talked to the governess little dreamed that it was the last time they would spend an evening together in her society. The pleasant hours passed swiftly; Edna had never conversed more brilliantly, and the auditors thought her voice was richer and sweeter than ever, as she sang the last song and rose from the piano.
The guests took their departure—the carriages rolled away.
Mrs. Andrews ran up to her room, and Edna paused in the brilliantly lighted parlors to read a note, which had been handed to her during the evening.
Standing under the blazing chandelier, the face and figure of this woman could not fail to excite interest in all who gazed upon her.
She was dressed in plain black silk, which exactly fitted her form, and in her hair glowed clusters of scarlet geranium flowers. A spray of red fuchsia was fastened by the beautiful stone cameo that confined her lace collar; and, save the handsome gold bands on her wrists, she wore no other ornaments.
Felix had given her these bracelets as a Christmas present, and after his death she never took them off; for inside he had his name and hers engraved, and between them the word "Mizpah."
To-night the governess was very weary, and the fair sweet face wore its old childish expression of mingled hopelessness, and perfect patience, and indescribable repose. As she read, the tired look passed away, and over her pallid features, so daintily sculptured, stole a faint glow, such as an ivory Niobe might borrow from the fluttering crimson folds of silken shroudings. The peaceful lips stirred also and the low tone was full of pathos as she said:
"How very grateful I ought to be. How much I have to make me happy, to encourage me to work diligently and faithfully. How comforting it is to feel that parents have sufficient confidence in me to be willing to commit their children to my care. What more can I wish? My cup is brimmed with blessings. Ah! why am I not entirely happy?"
The note contained the signature of six wealthy gentlemen, who requested her acceptance of a tasteful and handsome house, on condition that she would consent to undertake the education of their daughters, and permit them to pay her a liberal salary.
It was a flattering tribute to the clearness of her intellect, the soundness of her judgment, the extent of her acquirements, and the purity of her heart.
While she could not accede to the proposition, she appreciated most gratefully the generosity and good opinion of those who made it.
Twisting the note between her fingers, her eyes fell on the carpet, and she thought of all her past; of the sorrows, struggles, and heart-aches, the sleepless nights and weary, joyless days—first of adverse, then of favorable criticism; of toiling, hoping, dreading, praying; and now, in the peaceful zenith of her triumph, popularity, and usefulness, she realized
"That care and trial seem at last, Through Memory's sunset air, Like mountain ranges overpast, In purple distance fair."
The note fluttered to the floor, the hands folded themselves together, and she raised her eyes to utter an humble, fervent "Thank God!" But the words froze on her lips; for as she looked up, she saw Mr. Murray standing a few feet from her.
"God has pardoned all my sins, and accepted me as a laborer worthy to enter His vineyard. Is Edna Earl more righteous than the Lord she worships?"
His face was almost as pale as hers, and his voice trembled as he extended his arms toward her.
She stood motionless, looking up at him with eyes that brightened until their joyful radiance seemed indeed unearthly; and the faint, delicate blush on her cheeks deepened and burned, as with a quivering cry of gladness that told volumes, she hid her face in her hands.
He came nearer, and the sound of his low, mellow voice thrilled her heart as no other music had ever done.
"Edna, have you a right to refuse me forgiveness, when the blood of Christ has purified me from the guilt of other years?"
She trembled and said brokenly:
"Mr. Murray—you never wronged me—and I have nothing to forgive."
"Do you still believe me an unprincipled hypocrite?"
"Oh! no, no, no!"
"Do you believe that my repentance has been sincere, and acceptable to my insulted God? Do you believe that I am now as faithfully endeavoring to serve Him, as a remorseful man possibly can?"
"I hope so, Mr. Murray."
"Edna, can you trust me now?"
Some seconds elapsed before she answered, and then the words were scarcely audible.
"I trust you."
There was a brief pause, and she heard a heavily-drawn sigh escape him.
"Edna, it is useless to tell you how devotedly I love you, for you have known that for years; and yet you have shown my love no mercy. But perhaps if you could realize how much I need your help in my holy work, how much more good I could accomplish in the world if you were with me, you might listen, without steeling yourself against me, as you have so long done. Can you, will you trust me fully? Can you be a minister's wife, and aid him as only you can? Oh, my darling, my darling! I never expect to be worthy of you! But you can make me less unworthy! My own darling, come to me."
He stood within two feet of her, but he was—too humble? Nay, nay, too proud to touch her without permission.
Her hands fell from her crimson cheeks, and she looked up at the countenance of her king.
In her fond eyes he seemed noble and sanctified, and worthy of all confidence; and as he opened his arms once more, she glided into them and laid her head on his shoulder, whispering:
"Oh! I trust you! I trust you fully!"
Standing in the close, tender clasp of his strong arms, she listened to a narration of his grief and loneliness, his hopes and fears, his desolation and struggles and prayers during their long separation. Then for the first time she learned that he had come more than once to New York, solely to see her, having exacted a promise from Mr. Manning that he would not betray his presence in the city. He had followed her at a distance as she wandered with the children through the Park; and, once in the ramble, stood so close to her that he put out his hand and touched her dress. Mr. Manning had acquainted him with all that had ever passed between them on the subject of his unsuccessful suit; and during her sojourn in Europe, had kept him regularly advised of the state of her health.
At last, when Mr. Murray bent his head to press his lips again to hers, he exclaimed in the old, pleading tone that had haunted her memory for years:
"Edna, with all your meekness you are wilfully proud. You tell me you trust me, and you nestle your dear head here on my shoulder—why won't you say what you know so well I am longing, hungering to hear? Why won't you say, 'St. Elmo, I love you'?"
The glowing face was only pressed closer.
"My little darling!"
"Oh, Mr. Murray! could I be here."
"Well, my stately Miss Earl! I am waiting most respectfully to allow you an opportunity of expressing yourself."
He laughed as she had heard him once before, when he took her in his arms and dared her to look into his eyes.
"When I heard your books extolled; when I heard your praises from men, women, and children; when I could scarcely pick up a paper without finding some mention of your name; when I came here to- night, and paced the pavement, waiting for your admirers to leave the house; whenever and wherever I have heard your dear name uttered, I have been exultingly proud! For I knew that the heart of the people's pet was mine! I gloried in the consciousness which alone strengthened and comforted me, that, despite all that the public could offer you, despite the adulation of other men, and despite my utter unworthiness, my own darling was true to me! that you never loved any one but S. Elmo Murray! And as God reigns above us, His happy world holds no man so grateful, so happy, so proud as I am! No man so resolved to prove himself worthy of his treasure! Edna, looking back across the dark years that have gone so heavily over my head, and comparing you, my pure, precious darling, with that woman, whom in my boyhood I selected for my life-companion, I know not whether I am most humble, or grateful, or proud!
'Ah I who am I, that God hath saved Me from the doom I did desire, And crossed the lot myself had craved To set me higher? What have I done that he should bow From heaven to choose a wife for me? And what deserved, he should endow My home with THEE?'"
* * * * * * *
As Mr. Hammond was not able to take the fatiguing journey North, and Edna would not permit any one else to perform her marriage ceremony, she sent Mr. Murray home without her, promising to come to the parsonage as early as possible.
Mr. and Mrs. Andrews were deeply pained by the intelligence of her approaching departure, and finally consented to accompany her on her journey.
The last day of the orphan's sojourn in New York was spent at the quiet spot where Felix slept his last sleep; and it caused her keen grief to bid good-bye to his resting-place, which was almost as dear to her as the grave of her grandfather. Their affection had been so warm, so sacred, that she clung fondly to his memory; and it was not until she reached the old village depot, where carriages were waiting for the party, that the shadow of that day entirely left her countenance.
In accordance with her own request, Edna did not see Mr. Murray again until the hour appointed for their marriage.
It was a bright, beautiful afternoon, warm with sunshine, when she permitted Mrs. Murray to lead her into the study where the party had assembled. Mr. and Mrs. Andrews, Hattie, Huldah, and the white- haired pastor, were all there, and when Edna entered, Mr. Murray advanced to meet her, and received her hand from his mother.
The orphan's eyes were bent to the floor, and never once lifted, even when the trembling voice of her beloved pastor pronounced her St. Elmo Murray's wife. The intense pallor of her face frightened Mrs. Andrews, who watched her with suspended breath, and once moved eagerly toward her. Mr. Murray felt her lean more heavily against him during the ceremony; and, now turning to take her in his arms, he saw that her eyelashes had fallen on her cheeks—she had lost all consciousness of what was passing.
Two hours elapsed before she recovered fully from the attack; and when the blood showed itself again in lips that were kissed so repeatedly, Mr. Murray lifted her from the sofa in the study, and passing his arm around her, said:
"To-day I snap the fetters of your literary bondage. There shall be no more books written! No more study, no more toil, no more anxiety, no more heartaches! And that dear public you love so well, must even help itself, and whistle for a new pet. You belong solely to me now, and I shall take care of the life you have nearly destroyed in your inordinate ambition. Come, the fresh air will revive you."
They stood a moment under the honeysuckle arch over the parsonage gate, where the carriage was waiting to take them to Le Bocage, and Mr. Murray asked:
"Are you strong enough to go to the church?"
"Yes, sir; the pain has all passed away. I am perfectly well again."
They crossed the street, and he took her in his arms and carried her up the steps, and into the grand, solemn church, where the soft, holy, violet light from the richly-tinted glass streamed over gilded organ-pipes and sculptured columns.
Neither Edna nor St. Elmo spoke as they walked down the aisle; and in perfect silence both knelt before the shining altar, and only God heard their prayers of gratitude.
After some moments Mr. Murray put out his hand, took Edna's, and holding it in his on the balustrade, he prayed aloud, asking God's blessing on their marriage, and fervently dedicating all their future to His work.
The hectic flush of the dying day was reflected on the window high above the altar, and, burning through the red mantle of the Christ, fell down upon the marble shrine like sacred, sacrificial fire.
Edna felt as if her heart could not hold all its measureless joy. It seemed a delightful dream to see Mr. Murray kneeling at her side; to hear his voice earnestly consecrating their lives to the service of Jesus Christ.
She knew from the tremor in his tone, and the tears in his eyes, that his dedication was complete; and now to be his companion through all the remaining years of their earthly pilgrimage, to be allowed to help him and love him, to walk heavenward with her hand in his; this—this was the crowning glory and richest blessing of her life.
When his prayer ended, she laid her head down on the altar-railing, and sobbed like a child.
In the orange glow of a wintry sunset they came out and sat down on the steps, while a pair of spotless white pigeons perched on the blood-stain; and Mr. Murray put his arm around Edna, and drew her face to his bosom.
"Darling, do you remember that once, in the dark days of my reckless sinfulness, I asked you one night, in the library at Le Bocage, if you had no faith in me? And you repeated so vehemently, 'None, Mr. Murray!'"
"Oh, sir! do not think of it. Why recur to what is so painful and so long past? Forgive those words and forget them! Never was more implicit faith, more devoted affection, given to any human being than I give now to you, Mr. Murray; you, who are my first and my last and my only love."
She felt his arm tighten around her waist, as he bowed his face to hers.
"Forgive? Ah, my darling! do you recollect also that I told you then that the time would come when your dear lips would ask pardon for what they uttered that night, and that when that hour arrived I would take my revenge? My wife! my pure, noble, beautiful wife! give me my revenge, for I cry with the long-banished Roman:
'Oh! a kiss—long as my exile Sweet as my revenge!'"
He put his hand under her chin, drew the lips to his, and kissed them repeatedly.
Down among the graves, in the brown grass and withered leaves, behind a tall shaft, around which coiled a carved marble serpent with hooded head-there, amid the dead, crouched a woman's figure, with a stony face and blue chatoyant eyes, that glared with murderous hate at the sweet countenance of the happy bride. When St. Elmo tenderly kissed the pure lips of his wife, Agnes Powell smothered a savage cry, and Nemesis was satisfied as the wretched woman fell forward on the grass, sweeping her yellow hair over her eyes, to shut out the vision that maddened her.
Then and there, for the first time, as she sat enfolded by her husband's arm, Edna felt that she could thank him for the monument erected over her grandfather's grave.
The light faded slowly in the west, the pigeons ceased their fluttering about the belfry, and as he turned to quit the church, so dear to both, Mr. Murray stretched his hand toward the ivy-clad vault, and said solemnly:
"I throw all mournful years behind me; and, by the grace of God, our new lives, commencing this hallowed day, shall make noble amends for the wasted past. Loving each other, aiding each other, serving Christ, through whose atonement alone I have been saved from eternal ruin. To Thy merciful guidance, O Father! we commit our future."
Edna looked reverently up at his beaming countenance, whence the shadows of hate and scorn had long since passed; and, as his splendid eyes came back to hers, reading in her beautiful, pure face all her love and confidence and happy hope, he drew her closer to his bosom, and laid his dark cheek on hers, saying fondly and proudly:
"My wife, my life. Oh! we will walk this world, Yoked in all exercise of noble end, And so through those dark gates across the wild That no man knows. My hopes and thine are one; Accomplish thou my manhood, and thyself, Lay thy sweet hands in mine and trust to me."