"Did not I see you walking this afternoon without your crutches?"
"Yes, ma'am, I was trying to see if I could not do without them entirely."
"Did the experiment cause you any pain?"
"No pain exactly, but I find my ankle still weak."
"Be careful not to overstrain it; by degrees it will strengthen if you use it moderately. By the by, you are now well enough to come to the table; and from breakfast to-morrow you will take your meals with us in the dining-room."
A shiver of apprehension seized Edna, and in a frightened tone she ejaculated:
"I say, in future you will eat at the table instead of here in this room."
"If you please, Mrs. Murray, I would rather stay here."
"Pray, what possible objection can you have to the dining-room?"
Edna averted her head, but wrung her fingers nervously.
Mrs. Murray frowned, and continued gravely:
"Don't be silly, Edna. It is proper that you should go to the table, and learn to eat with a fork instead of a knife. You need not be ashamed to meet people; there is nothing clownish about you unless you affect it. Good-night; I shall see you at breakfast; the bell rings at eight o'clock."
There was no escape, and she awoke next morning oppressed with the thought of the ordeal that awaited her. She dressed herself even more carefully than usual, despite the trembling of her hands; and when the ringing of the little silver bell summoned her to the dining-room, her heart seemed to stand still. But though exceedingly sensitive and shy, Edna was brave, and even self-possessed, and she promptly advanced to meet the trial.
Entering the room, she saw that her benefactress had not yet come in, but was approaching the house with a basket of flowers in her hand; and one swift glance around discovered Mr. Murray standing at the window. Unobserved, she scanned the tall, powerful figure clad in a suit of white linen, and saw that he wore no beard save the heavy but closely-trimmed moustache, which now, in some degree, concealed the harshness about the handsome mouth. Only his profile was turned toward her, and she noticed that, while his forehead was singularly white, his cheeks and chin were thoroughly bronzed from exposure.
As Mrs. Murray came in, she nodded to her young protegee, and approached the table, saying:
"Good morning! It seems I am the laggard to-day, but Nicholas had mislaid the flower shears, and detained me. Hereafter I shall turn over this work of dressing vases to you, child. My son, this is your birthday, and here is your button-hole souvenir."
She fastened a few sprigs of white jasmine in his linen coat, and, as he thanked her briefly, and turned to the table, she said, with marked emphasis:
"St. Elmo, let me introduce you to Edna Earl."
He looked around, and fixed his keen eyes on the orphan, whose cheeks crimsoned as she looked down and said, quite distinctly:
"Good morning, Mr. Murray."
"Good morning, Miss Earl."
"No, I protest! 'Miss Earl,' indeed! Call the child Edna."
"As you please, mother, provided you do not let the coffee and chocolate get cold while you decide the momentous question."
Neither spoke again for some time, and in the embarrassing silence Edna kept her eyes on the china, wondering if all their breakfasts would be like this. At last Mr. Murray pushed away his large coffee- cup, and said abruptly:
"After all, it is only one year to-day since I came back to America, though it seems much longer. It will soon be time to prepare for my trip to the South Sea Islands. The stagnation here is intolerable."
An expression of painful surprise flitted across the mother's countenance, but she answered quickly:
"It has been an exceedingly short, happy year to me. You are such a confirmed absentee, that when you are at home, time slips by unnoticed."
"But few and far between as my visits are, they certainly never approach the angelic. 'Welcome the coming, speed the parting guest,' must frequently recur to you."
Before his mother could reply he rose, ordered his horse, and as he drew on his gloves, and left the room, looked over his shoulder, saying indifferently, "That box of pictures from Munich is at the warehouse; I directed Henry to go after it this morning. I will open it when I come home."
A moment after he passed the window on horseback, and with a heavy sigh Mrs. Murray dropped her head on her hand, compressing her lips, and toying abstractedly with the sugar-tongs.
Edna watched the grave, troubled countenance for some seconds, and then putting her hand on the flower-basket, she asked softly:
"Shall I dress the flower-pots?"
"Yes, child, in four rooms; this, the parlors, and the library. Always cut the flowers very early, while the dew is on them."
Her eyes went back to the sugar-tongs, and Edna joyfully escaped from a room whose restraints and associations were irksome.
Impressed by Hagar's vehement adjuration to keep out of Mr. Murray's path, she avoided those portions of the house to which he seemed most partial, and thus although they continued to meet at meals, no words passed between them, after that brief salutation on the morning of presentation. Very often she was painfully conscious that his searching eyes scrutinized her; but though the blood mounted instantly to her cheeks at such times, she never looked up—dreading his gaze as she would that of a basilisk. One sultry afternoon she went into the park, and threw herself down on the long grass, under a clump of cedars, near which the deer and bison were quietly browsing, while the large white merinoes huddled in the shade and blinked at the sun. Opening a pictorial history of England, which she had selected from the library, she spread it on the grass, and leaning her face in her palms, rested her elbows on the ground, and began to read. Now and then she paused as she turned a leaf, to look around at the beautiful animals, each one of which might have served as a model for Landseer or Rosa Bonheur. Gradually the languor of the atmosphere stole into her busy brain; as the sun crept down the sky, her eyelids sunk with it, and very soon she was fast asleep, with her head on the book, and her cheeks flushed almost to a vermilion hue. From that brief summer dream she was aroused by some sudden noise, and starting up, she saw the sheep bounding far away, while a large, gaunt, wolfish, grey dog snuffed at her hands and face.
Once before she had seen him chained near the stables, and Hagar told her he was "very dangerous," and was never loosed except at night; consequently, the expression of his fierce, red eyes, as he stood over her, was well calculated to alarm her; but at that instant Mr. Murray's voice thundered:
"Keep still! don't move! or you will be torn to pieces!" Then followed some rapid interjections and vehement words in the same unintelligible dialect which had so puzzled her once before, when her grandfather could not control the horse he was attempting to shoe. The dog was sullen and unmanageable, keeping his black muzzle close to her face, and she grew pale with terror as she noticed that his shaggy breast and snarling jaws were dripping with blood.
Leaping from his horse, Mr. Murray strode up, and with a quick movement seized the heavy brass collar of the savage creature, hurled him back on his haunches, and held him thus, giving vent the while to a volley of oaths.
Pointing to a large, half-decayed elm branch, lying at a little distance, he tightened his grasp on the collar, and said to the still trembling girl:
"Bring me that stick, yonder."
Edna complied, and there ensued a scene of cursing, thrashing, and howling, that absolutely sickened her. The dog writhed, leaped, whined, and snarled; but the iron hold was not relaxed, and the face of the master rivaled in rage that of the brute, which seemed as ferocious as the hounds of Gian Maria Visconti, fed with human flesh, by Squarcia Giramo. Distressed by the severity and duration of the punishment, and without pausing to reflect, or to remember Hagar's warning, Edna interposed:
"Oh! please don't whip him any more! It is cruel to beat him so!"
Probably he did not hear her, and the blows fell thicker than before. She drew near, and, as the merciless arm was raised to strike, she seized it with both hands, and swung on with her whole weight, repeating her words. If one of his meek, frightened sheep had sprung at his throat to throttle him, Mr. Murray would not have been more astounded. He shook her off, threw her from him, but she carried the stick in her grasp. "D—n you! how dare you interfere! What is it to you if I cut his throat, which I mean to do!"
"That will be cruel and sinful, for he does not know it is wrong; and besides, he did not bite me."
She spoke resolutely, and for the first time ventured to look straight into his flashing eyes.
"Did not bite you! Did not he worry down and mangle one of my finest Southdowns? It would serve you right for your impertinent meddling, if I let him tear you limb from limb!"
"He knows no better," she answered, firmly.
"Then, by G-d, I will teach him! Hand me that stick!"
"Oh! please, Mr. Murray! You have nearly put out one of his eyes already!"
"Give me the stick, I tell you, or I—"
He did not finish the threat, but held out his hand with a peremptory gesture.
Edna gave one swift glance around, saw that there were no other branches within reach, saw too that the dog's face was swelling and bleeding from its bruises, and, bending the stick across her knee, she snapped it into three pieces, which she threw as far as her strength would permit. There was a brief pause, broken only by the piteous howling of the suffering creature, and, as she began to realize what she had done, Edna's face reddened, and she put her hands over her eyes to shut out the vision of the enraged man, who was absolutely dumb with indignant astonishment. Presently a sneering laugh caused her to look through her fingers, and she saw "Ali," the dog, now released, fawning and whining at his master's feet.
"Aha! The way of all natures, human as well as brute. Pet and fondle and pamper them, they turn under your caressing hand and bite you; but bruise and trample them, and instantly they are on their knees licking the feet that kicked them. Begone! you bloodthirsty devil! I'll settle the account at the kennel. Buffon is a fool, and Pennant was right after all. The blood of the jackal pricks up your ears."
He spurned the crouching culprit, and as it slunk away in the direction of the house, Edna found herself alone, face to face with the object of her aversion, and she almost wished that the earth would open and swallow her. Mr. Murray came close to her, held her hands down with one of his, and placing the other under her chin, forced her to look at him.
"How dare you defy and disobey me?"
"I did not defy you, sir, but I could not help you to do what was wrong and cruel."
"I am the judge of my actions, and neither ask your help nor intend to permit your interference with what does not concern you."
"God is the judge of mine, sir, and if I had obeyed you, I should have been guilty of all you wished to do with that stick. I don't want to interfere, sir. I try to keep out of your way, and I am very sorry I happened to come here this evening. I did not dream of meeting you; I thought you had gone to town."
He read all her aversion in her eyes, which strove to avoid his, and smiling gently, he continued: "You evidently think that I am the very devil himself, walking the earth like a roaring lion. Mind your own affairs hereafter, and when I give you a positive order, obey it, for I am master here, and my word is law. Meddling or disobedience I neither tolerate nor forgive. Do you understand me?"
"I shall not meddle, sir."
"That means that you will not obey me unless you think proper?"
She was silent, and her beautiful soft eyes filled with tears.
"I have nothing to say that you would like to hear."
"What? Out with it!"
"You would have a right to think me impertinent if I said any more."
"No, I swear I will not devour you, say what you may."
She shook her head, and the motion brought two tears down on her cheeks.
"Oh, you are one of the stubborn sweet saints, whose lips even Torquemada's red-hot steel fingers could not open. Child, do you hate or dread me most? Answer that question."
He took his own handkerchief and wiped away the tears.
"I am sorry for you, sir," she said in a low voice.
He threw his head back and laughed heartily.
"Sorry for me! For me! Me? The owner of as many thousands as there are hairs on your head! Keep your pity for your poverty-stricken vagrant self! Why the deuce are you sorry for me?"
She withdrew her hands, which he seemed to hold unconsciously, and answered:
"Because, with all your money, you never will be happy."
"And what the d—l do I care for happiness? I am not such a fool as to expect it; and yet after all, 'Out of the mouths of babes and sucklings.' Pshaw! I am a fool nevertheless to waste words on you. Stop! What do you think of my park, and the animals? I notice you often come here."
"The first time I saw it I thought of Noah and the ark, with two of every living thing; but an hour ago it seemed to me more like the garden of Eden, where the animals all lay down together in peace, before sin came into it."
"And Ali and I entered, like Satan, and completed the vision? Thank you, considering the fact that you are on my premises, and know something of my angelic, sanctified temper, I must say you indulge in bold flights of imagery."
"I did not say that, sir."
"You thought it nevertheless. Don't be hypocritical! Is not that what you thought of?"
She made no reply, and anxious to terminate an interview painfully embarrassing to her, stepped forward to pick up the history which lay on the grass.
"What book is that?"
She handed it to him, and the leaves happened to open at a picture representing the murder of Becket. A scowl blackened his face as he glanced at it, and turned away, muttering:
"Malice prepense! or the devil!"
At a little distance, leisurely cropping the long grass, stood his favorite horse, whose arched forehead and peculiar mouse-color proclaimed his unmistakable descent from the swift hordes that scour the Kirghise steppes, and sanctioned the whim which induced his master to call him "Tamerlane." As Mr. Murray approached his horse, Edna walked away toward the house, fearing that he might overtake her; but no sound of hoofs reached her ears, and looking back as she crossed the avenue and entered the flower-garden, she saw horse and rider standing where she left them, and wondered why Mr. Murray was so still, with one arm on the neck of his Tartar pet, and his own head bent down on his hand.
In reflecting upon what had occurred, she felt her repugnance increase, and began to think that they could not live in the same house without continual conflicts, which would force her to abandon the numerous advantages now within her grasp. The only ray of hope darted through her mind when she recalled his allusion to a contemplated visit to the South Sea Islands, and the possibility of his long absence. Insensibly her dislike of the owner extended to everything he handled, and much as she had enjoyed the perusal of Dante, she determined to lose no time in restoring the lost volume, which she felt well assured his keen eyes would recognize the first time she inadvertently left it in the library or the greenhouse. The doubt of her honesty, which he had expressed to his mother, rankled in the orphan's memory, and for some days she had been nerving herself to anticipate a discovery of the book by voluntarily restoring it. The rencontre in the park by no means diminished her dread of addressing him on this subject; but she resolved that the rendition of Caesar's things to Caesar should take place that evening before she slept.
The narrow, vaulted passage leading to Mr. Murray's suit of rooms was dim and gloomy when Edna approached the partly opened door of the rotunda, whence issued a stream of light. Timidly she crossed the threshold and stood within on the checkered floor, whose polished tiles glistened under the glare of gas from bronze brackets representing Telamones, that stood at regular intervals around the apartment. The walls were painted in Saracenic style, and here and there hung specimens of Oriental armor—Turcoman cimeters, Damascus swords, Bedouin lances, and a crimson silk flag, with heavy gold fringe, surmounted by a crescent. The cornice of the lofty arched ceiling was elaborately arabesque, and as Edna looked up she saw through the glass roof the flickering of stars in the summer sky. In the centre of the room, immediately under the dome, stretched a billiard-table, and near it was a circular one of black marble, inlaid with red onyx and lapis lazuli, which formed a miniature zodiac similar to that at Denderah, while in the middle of this table sat a small Murano hour-glass, filled with sand from the dreary valley of El Ghor. A huge plaster Trimurti stood close to the wall, on a triangular pedestal of black rock, and the Siva-face and the writhing cobra confronted all who entered. Just opposite grinned a red granite slab with a quaint basso-relievo taken from the ruins of Elora. Near the door were two silken divans, and a richly carved urn, three feet high, which had once ornamented the facade of a tomb in the royal days of Petra, ere the curse fell on Edom, now stood an in memoriam of the original Necropolis. For what purpose this room was designed or used Edna could not imagine, and after a hasty survey of its singular furniture, she crossed the rotunda, and knocked at the door that stood slightly ajar. All was silent; but the smell of a cigar told her that the owner was within, and she knocked once more.
"I don't wish to come in; I only want to hand you something."
"Oh! the deuce you don't! But I never meet people even half-way, so come in you must, if you have anything to say to me. I have neither blue blazes nor pitchforks about me, and you will be safe inside. I give you my word there are no small devils shut up here, to fly away with whomsoever peeps in! Either enter, I say, or be off."
The temptation was powerful to accept the alternative; but as he had evidently recognized her voice, she pushed open the door and reluctantly entered. It was a long room, and at the end were two beautiful fluted white marble pillars, supporting a handsome arch, where hung heavy curtains of crimson Persian silk, that were now partly looped back, showing the furniture of the sleeping apartment beyond the richly carved arch. For a moment the bright light dazzled the orphan, and she shaded her eyes; but the next instant Mr. Murray rose from a sofa near the window, and advanced a step or two, taking the cigar from his lips.
"Come to the window and take a seat."
He pointed to the sofa; but she shook her head, and said quickly:
"I have something which belongs to you, Mr. Murray, which I think you must value very much, and therefore I wanted to see it safe in your own hands."
Without raising her eyes she held the book toward him.
"What is it?"
He took it mechanically, and with his gaze fixed on the girl's face; but as she made no reply, he glanced down at it, and his stern, swarthy face lighted up joyfully.
"Is it possible? my Dante! my lost Dante! The copy that has travelled round the world in my pocket, and that I lost a year ago, somewhere in the mountains of Tennessee! Girl, where did you get it?"
"I found it where you left it—on the grass near a blacksmith's shop."
"A blacksmith's shop! where?"
"Near Chattanooga. Don't you remember the sign, under the horse- shoe, over the door, 'Aaron Hunt'?"
"No; but who was Aaron Hunt?"
For nearly a minute Edna struggled for composure, and looking suddenly up, said falteringly:
"He was my grandfather—the only person in the world I had to care for, or to love me—and—sir—"
"Well, go on."
"You cursed him because your horse fretted, and he could not shoe him in five minutes."
There was an awkward silence; St. Elmo Murray bit his lip and scowled, and, recovering her self-control, the orphan added:
"You put your shawl and book on the ground, and when you started you forgot them. I called you back and gave you your shawl; but I did not see the book for some time after you rode out of sight."
"Yes, yes, I remember now about the shawl and the shop. Strange I did not recognize you before. But how did you learn that the book was mine?"
"I did not know it was yours until I came here by accident, and heard Mrs. Murray call your name; then I knew that the initials written in the book spelt your name. And besides, I remembered your figure and your voice."
Again there was a pause, and her mission ended, Edna turned to go.
"Stop! Why did you not give it to me when you first came?"
She made no reply, and putting his hand on her shoulder to detain her, he said, more gently than she had ever heard him speak to any one:
"Was it because you loved my book and disliked to part with it, or was it because you feared to come and speak to a man whom you hate? Be truthful."
Still she was silent, and raising her face with his palm, as he had done in the park, he continued in the same low, sweet voice, which she could scarcely believe belonged to him:
"I am waiting for your answer, and I intend to have it."
Her large, sad eyes were brimming with precious memories, as she lifted them steadily to meet his, and answered:
"My grandfather was noble and good, and he was all I had in this world."
"And you can not forgive a man who happened to be rude to him?"
"If you please, Mr. Murray, I would rather go now. I have given you your book, and that is all I came for."
"Which means that you are afraid of me, and want to get out of my sight?"
She did not deny it, but her face flushed painfully.
"Edna Earl, you are at least honest and truthful, and those are rare traits at the present day. I thank you for preserving and returning my Dante. Did you read any of it?"
"Yes, sir, all of it. Good-night, sir."
"Wait a moment. When did Aaron Hunt die?"
"Two months after you saw him."
"You have no relatives? No cousins, uncles, aunts?"
"None that I ever heard of. I must go, sir."
"Good-night, child. For the present, when you go out in the grounds, be sure that wolf, Ali, is chained up, or you may be sorry that I did not cut his throat, as I am still inclined to do."
She closed the door, ran lightly across the rotunda, and regaining her own room, felt inexpressibly relieved that the ordeal was over— that in future there remained no necessity for her to address one whose very tones made her shudder, and the touch of whose hand filled her with vague dread and loathing.
When the echo of her retreating footsteps died away, St. Elmo threw his cigar out of the window, and walked up and down the quaint and elegant rooms, whose costly bizarrerie would more appropriately have adorned a villa of Parthenope or Lucanian Sybaris, than a country- house in soi-disant "republican" America. The floor, covered in winter with velvet carpet, was of white and black marble, now bare and polished as a mirror, reflecting the figure of the owner as he crossed it. Oval ormolu tables, buhl chairs, and oaken and marquetrie cabinets, loaded with cameos, intaglios, Abraxoids, whose "erudition" would have filled Mnesarchus with envy, and challenged the admiration of the Samian lapidary who engraved the ring of Polycrates; these and numberless articles of vertu testified to the universality of what St. Elmo called his "world-scrapings," and to the reckless extravagance and archaistic taste of the collector. On a verd-antique table lay a satin cushion holding a vellum MS., bound in blue velvet, whose uncial letters were written in purple ink, powdered with gold-dust, while the margins were stiff with gilded illuminations; and near the cushion, as if prepared to shed light on the curious cryptography, stood an exquisite white glass lamp, shaped like a vase, and richly ornamented with Arabic inscriptions in ultra-marine blue—a precious relic of some ruined Laura in the Nitrian desert, by the aid of whose rays the hoary hermits, whom St. Macarius ruled, broke the midnight gloom chanting, "Kyrie eleison, Christe eleison," fourteen hundred years before St. Elmo's birth. Immediately opposite, on an embossed ivory stand, and protected from air and dust by a glass case, were two antique goblets, one of green-veined agate, one of blood-red onyx; and into the coating of wax, spread along the ivory slab, were inserted amphorae, one dry and empty, the other a third full of Falerian, whose topaz drops had grown strangely mellow and golden in the ashy cellars of Herculaneum, and had doubtless been destined for some luxurious triclinium in the days of Titus. A small Byzantine picture, painted on wood, with a silver frame ornamented with cornelian stars, and the background heavily gilded, hung over an etagere, where lay a leaf from Nebuchadnezzar's diary, one of those Babylonish bricks on which his royal name was stamped. Near it stood a pair of Bohemian vases representing the two varieties of lotus—one velvety white with rose-colored veins, the other with delicate blue petals. This latter whim had cost a vast amount of time, trouble, and money, it having been found difficult to carefully preserve, sketch, and paint them for the manufacturer in Bohemia, who had never seen the holy lotus, and required specimens. But the indomitable will of the man, to whose wishes neither oceans nor deserts opposed successful barriers, finally triumphed, and the coveted treasures fully repaid their price as they glistened in the gaslight, perfect as their prototypes slumbering on the bosom of the Nile, under the blazing midnight stars of rainless Egypt. Several handsome rosewood cases were filled with rare books—two in Pali—centuries old; and moth- eaten volumes and valuable MSS.—some in parchment, some bound in boards—recalled the days of astrology and alchemy, and the sombre mysteries of Rosicrucianism. Side by side, on an ebony stand, lay an Elzevir Terence, printed in red letters, and a curious Birman book, whose pages consisted of thin leaves of ivory, gilded at the edges; and here too were black rhyta from Chiusi, and a cylix from Vulci, and one of those quaint Peruvian jars, which was so constructed that, when filled with water, the air escaped in sounds that resembled that of the song or cry of the animal represented on the vase or jar. In the space between the tall windows that fronted the lawn hung a weird, life-size picture that took strange hold on the imagination of all who looked at it. A gray-haired Cimbrian Prophetess, in white vestments and brazen girdle, with canvas mantle fastened on the shoulder by a broad brazen clasp, stood, with bare feet, on a low, rude scaffolding, leaning upon her sword, and eagerly watching, with divining eyes, the stream of blood which trickled from the throat of the slaughtered human victim down into the large brazen kettle beneath the scaffold. The snowy locks and white mantle seemed to flutter in the wind; and those who gazed on the stony, inexorable face of the Prophetess, and into the glittering blue eyes, shuddered and almost fancied they heard the pattering of the gory stream against the sides of the brass caldron. But expensive and rare as were these relics of bygone dynasties and mouldering epochs, there was one other object for which the master would have given everything else in this museum of curiosities, and the secret of which no eyes but his own had yet explored. On a sculptured slab, that once formed a portion of the architrave of the Cave Temple at Elephanta, was a splendid marble miniature, four feet high, of that miracle of Saracenic architecture, the Taj Mahal at Agra. The elaborate carving resembled lacework, and the beauty of the airy dome and slender, glittering minarets of this mimic tomb of Noor-Mahal could find no parallel, save in the superb and matchless original. The richly-carved door that closed the arch of the tomb swung back on golden hinges, and opened only by a curiously-shaped golden key, which never left Mr. Murray's watch-chain; consequently what filled the penetralia was left for the conjecture of the imaginative; and when his mother expressed a desire to examine it, he merely frowned and said hastily:
"That is Pandora's box, MINUS imprisoned hope. I prefer it should not be opened."
Immediately in front of the tomb he had posted a grim sentinel—a black marble statuette of Mors, modeled from that hideous little brass figure which Spence saw at Florence, representing a skeleton sitting on the ground, resting one arm on an urn.
Filled though it was with sparkling bijouterie that would have graced the Barberini or Strozzi cabinets, the glitter of the room was cold and cheerless. No light, childish feet had ever pattered down the long rows of shining tiles; no gushing, mirthful laughter had ever echoed through those lofty windows; everything pointed to the past—a classic, storied past, but dead as the mummies of Karnac, and treacherously, repulsively lustrous as the waves that break in silver circles over the buried battlements, and rustling palms and defiled altars of the proud cities of the plain. No rosy memories of early, happy manhood lingered here; no dewy gleam of the merry morning of life, when hope painted and peopled a smiling world; no magic trifles that prattled of the springtime of a heart, that in wandering to and fro through the earth, had fed itself with dust and ashes, acrid and bitter; had studiously collected only the melancholy symbols of mouldering ruin, desolation, and death, and which found its best type in the Taj Mahal, that glistened so mockingly as the gas-light flickered over it.
A stranger looking upon St. Elmo Murray for the first time, as he paced the floor, would have found it difficult to realize that only thirty-four years had plowed those deep, rugged lines in his swarthy and colorless but still handsome face; where midnight orgies and habitual excesses had left their unmistakable plague-spot, and Mephistopheles had stamped his signet. Blase, cynical, scoffing, and hopeless, he had stranded his life, and was recklessly striding to his grave, trampling upon the feelings of all with whom he associated, and at war with a world, in which his lordly brilliant intellect would have lifted him to any eminence he desired, and which, properly directed, would have made him the benefactor and ornament of the society he snubbed and derided. Like all strong though misguided natures, the power and activity of his mind enhanced his wretchedness, and drove him farther and farther from the path of rectitude; while the consciousness that he was originally capable of loftier, purer aims, and nobler pursuits than those that now engrossed his perverted thoughts, rendered him savagely morose. For nearly fifteen dreary years, nothing but jeers and oaths and sarcasms had crossed his finely sculptured lips, which had forgotten how to smile; and it was only when the mocking demon of the wine-cup looked out from his gloomy gray eyes that his ringing, sneering laugh struck like a dagger to the heart that loved him, that of his proud but anxious and miserable mother. To-night, for the first time since his desperate plunge into the abyss of vice, conscience, which he had believed effectually strangled, stirred feebly, startling him with a faint moan, as unexpected as the echo from Morella's tomb, or the resurrection of Ligeia; and down the murdered years came wailing ghostly memories, which even his iron will could no longer scourge to silence. Clamorous as the avenging Erinnys, they refused to be exorcised, and goaded him almost to frenzy.
Those sweet, low, timid tones, "I am sorry for you," had astonished and mortified him. To be hated and dreaded was not at all unusual or surprising, but to be pitied and despised was a sensation as novel as humiliating; and the fact that all his ferocity failed to intimidate the "little vagrant" was unpleasantly puzzling.
For some time after Edna's departure he pondered all that had passed between them, and at length he muttered: "How thoroughly she abhors me! If I touch her, the flesh absolutely writhes away from my hand, as if I were plague-stricken or a leper. Her very eyelids shudder when she looks at me—and I believe she would more willingly confront Apollyon himself. Strange! how she detests me. I have half a mind to make her love me, even despite herself. What a steady, brave look of scorn there was in her splendid eyes when she told me to my face I was sinful and cruel!"
He set his teeth hard, and his fingers clinched as if longing to crush something; and then came a great revulsion, a fierce spasm of remorse, and his features writhed.
"Sinful? Ay! Cruel? O my lost youth! my cursed and wrecked manhood! If there be a hell blacker than my miserable soul, man has not dreamed of nor language painted it. What would I not give for a fresh, pure, and untrampled heart, such as slumbers peacefully in yonder room, with no damning recollections to scare sleep from her pillow? Innocent childhood!"
He threw himself into a chair, and hid his face in his hands; and thus an hour went by, during which he neither moved nor sighed.
Tearing the veil from the past, he reviewed it calmly, relentlessly, vindictively, and at last, rising, he threw his head back, with his wonted defiant air, and his face hardened and darkened as he approached the marble mausoleum, and laid his hand upon the golden key.
"Too late! too late! I can not afford to reflect. The devil himself would shirk the reading of such a record."
He fitted the key in the lock, but paused and laughed scornfully as he slung it back on his chain.
"Pshaw! I am a fool! After all, I shall not need to see them, the silly, childish mood has passed."
He filled a silver goblet with some strong spicy wine, drank it, and taking down Candide, brightened the gas jets, lighted a fresh cigar, and began to read as he resumed his walk:
"Lord of himself; that heritage of woe—That fearful empire which the human breast But holds to rob the heart within of rest."
Mrs. Murray had informed Edna that the gentleman whom she had engaged to instruct her resided in the neighboring town of—, and one Monday morning in August she carried her to see him, telling her, as they drove along, that he was the minister of the largest church in the county, was an old friend of her family, and that she considered herself exceedingly fortunate in having prevailed upon him to consent to undertake her education. The parsonage stood on the skirts of the village, in a square immediately opposite the church, and was separated from it by a wide handsome street, lined on either side with elm trees. The old-fashioned house was of brick, with a wooden portico jutting out over the front door, and around the slender pillars twined honeysuckle and clematis tendrils, purple with clustering bells; while the brick walls were draped with luxuriant ivy, that hung in festoons from the eaves, and clambered up the chimneys and in at the windows. The daily-swept walk leading to the gate was bordered with white and purple lilies—"flags," as the villagers dubbed them—and over the little gate sprang an arch of lattice-work loaded with Belgian and English honeysuckle, whose fragrant wreaths drooped till they touched the heads of all who entered. When Mrs. Murray and Edna ascended the steps and knocked at the open door, bearing the name "Allan Hammond," no living thing was visible, save a thrush that looked out shyly from the clematis vines; and after waiting a moment, Mrs. Murray entered unannounced. They looked into the parlor, with its cool matting and white curtains and polished old-fashioned mahogany furniture, but the room was unoccupied; then passing on to the library or study, where tiers of books rose to the ceiling, they saw, through the open window, the form of the pastor, who was stooping to gather the violets blooming in the little shaded garden at the rear of the house. A large white cat sunned herself on the strawberry bed, and a mocking-bird sang in the myrtle-tree that overshadowed the study-window. Mrs. Murray called to the minister, and taking off his straw hat he bowed, and came to meet them.
"Mr. Hammond, I hope I do not interrupt you?"
"No, Ellen, you never interrupt me. I was merely gathering some violets to strew in a child's coffin. Susan Archer, poor thing! lost her little Winnie last night, and I knew she would like some flowers to sprinkle over her baby."
He shook hands with Mrs. Murray, and turning to her companion offered his hand saying kindly:
"This is my pupil, Edna, I presume? I expected you several days ago, and am very glad to see you at last. Come into the house and let us become acquainted at once."
As he led the way to the library, talking the while to Mrs. Murray, Edna's eyes followed him with an expression of intense veneration, for he appeared to her a living original of the pictured prophets— the Samuel, Isaiah, and Ezekiel, whose faces she had studied in the large illustrated Bible that lay on a satin cushion in the sitting- room at Le Bocage. Sixty-five years of wrestling and conquests on the "Quarantma" of life had set upon his noble and benignant countenance the seal of holiness, and shed over his placid features the mild, sweet light of a pure, serene heart, of a lofty, trusting, sanctified soul. His white hair and beard had the silvery sheen which seems peculiar to prematurely gray heads, and the snowy mass wonderfully softened the outline of the face; while the pleasant smile on his lips, the warm, cheering light in his bright blue eyes, won the perfect trust, the profound respect, the lasting love and veneration of those who entered the charmed circle of his influence. Learned without pedantry, dignified but not pompous, genial and urbane; never forgetting the sanctity of his mission, though never thrusting its credentials into notice; judging the actions of all with a leniency which he denied to his own; zealous without bigotry, charitable yet rigidly just, as free from austerity as levity, his heart throbbed with warm, tender sympathy for his race; and while none felt his or her happiness complete until his cordial congratulations sealed it, every sad mourner realized that her burden of woe was lightened when poured into his sympathizing ears. The sage counselor of the aged among his flock, he was the loved companion of younger members, in whose juvenile sports and sorrows he was never too busy to interest himself; and it was not surprising that over all classes and denominations he wielded an influence incalculable for good.
The limits of one church could not contain his great heart, which went forth in yearning love and fellowship to his Christian brethren and co-laborers throughout the world, while the refrain of his daily work was, "Bear ye one another's burdens." So in the evening of a life blessed with the bounteous fruitage of good deeds, he walked to and fro, in the wide vineyard of God, with the light of peace, of faith, and hope, and hallowed resignation shining over his worn and aged face.
Drawing Edna to a seat beside him on the sofa, Mr. Hammond said: "Mrs. Murray has intrusted your education entirely to me; but before I decide positively what books you will require I should like to know what particular branches of study you love best. Do you feel disposed to take up Latin?"
"Well, go on, my dear. Do not hesitate to speak freely."
"If you please, sir, I should like to study Greek also."
"Oh, nonsense, Edna! women never have any use for Greek; it would only be a waste of your time," interrupted Mrs. Murray.
Mr. Hammond smiled and shook his head.
"Why do you wish to study Greek? You will scarcely be called upon to teach it."
"I should not think that I was well or thoroughly educated if I did not understand Greek and Latin; and beside, I want to read what Solon and Pericles and Demosthenes wrote in their own language."
"Why, what do you know about those men?"
"Only what Plutarch says."
"What kind of books do you read with most pleasure?"
"History and travels."
"Are you fond of arithmetic?"
"But as a teacher you will have much more use for mathematics than for Greek."
"I should think that, with all my life before me, I might study both; and even if I should have no use for it, it would do me no harm to understand it. Knowledge is never in the way, is it?"
"Certainly not half so often as ignorance. Very well; you shall learn Greek as fast as you please. I should like to hear you read something. Here is Goldsmith's Deserted Village; suppose you try a few lines; begin here at 'Sweet was the sound.'"
She read aloud the passage designated, and as he expressed himself satisfied, and took the book from her hand, Mrs. Murray said:
"I think the child is as inveterate a bookworm as I ever knew; but for heaven's sake, Mr. Hammond, do not make her a blue-stocking."
"Ellen, did you ever see a genuine blue-stocking?"
"I am happy to be able to say that I never was so unfortunate."
"You consider yourself lucky then, in not having known De Stael, Hannah More, Charlotte Bronte, and Mrs. Browning?"
"To be consistent, of course, I must answer yes; but you know we women are never supposed to understand that term, much less possess the jewel itself; and beside, sir, you take undue advantage of me, for the women you mention were truly great geniuses. I was not objecting to genius in women."
"Without those auxiliaries and adjuncts which you deprecate so earnestly, would their native genius ever have distinguished them, or charmed and benefited the world? Brilliant success makes blue- stockings autocratic, and the world flatters and crowns them; but unsuccessful aspirants are strangled with an offensive sobriquet, than which it were better that they had mill-stones tied about their necks. After all, Ellen, it is rather ludicrous, and seems very unfair, that the whole class of literary ladies should be sneered at on account of the color of Stillingfleet's stockings, eighty years ago."
"If you please, sir, I should like to know the meaning of 'blue- stocking?'" said Edna.
"You are in a fair way to understand it if you study Greek," answered Mrs. Murray, laughing at the puzzled expression of the child's countenance.
Mr. Hammond smiled, and replied: "A 'blue-stocking,' my dear, is generally supposed to be a lady, neither young, pleasant, nor pretty (and in most instances unmarried); who is unamiable, ungraceful, and untidy; ignorant of all domestic accomplishments and truly feminine acquirements, and ambitious of appearing very learned; a woman whose fingers are more frequently adorned with ink-spots than thimble; who holds housekeeping in detestation, and talks loudly about politics, science, and philosophy; who is ugly, and learned, and cross; whose hair is never smooth and whose ruffles are never fluted. Is that a correct likeness, Ellen?"
"As good as one of Brady's photographs. Take warning, Edna."
"The title of 'blue-stocking,'" continued the pastor, "originated in a jest, many, many years ago, when a circle of very brilliant, witty, and elegant ladies in London, met at the house of Mrs. Vesey, to listen to and take part in the conversation of some of the most gifted and learned men England has ever produced. One of those gentlemen, Stillingfleet, who always wore blue stockings, was so exceedingly agreeable and instructive, that when he chanced to be absent the company declared the party was a failure without the blue stockings,' as he was familiarly called. A Frenchman, who heard of the circumstance, gave to these conversational gatherings the name of 'bas bleu,' which means blue stocking; and hence, you see, that in popular acceptation, I mean in public opinion, the humorous title, which was given in compliment to a very charming gentleman, is now supposed to belong to very tiresome, pedantic, and disagreeable ladies. Do you understand the matter now?"
"I do not quite understand why ladies have not as good a right to be learned and wise as gentlemen."
"To satisfy you on that point would involve more historical discussion than we have time for this morning; some day we will look into the past and find a solution of the question. Meanwhile you may study as hard as you please, and remember, my dear, that where one woman is considered a blue-stocking, and tiresomely learned, twenty are more tiresome still because they know nothing. I will obtain all the books you need, and hereafter you must come to me every morning at nine o'clock. When the weather is good, you can easily walk over from Mrs. Murray's."
As they drove homeward, Edna asked:
"Has Mr. Hammond a family?"
"No; he lost his family years ago. But why do you ask that question?"
"I saw no lady, and I wondered who kept the house in such nice order."
"He has a very faithful servant who attends to his household affairs. In your intercourse with Mr. Hammond be careful not to allude to his domestic afflictions."
Mrs. Murray looked earnestly, searchingly at the girl, as if striving to fathom her thoughts; then throwing her head back, with the haughty air which Edna had remarked in St. Elmo, she compressed her lips, lowered her veil, and remained silent and abstracted until they reached home.
The comprehensive and very thorough curriculum of studies now eagerly commenced by Edna, and along which she was gently and skilfully guided by the kind hand of the teacher, furnished the mental aliment for which she hungered, gave constant and judicious exercise to her active intellect, and induced her to visit the quiet parsonage library as assiduously as did Horace, Valgius, and Virgil the gardens on the Esquiline where Maecenas held his literary assize. Instead of skimming a few text-books that cram the brain with unwieldy scientific technicalities and pompous philosophic terminology, her range of thought and study gradually stretched out into a broader, grander cycle, embracing, as she grew older, the application of those great principles that underlie modern science and crop out in ever-varying phenomena and empirical classifications. Edna's tutor seemed impressed with the fallacy of the popular system of acquiring one branch of learning at a time, locking it away as in drawers of rubbish, never to be opened, where it moulders in shapeless confusion till swept out ultimately to make room for more recent scientific invoices. Thus in lieu of the educational plan of "finishing natural philosophy and chemistry this session, and geology and astronomy next term, and taking up moral science and criticism the year we graduate," Mr. Hammond allowed his pupil to finish and lay aside none of her studies; but sought to impress upon her the great value of Blackstone's aphorism: "For sciences are of a sociable disposition, and flourish best in the neighborhood of each other; nor is there any branch of learning but may be helped and improved by assistance drawn from other arts."
Finding that her imagination was remarkably fertile, he required her, as she advanced in years, to compose essays, letters, dialogues, and sometimes orations, all of which were not only written and handed in for correction, but he frequently directed her to recite them from memory, and invited her to assist him, while he dissected and criticised either her diction, line of argument, choice of metaphors, or intonation of voice. In these compositions he encouraged her to seek illustrations from every department of letters, and convert her theme into a focus, upon which to pour all the concentrated light which research could reflect, assuring her that what is often denominated "far-fetchedness," in metaphors, furnished not only evidence of the laborious industry of the writer, but is an implied compliment to the cultured taste and general knowledge of those for whose entertainment or edification they are employed—provided always said metaphors and similes really illustrate, elucidate, and adorn the theme discussed—when properly understood.
His favorite plea in such instances was, "If Humboldt and Cuvier, and Linnaeus, and Ehrenberg have made mankind their debtors by scouring the physical cosmos for scientific data, which every living savant devours, assimilates, and reproduces in dynamic, physiologic, or entomologic theories, is it not equally laudable in scholars, orators, and authors—nay, is it not obligatory on them, to subsidize the vast cosmos of literature, to circumnavigate the world of belles-lettres, in search of new hemispheres of thought, and spice islands of illustrations; bringing their rich gleanings to the great public mart, where men barter their intellectual merchandise? Wide as the universe and free as its winds should be the range of human mind."
Yielding allegiance to the axiom that "the proper study of mankind is man," and recognizing the fact that history faithfully epitomizes the magnificent triumphs and stupendous failures, the grand capacities and innate frailties of the races, he fostered and stimulated his pupil's fondness for historic investigation; while in impressing upon her memory the chronologic sequence of events he not only grouped into great epochs the principal dramas, over which Clio holds august critical tribunal, but so carefully selected her miscellaneous reading, that poetry, novels, biography, and essays reflected light upon the actors of the particular epoch which she was studying; and thus through the subtle but imperishable links of association of ideas, chained them in her mind.
The extensive library at Le Bocage, and the valuable collection of books at the parsonage, challenged research, and, with a boundless ambition, equalled only by her patient, persevering application, Edna devoted herself to the acquisition of knowledge, and astonished and delighted her teacher by the rapidity of her progress and the vigor and originality of her restless intellect.
The noble catholicity of spirit that distinguished Mr. Hammond's character encouraged her to discuss freely the ethical and psychological problems that arrested her attention as she grew older, and facilitated her appreciation and acceptance of the great fact, that all bigotry springs from narrow minds and partial knowledge. He taught her that truth, scorning monopolies and deriding patents, lends some valuable element to almost every human system; that ignorance, superstition, and intolerance are the red- handed Huns that ravage society, immolating the pioneers of progress upon the shrine of prejudice—fettering science—blindly bent on divorcing natural and revealed truth, which "God hath joined together" in holy and eternal wedlock; and while they battle a l'outrance with every innovation, lock the wheels of human advancement, turning a deaf ear to the thrilling cry;
"Yet I doubt not through the ages one increasing purpose runs, and the thoughts of men are widened with the process of the suns."
If Carlyle be correct in his declaration that "Truly a thinking man is the worst enemy the prince of darkness can have, and every time such a one announces himself there runs a shudder through the nether empire, where new emissaries are trained with new tactics, to hoodwink and handcuff him," who can doubt that the long dynasty of Eblis will instantly terminate, when every pulpit in Christendom, from the frozen shores of Spitzbergen to the green dells of Owhyhee, from the shining spires of Europe to the rocky battlements that front the Pacific, shall be filled with meek and holy men of ripe scholarship and resistless eloquence, whose scientific erudition keeps pace with their evangelical piety, and whose irreproachable lives attest that their hearts are indeed hallowed temples of that loving charity "that suffereth long and is kind; that vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up; thinketh no evil; beareth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things?"
While Christ walked to and fro among the palms and poppies of Palestine, glorifying anew an accursed and degraded human nature, unlettered fishermen, who mended their nets and trimmed their sails along the blue waves of Galilee, were fit instruments, in his guiding hands, for the dissemination of his Gospel; but when the days of the Incarnation ended, and Jesus returned to the Father, all the learning and the mighty genius of Saul of Tarsus were required to confront and refute the scoffing sophists who, replete with philhellenic lore, and within sight of the marvellous triglyphs and metopes of the Parthenon, gathered on Mars Hill to defend their marble altars to the Unknown God.
During the months of September and October Mrs. Murray filled the house with company, and parties of gentlemen came from time to time to enjoy the game season and take part in the hunts to which St. Elmo devoted himself. There were elegant dinners and petits soupers that would not have disgraced Tusculum, or made Lucullus blush when Pompey and Cicero sought to surprise him in the "Apollo"; there were billiard-matches and horse-races, and merry gatherings at the ten- pin alley; and laughter, and music, and dancing usurped the dominions where silence and gloom had so long reigned. Naturally shy and unaccustomed to companionship, Edna felt no desire to participate in these festivities, but became more and more absorbed in her studies, and her knowledge of the company was limited to the brief intercourse of the table, where she observed the deference yielded to the opinions of the master of the house, and the dread that all manifested lest they should fall under the lash of his merciless sarcasm. An Ishmael in society, his uplifted hand smote all conventionalities and shams, spared neither age nor sex, nor sanctuaries, and acknowledged sanctity nowhere. The punctilious courtesy of his manner polished and pointed his satire, and when a personal application of his remarks was possible, he would bow gracefully to the lady indicated, and fill her glass with wine, while he filled her heart with chagrin and rankling hate. Since the restoration of the Dante, not a word had passed between him and Edna, who regarded him with increasing detestation; but on one occasion, when the conversation was general, and he sat silent at the foot of the table, she looked up at him and found his eyes fixed on her face. Inclining his head slightly to arrest her attention, he handed a decanter of sherry to one of the servants, with some brief direction, and a moment after her glass was filled, and the waiter said:
"Mr. Murray's compliments to Aaron Hunt's granddaughter." Observation had taught her what was customary on such occasions, and she knew that he had once noticed her taking wine with the gentleman who sat next to her; but now repugnance conquered politeness, the mention of her grandfather's name seemed an insult from his lips, and putting her hand over her glass, she looked him full in the face and shook her head. Nevertheless he lifted his wine, bowed, and drank the last drop in the crystal goblet; then turned to a gentleman on his right hand, and instantly entered into a learned discussion on the superiority of the wines of the Levant over those of Germany, quoting triumphantly the lines of M. de Nevers:
"Sur la membrane de leur sens, Font des sillons charmans."
When the ladies withdrew to the parlor he rose, as was his custom, and held the door open for them. Edna was the last of the party, and as she passed him he smiled mockingly and said:
"It was unfortunate that my mother omitted to enumerate etiquette in the catalogue of studies prosecuted at the parsonage."
Instantly the answer sprang to her lips:
"She knew I had a teacher for that branch nearer home"; but her conscience smote her, she repressed the words, and said gravely:
"My reason was, that I think only good friends should take wine together."
"This is your declaration of war? Very well, only remember I raise a black flag and show no quarter. Woe to the conquered."
She hurried away to the library, and thenceforth "kept out of his way" more assiduously than ever; while the fact that he scrutinized her closely, rendered her constrained and uncomfortable, when forced to enter his presence. Mrs. Murray well understood her hostile feeling toward her son, but she never alluded to it, and his name was not mentioned by either.
One by one the guests departed; autumn passed, winter was ushered in by wailing winds and drizzling rains; and one morning as Edna came out of the hot-house, with a basketful of camellias, she saw St. Elmo bidding his mother good-bye, as he started on his long journey to Oceanica. They stood on the steps, Mrs. Murray's head rested on his shoulder, and bitter tears were falling on her cheeks as she talked eagerly and rapidly to him. Edna heard him say impatiently:
"You ask what is impossible; it is worse than useless to urge me. Better pray that I may find a peaceful grave in the cinnamon groves and under the 'plumy palms' of the far south."
He kissed his mother's cheek and sprang into the saddle, but checked his horse at sight of the orphan, who stood a few yards distant.
"Are you coming to say good-bye? Or do you reserve such courtesies for your 'good friends'?"
Regret for her former rudeness, and sympathy for Mrs. Murray's uncontrollable distress, softened her heart toward him; she selected the finest white camellia in the basket, walked close to the horse, and, tendering the flower, said:
"Good-bye, sir. I hope you will enjoy your travels."
"And prolong them indefinitely? Ah, you offer a flag of truce? I warned you I should not respect it. You know my motto, 'Nemo me impune lacessit!' Thank you, for this lovely peace-offering. Since you are willing to negotiate, run and open the gate for me. I may never pass through it again except as a ghost."
She placed her basket on the steps and ran down the avenue, while he paused to say something to his mother. Edna knew that he expected to be absent, possibly, several years, and while she regretted the pain which his departure gave her benefactress, she could not avoid rejoicing at the relief she promised herself during his sojourn in foreign lands.
Slowly he rode along the venerable aisle of elms that had overarched his childish head in the sunny morning of a quickly clouded life, and as he reached the gate, which Edna held open, he dismounted.
"Edna, if you are as truthful in all matters as you have proved in your dislikes, I may safely intrust this key to jour keeping. It belongs to that marble temple in my sitting-room, and opens a vault that contains my will and a box of papers, and—some other things that I value. There is no possibility of entering it, except with this key, and no one but myself knows the contents. I wish to leave the key with you, on two conditions: first, that you never mention it to any one—not even my mother, or allow her to suspect that you have it; secondly, that you promise me solemnly you will not open the tomb or temple unless I fail to return at the close of four years. This is the tenth of December—four years from to-day, if I am not here, AND IF YOU HAVE GOOD REASON TO CONSIDER ME DEAD, take this key (which I wish you to wear about your person) to my mother, inform her of this conversation, and then open the vault. Can you resist the temptation to look into it? Think well before you answer."
He had disengaged the golden key from his watch-chain and held it in his hand.
"I should not like to take charge of it, Mr. Murray. You can certainly trust your own mother sooner than an utter stranger like myself."
He frowned and muttered an oath; then exclaimed: "I tell you I do not choose to leave it in any hands but yours. Will you promise or will you not?"
The dreary wretchedness, the savage hopelessness of his countenance awed and pained the girl, and after a moment's silence, and a short struggle with her heart, she extended her hand, saying with evident reluctance: "Give me the key, I will not betray your trust."
"Do you promise me solemnly that you will never open that vault, except in accordance with my directions? Weigh the promise well before you give it."
"Yes, sir; I promise most solemnly."
He laid the key in her palm and continued:
"My mother loves you—try to make her happy while I am away; and if you succeed, you will be the first person to whom I have ever been indebted. I have left directions concerning my books and the various articles in my rooms. Feel no hesitation in examining any that may interest you, and see that the dust does not ruin them. Good-bye, child; take care of my mother."
He held out his hand, she gave him hers for an instant only, and he mounted, lifted his cap, and rode away.
Closing the ponderous gate, Edna leaned her face against the iron bars, and watched the lessening form. Gradually trees intervened, then at a bend in the road she saw him wheel his horse as if to return. For some moments he remained stationary, looking back, but suddenly disappeared, and, with a sigh of indescribable relief, she retraced her steps to the house. As she approached the spot where Mrs. Murray still sat, with her face hidden in her handkerchief, the touch of the little key, tightly folded in her palm, brought a painful consciousness of concealment and a tinge of shame to her cheeks; for it seemed in her eyes an insult to her benefactress that the guardianship of the papers should have been withheld from her.
She would have stolen away to her own room to secrete the key; but Mrs. Murray called her, and as she sat down beside her the miserable mother threw her arms around the orphan, and resting her cheek on her head wept bitterly. Timidly, but very gently and tenderly, the latter strove to comfort her, caressing the white hands that were clasped in almost despairing anguish.
"Dear Mrs. Murray, do not grieve so deeply; he may come back much earlier than you expect. He will get tired of travelling, and come back to his own beautiful home, and to you, who love him so devotedly."
"No, no! he will stay away as long as possible. It is not beautiful to him. He hates his home and forgets me! My loneliness, my anxiety are nothing in comparison to his morbid love of change. I shall never see him again."
"But he loves you very much, and that will bring him to you."
"Why do you think so?"
"He pointed to you, a few moments ago, and his face was full of wretchedness when he told me, 'Make my mother happy while I am gone, and you will be the first person to whom I have ever been indebted.' Do not weep so, dear Mrs. Murray; God can preserve him as well on sea as here at home."
"Oh! but he will not pray for himself!" sobbed the mother.
"Then you must pray all the more for him; and go where he will, he cannot get beyond God's sight, or out of His merciful hands. You know Christ said, 'Whatsoever you ask in my name, I will do it'; and if the Syrophenician's daughter was saved not by her own prayers but by her mother's faith, why should not God save your son if you pray and believe?"
Mrs. Murray clasped Edna closer to her heart, and kissed her warmly.
"You are my only comfort! If I had your faith I should not be so unhappy. My dear child, promise me one thing, that every time you pray you will remember my son, and ask God to preserve him in his wanderings, and bring him safely back to his mother. I know you do not like him, but for my sake will you not do this?"
"My prayers are not worth much, but I will always remember to pray for him; and, Mrs. Murray, while he is away, suppose you have family prayer, and let all the household join in praying for the absent master. I think it would be such a blessing and comfort to you. Grandpa always had prayer night and morning, and it made every day seem almost as holy as Sunday."
Mrs. Murray was silent a little while, and answered hesitatingly:
"But, my dear, I should not know how to offer up prayers before the family. I can pray for myself, but I should not like to pray aloud."
There was a second pause, and finally she said:
"Edna, would you be willing to conduct prayers for me?"
"It is your house, and God expects the head of every family to set an example. Even the pagans offered sacrifices every day for the good of the household, and you know the Jews had morning and evening sacrifices; so it seems to me family prayer is such a beautiful offering on the altar of the hearthstone. If you do not wish to pray yourself, you could read a prayer; there is a book called Family Prayer, with selections for every day in the week. I saw a copy at the parsonage, and I can get one like it at the book store if you desire it."
"That will suit my purpose much better than trying to compose them myself. You must get the book for me. But, Edna, don't go to school to-day, stay at home with me; I am so lonely and low-spirited. I will tell Mr. Hammond that I could not spare you. Beside, I want you to help me arrange some valuable relics belonging to my son, and now that I think of it, he told me he wished you to use any of his books or MSS. that you might like to examine. This is a great honor, child, for he has refused many grown people admission to his rooms. Come with me, I want to lock up his curiosities."
They went through the rotunda and into the rooms together; and Mrs. Murray busied herself in carefully removing the cameos, intaglios, antique vases, goblets, etc., etc., from the tables, and placing them in the drawers of the cabinets. As she crossed the room tears fell on the costly trifles, and finally she approached the beautiful miniature temple and stooped to look at the fastening. She selected the smallest key on the bunch, that contained a dozen, and attempted to fit it in the small opening, but it was too large; then she tried her watch-key, but without success, and a look of chagrin crossed her sad, tear-stained face.
"St. Elmo has forgotten to leave the key with me."
Edna's face grew scarlet, and stooping to pick up a heavy cornelian seal that had fallen on the carpet, she said, hastily:
"What is that marble temple intended to hold?"
"I have no idea; it is one of my son's oriental fancies. I presume he uses it as a private desk for his papers."
"Does he leave the key with you when he goes from home?"
"This is the first time he has left home for more than a few weeks since he brought this gem from the East. I must write to him about the key before he sails. He has it on his watch-chain."
The same curiosity which, in ages long past, prompted the discovery of the Eleusinian or Cabiri mysteries now suddenly took possession of Edna, as she looked wonderingly at the shining fagade of the exquisite Taj Mahal, and felt that only a promise stood between her and its contents.
Escaping to her own room, she proceeded to secrete the troublesome key, and to reflect upon the unexpected circumstances which not only rendered it her duty to pray for the wanderer but necessitated her keeping always about her a SOUVENIR of the man whom she could not avoid detesting, and was yet forced to remember continually.
On the following day, when she went to her usual morning recitation, and gave the reason for her absence, she noticed that Mr. Hammond's hand trembled, and a look of keen sorrow settled on his face.
"Gone again! and so soon! So far, far away from all good influences!"
He put down the Latin grammar and walked to the window, where he stood for some time, and when he returned to his armchair Edna saw that the muscles of his face were unsteady.
"Did he not stop to tell you good-bye?"
"No, my dear, he never comes to the parsonage now. When he was a boy, I taught him here in this room, as I now teach you. But for fifteen years he has not crossed my threshold, and yet I never sleep until I have prayed for him." "Oh! I am so glad to hear that! Now I know he will be saved."
The minister shook his gray head, and Edna saw tears in his mild blue eyes as he answered:
"A man's repentance and faith can not be offered by proxy to God. So long as St. Elmo Murray persists in insulting his Maker, I shudder for his final end. He has the finest intellect I have ever met among living men; but it is unsanctified—worse still, it is dedicated to the work of scoffing at and blaspheming the truths of religion. In his youth he promised to prove a blessing to his race and an ornament to Christianity; now he is a curse to the world and a dreary burden to himself."
"What changed him so sadly?"
"Some melancholy circumstances that occurred early in his life. Edna, he planned and built that beautiful church where you come on Sabbath to hear me preach, and about the time it was finished he went off to college. When he returned he avoided me, and has never yet been inside of the costly church which his taste and his money constructed. Still, while I live, I shall not cease to pray for him, hoping that in God's good time he will bring him back to the pure faith of his boyhood."
"Mr. Hammond, is he not a very wicked man?"
"He had originally the noblest heart I ever knew, and was as tender in his sympathies as a woman, while he was almost reckless in his munificent charities. But in his present irreligious state I hear that he has grown bitter and sour and illiberal. Yet, however repulsive his manner may be, I can not believe that his nature is utterly perverted. He is dissipated but not unprincipled. Let him rest, my child, in the hands of his God, who alone can judge him. We can but pray and hope. Go on with your lesson."
The recitation was resumed and ended; but Edna was well aware that for the first time her teacher was inattentive, and the heavy sighs that passed his lips almost unconsciously told her how sorely he was distressed by the erratic course of his quondam pupil.
When she rose to go home she asked the name of the author of the Family Prayers which she wished to purchase for Mrs. Murray, and the pastor's face flushed with pleasure as he heard of her cherished scheme.
"My dear child, be circumspect, be prudent; above all things, be consistent. Search your own heart; try to make your life an exposition of your faith; let profession and practice go hand in hand; ask God's special guidance in the difficult position in which you are placed, and your influence for good in Mrs. Murray's family may be beyond all computation." Laying his hands on her head, he continued tremulously: "O my God! if it be thy will, make her the instrument of rescuing, ere it be indeed too late. Help me to teach her aright; and let her pure life atone for all the inconsistencies and wrongs that have well-nigh wrought eternal ruin."
Turning quickly away, he left the room, before she could even catch a glimpse of his countenance.
The strong and lasting affection that sprang up between instructor and pupil—the sense of dependence on each other's society—rarely occurs among persons in whose ages so great a disparity exists. Spring and autumn have no affinities—age has generally no sympathy for the gushing sprightliness, the eager questioning, the rose-hued dreams and aspirations of young people; and youth shrinks chilled and constrained from the austere companionship of those who, with snowy locks gilded by the fading rays of a setting sun, totter down the hill of life, journeying to the dark and silent valley of the shadow of death.
Preferring Mr. Hammond's society to that of the comparative strangers who visited Mrs. Murray, Edna spent half of her time at the quiet parsonage, and the remainder with her books and music. That under auspices so favorable her progress was almost unprecedentedly rapid, furnished matter of surprise to no one who was capable of estimating the results of native genius and vigorous application. Mrs. Murray watched the expansion of her mind, and the development of her beauty, with emotions of pride and pleasure, which, had she analyzed them, would have told her how dear and necessary to her happiness the orphan had become.
As Edna's reasoning powers strengthened, Mr. Hammond led her gradually to the contemplation of some of the gravest problems that have from time immemorial perplexed and maddened humanity, plunging one half into blind, bigoted traditionalism, and scourging the other into the dreary sombre, starless wastes of Pyrrhonism. Knowing full well that of every earnest soul and honest, profound thinker these ontologic questions would sooner or later demand audience, he wisely placed her in the philosophic palaestra, encouraged her wrestlings, cheered her on, handed her from time to time the instruments and aids she needed, and then, when satisfied that the intellectual gymnastics had properly trained and developed her, he invited her— where he felt assured the spirit of the age would inevitably drive her—to the great Pythian games of speculation, where the lordly intellects of the nineteenth century gather to test their ratiocinative skill, and bear off the crown of bay on the point of a syllogism or the wings of an audacious hypothesis.
Thus immersed in study, weeks, months, and years glided by, bearing her young life swiftly across the Enna meads of girlhood, nearer and nearer to the portals of that mystic temple of womanhood, on whose fair fretted shrine was to be offered a heart either consumed by the baleful fires of Baal, or purified and consecrated by the Shekinah, promised through Messiah.
During the first year of Mr. Murray's absence his brief letters to his mother were written at long intervals; in the second, they were rarer and briefer still; but toward the close of the third he wrote more frequently, and announced his intention of revisiting Egypt before his return to the land of his birth. Although no allusion was ever made to Edna, Mrs. Murray sometimes read aloud descriptions of beautiful scenery, written now among the scoriae of Mauna Roa or Mauna Kea, and now from the pinnacle of Mount Ophir, whence, through waving forests of nutmeg and clove, flashed the blue waters of the Indian Ocean, or the silver ripples of Malacca; and, on such occasions, the orphan listened eagerly, entranced by the tropical luxuriance and grandeur of his imagery, by his gorgeous word- painting, which to her charmed ears seemed scarcely inferior to the wonderful pen-portraits of Ruskin. Those letters seemed flecked with the purple and gold, the amber and rose, the opaline and beryline tints, of which he spoke in telling the glories of Polynesian and Malaysian skies, and the matchless verdure and floral splendors of their serene spicy dells. For many days after the receipt of each, Mrs. Murray was graver and sadder, but the spectre that had disquieted Edna was thoroughly exorcised, and only when the cold touch of the golden key startled her was she conscious of a vague dread of some far-off but slowly and surely approaching evil. In the fourth year of her pupilage she was possessed by an unconquerable desire to read the Talmud, and in order to penetrate the mysteries and seize the treasures hidden in that exhaustless mine of Oriental myths, legends, and symbolisms, she prevailed upon Mr. Hammond to teach her Hebrew and the rudiments of Chaldee. Very reluctantly and disapprovingly he consented, and subsequently informed her that, as he had another pupil who was also commencing Hebrew, he would class them, and hear their recitations together. This new student was Mr. Gordon Leigh, a lawyer in the town, and a gentleman of wealth and high social position. Although quite young, he gave promise of eminence in his profession, and was a great favorite of the minister, who pronounced him the most upright and exemplary young man of his acquaintance. Edna had seen him several times at Mrs. Murray's dinners, but while she thought him exceedingly handsome, polite, and agreeable, she regarded him as a stranger, until the lessons at the Parsonage brought them every two days around the little table in the study. They began the language simultaneously; but Edna, knowing the flattering estimation in which he was held, could not resist the temptation to measure her intellect with his, and soon threatened to outrun him in the Talmud race. Piqued pride and a manly resolution to conquer spurred him on, and the venerable instructor looked on and laughed at the generous emulation thus excited. He saw an earnest friendship daily strengthening between the rivals, and knew that in Gordon Leigh's magnanimous nature there was no element which could cause an objection to the companionship to which he had paved the way.
Four months after the commencement of the new study, Edna rorse at daylight to complete some exercises, which she had neglected to write out on the previous evening, and as soon as she concluded the task, went down stairs to gather the flowers. It was the cloudless morning of her seventeenth birthday and as she stood clipping geraniums and jasmine and verbena, memory flew back to the tender years in which the grisly blacksmith had watched her career with such fond pride and loving words of encouragement, and painted the white-haired old man smoking on the porch that fronted Lookout, while from his lips, tremulous with a tender smile, seemed to float the last words he had spoken to her on that calm afternoon when, in the fiery light of a dying day, he was gathered to his forefathers:
"You will make me proud of you, my little Pearl, when you are smart enough to teach a school and take care of me, for I shall be too old to work by that time."
Now, after the lapse of years, when her educational course was almost finished, she recalled every word and look and gesture; even the thrill of horror that shook her limbs when she kissed the lips that death had sealed an hour before. Mournfully vivid was her recollection of her tenth birthday, for then he had bought her a blue ribbon for her hair, and a little china cup and saucer; and now tears sprang to her eyes as she murmured: "I have studied hard and the triumph is at hand, but I have nobody to be proud of me now! Ah Grandpa! if you could only come back to me, your little Pearl! It is so desolate to be alone in this great world; so hard to have to know that nobody cares specially whether I live or die, whether I succeed or fail ignominiously. I have only myself to live for; only my own heart and will to sustain and stimulate me."
Through the fringy acacias that waved their long hair across the hothouse windows, the golden sunshine flickered over the graceful, rounded, lithe figure of the orphan—over the fair young face with its delicate cameo features, warm, healthful coloring, and brave, hopeful expression. Four years had developed the pretty, sad-eyed child into a lovely woman, with a pure heart filled with humble unostentatious piety, and a clear, vigorous intellect inured to study, and ambitious of every honorable eminence within the grasp of true womanhood.
Edna had endeavored to realize and remember what her Bible first taught her, and what moralists of all creeds, climes and ages, had reiterated—that human life was at best but "vanity and vexation of spirit," that "man is born to trouble as the sparks fly upward"; yet as she stood on the line, narrow and thin as Al-Sirat, that divides girlhood and womanhood, all seemed to her fresh, pure heart as inviting and bewitching as the magnificent panorama upon which enraptured lotophagi gazed from the ancient acropolis of Cyrene.
As Edna turned to leave the hothouse, the ring of horse's hoofs on the rocky walk attracted her attention, and a moment after, Mr. Leigh gave his horse to the gardener and came to meet her.
"Good morning, Miss Edna. As I am bearer of dispatches from my sister to Mrs. Murray, I have invited myself to breakfast with you."
"You are an earlier riser than I had supposed, Mr. Leigh, from your lamentations over your exercises."
"I do not deny that I love my morning nap, and generally indulge myself; for, like Sydney Smith, 'I can easily make up my mind to rise early, but I cannot make up my body.' In one respect I certainly claim equality with Thorwaldsen, my 'talent for sleeping' is inferior neither to his nor Goethe's. Do you know that we are both to have a holiday to-day?"
"No, sir; upon what score?"
"It happens to be my birthday as well as yours, and as my sister, Mrs. Inge, gives a party to-night in honor of the event, I have come to insist that my classmate shall enjoy the same reprieve that I promise myself. Mrs. Inge commissioned me to insure your presence at her party."
"Thank you; but I never go out to parties."
"But bad precedents must not guide you any longer. If you persist in staying at home, I shall not enjoy the evening, for in every dance I shall fancy my vis-a-vis your spectre, with an exercise in one hand and a Hebrew grammar in the other. A propos! Mr. Hammond told me to say that he would not expect you to-day, but would meet you to-night at Mrs. Inge's. You need not trouble yourself to decline, for I shall arrange matters with Mrs. Murray. In honor of my birthday will you not give me a sprig of something sweet from your basket?"
They sat down on the steps of the dining-room, and Edna selected some delicate oxalis cups and nutmeg geranium leaves, which she tied up, and handed to her companion.
Fastening them in the button-hole of his coat, he drew a small box from his pocket, and said:
"I noticed last week, when Mr. Hammond was explaining the Basilidian tenets, you manifested some curiosity concerning their amulets and mythical stones. Many years ago, while an uncle of mine was missionary in Arabia, he saved the life of a son of a wealthy sheik, and received from him, in token of his gratitude, a curious ring, which tradition said once belonged to a caliph, and had been found near the ruins of Chilminar. The ring was bequeathed to me. and is probably the best authenticated antique in this country. Presto! we are in Bagdad! in the blessed reign—
'... in the golden prime Of good Haroun Alraschid!'
I am versed in neither Cufic nor Neskhi lore, but the characters engraved on this ring are said to belong to the former dialect, and to mean 'Peace be with thee,' which is, and I believe has been, from time immemorial, the national salutation of the Arabs."
He unwound the cotton that enveloped the gem, and held it before Edna's eyes.
A broad band of dusky, tarnished gold was surmounted by a large crescent-shaped emerald, set with beautiful pearls, and underneath the Arabic inscription was engraved a ram's head, bearing on one horn a small crescent, on the other a star.
As Edna bent forward to examine it Mr. Leigh continued: "I do not quite comprehend the symbolism of the ram's head and the star; the crescent is clear enough."
"I think I can guess the meaning." Edna's eyes kindled.
"Tell me your conjecture; my own does not satisfy me, as the Arabic love of mutton is the only solution at which I have arrived."
"Oh, Mr. Leigh! look at it and think a moment."
"Well, I have looked at it and thought a great deal, and I tell you mutton-broth sherbet is the only idea suggested to my mind. You need not look so shocked, for, when cooled with the snows of Caucasus, I am told it makes a beverage fit for Greek gods."
"Think of the second chapter of St. Luke."
He pondered a moment, and answered, gravely: "I am sorry to say that I do not remember that particular chapter well enough to appreciate your clew."
She hesitated, and the color deepened on her cheek as she repeated, in a low voice:
"'And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.'
"Mr. Leigh, the star on the ram's horn may be the Star of Bethlehem that shone over the manger, and the Arabic inscription is certainly the salutation of the angel to the shepherds. 'Peace, good will toward men,' says St. Luke; 'Peace be with thee," said Islamism."