Sternly Edna faced the future, and pictured Gertrude as Mr. Murray's wife; for if he loved her (and did not his eyes declare it?), of course he would sweep every objection, every obstacle to the winds, and marry her speedily. She tried to think of him—the cold, harsh scoffer—as the fond husband of that laughing child; and though the vision was indescribably painful, she forced herself to dwell upon it.
The idea that he would ever love any one or anything had never until this hour occurred to her; and while she could neither tolerate his opinions or respect his character, she found herself smitten with a great, voiceless anguish at the thought of his giving his sinful bitter heart to any woman.
"Why did she love him? Curious fool be still! Is human love the growth of human will?"
Pressing her hand to her eyes she murmured:
"Gertrude is right; he is fascinating, but it is the fascination of a tempting demon! Ah! if I had never come here, if I had never been cursed with the sight of his face! But I am no weak, silly child like Gertrude Powell; I know what my duty is, and I am strong enough to conquer, and if necessary to crush my foolish heart. Oh! I know you, Mr. Murray, and I can defy you. To-day, shortsighted as I have been, I look down on you. You are beneath me, and the time will come when I shall look back to this hour and wonder if I were temporarily bewitched or insane. Wake up! wake up! come to your senses, Edna Earl! Put an end to this sinful folly; blush for your unwomanly weakness!"
As Gertrude's merry laugh floated up through the trees the orphan lifted her head, and the blood came back to her cheeks while she watched the two figures sauntering across, the smooth lawn. Gertrude leaned on Mr. Murray's arm, and as he talked to her his head was bent down, so that he could see the flushed face shaded by her straw hat.
She drew her hand from his arm when they reached the greenhouse, and looking much embarrassed, said hurriedly:
"I am afraid I have kept you waiting an unconscionable time; but Mr. Murray had so many beautiful things to show me that I quite forgot we had left you here alone."
"I dare say your mother thinks I have run away with you; and as I have an engagement, I must either bid you good-bye and leave you here with Mr. Murray, or go back at once with you to the house."
The orphan's voice was firm and quiet; and as she handed the French paper to St. Elmo, she turned her eyes full on his face.
"Have you read it already?" he asked, giving her one of his steely, probing glances.
"No, sir, I did not open it, as I take little interest in continental politics. Gertrude, will you go or stay?"
Mr. Murray put out his hand, took Gertrude's, and said:
"Good-bye till to-morrow. Do not forget your promise."
Turning away, he went in the direction of the stables.
In silence Edna walked on to the house, and presently Gertrude's soft fingers grasped hers.
"Edna, I hope you are not mad with me. Do you really think it is wrong for me to talk to Mr. Murray, and to like him so much?"
"Gertrude, you must judge for yourself concerning the propriety of your conduct. I shall not presume to advise you; but the fact that you are unwilling to acquaint your mother with your course ought to make you look closely at your own heart. When a girl is afraid to trust her mother, I should think there were grounds for uneasiness."
They had reached the steps, and Mrs. Powell came out to meet them.
"Where have you two runaways been? I have waited a half hour for you. Estelle, do come and see me. It is very dreary at the parsonage, and your visits are cheering and precious. Come, Gertrude."
When Gertrude kissed her friend, she whispered:
"Don't be mad with me, dearie. I will remember what you said, and talk to mamma this very evening."
Edna saw mother and daughter descend the long avenue and then running up to her room, she tied on her hat and walked rapidly across the park in an opposite direction.
About a mile and a half from Le Bocage, on a winding and unfrequented road leading to a sawmill, stood a small log-house containing only two rooms. The yard was neglected, full of rank weeds, and the gate was falling from its rusty hinges.
Edna walked up the decaying steps, and without pausing to knock, entered one of the comfortless-looking rooms.
On a cot in one corner lay an elderly man in the last stage of consumption, and by his side, busily engaged in knitting, sat a child about ten years old, whose pretty white face wore that touching look of patient placidity peculiar to the blind. Huldah Reed had never seen the light, but a marvellous change came over her countenance when Edna's light step and clear, sweet voice fell on her ear.
"Huldah, how is your father to-day?"
"Not as well as he was yesterday; but he is asleep now, and will be better when he wakes."
"Has the doctor been here to-day?"
"No, he has not been here since Sunday."
Edna stood for a while watching the labored breathing of the sleeper, and, putting her hand on Huldah's head, she whispered:
"Do you want me to read to you this evening? It is late, but I shall have time for a short chapter."
"Oh! please do, if it is only a few lines. It will not wake him."
The child rose, spread out her hands, and groped her way across the room to a small table, whence she took an old Bible.
The two sat down together by the western window, and Edna asked:
"Is there any particular chapter you would like to hear?"
"Please read about blind Bartimeus sitting by the roadside, waiting for Jesus."
Edna turned to the verses and read in a subdued tone for some moments. In her eager interest Huldah slid down on her knees, rested her thin hands on her companion's lap and raised her sweet face, with its wide, vacant, sad, hazel eyes.
When Edna read the twenty-fourth verse of the next chapter, the small hands were laid upon the page to arrest her attention.
"Edna, do you believe that? 'What things soever you desire, when ye pray believe that ye receive them, AND YE SHALL HAVE THEM!' Jesus said that: and if I pray that my eyes may be opened, do you believe I shall see? They tell me that—that pa will not live. Oh! do you think if I pray day and night, and if I believe, and oh! I do believe, I will believe! do you think Jesus will let me see him—my father—before he dies? If I could only see his dear face once, I would be willing to be blind afterward. All my life I have felt his face, and I knew it by my fingers; but oh! I can't feel it in the grave! I have been praying so hard ever since the doctor said he must die; praying that Jesus would have mercy on me, and let me see him just once. Last night I dreamed Christ came and put his hands on my eyes, and said to me, too, 'Thy faith hath made thee whole'; and I waked up crying, and my own fingers were pulling my eyes open; but it was all dark, dark. Edna, won't you help me pray! And do you believe I shall see him?"
Edna took the quivering face in her soft palms, and tenderly kissed the lips several times.
"My dear Huldah, you know the days of miracles are over, and Jesus is not walking in the world now to cure the suffering and the blind and the dumb."
"But he is sitting close to the throne of God, and he could send some angel down to touch my eyes, and let me see my dear, dear pa once—ah! just once. Oh! he is the same Jesus now as when he felt sorry for Bartimeus. And why won't He pity me, too? I pray and believe, and that is what He said I must do."
"I think that the promise relates to spiritual things, and means that when we pray for strength to resist temptation and sin, Jesus sends the Holy Spirit to assist all who earnestly strive to do their duty. But, dear Huldah, one thing is very certain, even if you are blind in this world, there will come a day when God will open your eyes, and you shall see those you love, face to face; 'for there shall be no night there' in that city of rest—no need of sun or moon, for 'the Lamb is the light thereof.'"
The child glided swiftly to the cot, and, looking round, Edna doubted the evidence of her senses; for by the side of the sufferer stood a figure so like Mr. Murray that her heart began to throb painfully.
The corner of the room was dim and shadowy, but a strong, deep voice soon dispelled all doubt.
"I hope you are better to-day, Reed. Here are some grapes which will refresh you, and you can eat them as freely as your appetite prompts."
Mr. Murray placed a luscious cluster in the emaciated hands, and put the basket down on the floor near the cot. As he drew a chair from the wall and seated himself, Edna crossed the room stealthily, and, laying her hand on Huldah's shoulder, led her out to the front steps.
"Huldah, has Mr. Murray ever been here before?"
"Oh! yes—often and often; but he generally comes later than this. He brings all the wine poor pa drinks, and very often peaches and grapes. Oh! he is so good to us. I love to hear him come up the steps; and many a time, when pa is asleep, I sit here at night, listening for the gallop of Mr. Murray's horse. Somehow I feel so safe, as if nothing could go wrong, when he is in the house."
"Why did you never tell me this before? Why have you not spoken of him?"
"Because he charged me not to speak to any one about it—said he did not choose to have it known that he ever came here. There! pa is calling me. Won't you come in and speak to him?"
"Not this evening. Good-bye. I will come again soon."
Edna stooped, kissed the child hastily, and walked away.
She had only reached the gate, where Tamerlane was fastened, when Mr. Murray came out of the house.
Reluctantly she stopped and waited for him.
"Are you not afraid to walk home alone?"
"No, sir; I am out frequently even later than this."
"It is not exactly prudent for you to go home now alone; for it will be quite dark before you can possibly reach the park gate."
He passed his horse's reins over his arm, and led him along the road.
"I am not going that way, sir. There is a path through the woods that is much shorter than the road and I can get through an opening in the orchard fence. Good evening."
She turned abruptly from the beaten road, but he caught her dress and detained her.
"I told you some time ago that I never permitted espionage in my affairs; and now with reference to what occurred at the greenhouse, I advise you to keep silent. Do you understand me?"
"In the first place, sir, I could not condescend to play spy on the actions of any one; and in the second, you may rest assured I shall not trouble myself to comment upon your affairs, in which I certainly have no interest. Your estimate of me must be contemptible indeed, if you imagine that I can only employ myself in watching your career. Dismiss your apprehensions, and rest in the assurance that I consider it no business of mine where you go or what you may choose to do."
"My only desire is to shield my pretty Gertrude's head from the wrath that may be bottled up for her."
Edna looked up fixedly into the deep, glittering eyes that watched hers, and answered quietly:
"Mr. Murray, if you love her half as well as I do, you will be more careful in the future not to subject her to the opening of the vials of wrath."
He laughed contemptuously, and exclaimed:
"You are doubtless experienced in such matters, and fully competent to advise me."
"No, sir; it does not concern me, and I presume neither to criticise nor to advise. Please be so good as to detain me no longer, and believe me when I repeat that I have no intention whatever of meddling with any of your affairs, or reporting your actions."
Putting his hands suddenly on her shoulders, he stooped, looked keenly at her, and she heard him mutter an oath. When he spoke again it was through set teeth:
"You will be wise if you adhere to that decision. Tell them at home not to wait supper for me."
He sprang into his saddle and rode toward the village; and Edna hurried homeward, asking herself:
"What first took Mr. Murray to the blacksmith's hovel? Why is he so anxious that his visits should remain undiscovered? After all, is there some latent nobility in his character? Is he so much better or worse than I have thought him? Perhaps his love for Gertrude has softened his heart, perhaps that love may be his salvation. God grant it! God grant it!"
The evening breeze rose and sang solemnly through the pine trees, but to her it seemed only to chant the melancholy refrain, "My pretty Gertrude, my pretty Gertrude."
The chill light of stars fell on the orphan's pathway, and over her pale features, where dwelt the reflection of a loneliness—a silent desolation, such as she had never realized, even when her grandfather was snatched from her clinging arms. She passed through the orchard, startling a covey of partridges that nestled in the long grass, and a rabbit that had stolen out under cover of dusk; and when she came to the fountain, she paused and looked out over the dark, quiet grounds.
Hitherto duty had worn a smiling, loving countenance, and walked gently by her side as she crossed the flowery vales of girlhood; now, the guide was transformed into an angel of wrath, pointing with drawn sword to the gate of Eden.
As the girl's light fingers locked themselves tightly, her beautiful lips uttered mournfully:
"What hast thou done, O soul of mine That thou tremblest so? Hast thou wrought His task, and kept the line He bade thee go? Ah! the cloud is dark, and day by day I am moving thither: I must pass beneath it on my way— God pity me! Whither?"
When Mrs. Murray went to her own room later than usual that night, she found Edna sitting by the table, with her Bible lying open on her lap, and her eyes fixed on the floor.
"I thought you were fast asleep before this. I sat up waiting for St. Elmo, as I wished to speak to him about some engagements for to- morrow."
The lady of the house threw herself wearily upon the lounge, and sighed as she unclasped her bracelets and took off the diamond cross that fastened her collar.
"Edna, ring for Hagar."
"Will you not let me take her place to-night? I want to talk to you before I go to sleep."
"Well, then, unlace my gaiters and take down my hair. Child, what makes you look so very serious?"
"Because what I am about to say saddens me very much. My dear Mrs. Murray, I have been in this house five peaceful, happy, blessed years; I have become warmly attached to everything about the home where I have been so kindly sheltered during my girlhood, and the thought of leaving it is exceedingly painful to me."
"What do you mean, Edna? Have you come to your senses at last, and consented to make Gordon happy?"
"No, no. I am going to New York to try to make my bread."
"You are going to a lunatic asylum! Stuff! nonsense! What can you do in New York? It is already overstocked with poor men and women, who are on the verge of starvation. Pooh! pooh! you look like making your bread. Don't be silly."
"I know that I am competent now to take a situation as teacher in a school, or family, and I am determined to make the experiment immediately. I want to go to New York because I can command advantages there which no poor girl can obtain in any Southern city; and the magazine for which I expect to write is published there. Mr. Manning says he will pay me liberally for such articles as he accepts, and if I can only get a situation which I hear is now vacant, I can easily support myself. Mrs. Powell received a letter yesterday from a wealthy friend in New York who desires to secure a governess for her young children, one of whom is deformed. She said she was excessively particular as to the character of the woman to whose care she committed her crippled boy, and that she had advertised for one who could teach him Greek. I shall ask Mrs. Powell and Mr. Hammond to telegraph to her to-morrow and request her not to engage any one till a letter can reach her from Mr. Hammond and myself. I believe he knows the lady, who is very distantly related to Mrs. Powell. Still, before I took this step, I felt that I owed it to you to acquaint you with my intention."
"It is a step which I cannot sanction. I detest that Mrs. Powell—I utterly loathe the sound of her name, and I should be altogether unwilling to see you domesticated with any of her 'friends.' I am surprised that Mr. Hammond could encourage any such foolish scheme on your part."
"As yet he is entirely ignorant of my plan, for I have mentioned it to no one except yourself; but I do not think he will oppose it. Dear Mrs. Murray, much as I love you, I cannot remain here any longer, for I could not continue to owe my bread even to your kind and tender charity. You have educated me, and only God knows how inexpressibly grateful I am for all your goodness; but now, I could no longer preserve my self-respect or be happy as a dependent on your bounty."
She had taken Mrs. Murray's hand, and while tears gathered in her eyes, she kissed the fingers and pressed them against her cheek.
"If you are too proud to remain here as you have done for so many years, how do you suppose you can endure the humiliations and affronts which will certainly be your portion when you accept a hireling's position in the family of a stranger? Don't you know that of all drudgery that required of governesses is most fraught with vexation and bitterness of spirit? I have never treated you as an upper servant, but loved you and shielded you from slights and insults as if you were my niece or my daughter. Edna, you could not endure the lot you have selected; your proud, sensitive nature would be galled to desperation. Stay here and help me keep house; write and study as much as you like, and do as you please; only don't leave me."
She drew the girl to her bosom, and while she kissed her, tears fell on the pale face.
"Oh, Mrs. Murray! it is hard to leave you! For indeed I love you more than you will ever believe or realize; but I must go! I feel it is my duty, and you would not wish me to stay here and be unhappy."
"Unhappy here! Why so? Something is wrong, and I must know just what it is. Somebody has been meddling—taunting you. Edna, I ask a plain question, and I want the whole truth. You and Estelle do not like each other; is her presence here the cause of your determination to quit my house?"
"No, Mrs. Murray; if she were not here I should still feel it my duty to go out and earn my living. You are correct in saying we do not particularly like each other; there is little sympathy between us, but no bad feeling that I am aware of, and she is not the cause of my departure."
Mrs. Murray was silent a moment, scrutinizing the face on her shoulder.
"Edna, can it be my son? Has some harsh speech of St. Elmo's piqued and wounded you?"
"Oh! no. His manner toward me is quite as polite, nay, rather more considerate than when I first came here. Beside, you know, we are almost strangers; sometimes weeks elapse without our exchanging a word."
"Are you sure you have not had a quarrel with him? I know you dislike him; I know how exceedingly provoking he frequently is; but, child, he is unfortunately constituted; he is bitterly rude to everybody, and does not mean to wound you particularly."
"I have no complaint to make of Mr. Murray's manner to me. I do not expect or desire that it should be other than it is. Why do you doubt the sincerity of the reason I gave for quitting dear old Bocage? I have never expected to live here longer than was necessary to qualify myself for the work I have chosen."
"I doubt it because it is so incomprehensible that a young girl, who might be Gordon Leigh's happy wife and mistress of his elegant home, surrounded by every luxury, and idolized by one of the noblest, handsomest men I ever knew, should prefer to go among strangers and toil for a scanty livelihood. Now I know something of human nature, and I know that your course is very singular, very unnatural. Edna, my child! My dear, little girl! I can't let you go. I want you! I can't spare you! I find I love you too well, my sweet comforter in all my troubles! My only real companion!"
She clasped the orphan closer and wept.
"Oh! you don't know how precious your love is to my heart, dear, dear Mrs. Murray! In all this wide world whom have I to love me but you and Mr. Hammond? Even in the great sorrow of leaving you, it will gladden me to feel that I possess so fully your confidence and affection. But I must go away; and after a little while you will not miss me; for Estelle will be with you, and you will not need me. Oh, it is hard to leave you! it is a bitter trial! But I know what my duty is; and were it even more difficult, I would not hesitate. I hope you will not think me unduly obstinate when I tell you, that I have fully determined to apply for that situation in New York."
Mrs. Murray pushed the girl from her, and, with a sob, buried her face in her arms.
Edna waited in vain for her to speak, and finally she stooped and kissed one of the hands, and said brokenly as she left the room:
"Good-night—my dearest—my best friend. If you could only look into my heart and see how it aches at the thought of separation, you would not add the pain of your displeasure to that which I already suffer."
When the orphan opened her eyes on the following morning, she found a note pinned to her pillow:
"MY DEAR EDNA: I could not sleep last night in consequence of your unfortunate resolution, and I write to beg you, for my sake if not for your own, to reconsider the matter. I will gladly pay you the same salary that you expect to receive as governess, if you will remain as my companion and assist at Le Bocage. I cannot consent to give you up; I love you too well, my child, to see you quit my house. I shall soon be an old woman, and then what should I do without my little orphan girl? Stay with me always, and you shall never know what want and toil and hardship mean. As soon as you are awake, come and kiss me good-morning, and I shall know that you are my own dear, little Edna. "Affectionately yours, "ELLEN MURRAY."
Edna knelt and prayed for strength to do what she felt duty sternly dictated; but, though her will did not falter her heart bled, as she wrote a few lines thanking her benefactress for the affection that had brightened and warmed her whole lonely life, and assuring her that the reasons which induced her to leave Le Bocage were imperative and unanswerable.
An hour later she entered the breakfast-room, and found the members of the family already assembled. While Mrs. Murray was cold and haughty, taking no notice of Edna's salutation, Estelle talked gayly with Mr. Allston concerning a horseback ride they intended to take that morning; and Mr. Murray, leaning back in his chair, seemed engrossed in the columns of the London Times which contained a recent speech of Gladstone's. Presently he threw down the paper, looked at his watch and ordered his horse.
"St. Elmo, where are you going? Do allow yourself to be prevailed upon to wait and ride with us."
Estelle's tone was musical and coaxing as she approached her cousin and put one of her fingers through the button-hole of his coat.
"Not for all the kingdoms that Satan pointed out from the pinnacle of Mount Quarantina! I have as insuperable an objection to constituting one of a trio as some superstitious people have to forming part of a dinner-party of thirteen. Where am I going? To that 'Sea of Serenity' which astronomers tell us is located in the left eye of the face known in common parlance as the man in the moon. Where am I going? To Western Ross-shire, to pitch my tent and smoke my cigar in peace, on the brink of that blessed Loch Maree, whereof Pennant wrote."
He shook off Estelle's touch, walked to the mantel-piece, and, taking a match from the china case, drew it across the heel of his boot.
"Where is Loch Maree? I do not remember ever to have seen the name," said Mrs. Murray, pushing aside her coffee-cup.
"Oh! pardon me, mother, if I decline to undertake your geographical education. Ask that incipient Isotta Nogarole, sitting there at your right hand. Doubtless she will find it a pleasing task to instruct you in Scottish topography, while I have an engagement that forces me most reluctantly and respectfully to decline the honor of enlightening you. Confound these matches! they are all damp."
Involuntarily Mrs. Murray's eyes turned to Edna, who had not even glanced at St. Elmo since her entrance. Now she looked up, and though she had not read Pennant, she remembered the lines written on the old Druidic well by an American poet. Yielding to some inexplicable impulse, she slowly and gently repeated two verses:
"'Oh, restless heart and fevered brain! Unquiet and unstable. That holy well of Loch Maree Is more than idle fable! The shadows of a humble will And contrite heart are o'er it: Go read its legend—"TRUST IN GOD"— On Faith's white stones before it!'"
"While your decision is very painful to me, I shall not attempt to dissuade you from a resolution which I know has not been lightly or hastily taken. But, ah, my child! what shall I do without you?"
Mr. Hammond's eyes filled with tears as he looked at his pupil, and his hand trembled when he stroked her bowed head.
"I dread the separation from you and Mrs. Murray; but I know I ought to go; and I feel that when duty commands me to follow a path, lonely and dreary though it may seem, a light will be shed before my feet, and a staff will be put into my hands. I have often wondered what the Etrurians intended to personify in their Dii Involuti, before whose awful decrees all other gods bowed. Now I feel assured that the chief of the 'Shrouded Gods' is Duty, veiling her features with a silver-lined cloud, scorning to parley, but whose unbending figure signs our way—an unerring pillar of cloud by day, of fire by night. Mr. Hammond, I shall follow that stern finger till the clods on my coffin shut it from my sight."
The August sun shining through the lilac and myrtle boughs that rustled close to the study-window glinted over the pure, pale face of the orphan, and showed a calm mournfulness in the eyes which looked out at the quiet parsonage garden, and far away to the waving lines against the sky, where—
"A golden lustre slept upon the hills."
Just beyond the low, ivy-wreathed stone wall that marked the boundary of the garden ran a little stream, overhung with alders and willows, under whose tremendous shadows rested contented cattle— some knee-deep in water, some browsing leisurely on purple-tufted clover. From the wide, hot field, stretching away on the opposite side, came the clear metallic ring of the scythes, as the mowers sharpened them; the mellow whistle of the driver lying on top of the huge hay mass, beneath which the oxen crawled toward the lowered bars; and the sweet gurgling laughter of two romping, sunburned children, who swung on at the back of the wagon.
Edna pointed to the peaceful picture, and said: "If Rosa Bonheur could only put that on canvas for me, I would hang it upon my walls in the great city whither I am going; and when my weary days of work ended, I could sit down before it, and fold my tired hands and look at it through the mist of tears till its blessed calm stole into my heart, and I believed myself once more with you, gazing out of the study-window. Ah! blessed among all gifted women is Rosa Bonheur! accounted worthy to wear what other women may not aspire to—the Cross of the Legion of Honor! Yesterday when I read the description of the visit of the Empress to the studio, I think I was almost as proud and happy as that patient worker at the easel, when over her shoulders was hung the ribbon which France decrees only to the mighty souls who increase her glory, and before whom she bows in reverent gratitude. I am glad that a woman's hand laid that badge of immortality on womanly shoulders—a crowned head crowning the Queen of Artists. I wonder if, when obscure and in disguise, she haunted the abattoir du Roule, and worked on amid the lowing and bleating of the victims—I wonder if faith prophesied of that distant day of glorious recompense, when the ribbon of the Legion fluttered from Eugenie's white fingers and she was exalted above all thrones? Ah, Mr. Hammond! we all wear our crosses, but they do not belong to the order of the Legion of Honor."
The minister enclosed in his own the hand which she had laid on his knee, and said gently but gravely:
"My child, your ambition is your besetting sin. It is Satan pointing to the tree of knowledge, tempting you to eat and become 'as gods.' Search your heart, and I fear you will find that while you believe you are dedicating your talent entirely to the service of God, there is a spring of selfishness underlying all. You are too proud, too ambitious of distinction, too eager to climb to some lofty niche in the temple of fame, where your name, now unknown, shall shine in the annals of literature and serve as a beacon to encourage others equally as anxious for celebrity. I was not surprised to see you in print; for long, long ago, before you realized the extent of your mental dowry, I saw the kindling of that ambitious spark whose flame generally consumes the women in whose hearts it burns. The history of literary females is not calculated to allay the apprehension that oppresses me, as I watch you just setting out on a career so fraught with trials of which you have never dreamed. As a class they are martyrs, uncrowned and uncanonized; jeered at by the masses, sincerely pitied by a few earnest souls, and wept over by the relatives who really love them. Thousands of women have toiled over books that proved millstones and drowned them in the sea of letters. How many of the hundreds of female writers scattered through the world in this century, will be remembered six months after the coffin closes over their weary, haggard faces? You may answer, 'They made their bread.' Ah, child! it would have been sweeter if earned at the wash-tub, or in the dairy, or by their needles. It is the rough handling, the jars, the tension of the heartstrings that sap the foundations of a woman's life and consign her to an early grave; and a Cherokee rose-hedge is not more thickly set with thorns than a literary career with grievous, vexatious, tormenting disappointments. If you succeed after years of labor and anxiety and harassing fears, you will become a target for envy and malice, and, possibly, for slander. Your own sex will be jealous of your eminence, considering your superiority an insult to their mediocrity; and mine will either ridicule or barely tolerate you; for men detest female competitors in the Olympian game of literature. If you fail, you will be sneered down till you become embittered, soured, misanthropic; a curse to yourself, a burden to the friends who sympathize with your blasted hopes. Edna, you have talent, you write well, you are conscientious; but you are not De Stael, or Hannah More, or Charlotte Bronte, or Elizabeth Browning; and I shudder when I think of the disappointment that may overtake all your eager aspirations. If I could be always near you, I should indulge less apprehension for your future; for I believe that I could help you to bear patiently whatever is in store for you. But far away among strangers you must struggle alone."
"Mr. Hammond, I do not rely upon myself; my hope is in God."
"My child, the days of miraculous inspiration are ended."
"Ah! do not discourage me. When the Bishop of Noyon hesitated to consecrate St. Radegund, she said to him, 'Thou wilt have to render thy account, and the Shepherd will require of thee the souls of his sheep.' My dear sir, your approbation is the consecration that I desire upon my purpose. God will not forsake me; He will strengthen and guide me and bless my writing, even as He blesses your preaching. Because He gave you five talents and to me only one, do you think that in the great day of reckoning mine will not be required of me? I do not expect to 'enter into the joy of my Lord' as you will be worthy to do; but with the blessing of God, I trust the doom of the altogether unprofitable servant will not be pronounced against me."
She had bowed her head till it rested on his knee, and presently the old man put his hands upon the glossy hair and murmured solemnly:
"And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your heart and mind through Christ Jesus."
A brief silence reigned in the study, broken first by the shout of the haymakers and the rippling laugh of the children in the adjacent field, and then by the calm voice of the pastor:
"I have offered you a home with me as long as I have a roof that I can call my own; but you prefer to go to New York, and henceforth I shall never cease to pray that your resolution may prove fortunate in all respects. You no longer require my direction in your studies, but I will suggest that it might be expedient for you to give more attention to positive and less to abstract science. Remember those noble words of Sir David Brewster, to which, I believe, I have already called your attention, 'If the God of love is most appropriately worshipped in the Christian temple, the God of nature may be equally honored in the temple of science. Even from its lofty minarets the philosopher may summon the faithful to prayer, and the priest and the sage may exchange altars without the compromise of faith or of knowledge.' Infidelity has shifted the battlefield from metaphysics to physics, from idealism and rationalism to positivism or rank materialism; and in order to combat it successfully, in order to build up an imperishable system of Christian teleology, it is necessary that you should thoroughly acquaint yourself with the 'natural sciences,' with dynamics, and all the so-called 'inherent forces of nature,' or what Humboldt terms 'primordial necessity.' This apotheosis of dirt, by such men as Moleschott, Buchner, and Voght, is the real Antaeus which, though continually over-thrown, springs from mother earth with renewed vigor, and after a little while some Hercules of science will lift the boaster in his inexorable arms and crush him."
Here Mrs. Powell entered the room, and Edna rose and tied on her hat.
"Mr. Hammond, will you go over to see Huldah this afternoon? Poor little thing! she is in great distress about her father."
"I fear he cannot live many days. I went to see him yesterday morning, and would go again with you now, but have promised to baptize two children this evening."
Edna was opening the gate when Gertrude called to her from a shaded corner of the yard, and turning, she saw her playing with a fawn, about whose neck she had twined a long spray of honeysuckle.
"Do come and see the beautiful present Mr. Murray sent me several days ago. It is as gentle and playful as a kitten, and seems to know me already."
Gertrude patted the head of her pretty pet and continued:
"I have often read about gazelle's eyes, and I wonder if these are not quite as lovely? Very often when I look at them they remind me of yours. There is such a soft, sad, patient expression, as if she knew perfectly well that some day the hunters would be sure to catch and kill her, and she was meekly biding her time to be turned into venison steak. I never will eat another piece! The dear little thing! Edna, do you know that you have the most beautiful eyes in the world, except Mr. Murray's? His glitter like great stars under long, long black silk fringe. By the way, how is he? I have not seen him for some days and you can have no idea how I do want to look into his face, and hear his voice, which is so wonderfully sweet and low. I wrote him a note thanking him for this little spotted darling; but he has not answered it—has not come near me, and I was afraid he might be sick."
Gertrude stole one arm around her companion's neck and nestled her golden head against the orphan's shoulder.
"Mr. Murray is very well; at least, appears so. I saw him at breakfast."
"Does he ever talk about me?"
"No; I never heard him mention your name but once, and then it occurred incidentally."
"Oh, Edna! is it wrong for me to think about him so constantly? Don't press your lips together in that stern, hard way. Dearie, put your arms around me, and kiss me. Oh! if you could know how very much I love him! How happy I am when he is with me. Edna, how can I help it? When he touches my hand, and smiles down at me, I forget everything else! I feel as if I would follow him to the end of the earth. He is a great deal older than I am; but how can I remember that when he is looking at me with those wonderful eyes? The last time I saw him, he said—well, something very sweet, and I was sure he loved me, and I leaned my head against his shoulder; but he would not let me touch him; he pushed me away with a terrific frown, that wrinkled and blackened his face. Oh! it seems an age since then."
Edna kissed the lovely coral lips, and smoothed the bright curls that the wind had blown about the exquisitely moulded cheeks.
"Gertrude, when he asks you to love him, you will have a right to indulge your affection; but until then you ought not to allow him to know your feelings, or permit yourself to think so entirely of him."
"But do you believe it is wrong for me to love him so much?"
"That is a question which your own heart must answer."
Edna felt that her own lips were growing cold, and she disengaged the girl's clasping arms.
"Edna, I know you love me; will you do something for me? Please give him this note. I am afraid that he did not receive the other, or that he is offended with me."
She drew a dainty three-cornered envelope from her pocket.
"No, Gertrude; I can be a party to no clandestine correspondence. I have too much respect for your uncle, to assist in smuggling letters in and out of his house. Beside, your mother would not sanction the course you are pursuing."
"Oh! I showed her the other note, and she only laughed, and patted my cheek, and said, 'Why, Mignonne! he is old enough to be your father.' This note is only to find out whether he received the other. I sent it by the servant who brought this fawn—oh dear me! just see what a hole the pretty little wretch has nibbled in my new Swiss muslin dress! Won't mamma scold! There, do go away, pet; I will feed you presently. Indeed, Edna, there is no harm in your taking the note, for I give you my word mamma does not care. Do you think I would tell you a story? Please, Edna. It will reach him so much sooner if you carry it over, than if I were to drop it into the post-office where it may stay for a week; and Uncle Allan has no extra servants to run around on errands for me."
"Gertrude, are you not deceiving me? Are you sure your mother read the other note and sanctions this?"
"Certainly; you may ask her if you doubt me. There! I must hurry in; mamma is calling me. Dear Edna, if you love me! Yes, mamma, I am coming."
Edna could not resist the pleading of the lovely face pressed close to hers, and with a sigh she took the tiny note and turned away.
More than a week had elapsed since Mr. Hammond and Mrs. Powell had written, recommending her for the situation in Mrs. Andrews's famity; and with feverish impatience she awaited the result. During this interval she had not exchanged a word with Mr. Murray—had spent much of her time in writing down in her note-book such references from the library as she required in her MS.; and while Estelle seemed unusually high-spirited, Mrs. Murray watched in silence the orphan's preparations for departure.
Absorbed in very painful reflections, the girl walked on rapidly till she reached the cheerless home of the blacksmith, and knocked at the door.
"Come in, Mr. Murray."
Edna pushed open the door and walked in.
"It is not Mr. Murray this time."
"Oh, Edna! I am so glad you happened to come. He would not let me tell you; he said he did not wish it known. But now you are here, you will stay with me, won't you, till it is over?"
Huldah was kneeling at the side of her father's cot, and Edna was startled by the look of eager, breathless anxiety printed on her white, trembling face.
"What does she mean, Mr. Reed?"
"Poor little lamb, she is so excited she can hardly speak, and I am not strong enough to talk much. Huldah, daughter, tell Miss Edna all about it."
"Mr. Murray heard all I said to you about praying to have my eyes opened, and he went to town that same evening, and telegraphed to some doctor in Philadelphia, who cures blindness, to come on and see if he could do anything for my eyes. Mr. Murray was here this morning, and said he had heard from the doctor, and that he would come this afternoon. He said he could only stay till the cars left for Chattanooga, as he must go back at once. You know he—hush! There! there! I hear the carriage now. Oh, Edna! pray for me! Pa, pray for my poor eyes!"
The sweet, childish face was colorless, and tears filled the filmy, hazel eyes as Huldah clasped her hands. Her lips moved rapidly, though no sound was audible.
Edna stepped behind the door, and peeped through a crack in the planks.
Mr. Murray entered first and beckoned to the stranger, who paused at the threshold, with a case of instruments in his hand.
"Come in, Hugh; here is your patient, very much frightened, too, I am afraid. Huldah, come to the light."
He drew her to the window, lifted her to a chair, and the doctor bent down, pushed back his spectacles, and cautiously examined the child's eyes.
"Don't tremble so, Huldah; there is nothing to be afraid of. The doctor will not hurt you."
"Oh! it is not that I fear to be hurt! Edna, are you praying for me?"
"Edna is not here," answered Mr. Murray, glancing round the room.
"Yes, she is here. I did not tell her, but she happened to come a little while ago. Edna, won't you hold one of my hands? Oh, Edna! Edna!"
Reluctantly the orphan came forward, and, without lifting her eyes, took one of the little outstretched hands firmly in both her own. While Mr. Murray silently appropriated the other, Huldah whispered:
"Please both of you pray for me."
The doctor raised the eyelids several times, peered long and curiously at the eyeballs, and opened his case of instruments.
"This is one of those instances of congenital cataract which might have been relieved long ago. A slight operation will remove the difficulty. St. Elmo, you asked me about the probability of an instantaneous restoration, and I had begun to tell you about that case which Wardrop mentions of a woman, blind from her birth till she was forty-six years of age. She could not distinguish objects for several days—"
"Oh, sir! will I see? Will I see my father?" Her fingers closed spasmodically over those that clasped them, and the agonizing suspense written in her countenance was pitiable to contemplate.
"Yes, my dear, I hope so—I think so. You know, Murray, the eye has to be trained; but Haller mentions a case of a nobleman who saw distinctly at various distances, immediately after the cataract was removed from the axis of vision. Now, my little girl, hold just as still as possible. I, shall not hurt you."
Skilfully he cut through the membrane and drew it down, then held his hat between her eyes and the light streaming through the window.
Some seconds elapsed and suddenly a cry broke from the child's lips.
"Oh! something shines! there is a light, I believe!"
Mr. Murray threw his handkerchief over her head, caught her in his arms and placed her on the side of the cot.
"The first face her eyes ever look upon shall be that which she loves best—her father's."
As he withdrew the handkerchief Mr. Reed feebly raised his arms toward his child, and whispered:
"My little Huldah—my daughter, can you see me?"
She stooped, put her face close to his, swept her small fingers repeatedly over the emaciated features, to convince herself of the identity of the new sensation of sight with the old and reliable sense of touch; then she threw her head back with a wild laugh, a scream of delight.
"Oh! I see! Thank God I see my father's face! My dear pa! my own dear pa!"
For some moments she hung over the sufferer, kissing him, murmuring brokenly her happy, tender words, and now and then resorting to the old sense of touch.
While Edna wiped away tears of joyful sympathy which she strove in vain to restrain, she glanced at Mr. Murray, and wondered how he could stand there watching the scene with such bright, dry eyes.
Seeming suddenly to remember that there were other countenances in the world beside that tear-stained one on the pillow, Huldah slipped down from the cot, turned toward the group, and shaded her eyes with her fingers.
"Oh, Edna! a'n't you glad for me? Where are you? I knew Jesus would hear me. 'What things soever ye desire, when ye pray believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them.' I did believe, and I see! I see! I prayed that God would send down some angel to touch my eyes, and He sent Mr. Murray and the doctor."
After a pause, during which the oculist prepared some bandages, Huldah added:
"Which one is Mr. Murray? Will you, please, come to me? My ears and my fingers know you, but my eyes don't."
He stepped forward and putting out her hands she grasped his, and turned her untutored eyes upon him. Before he could suspect her design she fell at his feet, threw her arms around his knees, and exclaimed:
"How good you are! How shall I ever thank you enough? How good." She clung to him and sobbed hysterically.
Edna saw him lift her from the floor and put her back beside her father, while the doctor bandaged her eyes; and waiting to hear no more, the orphan glided away and hurried along the road.
Ere she had proceeded far, she heard the quick trot of the horses, the roll of the carriage. Leaning out as they overtook her, Mr. Murray directed the driver to stop, and swinging open the door, he stepped out and approached her.
"The doctor dines at Le Bocage; will you take a seat with us, or do you, as usual, prefer to walk alone?"
"Thank you, sir; I am not going home now. I shall walk on."
He bowed, and was turning away, but she drew the delicately perfumed envelope from her pocket.
"Mr. Murray, I was requested by the writer to hand you this note, as she feared its predecessor was lost by the servant to whom she entrusted it."
He took it, glanced at the small, cramped, school-girlish handwriting, smiled, and thrust it into his vest pocket, saying in a low, earnest tone:
"This is, indeed, a joyful surprise. You are certainly more reliable than Henry. Accept my cordial thanks, which I have not time to reiterate. I generally prefer to owe my happiness entirely to Gertrude; but in this instance I can bear to receive it through the medium of your hands. As you are so prompt and trusty, I may trouble you to carry my answer."
The carriage rolled on, leaving a cloud of dust which the evening sunshine converted into a glittering track of glory, and seating herself on a grassy bank, Edna leaned her head against the body of a tree; and all the glory passed swiftly away, and she was alone in the dust.
As the sun went down, the pillared forest aisles stretching westward, filled first with golden haze, then glowed with a light redder than Phthiotan wine poured from the burning beaker of the sun; and only the mournful cooing of doves broke the solemn silence as the pine organ whispered its low coranach for the dead day; and the cool shadow of coming night crept, purple-mantled, velvet- sandaled, down the forest glades.
"Oh! if I had gone away a week ago! before I knew there was any redeeming charity in his sinful nature! If I could only despise him utterly, it would be so much easier to forget him. Ah! God pity me! God help me! What right have I to think of Gertrude's lover— Gertrude's husband! I ought to be glad that he is nobler than I thought, but I am not! Oh! I am not! I wish I had never known the good that he has done. Oh, Edna Earl! has it come to this? How I despise—how I hate myself!"
Rising, she shook back her thick hair, passed her hands over her hot temples, and stood listening to the distant whistle of a partridge— to the plaint of the lonely dove nestled among the pine boughs high above her; and gradually a holy calm stole over her face, fixing it as the merciful touch of death stills features that have long writhed in mortal agony. Into her struggling heart entered a strength which comes only when weary, wrestling, honest souls turn from human sympathy, seek the hallowed cloisters of Nature and are folded tenderly in the loving arms of Mother Cybele, who "never did betray the heart that loved her."
"Whose dwelling is the light of setting suns, And the round ocean and the living air, And the blue sky * * * 'Tis her privilege, Through all the years of this our life, to lead From joy to joy, for she can so inform The mind that is within us, so impress With quietness and beauty, and so feed With lofty thoughts, that neither evil tongues, Rash judgments, nor the sneers of selfish men, Nor greetings where no kindness is—nor all The dreary intercourse of daily life, Shall e'er prevail against us or disturb Our cheerful faith, that all which we behold Is full of blessing"
To her dewy altars among the mountains of Gilead fled Jephthah's daughter, in the days when she sought for strength to fulfill her father's battle-vow; and into her pitying starry eyes looked stricken Rizpah, from those dreary rocks where love held faithful vigil, guarding the bleaching bones of her darling dead, sacrificed for the sins of Saul.
"Mrs. Andrews writes that I must go on with as little delay as possible, and I shall start early Monday morning, as I wish to stop one day at Chattanooga."
Edna rose and took her hat from the study table, and Mr. Hammond asked:
"Do you intend to travel alone?"
"I shall be compelled to do so, as I know of no one who is going on to New York. Of course, I dislike very much to travel alone, but in this instance I do not see how I can avoid it."
"Do not put on your hat—stay and spend the evening with me."
"Thank you, sir, I want to go to the church and practice for the last time on the organ. After to-morrow, I may never sing again in our dear choir. Perhaps I may come back after awhile and stay an hour or two with you."
During the past year she had accustomed herself to practising every Saturday afternoon the hymns selected by Mr. Hammond for the services of the ensuing day, and for this purpose had been furnished by the sexton with a key, which enabled her to enter the church whenever inclination prompted. The church-yard was peaceful and silent as the pulseless dust in its numerous sepulchres; a beautiful red-bird sat on the edge of a marble vase that crowned the top of one of the monuments, and leisurely drank the water which yesterday's clouds had poured there, and a rabbit nibbled the leaves of a cluster of pinks growing near a child's grave.
Edna entered the cool church, went up into the gallery and sat down before the organ. For some time the low, solemn tones whispered among the fluted columns that supported the gallery, and gradually swelled louder and fuller and richer as she sang:
"Cast thy burden on the Lord."
Her sweet, well-trained voice faltered more than once, and tears fell thick and fast on the keys. Finally she turned and looked down at the sacred spot where she had been baptized by Mr. Hammond, and where she had so often knelt to receive the sacrament of the Lord's Supper.
The church was remarkably handsome and certainly justified the pride with which the villagers exhibited it to all strangers. The massive mahogany pew-doors were elaborately carved and surmounted by small crosses; the tall, arched windows were of superb stained glass, representing the twelve apostles; the floor and balustrade of the altar, and the grand Gothic pillared pulpit, were all of the purest white marble; and the capitals of the airy, elegant columns of the same material, that supported the organ gallery, were ornamented with rich grape-leaf moulding; while the large window behind and above the pulpit contained a figure of Christ bearing his Cross—a noble copy of the great painting of Solario, at Berlin.
As the afternoon sun shone on the glass, a flood of ruby light fell from the garments of Jesus upon the glittering marble beneath, and the nimbus that radiated around the crown of thorns caught a glory that was dazzling.
With a feeling of adoration that no language could adequately express, Edna had watched and studied this costly painted window for five long years; had found a marvellous fascination in the pallid face stained with purplish blood-drops; in the parted lips quivering with human pain and anguish of spirit; in the unfathomable, divine eyes that pierced the veil and rested upon the Father's face. Not all the sermons of Bossuet, or Chalmers, or Jeremy Taylor, or Melville, had power to stir the great deeps of her soul like one glance at that pale, thorn-crowned Christ, who looked in voiceless woe and sublime resignation over the world he was dying to redeem.
To-day she gazed up at the picture of Emmanuel till her eyes grew dim with tears, and she leaned her head against the mahogany railing and murmured sadly:
"'And he that taketh not his cross, and followeth after me, is not worthy of me!' Strengthen me, O my Saviour! so that I neither faint nor stagger under mine!"
The echo of her words died away among the arches of the roof, and all was still in the sanctuary. The swaying of the trees outside of the windows threw now a golden shimmer, then a violet shadow over the gleaming altar pavement; and the sun sunk lower, and the nimbus faded, and the wan Christ looked ghastly and toil-spent.
"Edna! My darling! my darling!"
The pleading cry, the tremulous, tender voice so full of pathos, rang startlingly through the silent church, and the orphan sprang up and saw Mr. Murray standing at her side, with his arms extended toward her, and a glow on his face and a look in his eyes which she had never seen there before.
She drew back a few steps and gazed wonderingly at him; but he followed, threw his arm around her, and, despite her resistance, strained her to his heart.
"Did you believe that I would let you go? Did you dream that I would see my darling leave me, and go out into the world to be buffeted and sorely tried, to struggle with poverty—and to suffer alone? Oh, silly child! I would part with my own life sooner than give you up! Of what value would it be without you, my pearl, my sole hope, my only love, my own, pure Edna—"
"Such language you have no right to utter, and I none to hear! It is dishonorable in you and insulting to me. Gertrude's lover can not, and shall not, address such words to me. Unwind your arms instantly! Let me go!"
She struggled hard to free herself, but his clasp tightened, and as he pressed her face against his bosom, he threw his head back and laughed:
"'Gertrude's lover!' Knowing my history, how could you believe that possible? Am I, think you, so meek and forgiving a spirit as to turn and kiss the hand that smote me? Gertrude's lover! Ha! ha!! Your jealousy blinds you, my—"
"I know nothing of your history; I have never asked; I have never been told one word! But I am not blind, I know that you love her, and I know, too, that she fully returns your affection. If you do not wish me to despise you utterly, leave me at once."
He laughed again, and put his lips close to her ear, saying softly, tenderly—ah! how tenderly:
"Upon my honor as a gentleman, I solemnly swear that I love but one woman; that I love her as no other woman ever was loved; with a love that passes all language; a love that is the only light and hope of a wrecked, cursed, unutterably miserable life; and that idol which I have set up in the lonely gray ruins of my heart is Edna Earl!"
"I do not believe you! You have no honor! With the touch of Gertrude's lips and arms still on yours, you come to me and dare to perjure yourself! Oh, Mr. Murray! Mr. Murray! I did not believe you capable of such despicable dissimulation! In the catalogue of your sins, I never counted deceit. I thought you too proud to play the hypocrite. If you could realize how I loathe and abhor you, you would get out of my sight! You would not waste time in words that sink you deeper and deeper in shameful duplicity. Poor Gertrude! How entirely you mistake your lover's character! How your love will change to scorn and detestation!"
In vain she endeavored to wrench away his arm, a band of steel would have been as flexible; but St. Elmo's voice hardened, and Edna felt his heart throb fiercely against her cheek as he answered:
"When you are my wife you will repent your rash words, and blush at the remembrance of having told your husband that he was devoid of honor. You are piqued and jealous, just as I intended you should be; but, darling, I am not a patient man, and it frets me to feel you struggling so desperately in the arms that henceforth will always enfold you. Be quiet and hear me, for I have much to tell you. Don't turn your face away from mine, your lips belong to me. I never kissed Gertrude in my life, and so help me God, I never will! Hear— "
"No! I will hear nothing! Your touch is profanation. I would sooner go down into my grave, out there in the churchyard, under the granite slabs, than become the wife of a man so unprincipled. I am neither piqued nor jealous, for your affairs cannot affect my life; I am only astonished and mortified and grieved. I would sooner feel the coil of a serpent around my waist than your arms."
Instantly they fell away. He crossed them on his chest, and his voice sank to a husky whisper, as the wind hushes itself just before the storm breaks.
"Edna, God is my witness that I am not deceiving you; that my words come from the great troubled depths of a wretched heart. You said you knew nothing of my history. I find it more difficult to believe you than you to credit my declarations. Answer one question: Has not your pastor taught you to distrust me? Can it be possible that no hint of the past has fallen from his lips?"
"Not one unkind word, not one syllable of your history has he uttered. I know no more of your past than if it were buried in mid- ocean."
Mr. Murray placed her in one of the cushioned chairs designed for the use of the choir, and leaning back against the railing of the gallery, fixed his eyes on Edna's face.
"Then it is not surprising that you distrust me, for you know not my provocation. Edna, will you be patient? Will you go back with me over the scorched and blackened track of an accursed and sinful life? It is a hideous waste I am inviting you to traverse! Will you?"
"I will hear you, Mr. Murray, but nothing that you can say will justify your duplicity to Gertrude, and—"
"D—n Gertrude! I ask you to listen, and suspend your judgment till you know the circumstances."
He covered his eyes with his hand, and in the brief silence she heard the ticking of his watch.
"Edna, I roll away the stone from the charnel house of the past, and call forth the Lazarus of my buried youth, my hopes, my faith in God, my trust in human nature, my charity, my slaughtered manhood! My Lazarus has tenanted the grave for nearly twenty years, and comes forth, at my bidding, a grinning skeleton. You may or may not know that my father, Paul Murray, died when I was an infant, leaving my mother the sole guardian of my property and person. I grew up at Le Bocage under the training of Mr. Hammond, my tutor; and my only associate, my companion from earliest recollections, was his son Murray, who was two years my senior, and named for my father. The hold which that boy took upon my affection was wonderful, inexplicable! He wound me around his finger as you wind the silken threads with which you embroider. We studied, read, played together. I was never contented out of his sight, never satisfied until I saw him liberally supplied with everything that gave me pleasure. I believe I was very precocious, and made extraordinary strides in the path of learning; at all events, at sixteen I was considered a remarkable boy. Mr. Hammond had six children; and as his salary was rather meagre I insisted on paying his son's expenses as well as my own when I went to Yale. I could not bear that my Damon, my Jonathan, should be out of my sight; I must have my idol always with me. His father was educating him for the ministry, and he had already commenced the study of theology; but no! I must have him with me at Yale, and so to Yale we went. I had fancied myself a Christian, had joined the church, was zealous and faithful in all my religious duties. In a fit of pious enthusiasm I planned this church—ordered it built. The cost was enormous, and my mother objected, but I intended it as a shrine for the 'apple of my eye,' and where he was concerned, what mattered the expenditure of thousands? Was not my fortune quite as much at his disposal as at mine? I looked forward with fond pride to the time when I should see my idol—Murray Hammond—standing in yonder shining pulpit. Ha! at this instant it is filled with a hideous spectre! I see him there! His form and features mocking me, daring me to forget! Handsome as Apollo! treacherous as Apollyon!"
He paused, pointing to the pure marble pile where a violet flame seemed flickering, and then with a groan bowed his head upon the railing. When he spoke again, his face wore an ashy hue, and his stern mouth was unsteady.
"Hallowed days of my blessed boyhood! Ah! they rise before me now, like holy, burning stars, breaking out in a stormy, howling night, making the blackness blacker still! My short happy springtime of life! So full of noble aspirations, of glowing hopes, of philanthropic schemes, of all charitable projects! I would do so much good with my money! my heart was brimming with generous impulses, with warm sympathy and care for my fellow-creatures. Every needy sufferer should find relief at my hands as long as I possessed a dollar or a crust! As I look back now at that dead self, and remember all that I was, all the purity of my life, the nobility of my character, the tenderness of my heart—I do not wonder that people who knew me then, predicted that I would prove an honor, a blessing to my race! Mark you! that was St. Elmo Murray—as nature fashioned him; before man spoiled God's handiwork. Back! back to your shroud and sepulchre, O Lazarus of my youth! and when I am called to the final judgment, rise for me! stand in my place, and confront those who slaughtered you! * * * My affection for my chum, Murray, increased as I grew up to manhood, and there was not a dream of my brain, a hope of my heart which was not confided to him. I reverenced, I trusted, I almost—nay, I quite worshipped him! When I was only eighteen I began to love his cousin, whose father was pastor of a church in New Haven, and whose mother was Mr. Hammond's sister. You have seen her. She is beautiful even now, and you can imagine how lovely Agnes Hunt was in her girlhood. She was the belle and pet of the students, and before I had known her a month I was her accepted lover. I loved her with all the devotion of my chivalric, ardent, boyish nature; and for me she professed the most profound attachment. Her parents favored our wishes for an early marriage, but my mother refused to sanction such an idea until I had completed my education and visited the old world. I was an obedient, affectionate son then, and yielded respectfully; but as vacation approached, I prepared to come home, hoping to prevail on mother to consent to my being married just before we sailed for Europe the ensuing year, after I left Yale. Murray was my confidant and adviser. In his sympathizing ears I poured all my fond hopes, and he insisted that I ought to take my lovely bride with me; it would be cruel to leave her so long; and, beside, he was so impatient for the happy day when he should call me his cousin. He declined coming home, on the plea of desiring to prosecute his theological studies with his uncle, Mr. Hunt. Well do I recollect the parting between us. I had left Agnes in tears—inconsolable because of my departure; and I flew to Murray for words of consolation. When I bade him good- bye my eyes were full of tears, and as he passed his arm around my shoulders, I whispered, 'Murray, take care of my angel Agnes for me! watch over and comfort her while I am away.' Ah! as I stand here to- day, I hear again ringing over the ruins of the past twenty years, his loving musical tones answering:
"'My dear boy, trust her to my care. St. Elmo, for your dear sake I will steal time from my books to cheer her while you are absent. But hurry back, for you know I find black-letter more attractive than blue-eyes. God bless you, my precious friend. Write to me constantly.'
"Since then, I always shudder involuntarily when I hear parting friends bless each other—for well, well do I know the stinging curse coiled up in those smooth liquid words! I came home and busied myself in the erection of this church; in plans for Murray's advancement in life, as well as my own. My importunity prevailed over my mother's sensible objections, and she finally consented that I should take my bride to Europe; while I had informed Mr. Hammond that I wished Murray to accompany us; that I would gladly pay his travelling expenses—I was so anxious for him to see the East, especially Palestine. Full of happy hopes, I hurried back earlier than I had intended, and reached New Haven very unexpectedly. The night was bright with moonshine, my heart was bright with hope, and too eager to see Agnes, whose letters had breathed the most tender solicitude and attachment, I rushed up the steps, and was told that she was walking in the little flower-garden. Down the path I hurried, and stopped as I heard her silvery laugh blended with Murray's; then my name was pronounced in tones that almost petrified me. Under a large apple-tree in the parsonage-garden they sat on a wooden bench, and only the tendrils and branches of an Isabella grape vine divided us. I stood there, grasping the vine—looking through the leaves at the two whom I had so idolized; and saw her golden head flashing in the moonlight as she rested it on her cousin's breast; heard and saw their kisses; heard—what wrecked, blasted me! I heard myself ridiculed—sneered at—maligned; heard that I was to be a mere puppet—a cat's paw, that I was a doting, silly fool—easily hoodwinked; that she found it difficult, almost impossible, to endure my caresses; that she shuddered in my arms, and flew for happiness to his! I heard that from the beginning I had been duped; that they had always loved each other—always would; but poverty stubbornly barred their marriage—and she must be sacrificed to secure my fortune for the use of both! All that was uttered I can not now recapitulate; but it is carefully embalmed, and lies in the little Taj Mahal, among other cherished souvenirs of my precious friendships! While I stood there, I was transformed; the soul of St. Elmo seemed to pass away—a fiend took possession of me; love died, hope with it—and an insatiable thirst for vengeance set my blood on fire. During those ten minutes my whole nature was warped, distorted; my life blasted—mutilated—deformed. The loss of Agnes's love I could have borne, nay—fool that I was!—I think my quondam generous affection for Murray would have made me relinquish her almost resignedly, if his happiness had demanded the sacrifice on my part. If he had come to me frankly and acknowledged all, my insane idolatry would have made me place her hand in his, and remove the barrier of poverty; and the assurance that I had secured his lifelong happiness would have sufficed for mine. Oh! the height and depth and marvellous strength of my love for that man passes comprehension! But their scorn, their sneers at my weak credulity, their bitter ridicule of my awkward, overgrown boyishness, stung me to desperation. I wondered if I were insane, or dreaming, or the victim of some horrible delusion. My veins ran fire as I listened to the tingling of her silvery voice with the rich melody of his, and I turned and left the garden, and walked back toward the town. The moon was full, but I staggered and groped my way, like one blind, to the college buildings. I knew where a pair of pistols was kept by one of the students, and possessing myself of them, I wandered out on the road leading to the parsonage. I was aware that Murray intended coming into the town, and at last I reeled into a shaded spot near the road, and waited for him. Oh! the mocking glory of that cloudless night! To this day I hate the cold glitter of stars, and the golden sheen of midnight moons! For the first time in my life, I cursed the world and all it held; cursed the contented cricket singing in the grass at my feet; cursed the blood in my arteries, that beat so thick and fast I could not listen for the footsteps I was waiting for. At last I heard him whistling a favorite tune, which all our lives we had whistled together, as we hunted through the woods around Le Bocage; and, as the familiar sound of 'The Braes of Balquither' drew nearer and nearer, I sprang up with a cry that must have rung on the night air like the yell of some beast of prey. Of all that passed I only know that I cursed and insulted and maddened him till he accepted the pistol, which I thrust into his hand. We moved ten paces apart—and a couple of students, who happened accidentally to pass along the road and heard our altercation, stopped at our request, gave the word of command, and we fired simultaneously. The ball entered Murray's heart, and he fell dead without a word. I was severely wounded in the chest, and now I wear the ball here in my side. Ah! a precious in memoriam of murdered confidence!"
Until now Edna had listened breathlessly, with her eyes upon his; but here a groan escaped her, and she shuddered violently, and hid her face in her hands.
Mr. Murray came nearer, stood close to her, and hurried on.
"My last memory of my old idol is as he lay with his handsome, treacherous face turned up to the moon; and the hair which Agnes had been fingering, dabbled with dew and the blood that oozed down from his side. When I recovered my consciousness Murray Hammond had been three weeks in his grave. As soon as I was able to travel, my mother took me to Europe, and for five years we lived in Paris, Naples, or wandered to and fro. Then she came home, and I plunged into the heart of Asia. After two years I returned to Paris, and gave myself up to every species of dissipation. I drank, gambled, and my midnight carousals would sicken your soul were I to paint all their hideousness. You have read in the Scriptures of persons possessed of devils? A savage, mocking, tearing devil held me in bondage. I sold myself to my Mephistopheles on condition that my revenge might be complete. I hated the whole world with an intolerable, murderous hate; and to mock and make my race suffer was the only real pleasure I found. The very name, the bare mention of religion maddened me. A minister's daughter, a minister's son, a minister himself, had withered my young life, and I blasphemously derided all holy things. Oh, Edna! my darling! it is impossible to paint all the awful wretchedness of that period, when I walked in the world seeking victims and finding many. Verily,
'There's not a crime But takes its proper change out still in crime, If once rung on the counter of this world, Let sinners look to it.'
Ah! upon how many lovely women have I visited Agnes's sin of hypocrisy! Into how many ears have I poured tender words, until fair hands were as good as offered to me, and I turned their love to mockery! I hated and despised all womanhood; and even in Paris I became notorious as a heartless trifler with the affections I won and trampled under my feet. Whenever a brilliant and beautiful woman crossed my path, I attached myself to her train of admirers, until I made her acknowledge my power and give public and unmistakable manifestation of her preference for me; then I left her—a target for the laughter of her circle. It was not vanity; oh! no, no! That springs from self-love, and I had none. It was hate of every thing human, especially of every thing feminine. One of the fairest faces that ever brightened the haunts of fashion—a queenly, elegant girl- -the pet of her family and of society, now wears serge garments and a black veil, and is immured in an Italian convent, because I entirely won her heart; and when she waited for me to declare my affection and ask her to become my wife, I quitted her side for that of another belle, and never visited her again. On the day when she bade adieu to the world, I was among the spectators; and as her mournful but lovely eyes sought mine, I laughed, and gloried in the desolation I had wrought. Sick of Europe, I came home...
'And to a part I come where no light shines.'
My tempting fiend pointed to one whose suffering would atone for much of my misery. Edna, I withhold nothing; there is much I might conceal, but I scorn to do so. During one terribly fatal winter, scarlet-fever had deprived Mr. Hammond of four children, leaving him an only daughter—Annie—the image of her brother Murray. Her health was feeble; consumption was stretching its skeleton hands toward her, and her father watched her as a gardener tends his pet, choice, delicate exotic. She was about sixteen, very pretty, very attractive. After Murray's death, I never spoke to Mr. Hammond, never crossed his path; but I met his daughter without his knowledge, and finally I made her confess her love for me. I offered her my hand; she accepted it. A day was appointed for an elopement and marriage; the hour came; she left the parsonage, but I did not meet her here on the steps of this church as I had promised, and she received a note that announced my inability to fulfill the engagement. Two hours later her father found her insensible on the steps, and the marble was dripping with a hemorrhage of blood from her lungs. The dark stain is still there; you must have noticed it. I never saw her again. She kept her room from that day, and died three months after. When on her deathbed she sent for me, but I refused to obey the summons. As I stand here, I see through the window the gray, granite vault overgrown with ivy, and the marble slab where sleep in untimely death Murray and Annie Hammond, the victims of my insatiable revenge. Do you wonder that I doubted you when you said that afflicted father, Allan Hammond, had never uttered one unkind word about me?"
Mr. Murray pointed to a quiet corner of the church-yard, but Edna did not lift her face, and he heard the half-smothered, shuddering moan that struggled up as she listened to him.
He put his hand on hers, but she shivered and shrank away from him.
"Years passed. I grew more and more savage; the very power of loving seemed to have died out in my nature. My mother endeavored to drag me into society, but I was surfeited, sick of the world—sick of my own excesses; and gradually I became a recluse, a surly misanthrope. How often have I laughed bitterly over those words of Mill's: 'Yet nothing is more certain than that improvement in human affairs is wholly the work of the uncontented characters!' My indescribable, my tormenting discontent, daily belied his aphorism. My mother is a woman of stern integrity of character and sincerity of purpose; but she is worldly and ambitious, and inordinately proud, and for her religion I had lost all respect. Again I went abroad, solely to kill time; was absent two years, and came back. I had ransacked the world, and was disgusted, hopeless, prematurely old. A week after my return I was attacked by a very malignant fever, and my life was despaired of, but I exulted in the thought that at last I should find oblivion. I refused all remedies, and set at defiance all medical advice, hoping to hasten the end; but death cheated me. I rose from my bed of sickness, cursing the mockery, realizing that indeed:
'The good die first, And they whose hearts are dry as summer dust Burn to the socket.'
Some months after my recovery, while I was out on a camp-hunt, you were brought to Le Bocage, and the sight of you made me more vindictive than ever. I believed you selfishly designing, and I could not bear that you should remain under the same roof with me. I hated children as I hated men and women. But that day when you defied me in the park, and told me I was sinful and cruel, I began to notice you closely. I weighed your words, watched you when you little dreamed that I was present, and often concealed myself in order to listen to your conversation. I saw in your character traits that annoyed me, because they were noble and unlike what I had believed all womanhood or girlhood to be. I was aware that you dreaded and disliked me; I saw that very clearly every time I had occasion to speak to you. How it all came to pass I can not tell—I know not—and it has always been a mystery even to me; but, Edna, after the long lapse of years of sin and reckless dissipation, my heart stirred and turned to you, child though you were, and a strange, strange, invincible love for you sprang from the bitter ashes of a dead affection for Agnes Hunt. I wondered at myself; I sneered at my idiocy; I cursed my mad folly, and tried to believe you as unprincipled as I had found others; but the singular fascination strengthened day by day. Finally I determined to tempt you, hoping that your duplicity and deceit would wake me from the second dream into which I feared there was danger of my falling. Thinking that at your age curiosity was the strongest emotion, I carefully arranged the interior of the Taj Mahal, so that it would be impossible for you to open it without being discovered; and putting the key in your hands, I went abroad. I wanted to satisfy myself that you were unworthy, and believed you would betray the trust. For four years I wandered, restless, impatient, scorning myself more and more because I could not forget your sweet, pure, haunting face; because, despite my jeers, I knew that I loved you. At last I wrote to my mother from Egypt that I should go to Central Persia, and so I intended. But one night as I sat alone, smoking, amid the ruins of the propylon at Philas, a vision of Le Bocage rose before me, and your dear face looked at me from the lotus-crowned columns of the ancient temple. I forgot the hate I bore all mankind; I forgot every thing but you; your pure, calm, magnificent eyes; and the longing to see you, my darling—the yearning to look into your eyes once more, took possession of me. I sat there till the great, golden, dewless dawn of the desert fell upon Egypt, and then came a struggle long and desperate. I laughed and swore at my folly; but far down in the abysses of my distorted nature hope had kindled a little feeble, flickering ray. I tried to smother it, but its flame clung to some crevice in my heart, and would not be crushed. While I debated, a pigeon that dwelt somewhere in the crumbling temple fluttered down at my feet, cooed softly, looked in my face, then perched on a mutilated red granite sphinx immediately in front of me, and after a moment rose, circled above me in the pure, rainless air and flew westward. I accepted it as an omen, and started to America instead of to Persia. On the night of the tenth of December, four years after I bade you good-bye at the park gate, I was again at Le Bocage. Silently and undiscovered I stole into my own house, and secreted myself behind the curtains in the library. I had been there one hour when you and Gordon Leigh came in to examine the Targum. Oh, Edna! how little you dreamed of the eager, hungry eyes that watched you! During that hour that you two sat there bending over the same book, I became thoroughly convinced that while I loved you as I never expected to love any one, Gordon also loved you, and intended if possible to make you his wife. I contrasted my worn, haggard face and grayish locks with his, so full of manly hope and youthful beauty, and I could not doubt that any girl would prefer him to me. Edna, my retribution began then. I felt that my devil was mocking me, as I had long mocked others, and made me love you when it was impossible to win you. Then and there I was tempted to spring upon and throttle you both before he triumphantly called you his. At last Leigh left, and I escaped to my own rooms. I was pacing the floor when I heard you cross the rotunda and saw the glimmer of the light you carried. Hoping to see you open the little Taj, I crawled behind the sarcophagus that holds my two mummies, crouched close to the floor, and peeped at you across the gilded byssus that covered them. My eyes, I have often been told, possess magnetic or mesmeric power. At all events, you felt my eager gaze, you were restless, and searched the room to discover whence that feeling of a human presence came. Darling, were you superstitious, that you avoided looking into the dark corner where the mummies lay? Presently you stopped in front of the little tomb, and swept away the spider-web, and took the key from your pocket, and as you put it into the lock I almost shouted aloud in my savage triumph! I absolutely panted to find Leigh's future wife as unworthy of confidence as I believed the remainder of her sex. But you did not open it. You merely drove away the spider and rubbed the marble clean with your handkerchief, and held the key between your fingers. Then my heart seemed to stand still, as I watched the light streaming over your beautiful, holy face and warm, crimson dress; and when you put the key in your pocket and turned away, my groan almost betrayed me. I had taken out my watch to see the hour, and in my suspense I clutched it so tightly that the gold case and the crystal within all crushed in my hand. You heard the tingling sound and wondered whence it came; and when you had locked the door and gone, I raised one of the windows and swung myself down to the terrace. Do you remember that night?"
"Yes, Mr. Murray."
Her voice was tremulous and almost inaudible.
"I had business in Tennessee, no matter now, what, or where, and I went on that night. After a week I returned, that afternoon when I found you reading in my sitting-room. Still I was sceptical, and not until I opened the tomb, was I convinced that you had not betrayed the trust which you supposed I placed in you. Then, as you stood beside me in all your noble purity and touching girlish beauty,—as you looked up half reproachfully, half defiantly at me—it cost me a terrible effort to master myself—to abstain from clasping you to my heart, and telling you all that you were to me. Oh! how I longed to take you in my arms and feed my poor famished heart with one touch of your lips! I dared not look at you, lest I should lose my self- control. The belief that Gordon was a successful rival sealed my lips on that occasion; and ah! the dreary wretchedness of the days of suspense that followed. I was a starving beggar who stood before what I coveted above everything else on earth, and saw it labelled with another man's name and beyond my reach. The daily sight of that emerald ring on your finger maddened me; and you can form no adequate idea of the bitterness of feeling with which I noted my mother's earnest efforts and manoeuvres to secure for Gordon Leigh— to sell to him—the little hand which her own son would have given worlds to claim in the sight of God and man! Continually I watched you when you least expected me; I strewed infidel books where I knew you must see them; I tempted you more than you dreamed of; I teased and tormented and wounded you whenever an opportunity offered; for I hoped to find some flaw in your character, some defect in your temper, some inconsistency between your professions and your practice. I knew Leigh was not your equal, and I said bitterly, 'She is poor and unknown, and will surely marry him for his money, for his position—as Agnes would have married me.' But you did not! and when I knew that you had positively refused his fortune, I felt that a great dazzling light had broken suddenly upon my darkened life; and, for the first time since I parted with Murray Hammond, tears of joy filled my eyes. I ceased to struggle against my love—I gave myself up to it, and only asked, How can I overcome her aversion to me? You were the only tie that linked me with my race, and for your sake I almost felt as if I could forget my hate. But you shrank more and more from me, and my punishment overtook me when I saw how you hated Clinton Allston's blood-smeared hands, and with what unfeigned horror you regarded his career. When you declared so vehemently that his fingers should never touch yours—oh! it was the fearful apprehension of losing you that made me catch your dear hands and press them to my aching heart. I was stretched upon a rack that taught me the full import of Isaac Taylor's grim words, 'Remorse is man's dread prerogative!' Believing that you knew all my history and that your aversion was based upon it, I was too proud to show you my affection. Douglass Manning was as much my friend as I permitted any man to be; we had travelled together through Arabia, and with his handwriting I was familiar. Suspecting your literary schemes, and dreading a rival in your ambition, I wrote to him on the subject, discovered all I wished to ascertain, and requested him, for my sake, to reconsider and examine your MS. He did so to oblige me, and I insisted that he should treat your letters and your MS. with such severity as to utterly crush your literary aspirations. Oh, child! do you see how entirely you fill my mind and heart? How I scrutinize your words and actions? Oh, my darling—"
He paused, and leaned over her, putting his hand on her head, but she shook off his touch and exclaimed:
"But Gertrude! Gertrude!"
"Be patient, and you shall know all; for as God reigns above us, there is no recess of my heart into which you shall not look. It is, perhaps, needless to tell you that Estelle came here to marry me for my fortune. It is not agreeable to say such things of one's own cousin, but to-day I deal only in truths, and facts sustain me. She professes to love me! has absolutely avowed it more than once in days gone by. Whether she really loves anything but wealth and luxury, I have never troubled myself to find out; but my mother fancies that if Estelle were my wife, I might be less cynical. Once or twice I tried to be affectionate toward her, solely to see what effect it would have upon you; but I discovered that you could not easily be deceived in that direction—the mask was too transparent, and beside, the game disgusted me. I have no respect for Estelle, but I have a shadowy traditional reverence for the blood in her veins which forbids my flirting with her as she deserves. The very devil himself brought Agnes here. She had married a rich old banker only a few months after Murray's death, and lived in ease and splendor until a short time since, when her husband failed and died, leaving her without a cent. She knew how utterly she had blasted my life, and imagined that I had never married because I still loved her! With unparalleled effrontery she came here, and trusting to her wonderfully preserved beauty, threw herself and her daughter in my way. When I heard SHE was at the parsonage, all the old burning hate leaped up strong as ever. I fancied that she was the real cause of your dislike to me, and that night, when the game of billiards ended, I went to the parsonage for the first time since Murray's death. Oh! the ghostly thronging memories that met me at the gate, trooped after me up the walk, and hovered like vultures as I stood in the shadow of the trees, where my idol and I had chatted and romped and shouted and whistled in the far past, in the sinless bygone! Unobserved I stood there, and looked once more, after the lapse of twenty years, on the face that had caused my crime and ruin. I listened to her clear laugh, silvery as when I heard it chiming with Murray's under the apple-tree on the night that branded me and drove me forth to wander like Cain; and I resolved, if she really loved her daughter, to make her suffer for all that she had inflicted on me. The first time I met Gertrude I could have sworn my boyhood's love was restored to me; she is so entirely the image of what Agnes was. To possess themselves of my home and property is all that brought them here; and whether as my wife or as my mother-in- law I think Agnes cares little. The first she sees is impracticable, and now to make me wed Gertrude is her aim. Like mother, like daughter!"
"Oh! no, no! visit not her mother's sins on her innocent head! Gertrude is true and affectionate, and she loves you dearly."
Edna spoke with a great effort, and the strange tones of her own voice frightened her.
"Loves me? Ha! ha! just about as tenderly as her mother did before her! That they do both 'dearly love'—my purse, I grant you. Hear me out. Agnes threw the girl constantly and adroitly in my way; the demon here in my heart prompted revenge, and, above all, I resolved to find out whether you were indeed as utterly indifferent to me as you seemed. I know that jealousy will make a woman betray her affection sooner than any other cause, and I deliberately set myself to work to make you believe that I loved that pretty cheat over yonder at the parsonage—that frolicsome wax-doll, who would rather play with a kitten than talk to Cicero; who intercepts me almost daily, to favor me with manifestations of devotion, and shows me continually that I have only to put out my hand and take her to rule over my house, and trample my heart under her pretty feet! When you gave me that note of hers a week ago, and looked so calmly, so coolly in my face, I felt as if all hope were dying in my heart; for I could not believe that, if you had one atom of affection for me, you could be so generous, so unselfish toward one whom you considered your rival. That night I did not close my eyes, and had almost decided to revisit South America; but next morning my mother told me you were going to New York—that all entreaties had failed to shake your resolution. Then once more a hope cheered me, and I believed that I understood why you had determined to leave those whom I know you love tenderly—to quit the home my mother offered you and struggle among strangers. Yesterday they told me you would leave on Monday, and I went out to seek you; but you were with Mr. Hammond, as usual, and instead of you I met—that curse of my life— Agnes! Face to face, at last, with my red-lipped Lamia! Oh! it was a scene that made jubilee down in Pandemonium! She plead for her child's happiness—ha, ha, ha!—implored me most pathetically to love her Gertrude as well as Gertrude loved me, and that my happiness would make me forget the unfortunate past! She would willingly give me her daughter, for did she not know how deep, how lasting, how deathless was my affection? I had Gertrude's whole heart, and I was too generous to trifle with her tender love! Edna, darling! I will not tell you all she said—you would blush for your sisterhood. But my vengeance was complete when I declined the honor she was so eager to force upon me; when I overwhelmed her with my scorn, and told her that there was only one woman whom I respected or trusted; only one woman upon the broad earth whom I loved; only one woman who could ever be my wife, and her name was—Edna Earl!"
His voice died away, and all was still as the dead in their grassy graves.
The orphan's face was concealed, and after a moment St. Elmo Murray opened his arms, and said in that low winning tone which so many women had found it impossible to resist: "Come to me now, my pure, noble Edna. You whom I love, as only such a man as I have shown myself to be can love."
"No, Mr. Murray; Gertrude stands between us."
"Gertrude! Do not make me swear here, in your presence—do not madden me by repeating her name! I tell you she is a silly child, who cares no more for me than her mother did before her. Nothing shall stand between us. I love you; the God above us is my witness that I love you as I never loved any human being, and I will not—I swear I will not live without you! You are mine, and all the legions in hell shall not part us!"
He stooped, snatched her from the chair as if she had been an infant, and folded her in his strong arms.
"Mr. Murray, I know she loves you. My poor little trusting friend! You trifled with her warm heart, as you hope to trifle with mine; but I know you; you have shown me how utterly heartless, remorseless, unprincipled you are. You had no right to punish Gertrude for her mother's sins; and if you had one spark of honor in your nature, you would marry her, and try to atone for the injury you have already done."
"By pretending to give her a heart which belongs entirely to you? If I wished to deceive you now, think you I would have told all that hideous past, which you can not abhor one half as much as I do?"
"Your heart is not mine! It belongs to sin, or you could not have so maliciously deceived poor Gertrude. You love nothing but your ignoble revenge and the gratification of your self-love! You—"
"Take care, do not rouse me. Be reasonable, little darling. You doubt my love? Well, I ought not to wonder at your scepticism after all you have heard. But you can feel how my heart throbs against your cheek, and if you will look into my eyes, you will be convinced that I am fearfully in earnest, when I beg you to be my wife to- morrow—to-day—now! if you will only let me send for a minister or a magistrate! You are—"
"You asked Annie to be your wife, and—"
"Hush! hush! Look at me. Edna, raise your head and look at me."
She tried to break away, and finding it impossible, pressed both hands over her face and hid it against his shoulder.
He laughed, and whispered:
"My darling, I know what that means. You dare not look up because you cannot trust your own eyes! Because you dread for me to see something there which you want to hide, which you think it your duty to conceal."
He felt a long shudder creep over her, and she answered resolutely:
"Do you think, sir, that I could love a murderer? A man whose hands are red with the blood of the son of my best friend?"
"Look at me then."
He raised her head, drew down her hands, took them firmly in one of his, and placing the other under her chin, lifted the burning face close to his own.
She dreaded the power of his lustrous, mesmeric eyes, and instantly her long silky lashes swept her flushed cheeks.
"Ah! you dare not! You can not look me steadily in the eye and say, 'St. Elmo, I never have loved—do not—and never can love you!' You are too truthful; your lips can not dissemble. I know you do not want to love me. Your reason, your conscience forbid it; you are struggling to crush your heart. You think it your duty to despise and hate me. But, my own, Edna—my darling! my darling! you do love me! You know you do love me, though you will not confess it! My proud darling!"