She turned away and busied herself in correcting his Latin exercise, and for some time the boy sat sullen and silent.
At length he sighed heavily, and taking his crutches, came up to the table where she sat.
"Suppose you tell my mother I am sorry I was disrespectful."
"Felix, are you really sorry?"
"Well, then go and tell her so, and she will love you a thousand times more than ever before. The confession should come from your own lips."
He stood irresolute and sighed again:
"I will go if you will go with me."
She rose and they went to Mrs. Andrew's room. The mother was superbly dressed in visiting costume, and was tying on her bonnet when they entered.
"Mrs. Andrews, your son wishes to say something which I think you will be glad to hear."
"Indeed! Well, Felix, what is it?"
"Mamma—I believe—I know I was very cross—and disrespectful to you—and oh, mamma! I hope you will forgive me!"
He dropped his crutches and stretched out his arms, and Mrs. Andrews threw down the diamond cluster, with which she was fastening her ribbons, and caught the boy to her bosom.
"My precious child! my darling! Of course I forgive you gladly. My dear son, if you only knew half how well I love you, you would not grieve me so often by your passionate temper. My darling!—"
She stooped to kiss him, and when she turned to look for the girlish form of the governess, it was no longer visible; mother and son were alone.
During the first few months after her removal to New York, Edna received frequent letters from Mrs. Murray and Mr. Hammond; but as winter advanced they wrote more rarely and hurriedly, and finally, many weeks elapsed without bringing any tidings from Le Bocage. St. Elmo's name was never mentioned, and while the girl's heart ached, she crushed it more ruthlessly day by day, and in retaliation imposed additional and unremitting toil upon her brain.
Mr. Manning had called twice to escort her to the libraries and art galleries, and occasionally he sent her new books, and English and French periodicals; but his chill, imperturbable calmness oppressed and embarrassed Edna, and formed a barrier to all friendly worth in their intercourse. He so completely overawed her that in his august presence she was unable to do herself justice, and felt that she was not gaining ground in his good opinion. The brooding serenity of his grave, Egyptic face was not contagious; and she was conscious of a vague disquiet, a painful restlessness, when in his company and under his cold, changeless eyes.
One morning in January, as she sat listening to Felix's recitations, Mrs. Andrews came into the school-room with an open note in one hand, and an exquisite bouquet in the other.
"Miss Earl, here is an invitation for you to accompany Mr. Manning to the opera to-night; and here, too, is a bouquet from the same considerate gentleman. As he does me the honor to request my company also, I came to confer with you before sending a reply. Of course, you will go?"
"Yes, Mrs. Andrews, if you will go with me."
Edna bent over her flowers, and recognizing many favorites that recalled the hothouse at Le Bocage, her eyes filled with tears, and she hastily put her lips to the snowy cups of an oxalis. How often she had seen just such fragile petals nestling in the buttonhole of Mr. Murray's coat.
"I shall write and invite him to come early and take tea with us. Now, Miss Earl, pardon my candor, I should like to know what you intend to wear? You know that Mr. Manning is quite lionized here, and you will have to face a terrific battery of eyes and lorgnettes; for everybody will stretch his or her neck to find out, first, who you are, and secondly, how you are dressed. Now I think I understand rather better than you do what is comme il faut in these matters and I hope you will allow me to dictate on this occasion. Moreover, our distinguished escort is extremely fastidious concerning ladies' toilettes."
"Here are my keys, Mrs. Andrews; examine my wardrobe and select what you consider appropriate for to-night."
"On condition that you permit me to supply any deficiencies which I may discover? Come to my room at six o'clock, and let Victorine dress your hair. Let me see, I expect a la Grec will best suit your head and face."
Edna turned to her pupils and their books, but all day the flowers in the vase on the table prattled of days gone by; of purple sunsets streaming through golden starred acacia boughs; of long, languid, luxurious Southern afternoons dying slowly on beds of heliotrope and jasmine, spicy geraniums and gorgeous pelargoniums; of dewy, delicious summer mornings, for ever and ever past, when standing beside a quivering snowbank of Lamarque roses, she had watched Tamerlane and his gloomy rider go down the shadowy avenue of elms.
The monotonous hum of the children's voices seemed thin and strange and far, far off, jarring the sweet bouquet babble; and still as the hours passed, and the winter day waned, the flower Fugue swelled on and on, through the cold and dreary chambers of her heart; now rising stormy and passionate, like a battle-blast, from the deep orange trumpet of a bignonia; and now whispering and sobbing and pleading, from the pearly white lips of hallowed oxalis.
When she sat that night in Mr. Manning's box at the Academy of Music, the editor raised his opera-glass, swept the crowded house, scanning the lovely, beaming faces wreathed with smiles, and then his grave, piercing glance came back and dwelt on the countenance at his side. The cherry silk lining and puffing on her opera-cloak threw a delicate stain of color over her exquisitely moulded cheeks, and in the braid of black hair which rested like a coronal on her polished brow, burned a scarlet anemone. Her long lashes drooped as she looked down at the bouquet between her fingers, and listening to the Fugue which memory played on the petals, she sighed involuntarily.
"Miss Earl, is this your first night at the opera?"
"No, sir; I was here once before with Mr. Andrews and his children."
"I judge from your writings that you are particularly fond of music."
"Yes, sir; I think few persons love it better than I do."
"What style do you prefer?"
"Sacred music—oratorios rather than operas."
The orchestra began an overture of Verdi's, and Edna's eyes went back to her flowers.
Presently Mrs. Andrews said eagerly:
"Look, Miss Earl! Yonder, in the box directly opposite, is the celebrated Sir Roger Percival, the English nobleman about whom all Gotham is running mad. If he has not more sense than most men of his age, his head will be completely turned by the flattery heaped upon him. What a commentary on Republican Americans, that we are so dazzled by the glitter of a title! However, he really is very agreeable; I have met him several times, dined with him last week at the Coltons. He has been watching us for some minutes. Ah! there is a bow for me; and one I presume for you, Mr. Manning."
"Yes, I knew him abroad. We spent a month together at Dresden, and his brain is strong enough to bear all the adulation New Yorkers offer his title."
Edna looked into the opposite box, and saw a tall, elegantly-dressed man, with huge whiskers and a glittering opera-glass; and then as the curtain rose on the first act of "Ernani," she turned to the stage, and gave her entire attention to the music.
At the close of the second act Mrs. Andrews said:
"Pray who is that handsome man down yonder in the parquet, fanning himself with a libretto! I do not think his eyes have moved from this box for the last ten minutes. He is a stranger to me."
She turned her fan in the direction of the person indicated, and Mr. Manning looked down and answered:
"He is unknown to me."
Edna's eyes involuntarily wandered over the sea of heads, and the editor saw her start and lean forward, and noticed the sudden joy that flashed into her face, as she met the earnest, upward gaze of Gordon Leigh.
"An acquaintance of yours, Miss Earl?"
"Yes, sir, an old friend from the South."
The door of the box opened, and Sir Roger Percival came in and seated himself near Mrs. Andrews, who in her cordial welcome seemed utterly to forget the presence of the governess.
Mr. Manning sat close to Edna, and taking a couple of letters from his pocket he laid them on her lap, saying:
"These letters were directed to my care by persons who are ignorant of your name and address. If you will not consider me unpardonably curious, I should like to know the nature of their contents."
She broke the seals and read the most flattering commendations of her magazine sketches, the most cordial thanks for the pleasure derived from their perusal; but the signatures were unknown to her.
A sudden wave of crimson surged into her face as she silently put the letters into Mr. Manning's hand, and watched his grave, fixed, undemonstrative features, while he read, refolded, and returned them to her.
"Miss Earl, I have received several documents of a similar character asking for your address. Do you still desire to write incognito, or do you wish your name given to your admirers?"
"That is a matter which I am willing to leave to your superior judgment."
"Pardon me, but I much prefer that you determine it for yourself."
"Then you may give my name to those who are sufficiently interested in me to write and make the inquiry."
Mr. Manning smiled slightly, and lowered his voice as he said:
"Sir Roger Percival came here to-night to be introduced to you. He has expressed much curiosity to see the author of the last article which you contributed to the magazine; and I told him that you would be in my box this evening. Shall I present him now?"
Mr. Manning was rising, but Edna put her hand on his arm, and answered hurriedly:
"No, no! He is engaged in conversation with Mrs. Andrews, and, moreover, I believe I do not particularly desire to be presented to him."
"Here comes your friend; I will vacate this seat in his favor."
He rose, bowed to Gordon Leigh, and gave him the chair which he had occupied.
"Edna! how I have longed to see you once more!"
Gordon's hand seized hers, and his handsome face was eloquent with feelings which he felt no inclination to conceal.
"The sight of your countenance is an unexpected pleasure in New York. Mr. Leigh, when did you arrive?"
"This afternoon. Mr. Hammond gave me your address, and I called to see you, but was told that you were here."
"How are they all at home?"
"Do you mean at Le Bocage or the Parsonage?"
"I mean how are all my friends?"
"Mrs. Murray is very well, Miss Estelle, ditto. Mr. Hammond has been sick, but was better and able to preach before I left. I brought a letter for you from him, but unfortunately left it in the pocket of my travelling coat. Edna, you have changed very much since I saw you last."
"In what respect, Mr. Leigh?"
The crash of the orchestra filled the house, and people turned once more to the stage. Standing with his arms folded, Mr. Manning saw the earnest look on Gordon's face as, with his arm resting on the back of Edna's chair, he talked in a low, eager tone; and a pitying smile partly curved the editor's granite mouth as he noticed the expression of pain on the girl's face, and heard her say coldly:
"No, Mr. Leigh; what I told you then I repeat now. Time has made no change."
The opera ended, the curtain fell, and an enthusiastic audience called out the popular prima donna.
While bouquets were showered upon her, Mr. Manning stooped and put his hand on Edna's:
"Shall I throw your tribute for you?"
She hastily caught the bouquet from his fingers, and replied:
"Oh! no, thank you! I am so selfish, I can not spare it."
"I shall call at ten o'clock to-morrow to deliver your letter," said Gordon, as he stood hat in hand.
"I shall be glad to see you, Mr. Leigh."
He shook hands with her and with Mr. Manning, to whom she had introduced him, and left the box.
Sir Roger Percival gave his arm to Mrs. Andrews, and the editor drew Edna's cloak over her shoulders, took her hand and led her down the steps.
As her little gloved fingers rested in his, the feeling of awe and restraint melted away, and looking into his face she said:
"Mr. Manning, I do not think you will ever know half how much I thank you for all your kindness to an unknown authorling. I have enjoyed the music very much indeed. How is Lila to-night?"
A slight tremor crossed his lips; the petrified hawthorn was quivering into life.
"She is quite well, thank you. Pray, what do you know about her? I was not aware that I had ever mentioned her name in your presence."
"My pupil, Felix, is her most devoted knight, and I see her almost every afternoon when I go with the children to Central Park."
They reached the carriage where the Englishman stood talking to Mrs. Andrews, and when Mr. Manning had handed Edna in, he turned and said something to Sir Roger, who laughed lightly and walked away.
During the drive Mrs. Andrews talked volubly of the foreigner's ease and elegance and fastidious musical taste, and Mr. Manning listened courteously and bowed coldly in reply. When they reached home she invited him to dinner on the following Thursday, to meet Sir Roger Percival.
As the editor bade them good-night he said to Edna:
"Go to sleep at once; do not sit up to work to-night."
Did she follow his sage advice? Ask of the stars that watched her through the long winter night, and the dappled dawn that saw her stooping wearily over her desk.
At the appointed hour on the following morning Mr. Leigh called, and after some desultory remarks he asked, rather abruptly:
"Has St. Elmo Murray written to you about his last whim?"
"I do not correspond with Mr. Murray."
"Everybody wonders what droll freak will next seize him. Reed, the blacksmith, died several months ago and, to the astonishment of our people, Mr. Murray has taken his orphan, Huldah, to Le Bocage; has adopted her I believe; at all events, is educating her."
Edna's face grew radiant.
"Oh! I am glad to hear it! Poor little Huldah needed a friend, and she could not possibly have fallen into kinder hands than Mr. Murray's."
"There certainly exists some diversity of opinion on that subject. He is rather too grim a guardian, I fancy, for one so young as Huldah Reed."
"Is Mr. Hammond teaching Huldah?"
"Oh! no. Herein consists the wonder. Murray himself hears her lessons, so Estelle told my sister. A propos! rumor announces the approaching marriage of the cousins. My sister informed me that it would take place early in the spring."
"Do you allude to Mr. Murray and Miss Harding?"
"I do. They will go to Europe immediately after their marriage."
Gordon looked searchingly at his companion, but saw only a faint, incredulous smile cross her calm face.
"My sister is Estelle's confidante, so you see I speak advisedly. I know that her trousseau has been ordered from Paris."
Edna's fingers closed spasmodically over each other, but she laughed as she answered:
"How then dare you betray her confidence? Mr. Leigh, how long will you remain in New York?"
"I shall leave to-morrow, unless I have reason to hope that a longer visit will give you pleasure. I came here solely to see you."
He attempted to unclasp her fingers, but she shook off his hand and said quickly:
"I know what you are about to say, and I would rather not hear what would only distress us both. If you wish me to respect you, Mr. Leigh, you must never again allude to a subject which I showed you last night was exceedingly painful to me. While I value you as a friend, and am rejoiced to see you again, I should regret to learn that you had prolonged your stay even one hour on my account."
"You are ungrateful, Edna! And I begin to realize that you are utterly heartless."
"If I am, at least I have never trifled with or deceived you, Mr. Leigh."
"You have no heart, or you certainly could not so coldly reject an affection which any other woman would proudly accept. A few years hence, when your insane ambition is fully satiated, and your beauty fades, and your writings pall upon public taste, and your smooth- tongued flatterers forsake your shrine to bow before that of some new and more popular idol, then Edna, you will rue your folly."
She rose and answered quietly:
"The future may contain only disappointments for me, but however lonely, however sad my lot may prove, I think I shall never fall so low as to regret not having married a man whom I find it impossible to love. The sooner this interview ends the longer our friendship will last. My time is not now my own, and as my duties claim me in the school-room, I must bid you good-bye."
"Edna, if you send me away from you now, you shall never look upon my face again in this world!"
Mournfully her tearful eyes sought his, but her voice was low and steady as she put out both hands, and said solemnly:
"Farewell, dear friend. God grant that when next we see each other's faces they may be overshadowed by the shining, white plumes of our angel wings, in that city of God, 'where the wicked cease from troubling and the weary are at rest.' 'Never again in this world,' ah! such words are dreary and funereal as the dull fall of clods on a coffin-lid; but so be it. Thank God! time brings us all to one inevitable tryst before the great white throne."
He took the hands, bowed his forehead upon them and groaned; then drew them to his lips and left her.
With a slow, weary step she turned and went up to her room and read Mr. Hammond's letter. It was long and kind, full of affection and wise counsel, but contained no allusion to Mr. Murray.
As she refolded it she saw a slip of paper which had fallen unnoticed on the carpet, and picking it up she read these words:
"It grieves me to have to tell you that, after all, I fear St. Elmo will marry Estelle Harding. He does not love her, she can not influence him to redeem himself; his future looks hopeless indeed. Edna, my child! what have you done! Oh! what have you done!"
Her heart gave a sudden, wild bound, then a spasm seemed to seize it, and presently the fluttering ceased, her pulses stopped, and a chill darkness fell upon her.
Her head sank heavily on her chest, and when she recovered, her memory she felt an intolerable sensation of suffocation, and a sharp pain that seemed to stab the heart, whose throbs were slow and feeble.
She raised the window and leaned out panting for breath, and the freezing wind powdered her face with fine snowflakes, and sprinkled its fairy flower-crystals over her hair.
The outer world was chill and dreary, the leafless limbs of the trees in the park looked ghostly and weird against the dense dun clouds which seemed to stretch like a smoke mantle just above the sea of roofs; and, dimly seen through the white mist, Brooklyn's heights and Staten's hills were huge outlines monstrous as Echidna.
Physical pain blanched Edna's lips, and she pressed her hand repeatedly to her heart, wondering what caused those keen pangs. At last, when the bodily suffering passed away, and she sat down exhausted, her mind reverted to the sentence in Mr. Hammond's letter.
She knew the words were not lightly written, and that his reproachful appeal had broken from the depths of his aching heart, and was intended to rouse her to some action.
"I can do nothing, say nothing! Must sit still and wait patiently— prayerfully. To-day, if I could put out my hand and touch Mr. Murray, and bind him to me for ever, I would not. No, no! Not a finger must I lift, even between him and Estelle! But he will not marry her! I know—I feel that he will not. Though I never look upon his face again, he belongs to me! He is mine, and no other woman can take him from me."
A strange, mysterious, shadowy smile settled on her pallid features, and faintly and dreamily she repeated:
"And yet I know past all doubting, truly—A knowledge greater than grief can dim—I know as he loved, he will love me duly, Yea, better, e'en better than I love him. And as I walk by the vast, calm river, The awful river so dread to see, I say, 'Thy breadth and thy depth for ever Are bridged by his thoughts that cross to me.'"
Her lashes drooped, her head fell back against the top of the chair, and she lost all her woes until Felix's voice roused her, and she saw the frightened boy standing at her side, shaking her hand and calling piteously upon her.
"Oh! I thought you were dead! You looked so white and felt so cold. Are you very sick? Shall I go for mamma?"
For a moment she looked in his face with a perplexed, bewildered expression, then made an effort to rise.
"I suppose that I must have fainted, for I had a terrible pain here, and—" She laid her hand over her heart.
"Felix, let us go down-stairs. I think if your mother would give me some wine, it might strengthen me."
Notwithstanding the snow, Mrs. Andrews had gone out; but Felix had the wine brought to the school-room, and after a little while the blood showed itself shyly in the governess's white lips, and she took the boy's Latin book and heard him recite his lesson.
The day appeared wearily long, but she omitted none of the appointed tasks, and it was nearly nine o'clock before Felix fell asleep that night. Softly unclasping his thin fingers which clung to her hand, she went up to her own room, feeling the full force of those mournful words in Eugenie de Guerin's Journal:
"It goes on in the soul. No one is aware of what I feel; no one suffers from it. I only pour out my heart before God—and here. Oh! to-day what efforts I make to shake off this profitless sadness— this sadness without tears—arid, bruising the heart like a hammer!"
There was no recurrence of the physical agony; and after two days the feeling of prostration passed away, and only the memory of the attack remained.
The idea of lionizing her children's governess, and introducing her to soi-disant "fashionable society," had taken possession of Mrs. Andrews's mind, and she was quite as much delighted with her patronizing scheme as a child would have been with a new hobby- horse. Dreams at which even Macaenas might have laughed floated through her busy brain, and filled her kind heart with generous anticipations. On Thursday she informed Edna that she desired her presence at dinner, and urged her request with such pertinacious earnestness that no alternative remained but acquiescence, and reluctantly the governess prepared to meet a formidable party of strangers.
When Mrs. Andrews presented Sir Roger Percival, he bowed rather haughtily, and with a distant politeness, which assured Edna that he was cognizant of her refusal to make his acquaintance at the opera.
During the early part of dinner he divided his gay words between his hostess and a pretty Miss Morton, who was evidently laying siege to his heart and carefully flattering his vanity; but whenever Edna, his vis-a-vis, looked toward him, she invariably found his fine brown eyes scrutinizing her face.
Mr. Manning, who sat next to Edna, engaged her in an animated discussion concerning the value of a small volume containing two essays by Buckle, which he had sent her a few days previous.
Something which she said to the editor with reference to Buckle's extravagant estimate of Mill, brought a smile to the Englishman's lip, and bowing slightly, he said:
"Pardon me, Miss Earl, if I interrupt you a moment to express my surprise at hearing Mill denounced by an American. His books on Representative Government and Liberty are so essentially democratic that I expected only gratitude and eulogy from his readers on this side of the Atlantic."
Despite her efforts to control it, embarrassment unstrung her nerves, and threw a quiver into her voice, as she answered:
"I do not presume, sir, to 'denounce' a man whom Buckle ranks above all other living writers and statesmen, but, in anticipating the inevitable result of the adoption of some of Mill's proposed social reforms, I could not avoid recalling that wise dictum of Frederick the Great concerning philosophers—a saying which Buckle quotes so triumphantly against Plato, Aristotle, Descartes—even Bacon, Newton, and a long list of names illustrious in the annals of English literature. Frederick declared: 'If I wanted to ruin one of my provinces I would make over its government to the philosopher.' With due deference to Buckle's superior learning and astuteness, I confess my study of Mill's philosophy assures me that, if society should be turned over to the government of his theory of Liberty and Suffrage, it would go to ruin more rapidly than Frederick's province. Under his teachings the women of England might soon marshal their amazonian legions, and storm not only Parnassus but the ballot-box, the bench, and the forum. That this should occur in a country where a woman nominally rules, and certainly reigns, is not so surprising, but I dread the contagion of such an example upon America."
"His influence is powerful, from the fact that he never takes up his pen without using it to break some social shackles; and its strokes are tremendous as those of the hammer of Thor. But surely, Miss Earl, you Americans can not with either good taste, grace, or consistency, upbraid England on the score of woman's rights' movements?"
"At least, sir, our statesmen are not yet attacked by this most loathsome of political leprosies. Only a few crazy fanatics have fallen victims to it, and if lunatic asylums were not frequently cheated of their dues, these would not be left at large, but shut up together in high-walled enclosures, where, like Sydney Smith's 'gramnivorous metaphysicians,' or Reaumur's spiders, they could only injure one another and destroy their own webs. America has no Bentham, Bailey, Hare or Mill, to lend countenance or strength to the ridiculous clamor raised by a few unamiable and wretched wives, and as many embittered, disappointed, old maids of New England. The noble apology which Edmund Burke once offered for his countrymen always recurs to my mind when I hear these 'women's conventions' alluded to: 'Because half-a-dozen grasshoppers under a fern make the field ring with their importunate chink, while thousands of great cattle repose beneath the shade of the British oak, chew the cud, and are silent, pray do not imagine that those who make the noise are the only inhabitants of the field; that, of course, they are many in number, or that, after all, they are other than the little, shrivelled, meagre, hopping, though loud and troublesome insects of the hour.' I think, sir, that the noble and true women of this continent earnestly believe that the day which invests them with the elective franchise would be the blackest in the annals of humanity, would ring the death-knell of modern civilization, of national prosperity, social morality, and domestic happiness! and would consign the race to a night of degradation and horror infinitely more appalling than a return to primeval barbarism."
"Even my brief sojourn in America has taught me the demoralizing tendency of the doctrine of 'equality of races and of sexes,' and you must admit, Miss Earl, that your countrywomen are growing dangerously learned," answered Sir Roger, smiling.
"I am afraid, sir, that it is rather the quality than the quantity of their learning that makes them troublesome. One of your own noble seers has most gracefully declared: 'A woman may always help her husband,' (or race,) 'by what she knows, however little; by what she half knows or misknows, she will only tease him.'"
Sir Roger bowed, and Mr. Manning said:
"Very 'true, good, and beautiful,' as a mere theory in sociology, but in an age when those hideous hermaphrodites, ycleped 'strong- minded women,' are becoming so alarmingly numerous, our eyes are rarely gladdened by a conjunction of highly cultivated intellects; notable, loving hearts; tender, womanly sensibilities. Can you shoulder the anus probandi?"
"Sir, that rests with those who assert that learning renders women disagreeable and unfeminine; the burden of proof remains for you."
"Permit me to lift the weight for you, Manning, by asking Miss Earl what she thinks of the comparative merits of the 'Princess,' and of 'Aurora Leigh,' as correctives of the tendency she deprecates?"
Hitherto the discussion had been confined to the trio, while the conversation was general, but now silence reigned around the table, and when the Englishman's questions forced Edna to look up, she saw all eyes turned upon her; and embarrassment flushed her face, and her lashes drooped as she answered:
"It has often been asserted by those who claim proficiency in the analysis of character, that women are the most infallible judges of womanly, and men of manly natures; but I am afraid that the poems referred to would veto this decision. While I yield to no human being in admiration of, and loving gratitude to Mrs. Browning, and regard the first eight books of 'Aurora Leigh' as vigorous, grand and marvellously beautiful, I can not deny that a painful feeling of mortification seizes me when I read the ninth and concluding book, wherein 'Aurora,' with most unwomanly vehemence, voluntarily declares and reiterates her love for 'Romney.' Tennyson's 'Princess' seems to me more feminine and refined and lovely than 'Aurora'; and it is because I love and revere Mrs. Browning, and consider her not only the pride of her own sex, but an ornament to the world, that I find it difficult to forgive the unwomanly inconsistency into which she betrays her heroine. Allow me to say that in my humble opinion nothing in the whole range of literature so fully portrays a perfect woman as that noble sketch by Wordsworth, and the inimitable description in Rogers's 'Human Life.'"
"The first is, I presume, familiar to all of us, but the last, I confess, escapes my memory. Will you be good enough to repeat it?" said the editor, knitting his brows slightly.
"Excuse me, sir; it is too long to be quoted here, and it seems that I have already monopolized the conversation much longer than I expected or desired. Moreover, to quote Rogers to an Englishman would be equivalent to 'carrying coal to Newcastle,' or peddling 'owls in Athens.'"
Sir Roger smiled as he said:
"Indeed, Miss Earl, while you spoke, I was earnestly ransacking my memory for the passage to which you allude; but I am ashamed to say, it is as fruitless an effort as 'calling spirits from the vasty deep.' Pray be so kind as to repeat it for me."
At that instant little Hattie crept softly to the back of Edna's chair, and whispered:
"Bro' Felix says, won't you please come back soon, and finish that story where you left off reading last night?"
Very glad to possess so good an excuse, the governess rose at once; but Mrs. Andrews said:
"Wait, Miss Earl. What do you want, Hattie?"
"Bro' Felix wants Miss Earl, and sent me to beg her to come."
"Go back and tell him he is in a hopeless minority, and that in this country the majority rule. There are fifteen here who want to talk to Miss Earl, and he can't have her in the schoolroom just now," said Grey Chilton, slyly pelting his niece with almonds.
"But Felix is really sick to-day, and if Mrs. Andrews will excuse me, I prefer to go."
She looked imploringly at the lady of the house, who said nothing; and Sir Roger beckoned Hattie to him, and exclaimed:
"Pray, may I inquire, Mrs. Andrews, why your children do not make their appearance? I am sure you need not fear a repetition of the sarcastic rebuke of that wit who, when dining at a house where the children were noisy and unruly, lifted his glass, bowed to the troublesome little ones, and drank to the memory of King Herod. I am very certain 'the murder of the innocents' would never be recalled here, unless—forgive me, Miss Earl! but from the sparkle in your eyes, I believe you anticipate me. Do you really know what I am about to say?"
"I think, sir, I can guess."
"Let me see whether you are a clairvoyant!"
"On one occasion when a sign for a children's school was needed, and the lady teacher applied to Lamb to suggest a design, he meekly advised that of 'The Murder of the Innocents.' Thank you, sir. However, I am not surprised that you entertain such flattering opinions of a profession which in England boasts 'Squeers' as its national type and representative."
The young man laughed good-humoredly, and answered:
"For the honor of my worthy pedagogical countrymen, permit me to assure you that the aforesaid 'Squeers' is simply one of Dickens's inimitable caricatures."
"Nevertheless I have somewhere seen the statement that when 'Nicholas Nickleby' first made its appearance, only six irate schoolmasters went immediately to London to thrash the author; each believing that he recognized his own features in the amiable portrait of 'Squeers.'"
She bowed and turned from the table, but Mrs. Andrews exclaimed:
"Before you go, repeat that passage from Rogers; then we will excuse you."
With one hand clasping Hattie's, and the other resting on the back of her chair, Edna fixed her eyes on Mrs. Andrews's face, and gave the quotation.
"His house she enters, there to be a light Shining within when all without is night; A guardian angel o'er his life presiding, Doubling his pleasures and his cares dividing; Winning him back, when mingling in the throng From a vain world we love, alas! too long, To fireside happiness and hours of ease, Blest with that charm, the certainty to please. How oft her eyes read his! her gentle mind To all his wishes, all his thoughts inclined; Still subject—ever on the watch to borrow Mirth of his mirth, and sorrow of his sorrow."
Flowery as Sicilian meads was the parsonage garden on that quiet afternoon late in May, when Mr. Hammond closed the honeysuckle- crowned gate, crossed the street, and walked slowly into the church- yard, down the sacred streets of the silent city of the dead, and entered the enclosure where slept his white-robed household band.
The air was thick with perfume, as if some strong, daring south wind had blown wide the mystic doors of Astarte's huge laboratory, and overturned the myriad alembics, and deluged the world with her fragrant and subtle distillations.
Honey-burdened bees hummed their hymns to labor, as they swung to and fro; and numbers of Psyche-symbols, golden butterflies, floated dreamily in and around and over the tombs, now and then poising on velvet wings, as if waiting, listening for the clarion voice of Gabriel, to rouse and reanimate the slumbering bodies beneath the gleaming slabs. Canary-colored orioles flitted in and out of the trailing willows, a redbird perched on the brow of a sculptured angel guarding a child's grave, and poured his sad, sweet, monotonous notes on the spicy air; two purple pigeons, with rainbow necklaces, cooed and fluttered up and down from the church belfry, and close under the projecting roof of the granite vault, a pair of meek brown wrens were building their nest and twittering softly one to another.
The pastor cut down the rank grass and fringy ferns, the flaunting weeds and coreopsis that threatened to choke his more delicate flowers, and, stooping, tied up the crimson pinks, and wound the tendrils of the blue-veined clematis around its slender trellis, and straightened the white petunias and the orange-tinted crocaes, which the last heavy shower had beaten to the ground.
The small, gray vault was overrun with ivy, whose dark, polished leaves threatened to encroach on a plain slab of pure marble that stood very near it; and as the minister pruned away the wreaths, his eyes rested on the black letters in the centre of the slab: "Murray Hammond. Aged 21."
Elsewhere the sunshine streamed warm and bright over the graves, but here the rays were intercepted by the church, and its cool shadow rested over vault and slab and flowers.
The old man was weary from stooping so long, and now he took off his hat and passed his hand over his forehead, and sighed as he leaned against the door of the vault, where fine, fairy-fingered mosses were weaving their green arabesque immortelles.
In a mournfully measured, yet tranquil tone, he said aloud:
"Ah! truly throughout all the years of my life I have never heard the promise of perfect love, without seeing aloft amongst the stars, fingers as of a man's hand, writing the sacred legend: 'Ashes to ashes! dust to dust!'"
Age was bending his body toward the earth with which it was soon to mingle; the ripe and perfect wheat nodded lower and lower day by day, as the Angel of the Sickle delayed; but his noble face wore that blessed and marvellous calm, that unearthly peace which generally comes some hours after death, when all traces of temporal passions and woes are lost in eternity's repose.
A low, wailing symphony throbbed through the church, where the organist was practising; and then out of the windows, and far away on the evening air, rolled the solemn waves of that matchlessly mournful Requiem which, under prophetic shadows, Mozart began on earth and finished, perhaps in heaven, on one of those golden harps whose apocalyptic ringing smote St. John's eager ears among the lonely rocks of Aegean-girdled Patmos. The sun had paused as if to listen on the wooded crest of a distant hill, but as the Requiem ended and the organ sobbed itself to rest, he gathered up his burning rays and disappeared; and the spotted butterflies, like "winged tulips," flitted silently away, and the evening breeze bowed the large yellow primroses, and fluttered the phlox; the red nasturtiums that climbed up at the foot of the slab shuddered and shook their blood-colored banners over the polished marble. A holy hush fell upon all things save a towering poplar that leaned against the church, and rustled its leaves ceaselessly, and shivered and turned white, as tradition avers it has done since that day, when Christ staggered along the Via Dolorosa bearing his cross, carved out of poplar wood.
Leaning with his hands folded on the handle of the weeding hoe, his gray beard sweeping over his bosom, his bare, silvered head bowed, and his mild, peaceful blue eyes resting on his son's tomb, Mr. Hammond stood listening to the music; and when the strains ceased, his thoughts travelled onward and upward till they crossed the sea of crystal before the Throne, and in imagination he heard the song of the four and twenty elders.
From this brief reverie some slight sound aroused him, and lifting his eyes, he saw a man clad in white linen garments, wearing oxalis clusters in his coat, standing on the opposite side of the monumental slab.
"St. Elmo! my poor, suffering wanderer! Oh, St. Elmo! come to me once more before I die!"
The old man's voice was husky, and his arms trembled as he stretched them across the grave that intervened.
Mr. Murray looked into the tender, tearful, pleading countenance, and the sorrow that seized his own, making his features writhe, beggars language. He instinctively put out his arms, then drew them back, and hid his face in his hands; saying in low, broken, almost inaudible tones:
"I am too unworthy. Dripping with the blood of your children, I dare not touch you."
The pastor tottered around the tomb, and stood at Mr. Murray's side, and the next moment the old man's arms were clasped around the tall form, and his white hair fell on his pupil's shoulder.
"God be praised! After twenty years' separation I hold you once more to the heart that, even in its hours of deepest sorrow, has never ceased to love you! St. Elmo!—"
He wept aloud, and strained the prodigal convulsively to his breast.
After a moment Mr. Murray's lips moved, twitched; and with a groan that shook his powerful frame from head to foot, he asked:
"Will you ever, ever forgive me?"
"God is my witness that I freely and fully forgave you many, many years ago! The dearest hope of my lonely life has been that I might tell you so, and make you realize how ceaselessly my prayers and my love have followed you in all your dreary wanderings. Oh! I thank God that, at last! at last you have come to me, my dear, dear boy! My poor, proud prodigal!"
A magnificent jubilate swelled triumphantly through church and churchyard, as if the organist up in the gallery knew what was happening at Murray Hammond's grave; and when the thrilling music died away St. Elmo broke from the encircling arms, and knelt with his face shrouded in his hands and pressed against the marble that covered his victim.
After a little while the pastor sat down on the edge of the slab, and laid his shrunken fingers softly and caressingly upon the bowed head.
"Do not dwell upon a past that is fraught only with bitterness to you, and from which you can draw no balm. Throw your painful memories behind you, and turn resolutely to a future which may be rendered noble and useful and holy. There is truth, precious truth in George Herbert's words:
'For all may have, If they dare choose, a glorious life or grave!'
and the years to come may, by the grace of God, more than cancel those that have gone by."
"What have I to hope for—in time of eternity? Oh! none but Almighty God can ever know the dreary blackness and wretchedness of my despairing soul! the keen sleepless pain of my remorse! my utter loathing of my accursed, distorted nature!" "And His pitying eyes see all, and Christ stretches out his hands to lift you up to Himself, and His own words of loving sympathy and pardon are spoken again to you: 'Come unto Me, all ye weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest.' Throw all your galling load of memories down at the foot of the cross, and 'the peace that passeth all understanding' shall enter your sorrowing soul, and abide there for ever. St. Elmo, only prayer could have sustained and soothed me since we parted that bright summer morning twenty long, long years ago. Prayer took away the sting and sanctified my sorrows for the good of my soul; and, my dear, dear boy, it will extract the poison and the bitterness from yours. That God answers prayer and comforts the afflicted among men, I am a living attestation. It is by His grace only that 'I am what I am'; erring and unworthy I humbly own, but patient at least, and fully resigned to His will. The only remaining cause of disquiet passed away just now, when I saw that you had come back to me. St. Elmo, do you ever pray for yourself?"
"For some weeks I have been trying to pray, but my words seem a mockery; they do not rise, they fall back hissing upon my heart. I have injured and insulted you; I have cursed you and yours, have robbed you of your peace of mind, have murdered your children—"
"Hush! hush! we will not disinter the dead. My peace of mind you have to-day given back to me; and the hope of your salvation is dearer to me than the remembered faces of my darlings, sleeping here beside us. Oh, St. Elmo, I have prayed for you as I never prayed even for my own Murray; and I know, I feel that all my wrestling before the Throne of Grace has not been in vain. Sometimes my faith grew faint, and as the years dragged on and I saw no melting of your haughty, bitter spirit, I almost lost hope; but I did not, thank God, I did not! I held on to the precious promise, and prayed more frequently, and, blessed be his holy name! at last, just before I go hence, the answer comes. As I see you kneeling here at my Murray's grave, I know now that your soul is snatched 'as a brand from the burning!' Oh! bless my merciful God, that in that day when we stand for final judgment, and your precious soul is required at my son's hands, the joyful cry of the recording angel shall be, 'Saved! saved! for ever and ever, through the blood of the Lamb!'"
Overwhelmed with emotion, the pastor dropped his white head on his bosom; and once more silence fell over the darkening cemetery.
One by one the birds hushed their twitter and went to rest, and only the soft cooing of the pigeons floated down now and then from the lofty belfry.
On the eastern horizon a thin, fleecy scarf of clouds was silvered by the rising moon, the west was a huge shrine of beryl whereon burned ruby flakes of vapor, watched by a solitary vestal star; and the sapphire arch overhead was beautiful and mellow as any that ever vaulted above the sculptured marbles of Pisan Campo Santo.
Mr. Murray rose and stood with his head uncovered and his eyes fixed on the nobbing nasturtiums that glowed like blood-spots.
"Mr. Hammond, your magnanimity unmans me; and if your words be true, I feel in your presence like a leper and should lay my lips in the dust, crying, 'Unclean! unclean!' For all that I have inflicted on you, I have neither apology nor defence to offer; and I could much better have borne curses from you than words of sympathy and affection. You amaze me, for I hate and scorn myself so thoroughly, that I marvel at the interest you still indulge for me; I can not understand how you can endure the sight of my features, the sound of my voice. Oh! if I could atone! If I could give Annie back to your arms, there is no suffering, no torture that I would not gladly embrace! No penance of body or soul from which I would shrink!"
"My dear boy, (for such you still seem to me, notwithstanding the lapse of time,) let my little darling rest with her God. She went down early to her long home, and though I missed her sweet laugh, and her soft, tender hands about my face, and have felt a chill silence in my house, where music once was, she has been spared much suffering and many trials; and I would not recall her if I could, for after a few more days I shall gather her back to my bosom in that eternal land where the blighting dew of death never falls; where
'Adieus and farewells are a sound unknown.'
Atone? Ah, St. Elmo! you can atone. Save your soul, redeem your life, and I shall die blessing your name. Look at me in my loneliness and infirmity. I am childless; you took my idols from me, long, long ago; you left my heart desolate; and now I have a right to turn to you, to stretch out my feeble, empty arms, and say, Come, be my child, fill my son's place, let me lean upon you in my old age, as I once fondly dreamed I should lean on my own Murray! St. Elmo, will you come? Will you give me your heart, my son! my son!"
He put out his trembling hands, and a yearning tenderness shone in his eyes as he raised them to the tall, stern man before him.
Mr. Murray bent eagerly forward, and looked wonderingly at him.
"Do you, can you mean it? It appears so impossible, and I have been so long sceptical of all nobility in my race. Will you indeed shelter Murray's murderer in your generous, loving heart?"
"I call my God to witness, that it has been my dearest hope for dreary years that I might win your heart back before I die."
"It is but a wreck, a hideous ruin, black with sins; but such as I am, my future, my all, I lay at your feet! If there is any efficacy in bitter repentance and remorse; if there is any mercy left in my Maker's hands; if there be saving power in human will, I will atone! I will atone!"
The strong man trembled like a wave-lashed reed, as he sank on one knee at the minister's feet, and buried his face in his arms; and spreading his palms over the drooped head, Mr. Hammond gently and solemnly blessed him.
For some time both were silent, and then Mr. Murray stretched out one arm over the slab, and said brokenly:
"Kneeling here at Murray's tomb, a strange, incomprehensible feeling creeps into my heart. The fierce, burning hate I have borne him seems to have passed away; and something, ah! something, mournfully like the old yearning toward him, comes back, as I look at his name. Oh, idol of my youth! hurled down and crushed by my own savage hands! For the first time since I destroyed him, since I saw his handsome face whitening in death, I think of him kindly. For the first time since that night, I feel that—that—I can forgive him. Murray! Murray! you wronged me! you wrecked me! but oh! if I could give you back the life I took in my madness! how joyfully would I forgive you all my injuries! His blood dyes my hands, my heart, my soul!"
"The blood of Jesus will wash out those stains. The law was fully satisfied when He hung on Calvary; there, ample atonement was made for just such sins as yours, and you have only to claim and plead his sufferings to secure your salvation. St. Elmo, bury your past here, in Murray's grave, and give all your thoughts to the future. Half of your life has ebbed out, and yet your life-work remains undone, untouched. You have no time to spend in looking over your unimproved years."
"'Bury my past!' Impossible, even for one hour. I tell you I am chained to it, as the Aloides were chained to the pillars of Tartarus! and the croaking fiend that will not let me sleep in memory! Memory of sins that—that avenge your wrongs, old man! that goad me sometimes to the very verge of suicide! Do you know, ha! how could you possibly know? Shall I tell you that only one thought has often stood between me and self-destruction? It was not the fear of death, no, no, no! It was not even the dread of facing an outraged God! but it was the horrible fear of meeting Murray! Not all eternity was wide enough to hold us both! The hate I bore him made me shrink from a deed which I felt would instantly set us face to face once more in the land of souls. Ah! a change has come over me; now if I could see his face, I might learn to forget that look it wore when last I gazed upon it. Time bears healing for some natures; to mine it has brought only poison. It is useless to bid me forget. Memory is earth's retribution for man's sins. I have bought at a terrible price my conviction of the melancholy truth, that he who touches the weapons of Nemesis effectually slaughters his own peace of mind, and challenges her maledictions, from which there is no escape. In my insanity I said, 'Vengeance is mine! I will repay!' and in the hour when I daringly grasped the prerogative of God, His curse smote me! Mr. Hammond, friend of my happy youth, guide of my innocent boyhood! if you could know all the depths of my abasement, you would pity me indeed! My miserable heart is like the crater of some extinct volcano: the flames of sin have burned out, and left it rugged, rent, blackened. I do not think that—"
"St. Elmo, do not upbraid yourself so bitterly—"
"Sir, your words are kind and noble and full of Christian charity; they are well meant, and I thank you; but they cannot comfort me. My desolation, my utter wretchedness isolate me from the sympathy of my race, whom I have despised and trampled so relentlessly. Yesterday I read a passage which depicts so accurately my dreary isolation, that I have been unable to expel it; I find it creeping even now to my lips:
"'O misery and mourning! I have felt—Yes, I have felt like some deserted world That God hath done with, and had cast aside To rock and stagger through the gulfs of space, He never looking on it any more; Unfilled, no use, no pleasure, not desired, Nor lighted on by angels in their flight From heaven to happier planets; and the race That once hath dwelt on it withdrawn or dead. Could such a world have hope that some blest day God would remember her, and fashion her Anew?'"
"Yes, my dear St. Elmo, so surely as God reigns above us, He will refashion it, and make the light of His pardoning love and the refreshing dew of his grace fall upon it! And the waste places shall bloom as Sharon, and the purpling vineyards shame Engedi, and the lilies of peace shall lift up their stately heads, and the 'voice of the turtle shall be heard in the land!' Have faith, grapple yourself by prayer to the feet of God, and he will gird, and lift up, and guide you."
Mr. Murray shook his head mournfully, and the moonlight shining on his face showed it colorless, haggard, hopeless.
The pastor rose, put on his hat, and took St. Elmo's arm.
"Come home with me. This spot is fraught with painful associations that open afresh all your wounds."
They walked on together until they reached the parsonage gate, and as the minister raised the latch, his companion gently disengaged the arm clasped to the old man's side.
"Not to-night. After a few days I will try to come."
"St. Elmo, to-morrow is Sunday, and—"
He paused, and did not speak the request that looked out from his eyes.
It cost Mr. Murray a severe struggle, and he did not answer immediately. When he spoke his voice was unsteady.
"Yes, I know what you wish. Once I swore I would tear the church down, scatter its dust to the winds, leave not a stone to mark the site! But I will come and hear you preach for the first time since that sunny Sabbath, twenty years dead, when your text was, 'Cast thy bread upon the waters; for thou shalt find it after many days.' Sodden, and bitter, and worthless from the long tossing in the great deep of sin, it drifts back at last to your feet; and instead of stooping tenderly to gather up the useless fragments, I wonder that you do not spurn the stranded ruin from you. Yes, I will come."
"Thank God! Oh! what a weight you have lifted from my heart! St. Elmo, my son!"
There was a long, lingering clasp of hands, and the pastor went into his home with tears of joy on his furrowed face, while his smiling lips whispered to his grateful soul:
"In the morning sow thy seed, and in the evening withhold not thy hand; for thou knowest not whether shall prosper, either this or that, or whether they both shall be alike good."
Mr. Murray watched the stooping form until it disappeared, and then went slowly back to the silent burying ground, and sat down on the steps of the church.
Hour after hour passed and still he sat there, almost as motionless as one of the monuments, while his eyes dwelt as if spellbound, on the dark, dull stain where Annie Hammond had rested, in days long, long past; and Remorse, more powerful than Erictho, evoked from the charnel house the sweet girlish features and fairy figure of the early dead.
His pale face was propped on his hand, and there in the silent watches of the moon-lighted midnight, he held communion with God and his own darkened spirit.
"What hast thou wrought for Right and Truth, For God and man, From the golden hours of bright-eyed youth, To life's mid-span?"
His almost Satanic pride was laid low as the dead in their mouldering shrouds, and all the giant strength of his perverted nature was gathered up and hurled in a new direction. The Dead Sea Past moaned and swelled, and bitter waves surged and broke over his heart, but he silently buffeted them; and the moon rode in mid- heaven when he rose, went around the church, and knelt and prayed, with his forehead pressed to the marble that covered Murray Hammond's last resting-place.
"Oh! that the mist which veileth my To Come Would so dissolve and yield unto mine eyes A worthy path! I'd count not wearisome Long toil nor enterprise, But strain to reach it; ay, with wrestlings stout Is there such a path already made to fit The measure of my foot? It shall atone For much, if I at length may light on it And know it for mine own."
"On! how grand and beautiful it is! Whenever I look at it, I feel exactly as I did on Easter-Sunday when I went to the cathedral to hear the music. It is a solemn feeling", as if I were in a holy place. Miss Earl, what makes me feel so?"
Felix stood in an art gallery, and leaning on his crutches looked up at Church's "Heart of the Andes."
"You are impressed by the solemnity and the holy repose of nature; for here you look upon a pictured cathedral, built not by mortal hands, but by the architect of the universe. Felix, does it not recall to your mind something of which we often speak?"
The boy was silent for a few seconds, and then his thin, sallow face brightened.
"Yes, indeed! You mean that splendid description which you read to me from 'Modern Painters'? How fond you are of that passage, and how very often you think of it! Let me see whether I can remember it."
Slowly but accurately he repeated the eloquent tribute to "Mountain Glory," from the fourth volume of "Modern Painters."
"Felix, you know that a celebrated English poet, Keats, has said, 'A thing of beauty is a joy forever'; and as I can never hope to express my ideas in half such beautiful language as Mr. Ruskin uses, it is an economy of trouble to quote his words. Some of his expressions are like certain songs which, the more frequently we sing them, the more valuable and eloquent they become; and as we rarely learn a fine piece of music to be played once or twice and then thrown aside, why should we not be allowed the same privilege with verbal melodies? Last week you asked me to explain to you what is meant by 'aerial perspective,' and if you will study the atmosphere in this great picture, Mr. Church, will explain it much more clearly to you than I was able to do."
"Yes, Miss Earl, I see it now. The eye could travel up and up, and on and on, and never get out of the sky; and it seems to me those birds yonder would fly entirely away, out of sight, through that air in the picture. But, Miss Earl, do you really believe that the Chimborazo in South America is as grand as Mr. Church's? I do not, because I have noticed that pictures are much handsomer than the real things they stand for. Mamma carried me last spring to see some paintings of scenes on the Hudson River, and when we went travelling in the summer, I saw the very spot where the artist stood when he sketched the hills and the bend of the river, and it was not half so pretty as the picture. And yet I know God is the greatest painter. Is it the far-off look that everything wears when painted.
"Yes, the 'far-off look,' as you call it, is one cause of the effect you wish to understand; and it has been rather more elegantly expressed by Campbell, in the line:
''Tis distance lends enchantment to the view.'
I have seen this fact exemplified in a very singular manner, at a house in Georgia, where I was once visiting. From the front door I had a very fine prospect or view of lofty hills, and a dense forest, and a pretty little town where the steeples of the churches glittered in the sunshine, and I stood for some time admiring the landscape; but presently, when I turned to speak to the lady of the house, I saw, in the glass sidelights of the door, a miniature reflection of the very same scene that was much more beautiful. I was puzzled, and could not comprehend how the mere fact of diminishing the size of the various objects, by increasing the distance, could enhance their loveliness; and I asked myself whether all far-off things were handsomer than those close at hand? In my perplexity I went as usual to Mr. Ruskin, wondering whether he had ever noticed the same thing; and of course he had, and has a noble passage about it in one of his books on architecture. I will see if my memory appreciates it as it deserves: 'Are not all natural things, it may be asked, as lovely near as far away? Nay, not so. Look at the clouds, and watch the delicate sculpture of their alabaster sides and the rounded lustre of their magnificent rolling. They are meant to be beheld far away; they were shaped for this place, high above your head; approach them, and they fuse into vague mists, or whirl away in fierce fragments of thunderous vapors.' (And here, Felix, your question about Chimborazo is answered.) 'Look at the crest of the Alps, from the far-away plains over which its light is cast, whence human souls have communion with it by their myriads. The child looks up to it in the dawn, and the husbandman in the burden and heat of the day, and the old man in the going down of the sun, and it is to them all as the celestial city on the world's horizon; dyed with the depths of heaven and clothed with the calm of eternity. There was it set for holy dominion by Him who marked for the sun his journey, and bade the moon know her going down. It was built for its place in the far-off sky; approach it, and the glory of its aspect fades into blanched fearfulness; its purple walls are rent into grisly rocks, its silver fretwork saddened into wasting snow; the stormbrands of ages are on its breast, the ashes of its own ruin lie solemnly on its white raiment!' Felix, in rambling about the fields, you will frequently be reminded of this. I have noticed that the meadow in the distance is always greener and more velvety, and seems more thickly studded with flowers, than the one I am crossing; or the hillside far away has a golden gleam on its rocky slopes, and the shadow spots are softer and cooler and more purple than those I am climbing and panting over; and I have hurried on, and after a little, turning to look back, lo! all the glory I saw beckoning me on has flown, and settled over the meadow and the hillside that I have passed, and the halo is behind! Perfect beauty in scenery is like the mirage that you read about yesterday; it fades and flits out of your grasp, as you travel toward it. When we go home I will read you something which Emerson has said concerning this same lovely ignis fatuus; for I can remember only a few words: 'What splendid distance, what recesses of ineffable pomp and loveliness in the sunset! But who can go where they are, or lay his hand, or plant his foot thereon? Off they fall from the round world forever.' Felix, I suppose it is because we see all the imperfections and inequalities of objects close at hand, put the fairy film of air like a silvery mist hides these when it a distance; and we are charmed with the heightened beauties, which alone are visible."
Edna's eyes went back to the painting, and rested there; and little Hattie, who had been gazing up at her governess in curious perplexity, pulled her brother's sleeve and said:
"Bro' Felix, do you understand all that? I guess I don't; for I know when I am hungry (and seems to me I always am); why, when I am hungry the closer I get to my dinner the nicer it looks! And then there was that hateful, spiteful old Miss Abby Tompkins, that mamma would have to teach you! Ugh! I have watched her many a time coming up the street, (you know she never would ride in stages for fear of pickpockets,) and she always looked just as ugly as far off as I could see her as when she came close to me—"
A hearty laugh cut short Hattie's observation; and, coming forward, Sir Roger Percival put his hand on her head, saying:
"How often children tumble down 'the step from the sublime to the ridiculous,' and drag staid, dignified folks after them? Miss Earl, I have been watching your little party for some time, listening to your incipient art-lecture. You Americans are queer people; and when I go home I shall tell Mr. Ruskin that I heard a little boy criticizing 'The Heart of the Andes,' and quoting from 'Modern Painters.' Felix, as I wish to be accurate, will you tell me your age?"
The poor sensitive cripple imagined that he was being ridiculed, and he only reddened and frowned and bit his thin lips.
Edna laid her hand on his shoulder, and answered for him.
"Just thirteen years old; and though Mr. Ruskin is a distinguished exception to the rule that 'prophets are not without honor, save in their own country,' I think he has no reader who loves and admires his writings more than Felix Andrews."
Here the boy raised his eyes and asked:
"Why is it that prophets have no honor among their own people? Is it because they too have to be seen from a great distance in order to seem grand? I heard mamma say the other day that if some book written in America had only come from England everybody would be raving about it."
"Some other time, Felix, we will talk of that problem. Hattie, you look sleepy."
"I think it will be lunch time before we get home," replied the yawning child.
Sir Roger took her by her shoulders, and shook her gently, saying:
"Come, wake up, little sweetheart! How can you get sleepy or hungry with all these handsome pictures staring at you from the walls?"
The good-natured child laughed; but her brother, who had an unconquerable aversion to Sir Roger's huge whiskers, curled his lips, and exclaimed scornfully:
"Hattie, you ought to be ashamed of yourself! Hungry, indeed! You are almost as bad as that English lady—, who, when her husband was admiring some beautiful lambs, and called her attention to them, answered, 'Yes, lambs are beautiful—boiled!'"
Desirous of conciliating him, Sir Roger replied:
"When you and Hattie come to see me in England, I will show you the most beautiful lambs in the United Kingdom; and your sister shall have boiled lamb three times a day, if she wishes it. Miss Earl, you are so fond of paintings that you would enjoy a European tour more than any lady whom I have met in this country. I have seen miles of canvas in Boston, New York and Philadelphia, but very few good pictures."
"And yet, sir, when on exhibition in Europe this great work here before us received most extravagant praise from transatlantic critics, who are very loath to accord merit to American artists. If I am ever so fortunate as to be able to visit Europe, and cultivate and improve my taste, I think I shall still be very proud of the names of Allston, West, Church, Bierstadt, Kensett and Gifford."
She turned to quit the gallery, and Sir Roger said:
"I leave to-morrow for Canada, and may possibly sail for England without returning to New York. Will you allow me the pleasure of driving you to the park this afternoon? Two months ago you refused a similar request, but since then I flatter myself we have become better friends."
"Thank you, Sir Roger. I presume the children can spare me, and I will go with pleasure."
"I will call at five o'clock."
He handed her and Hattie into the coupe, tenderly assisted Felix, and saw them driven away.
Presently Felix laughed, and exclaimed:
"Oh! I hope Miss Morton will be in the park this evening. It would be glorious fun to see her meet you and Sir Roger."
"Oh! because she meddles. I heard Uncle Grey tell mamma that she was making desperate efforts to catch the Englishman; and that she turned up her nose tremendously at the idea of his visiting you. When Uncle Grey told her how often he came to our house, she bit her lips almost till the blood spouted. Sir Roger drives very fine horses, uncle says, and Miss Morton hints outrageously for him to ask her to ride, but she can't manage to get the invitation. So she will be furious when she sees you this afternoon. Yonder is Goupil's; let us stop and have a look at those new engravings mamma told us about yesterday. Hattie, you can curl up in your corner, and go to sleep and dream of boiled lamb till we come back."
Later in the day Mrs. Andrews went up to Edna's room, and found her correcting an exercise.
"At work as usual. You are incorrigible. Any other woman would be so charmed with her conquest that her head would be quite turned by a certain pair of brown eyes that are considered irresistible. Come, get ready for your drive; it is almost five o'clock, and you know foreigners are too polite, too thoroughly well-bred not to be punctual. No, no, Miss Earl; not that hat, on the peril of your life! Where is that new one that I ordered sent up to you two days ago? It will match this delicate white shawl of mine, which I brought up for you to wear; and come, no scruples if you please! Stand up and let me see whether its folds hang properly. You should have heard Madame De G—when she put it around my shoulders for the first time, 'Juste ciel! Madame Andrews, you are a Greek statue!' Miss Earl, put your hair back a little from the left temple. There, now the veins show! Where are your gloves? You look charmingly, my dear; only too pale, too pale! If you don't contrive to get up some color, people will swear that Sir Roger was airing the ghost of a pretty girl. There is the bell! Just as I told you, he is punctual. Five o'clock to a minute."
She stepped to the window and looked down at the equipage before the door.
"What superb horses! You will be the envy of the city."
There was something in the appearance and manner of Sir Roger which often reminded Edna of Gordon Leigh; and during the spring he visited her so constantly, sent her so frequently baskets of elegant flowers, that he succeeded in overcoming her reticence, and established himself on an exceedingly friendly footing in Mrs. Andrews's house.
Now, as they drove along the avenue and entered the park, their spirits rose; and Sir Roger turned very often to look at the fair face of his companion, which he found more and more attractive each day. He saw, too, that under his earnest gaze the faint color deepened, until her cheeks glowed like sea-shells; and when he spoke he bent his face much nearer to hers than was necessary to make her hear his words. They talked of books, flowers, music, mountain scenery, and the green lanes of "Merry England." Edna was perfectly at ease, and in a mood to enjoy everything.
They dashed on, and the sunlight disappeared, and the gas glittered all over the city before Sir Roger turned his horses' heads homeward. When they reached Mrs. Andrews's door he dismissed his carriage and spent the evening. At eleven o'clock he rose to say good-bye.
"Miss Earl, I hope I shall have the pleasure of renewing our acquaintance at an early day; if not in America in Europe. The brightest reminiscences I shall carry across the ocean are those that cluster about the hours I have spent with you. If I should not return to New York, will you allow me the privilege of hearing from you occasionally?"
His clasp of the girl's hand was close, but she withdrew it, and her face flushed painfully as she answered:
"Will you excuse me, Sir Roger, when I tell you that I am so constantly occupied I have not time to write, even to my old and dearest friends."
Passing the door of Felix's room, on her way to her own apartment, to boy called to her: "Miss Earl, are you very tired?"
"Oh, no. Do you want anything?"
"My head aches and I can't go to sleep. Please read to me a little while."
He raised himself on his elbow, and looked up fondly at her.
"Ah! how very pretty you are to-night! Kiss me, won't you?"
She stooped and kissed the poor parched lips, and as she opened a volume of the Waverly Novels, he said:
"Did you see Miss Morton?"
"Yes; she was on horseback, and we passed her twice."
"Glad of it! She does not like you. I guess she finds it as hard to get to sleep to-night as I do."
Edna commenced reading, and it was nearly an hour before Felix's eyes closed, and his fingers relaxed their grasp on hers. Softly she put the book back on the shelf, extinguished the light, and stole upstairs to her desk. That night, as Sir Roger tossed restlessly on his pillow, thinking of her, recalling all that she had said during the drive, he would not have been either comforted or flattered by a knowledge of the fact that she was so entirely engrossed by her MS. that she had no thought of him or his impending departure.
When the clock struck three she laid down her pen; and the mournful expression that crept into her eyes told that memory was busy with the past years. When she fell asleep she dreamed not of Sir Roger but of Le Bocage and its master, of whom she would not permit herself to think in her waking hours.
The influence which Mr. Manning exerted over Edna increased as their acquaintance ripened; and the admiring reverence with which she regarded the editor was exceedingly flattering to him. With curious interest he watched the expansion of her mind, and now and then warned her of some error into which she seemed inclined to plunge, or wisely advised some new branch of research.
So firm was her confidence in his nature and dispassionate judgment, that she yielded to his opinions a deferential homage, such as she had scarcely paid even to Mr. Hammond.
Gradually and unconsciously she learned to lean upon his strong, clear mind, and to find in his society a quiet but very precious happiness. The antagonism of their characters was doubtless one cause of the attraction which each found in the other, and furnished the balance-wheel which both required.
Edna's intense and dreamy idealism demanded a check, which the positivism of the editor supplied; and his extensive and rigidly accurate information, on almost all scientific topics, constituted a valuable treasury of knowledge to which he never denied her access.
His faith in Christianity was like his conviction of the truth of mathematics, more an intellectual process and the careful deduction of logic than the result of some emotional impulse; his religion like his dialectics was cold, consistent, irreproachable, unanswerable. Never seeking a controversy on any subject, he never shunned one, and, during its continuance, his demeanor was invariably courteous, but unyielding, and even when severe he was rarely bitter.
Very early in life his intellectual seemed to have swallowed up his emotional nature, as Aaron's rod did those of the magicians of Pharaoh, and only the absence of dogmatism, and the habitual suavity of his manner, atoned for his unbending obstinacy on all points.
Edna's fervid and beautiful enthusiasm surged and chafed and broke over this man's stern, flinty realism, like the warm, blue waters of the Gulf Stream that throw their silvery spray and foam against the glittering walls of sapphire icebergs sailing slowly southward. Her glowing imagery fell upon the bristling points of his close phalanx of arguments, as gorgeous tropical garlands caught and empaled by bayonets until they faded.
Merciless as an anatomical lecturer, he would smilingly take up one of her metaphors and dissect it, and over the pages of her MSS. for "Maga" his gravely spoken criticisms fell withering as hoar frost.
They differed in all respects, yet daily they felt the need of each other's society. The frozen man of forty sunned himself in the genial presence of the lovely girl of nineteen, and in the dawn of her literary career she felt a sense of security from his proffered guidance, even as a wayward and ambitious child, just learning to walk, totters along with less apprehension when the strong, steady hand it refuses to hold is yet near enough to catch and save from a serious fall.
While fearlessly attacking all heresy, whether political, scientific, or ethical, all latitudinarianism in manners and sciolism in letters, he commanded the confidence and esteem of all, and became in great degree the centre around which the savants and literati of the city revolved.
Through his influence Edna made the acquaintance of some of the most eminent scholars and artists who formed this clique, and she found that his friendship and recommendation was an "open sesame" to the charmed circle.
One Saturday she sat with her bonnet on, waiting for Mr. Manning, who had promised to accompany her on her first visit to Greenwood, and, as she put on her gloves, Felix handed her a letter which his father had just brought up.
Recognizing Mrs. Murray's writing, the governess read it immediately, and, while her eyes ran over the sheet, an expression, first of painful, then of joyful, surprise, came into her countenance.
"MY DEAR CHILD: Doubtless you will be amazed to hear that your quondam lover has utterly driven your image from his fickle heart; and that he ignores your existence as completely as if you were buried twenty feet in the ruins of Herculaneum. Last night Gordon Leigh was married to Gertrude Powell, and the happy pair, attended by that despicable mother, Agnes Powell, will set out for Europe early next week. My dear, it is growing fashionable to 'marry for spite.' I have seen two instances recently, and know of a third which will take place ere long. Poor Gordon will rue his rashness, and, before the year expires, he will arrive at the conclusion that he is an unmitigated fool, and has simply performed, with great success, an operation familiarly known as cutting off one's nose to spite one's face! Your rejection of his renewed offer piqued him beyond expression, and when he returned from New York he was in exactly the most accommodating frame of mind which Mrs. Powell could desire. She immediately laid siege to him. Gertrude's undisguised preference for his society was extremely soothing to his vanity, which you had so severely wounded, and in fine, the indefatigable manoeuvres of the wily mamma, and the continual flattery of the girl, who is really very pretty, accomplished the result. I once credited Gordon with more sense than he has manifested, but each year convinces me more firmly of the truth of my belief, that no man is proof against the subtle and persistent flattery of a beautiful woman. When he announced his engagement to me, we were sitting in the library, and I looked him full in the face, and answered: 'Indeed! Engaged to Miss Powell? I thought you swore that so long as Edna Earl remained unmarried you would never relinquish your suit?' He pointed to that lovely statuette of Pallas that stands on the mantelpiece, and said bitterly, 'Edna Earl has no more heart than that marble Athena.' Whereupon I replied, 'Take care, Gordon. I notice that of late you seem inclined to deal rather too freely in hyperbole. Edna's heart may resemble the rich veins of gold, which in some mines run not near the surface but deep in the masses of quartz. Because you can not obtain it, you have no right to declare that it does not exist. You will probably live to hear some more fortunate suitor shout Eureka! over the treasure.' He turned pale as the Pallas and put his hand over his face. Then I said, 'Gordon, my young friend, I have always been deeply interested in your happiness; tell me frankly, do you love this girl Gertrude?' He seemed much embarrassed, but finally made his confession: 'Mrs. Murray, I believe I shall be fond of her after a while. She is very lovely, and deeply, deeply attached to me, (vanity you see, Edna,) and I am grateful for her affection. She will brighten my lonely home, and at least I can be proud of her rare beauty. But I never expect to love any woman as I loved Edna Earl. I can pet Gertrude; I should have worshipped my first love, my proud, gifted, peerless Edna! Oh! she will never realize all she threw away when she coldly dismissed me.' Poor Gordon! Well, he is married; but his bride might have found cause of disquiet in his restless, abstracted manner on the evening of his wedding. What do you suppose was St. Elmo's criticism on this matrimonial mismatch? 'Poor devil! Before a year rolls over his head he will feel like plunging into the Atlantic, with Plymouth Rock for a necklace! Leigh deserves a better fate, and I would rather see him tied to wild horses and dragged across the Andes.' These pique marriages are terrible mistakes; so, my dear, I trust you will duly repent of your cruelty to poor Gordon."
As Edna put the letter in her pocket, she wondered whether Gertrude really loved her husband, or whether chagrin at Mr. Murray's heartless desertion had not goaded the girl to accept Mr. Leigh.
"Perhaps after all, Mr. Murray was correct in his estimate of her character, when he said that she was a mere child, and was capable of no very earnest affection. I hope so—I hope so."
Edna sighed as she tried to assure herself of the probability that the newly married pair would become more attached as time passed; and her thoughts returned to that paragraph in Mrs. Murray's letter which seemed intentionally mysterious: "I know of a third instance which will take place ere long."
Did she allude to her son and her niece? Edna could not believe this possible, and shook her head at the suggestion; but her lips grew cold, and her fingers locked each other as in a clasp of steel.
When Mr. Manning called, and assisted her into the carriage, he observed an unusual preoccupancy of mind; but after a few desultory remarks she rallied, gave him her undivided attention, and seemed engrossed by his conversation.
It was a fine, sunny day, bright but cool, with a fresh and stiffening west wind ripping the waters of the harbor.
The week had been one of unusual trial, for Felix was sick, and even more than ordinarily fretful and exacting; and weary of writing and of teaching so constantly, the governess enjoyed the brief season of emancipation.
Mr. Manning's long residence in the city had familiarized him with the beauties of Greenwood, and the history of many who slept dreamlessly in the costly mausoleums which they paused to examine and admire; and when at last he directed the driver to return, Edna sank back in one corner of the carriage and said: "Some morning I will come with the children and spend the entire day."
She closed her eyes, and her thoughts travelled swiftly to that pure white obelisk standing in the shadow of Lookout; and melancholy memories brought a sigh to her lips and a slight cloud to the face that for two hours past had been singularly bright and animated. The silence had lasted some minutes, when Mr. Manning, who was gazing abstractedly out of the window, turned to his companion and said:
"You look pale and badly to-day."
"I have not felt as strong as usual, and it is a great treat to get away from the schoolroom and out into the open air, which is bracing and delightful. I believe I have enjoyed this outing more than any I have taken since I came North; and you must allow me to tell you how earnestly I thank you for your considerate remembrance of me."
"Miss Earl, what I am about to say will perhaps seem premature, and will doubtless surprise you; but I beg you to believe that it is the result of mature deliberation—"
He paused and looked earnestly at her.
"You certainly have not decided to give up the editorship of 'Maga,' as you spoke of doing last winter. It would not survive your desertion six months."
"My allusion was to yourself, not to the magazine, which I presume I shall edit as long as I live. Miss Earl, this state of affairs cannot continue. You have no regard for your health, which is suffering materially, and you are destroying yourself. You must let me take care of you, and save you from the ceaseless toil in which you are rapidly wearing out your life. To teach, as you do, all day, and then sit up nearly all night to write, would exhaust a constitution of steel or brass. You are probably not aware of the great change which has taken place in your appearance during the last three months. Hitherto circumstances may have left you no alternative, but one is now offered you. My property is sufficient to render you comfortable. I have already purchased a pleasant home, to which I shall remove next week, and I want you to share it with me—to share my future—all that I have. You have known me scarcely a year, but you are not a stranger to my character or position, and I think that you repose implicit confidence in me. Notwithstanding the unfortunate disparity in our years, I believe we are becoming mutually dependent on each other, and in your society I find a charm such as no other human being possesses; though I have no right to expect that a girl of your age can derive equal pleasure from the companionship of a man old enough to be her father. I am not demonstrative, but my feelings are warm and deep; and however incredulous you may be, I assure you that you are the first, the only woman I have ever asked to be my wife. I have known many who were handsome and intellectual, whose society I have really enjoyed, but not one until I met you whom I would have married. To you alone am I willing to entrust the education of my little Lila. She was but six months old when we were wrecked off Barnegat, and, in attempting to save his wife, my brother was lost. With the child in my arms I clung to a spar, and finally swam ashore; and since then, regarding her as a sacred treasure committed to my guardianship, I have faithfully endeavored to supply her father's place. There is a singular magnetism about you, Edna Earl, which makes me wish to see your face always at my hearthstone; and for the first time in my life I want to say to the world, 'This woman wears my name, and belongs to me for ever!' You are inordinately ambitious; I can lift you to a position that will fully satisfy you, and place you above the necessity of daily labor—a position of happiness and ease, where your genius can properly develop itself. Can you consent to be Douglass Manning's wife?"