AUGUSTA J. EVANS
Author of "Beulah," "Macaria," "At the Mercy of Tiberius" "Infelice" Etc., Etc.
"Ah! the true rule is—a true wife in her husband's house is his servant; it is in his heart that she is queen. Whatever of the best he can conceive, it is her part to be; whatever of the highest he can hope, it is hers to promise; all that is dark in him she must purge into purity, all that is failing in him she must strengthen into truth; from her, through all the world's clamor, he must win his praise; in her, through all the world's warfare, he must find his peace."—JOHN RUSKIN.
J. C. DERBY,
IN GRATEFUL MEMORY OF MANY YEARS OF KIND AND FAITHFUL FRIENDSHIP, THESE PAGES ARE
"Ah! the true rule is—a true wife in her husband's house is his servant; it is in his heart that she is queen. Whatever of the best he can conceive, it is her part to be; whatever of the highest he can hope, it is hers to promise; all that is dark in him she must purge into purity; all that is failing in him she must strengthen into truth; from her, through all the world's clamor, he must win his praise; in her, through all the world's warfare, he must find his peace." —JOHN RUSKIN.
"He stood and measured the earth: and the everlasting mountains were scattered, the perpetual hills did bow."
These words of the prophet upon Shigionoth were sung by a sweet, happy, childish voice, and to a strange, wild, anomalous tune— solemn as the Hebrew chant of Deborah, and fully as triumphant.
A slender girl of twelve years' growth steadied a pail of water on her head, with both dimpled arms thrown up, in ancient classic Caryatides attitude; and, pausing a moment beside the spring, stood fronting the great golden dawn—watching for the first level ray of the coming sun, and chanting the prayer of Habakkuk. Behind her in silent grandeur towered the huge outline of Lookout Mountain, shrouded at summit in gray mist; while centre and base showed dense masses of foliage, dim and purplish in the distance—a stern cowled monk of the Cumberland brotherhood. Low hills clustered on either side, but immediately in front stretched a wooded plain, and across this the child looked at the flushed sky, rapidly brightening into fiery and blinding radiance. Until her wild song waked echoes among the far-off rocks, the holy hush of early morning had rested like a benediction upon the scene, as though nature laid her broad finger over her great lips, and waited in reverent silence the advent of the sun. Morning among the mountains possessed witchery and glories which filled the heart of the girl with adoration, and called from her lips rude but exultant anthems of praise. The young face, lifted toward the cloudless east, might have served as a model for a pictured Syriac priestess—one of Baalbec's vestals, ministering in the olden time in that wondrous and grand temple at Heliopolis.
The large black eyes held a singular fascination in their mild, sparkling depths, now full of tender, loving light and childish gladness; and the flexible red lips curled in lines of orthodox Greek perfection, showing remarkable versatility of expression; while the broad, full, polished forehead with its prominent, swelling brows, could not fail to recall, to even casual observers, the calm, powerful face of Lorenzo de' Medicis, which, if once looked on, fastens itself upon heart and brain, to be forgotten no more. Her hair, black, straight, waveless as an Indian's, hung around her shoulders, and glistened as the water from the dripping bucket trickled through the wreath of purple morning-glories and scarlet cypress, which she had twined about her head, ere lifting the cedar pail to its resting-place. She wore a short-sleeved dress of yellow striped homespun, which fell nearly to her ankles, and her little bare feet gleamed pearly white on the green grass and rank dewy creepers that clustered along the margin of the bubbling spring. Her complexion was unusually transparent, and early exercise and mountain air had rouged her cheeks till they matched the brilliant hue of her scarlet crown. A few steps in advance of her stood a large, fierce yellow dog, with black, scowling face, and ears cut close to his head; a savage, repulsive creature, who looked as if he rejoiced in an opportunity of making good his name, "Grip." In the solemn beauty of that summer morning the girl seemed to have forgotten the mission upon which she came; but as she loitered, the sun flashed up, kindling diamond fringes on every dew-beaded chestnut leaf and oak-bough, and silvering the misty mantle which enveloped Lookout. A moment longer that pure-hearted Tennessee child stood watching the gorgeous spectacle, drinking draughts of joy, which mingled no drop of sin or selfishness in its crystal waves; for she had grown up alone with nature—utterly ignorant of the roar and strife, the burning hate and cunning intrigue of the great world of men and women, where, "like an Egyptian pitcher of tamed vipers, each struggles to get its head above the other." To her, earth seemed very lovely; life stretched before her like the sun's path in that clear sky, and, as free from care or foreboding as the fair June day, she walked on, preceded by her dog—and the chant burst once more from her lips:
"He stood and measured the earth: and the everlasting mountains were scattered, the perpetual hills—"
The sudden, almost simultaneous report of two pistol-shots rang out sharply on the cool, calm air, and startled the child so violently that she sprang forward and dropped the bucket. The sound of voices reached her from the thick wood bordering the path, and, without reflection, she followed the dog, who bounded off toward the point whence it issued. Upon the verge of the forest she paused, and, looking down a dewy green glade where the rising sun darted the earliest arrowy rays, beheld a spectacle which burned itself indelibly upon her memory. A group of five gentlemen stood beneath the dripping chestnut and sweet-gum arches; one leaned against the trunk of a tree, two were conversing eagerly in undertones, and two faced each other fifteen paces apart, with pistols in their hands. Ere she could comprehend the scene, the brief conference ended, the seconds resumed their places to witness another fire, and like the peal of a trumpet echoed the words:
The flash and ringing report mingled with the command and one of the principals threw up his arm and fell. When with horror in her wide- strained eyes and pallor on her lips, the child staggered to the spot, and looked on the prostrate form, he was dead. The hazel eyes stared blankly at the sky, and the hue of life and exuberant health still glowed on the full cheek; but the ball had entered the heart, and the warm blood, bubbling from his breast, dripped on the glistening grass. The surgeon who knelt beside him took the pistol from his clenched fingers, and gently pressed the lids over his glazing eyes. Not a word was uttered, but while the seconds sadly regarded the stiffening form, the surviving principal coolly drew out a cigar, lighted and placed it between his lips. The child's eyes had wandered to the latter from the pool of blood, and now in a shuddering cry she broke the silence:
The party looked around instantly, and for the first time perceived her standing there in their midst, with loathing and horror in the gaze she fixed on the perpetrator of the awful deed. In great surprise he drew back a step or two, and asked gruffly:
"Who are you? What business have you here?"
"Oh! how dared you murder him? Do you think God will forgive you on the gallows?"
He was a man probably twenty-seven years of age—singularly fair, handsome, and hardened in iniquity, but he cowered before the blanched and accusing face of the appalled child; and ere a reply could be framed, his friend came close to him.
"Clinton, you had better be off; you have barely time to catch the Knoxville train, which leaves Chattanooga in half an hour. I would advise you to make a long stay in New York, for there will be trouble when Dent's brother hears of this morning's work."
"Aye! Take my word for that, and put the Atlantic between you and Dick Dent," added the surgeon, smiling grimly, as if the anticipation of retributive justice afforded him pleasure.
"I will simply put this between us," replied the homicide, fitting his pistol to the palm of his hand; and as he did so, a heavy antique diamond ring flashed on his little finger.
"Come, Clinton, delay may cause you more trouble than we bargained for," urged his second.
Without even glancing toward the body of his antagonist, Clinton scowled at the child, and, turning away, was soon out of sight.
"Oh, sir! will you let him get away? will you let him go unpunished?"
"He cannot be punished," answered the surgeon, looking at her with mingled curiosity and admiration.
"I thought men were hung for murder."
"Yes—but this is not murder."
"Not murder? He shot him dead! What is it?"
"He killed him in a duel, which is considered quite right and altogether proper."
She had never heard the word before, and pondered an instant.
"To take a man's life is murder. Is there no law to punish 'a duel'?"
"None strong enough to prohibit the practice. It is regarded as the only method of honorable satisfaction open to gentlemen."
"Honorable satisfaction?" she repeated—weighing the new phraseology as cautiously and fearfully as she would have handled the bloody garments of the victim.
"What is your name?" asked the surgeon.
"Do you live near this place?"
"Yes, sir, very near."
"Is your father at home?"
"I have no father, but grandpa has not gone to the shop yet."
"Will you show me the way to the house?"
"Do you wish to carry him there?" she asked, glancing at the corpse, and shuddering violently.
"Yes, I want some assistance from your grandfather."
"I will show you the way, sir."
The surgeon spoke hurriedly to the two remaining gentlemen, and followed his guide. Slowly she retraced her steps, refilled her bucket at the spring, and walked on before the stranger. But the glory of the morning had passed away; a bloody mantle hung between the splendor of summer sunshine and the chilled heart of the awe- struck girl. The forehead of the radiant, holy June day had been suddenly red-branded like Cain, to be henceforth an occasion of hideous reminiscences; and with a blanched face and trembling limbs the child followed a narrow, beaten path, which soon terminated at the gate of a rude, unwhitewashed paling. A low, comfortless looking three-roomed house stood within, and on the steps sat an elderly man, smoking a pipe, and busily engaged in mending a bridle. The creaking of the gate attracted his attention, and he looked up wonderingly at the advancing stranger.
"Oh, grandpa! there is a murdered man lying in the grass, under the chestnut trees, down by the spring."
"Why! how do you know he was murdered?"
"Good morning, sir. Your granddaughter happened to witness a very unfortunate and distressing affair. A duel was fought at sunrise, in the edge of the woods yonder, and the challenged party, Mr. Dent, of Georgia, was killed. I came to ask permission to bring the body here, until arrangements can be made for its interment; and also to beg your assistance in obtaining a coffin."
Edna passed on to the kitchen, and as she deposited the bucket on the table, a tall, muscular, red-haired woman, who was stooping over the fire, raised her flushed face, and exclaimed angrily:
"What upon earth have you been doing? I have been halfway to the spring to call you, and hadn't a drop of water in the kitchen to make coffee! A pretty time of day Aaron Hunt will get his breakfast! What do you mean by such idleness?"
She advanced with threatening mien and gesture, but stopped suddenly.
"Edna, what ails you? Have you got an ague? You are as white as that pan of flour. Are you scared or sick?"
"There was a man killed this morning, and the body will be brought here directly. If you want to hear about it, you had better go out on the porch. One of the gentlemen is talking to grandpa."
Stunned by what she had seen, and indisposed to narrate the horrid details, the girl went to her own room, and seating herself in the window, tried to collect her thoughts. She was tempted to believe the whole affair a hideous dream, which would pass away with vigorous rubbing of her eyes; but the crushed purple and scarlet flowers she took from her forehead, her dripping hair and damp feet assured her of the vivid reality of the vision. Every fibre of her frame had received a terrible shock, and when noisy, bustling Mrs. Hunt ran from room to room, ejaculating her astonishment, and calling on the child to assist in putting the house in order, the latter obeyed silently, mechanically, as if in a state of somnambulism.
Mr. Dent's body was brought up on a rude litter of boards, and temporarily placed on Edna's bed, and toward evening when a coffin arrived from Chattanooga, the remains were removed, and the coffin rested on two chairs in the middle of the same room. The surgeon insisted upon an immediate interment near the scene of combat; but the gentleman who had officiated as second for the deceased expressed his determination to carry the unfortunate man's body back to his home and family, and the earliest train on the following day was appointed as the time for their departure. Late in the afternoon Edna cautiously opened the door of the room which she had hitherto avoided, and with her apron full of lilies, while poppies and sprigs of rosemary, approached the coffin, and looked at the rigid sleeper. Judging from his appearance, not more than thirty years had gone over his handsome head; his placid features were unusually regular, and a soft, silky brown beard fell upon his pulseless breast. Fearful lest she should touch the icy form, the girl timidly strewed her flowers in the coffin, and tears gathered and dropped with the blossoms, as she noticed a plain gold ring on the little finger, and wondered if he were married—if his death would leave wailing orphans in his home, and a broken-hearted widow at the desolate hearthstone. Absorbed in her melancholy task, she heard neither the sound of strange voices in the passage, nor the faint creak of the door as it swung back on its rusty hinges; but a shrill scream, a wild, despairing shriek terrified her, and her heart seemed to stand still as she bounded away from the side of the coffin. The light of the setting sun streamed through the window, and over the white, convulsed face of a feeble but beautiful woman, who was supported on the threshold by a venerable, gray-haired man, down whose furrowed cheeks tears coursed rapidly. Struggling to free herself from his restraining grasp, the stranger tottered into the middle of the room.
"O Harry! My husband! my husband!" She threw up her wasted arms, and fell forward senseless on the corpse.
They bore her into the adjoining apartment, where the surgeon administered the usual restoratives, and though finally the pulses stirred and throbbed feebly, no symptom of returning consciousness greeted the anxious friends who bent over her. Hour after hour passed, during which she lay as motionless as her husband's body, and at length the physician sighed, and pressing his fingers to his eyes, said sorrowfully to the grief-stricken old man beside her: "It is paralysis, Mr. Dent, and there is no hope. She may linger twelve or twenty-four hours, but her sorrows are ended; she and Harry will soon be reunited. Knowing her constitution, I feared as much. You should not have suffered her to come; you might have known that the shock would kill her. For this reason I wished his body buried here."
"I could not restrain her. Some meddling gossip told her that my poor boy had gone to fight a duel, and she rose from her bed and started to the railroad depot. I pleaded, I reasoned with her that she could not bear the journey, but I might as well have talked to the winds, I never knew her obstinate before, but she seemed to have a presentiment of the truth. God pity her two sweet babes!"
The old man bowed his head upon her pillow, and sobbed aloud.
Throughout the night Edna crouched beside the bed, watching the wan but lovely face of the young widow, and tenderly chafing the numb, fair hands which lay so motionless on the coverlet. Children are always sanguine, because of their ignorance of the stern, inexorable realities of the untried future, and Edna could not believe that death would snatch from the world one so beautiful and so necessary to her prattling, fatherless infants. But morning showed no encouraging symptoms, the stupor was unbroken, and at noon the wife's spirit passed gently to the everlasting reunion.
Before sunrise on the ensuing day, a sad group clustered once more under the dripping chestnuts, and where a pool of blood had dyed the sod, a wide grave yawned. The coffins were lowered, the bodies of Henry and Helen Dent rested side by side, and, as the mound rose slowly above them, the solemn silence was broken by the faltering voice of the surgeon, who read the burial service.
"Man, that is born of a woman, hath but a short time to live, and is full of misery. He cometh up, and is cut down, like a flower; he fleeth as it were a shadow, and never continueth in one stay. Yet, O Lord God most holy, O Lord most mighty, O holy and most merciful Saviour, deliver us not into the pains of eternal death!"
The melancholy rite ended, the party dispersed, the strangers took their departure for their distant homes, and quiet reigned once more in the small, dark cottage. But days and weeks brought to Edna no oblivion of the tragic events which constituted the first great epoch of her monotonous life. A nervous restlessness took possession of her, she refused to occupy her old room, and insisted upon sleeping on a pallet at the foot of her grandfather's bed. She forsook her whilom haunts about the spring and forest, and started up in terror at every sudden sound; while from each opening between the chestnut trees the hazel eyes of the dead man, and the wan, thin face of the golden-haired wife, looked out beseechingly at her. Frequently, in the warm light of day, ere shadows stalked to and fro in the thick woods, she would steal, with an apronful of wild flowers, to the solitary grave, scatter her treasures in the rank grass that waved above it, and hurry away with hushed breath and quivering limbs. Summer waned, autumn passed, and winter came, but the girl recovered in no degree from the shock which had cut short her chant of praise on that bloody June day. In her morning visit to the spring, she had stumbled upon a monster which custom had adopted and petted—which the passions and sin fulness of men had adroitly draped and fondled, and called Honorable Satisfaction; but her pure, unperverted, Ithuriel nature pierced the conventional mask, recognized the loathsome lineaments of crime, and recoiled in horror and amazement, wondering at the wickedness of her race and the forbearance of outraged Jehovah. Innocent childhood had for the first time stood face to face with Sin and Death, and could not forget the vision.
Edna Earl had lost both her parents before she was old enough to remember either. Her mother was the only daughter of Aaron Hunt, the village blacksmith, and her father, who was an intelligent, promising young carpenter, accidentally fell from the roof of the house which he was shingling, and died from the injuries sustained. Thus Mr. Hunt, who had been a widower for nearly ten years, found himself burdened with the care of an infant only six months old. His daughter had never left him, and after her death the loneliness of the house oppressed him painfully, and for the sake of his grandchild he resolved to marry again. The middle-aged widow whom he selected was a kind-hearted and generous woman, but indolent, ignorant, and exceedingly high-tempered; and while she really loved the little orphan committed to her care, she contrived to alienate her affection, and to tighten the bonds of union between her husband and the child. Possessing a remarkably amiable and equable disposition, Edna rarely vexed Mrs. Hunt, who gradually left her more and more to the indulgence of her own views and caprices, and contented herself with exacting a certain amount of daily work, after the accomplishment of which she allowed her to amuse herself as childish whims dictated. There chanced to be no children of her own age in the neighborhood, consequently she grew up without companionship, save that furnished by her grandfather, who was dotingly fond of her, and would have utterly spoiled her, had not her temperament fortunately been one not easily injured by unrestrained liberty of action. Before she was able to walk, he would take her to the forge, and keep her for hours on a sheepskin in one corner, whence she watched, with infantile delight, the blast of the furnace, and the shower of sparks that fell from the anvil, and where she often slept, lulled by the monotonous chorus of trip and sledge. As she grew older, the mystery of bellows and slack-tub engaged her attention, and at one end of the shop, on a pile of shavings, she collected a mass of curiously shaped bits of iron and steel, and blocks of wood, from which a miniature shop threatened to rise in rivalry; and finally, when strong enough to grasp the handles of the bellows, her greatest pleasure consisted in rendering the feeble assistance which her grandfather was always so proud to accept at her hands. Although ignorant and uncultivated, Mr. Hunt was a man of warm, tender feelings, and rare nobility of soul. He regretted the absence of early advantages which poverty had denied him; and in teaching Edna to read and to write, and to cipher, he never failed to impress upon her the vast superiority which a thorough education confers. Whether his exhortations first kindled her ambition, or whether her aspiration for knowledge was spontaneous and irrepressible, he knew not; but she manifested very early a fondness for study and thirst for learning which he gratified to the fullest extent of his limited ability. The blacksmith's library consisted of the family Bible, Pilgrim's Progress, a copy of Irving's Sermons on Parables, Guy Mannering, a few tracts, and two books which had belonged to an itinerant minister who preached occasionally in the neighborhood, and who, having died rather suddenly at Mr. Hunt's house, left the volumes in his saddle-bags, which were never claimed by his family, residing in a distant State. Those books were Plutarch's Lives and a worn school copy of Anthon's Classical Dictionary; and to Edna they proved a literary Ophir of inestimable value and exhaustless interest. Plutarch especially was a Pisgah of letters, whence the vast domain of learning, the Canaan of human wisdom, stretched alluringly before her; and as often as she climbed this height, and viewed the wondrous scene beyond, it seemed, indeed,
...... "an arch where through Gleams that untraveled world, whose margin fades Forever and forever when we move."
In after years she sometimes questioned if this mount of observation was also that of temptation, to which ambition had led her spirit, and there bargained for and bought her future. Love of nature, love of books, an earnest piety and deep religious enthusiasm were the characteristics of a noble young soul, left to stray through the devious, checkered paths of life without other guidance than that which she received from communion with Greek sages and Hebrew prophets. An utter stranger to fashionable conventionality and latitudinarian ethics, it was no marvel that the child stared and shivered when she saw the laws of God vetoed, and was blandly introduced to murder as Honorable Satisfaction.
Nearly a mile from the small, straggling village of Chattanooga stood Aaron Hunt's shop, shaded by a grove of oak and chestnut trees, which grew upon the knoll, where two roads intersected. Like the majority of blacksmith's shops at country cross-roads, it was a low, narrow shed, filled with dust and rubbish, with old wheels and new single-trees, broken plows and dilapidated wagons awaiting repairs, and at the rear of the shop stood a smaller shed, where an old gray horse quietly ate his corn and fodder, waiting to carry the master to his home, two miles distant, as soon as the sun had set beyond the neighboring mountain. Early in winter, having an unusual amount of work on hand, Mr. Hunt hurried away from home one morning, neglecting to take the bucket which contained his dinner, and Edna was sent to repair the oversight. Accustomed to ramble about the woods without companionship, she walked leisurely along the rocky road, swinging the tin bucket in one hand, and pausing now and then to watch the shy red-birds that flitted like flame-jets in and out of the trees as she passed. The unbroken repose of earth and sky, the cold, still atmosphere and peaceful sunshine, touched her heart with a sense of quiet but pure happiness, and half unconsciously she began a hymn which her grandfather often sang over his anvil:
"Lord, in the morning Thou shalt hear My voice ascending high; To Thee will I direct my prayer, To Thee lift up mine eye."
Ere the first verse was ended, the clatter of a horse's hoofs hushed her song, and she glanced up as a harsh voice asked impatiently:
"Are you stone deaf? I say, is there a blacksmith's shop near?"
The rider reined in his horse, a spirited, beautiful animal, and waited for an answer.
"Yes, sir. There is a shop about half a mile ahead, on the right hand side, where the road forks."
He just touched his hat with the end of his gloved fingers and galloped on. When Edna reached the shop she saw her grandfather examining the horse's shoes, while the stranger walked up and down the road before the forge. He was a very tall, strong man, with a gray shawl thrown over one shoulder, and a black fur hat drawn so far over his face that only the lower portion was visible; and this, swarthy and harsh, left a most disagreeable impression on the child's mind as she passed him and went up to the spot where Mr. Hunt was at work. Putting the bucket behind her, she stooped, kissed him on his furrowed forehead, and said:
"Grandpa, guess what brought me to see you to-day?"
"I forgot my dinner, and you have trudged over here to bring it. Ain't I right, Pearl? Stand back, honey, or this Satan of a horse may kick your brains out. I can hardly manage him."
Here the stranger uttered an oath, and called out, "How much longer do you intend to keep me waiting?"
"No longer, sir, than I can help, as I like the company of polite people."
"Oh, grandpa!" whispered Edna, deprecatingly, as she saw the traveller come rapidly forward and throw his shawl down on the grass. Mr. Hunt pushed back his old battered woolen hat, and looked steadily at the master of the horse—saying gravely and resolutely:
"I'll finish the job as soon as I can, and that is as much as any reasonable man would ask. Now, sir, if that doesn't suit you, you can take your horse and put out, and swear at somebody else, for I won't stand it."
"It is a cursed nuisance to be detained here for such a trifle as one shoe, and you might hurry yourself."
"Your horse is very restless and vicious, and I could shoe two gentle ones while I am trying to quiet him."
The man muttered something indistinctly, and laying his hand heavily on the horse's mane, said very sternly a few words, which were utterly unintelligible to his human listeners, though they certainly exerted a magical influence over the fiery creature, who, savage as the pampered pets of Diomedes, soon stood tranquil and contented, rubbing his head against his master's shoulder. Repelled by the rude harshness of this man, Edna walked into the shop, and watched the silent group outside, until the work was finished and Mr. Hunt threw down his tools and wiped his face.
"What do I owe you?" said the impatient rider, springing to his saddle, and putting his hand into his vest pocket.
"I charge nothing for 'such trifles' as that."
"But I am in the habit of paying for my work."
"It is not worth talking about. Good day, sir."
Mr. Hunt turned and walked into his shop.
"There is a dollar, it is the only small change I have." He rode up to the door of the shed, threw the small gold coin toward the blacksmith, and was riding rapidly away, when Edna darted after him, exclaiming, "Stop, sir! you have left your shawl!"
He turned in the saddle, and even under the screen of her calico bonnet she felt the fiery gleam of his eyes, as he stooped to take the shawl from her hand. Once more his fingers touched his hat, he bowed and said hastily:
"I thank you, child." Then spurring his horse, he was out of sight in a moment.
"He is a rude, blasphemous, wicked man," said Mr. Hunt as Edna reentered the shop, and picked up the coin, which lay glistening amid the cinders around the anvil.
"Why do you think him wicked?"
"No good man swears as he did, before you came; and didn't you notice the vicious, wicked expression of his eyes?"
"No, sir, I did not see much of his face, he never looked at me but once. I should not like to meet him again; I am afraid of him."
"Never fear, Pearl, he is a stranger here, and there's little chance of your ever setting your eyes on his ugly, savage face again. Keep the money, dear; I won't have it after all the airs he put on. If, instead of shoeing his wild brute, I had knocked the fellow down for his insolence in cursing me, it would have served him right. Politeness is a cheap thing; and a poor man, if he behaves himself, and does his work well, is as much entitled to it as the President."
"I will give the dollar to grandma, to buy a new coffee-pot; for she said to-day the old one was burnt out, and she could not use it any longer. But what is that yonder on the grass? That man left something after all."
She picked up from the spot where he had thrown his shawl a handsome morocco-bound pocket copy of Dante, and opening it to discover the name of the owner, she saw written on the fly-leaf in a bold and beautiful hand, "S. E. M., Boboli Gardens, Florence. Lasciate ogni speranza voi ch' entrate."
"What does this mean, grandpa?"
She held up the book and pointed out the words of the dread inscription.
"Indeed, Pearl, how should I know? It is Greek, or Latin, or Dutch, like the other outlandish gibberish he talked to that devilish horse. He must have spent his life among the heathens, to judge from his talk; for he has neither manner nor religion. Honey, better put the book there in the furnace; it is not fit for your eyes."
"He may come back for it if he misses it pretty soon."
"Not he. One might almost believe that he was running from the law. He would not turn back for it if it was bound in gold instead of leather. It is no account, I'll warrant, or he would not have been reading it, the ill-mannered heathen!"
Weeks passed, and as the owner was not heard of again, Edna felt that she might justly claim as her own this most marvellous of books, which, though beyond her comprehension, furnished a source of endless wonder and delight. The copy was Gary's translation, with illustrations designed by Flaxman; and many of the grand, gloomy passages were underlined by pencil and annotated in the unknown tongue, which so completely baffled her curiosity. Night and day she pored over this new treasure; sometimes dreaming of the hideous faces that scowled at her from the solemn, mournful pages; and anon, when startled from sleep by these awful visions, she would soothe herself to rest by murmuring the metrical version of the Lord's Prayer contained in the "Purgatory." Most emphatically did Mrs. Hunt disapprove of the studious and contemplative habits of the ambitious child, who she averred was indulging dreams and aspirations far above her station in life, and well calculated to dissatisfy her with her humble, unpretending home and uninviting future. Education, she contended, was useless to poor people, who could not feed and clothe themselves with "book learning;" and experience had taught her that those who lounged about with books in their hands generally came to want, and invariably to harm. It was in vain that she endeavored to convince her husband of the impropriety of permitting the girl to spend so much time over her books; he finally put the matter at rest by declaring that, in his opinion, Edna was a remarkable child; and if well educated, might even rise to the position of teacher for the neighborhood, which would confer most honorable distinction upon the family. Laying his brawny hand fondly on her head, he said, tenderly:
"Let her alone, wife! let her alone! You will make us proud of you, won't you, little Pearl, when you are smart enough to teach a school? I shall be too old to work by that time, and you will take care of me, won't you, my little mocking-bird?"
"Oh, Grandy; that I will. But do you really think I ever shall have sense enough to be a teacher? You know I ought to learn everything, and I have so few books."
"To be sure you will. Remember there is always a way where there's a will. When I pay off the debt I owe Peter Wood, I will see what we can do about some new books. Put on your shawl now, Pearl, and hunt up old Brindle, it is milking time, and she is not in sight."
"Grandpa, are you sure you feel better this evening?" She plunged her fingers in his thick white hair, and rubbed her round, rosy cheek softly against his.
"Oh! yes, I am better. Hurry back, Pearl, I want you to read to me."
It was a bright day in January, and the old man sat in a large rocking-chair on the porch, smoking his pipe, and sunning himself in the last rays of the sinking sun. He had complained all day of not feeling well, and failed to go to his work as usual; and now, as his grandchild tied her pink calico bonnet under her chin, and wrapped herself in her faded plaid shawl, he watched her with a tender, loving light in his keen gray eyes. She kissed him, buttoned his shirt collar, which had become unfastened, drew his homespun coat closer to his throat, and springing down the steps bounded away in search of the cow, who often strayed so far off that she was dispatched to drive her home. In the grand, peaceful, solemn woods, through which the wintry wind now sighed in a soothing monotone, the child's spirit reached an exaltation which, had she lived two thousand years earlier, and roamed amid the vales and fastnesses of classic Arcadia, would have vented itself in dithyrambics to the great "Lord of the Hyle," the Greek "All," the horned and hoofed god, Pan. In every age, and among all people—from the Parsee devotees and the Gosains of India to the Pantheism of Bruno, Spinoza, and New England's "Illuminati"—nature has been apotheosized; and the heart of the blacksmith's untutored darling stirred with the same emotions of awe and adoration which thrilled the worshipers of Hertha, when the veiled chariot stood in Helgeland, and which made the groves and grottoes of Phrygia sacred to Dindymene. Edna loved trees and flowers, stars and clouds, with a warm, clinging affection, as she loved those of her own race; and that solace and amusement which most children find in the society of children and the sports of childhood this girl derived from the solitude and serenity of nature. To her woods and fields were indeed vocal, and every flitting bird and gurgling brook, every passing cloud and whispering breeze, brought messages of God's eternal love and wisdom, and drew her tender, yearning heart more closely to Jehovah, the Lord God Omnipotent. To-day, in the boundless reverence and religious enthusiasm of her character, she directed her steps to a large spreading oak, now leafless, where in summer she often came to read and pray; and here falling on her knees she thanked God for the blessings showered upon her. Entirely free from discontent and querulousness, she was thoroughly happy in her poor humble home, and over all, like a consecration, shone the devoted love for her grandfather, which more than compensated for any want of which she might otherwise have been conscious. Accustomed always to ask special favor for him, his name now passed her lips in earnest supplication, and she fervently thanked the Father that his threatened illness had been arrested without serious consequences. The sun had gone down when she rose and hurried on in search of the cow. The shadows of a winter evening gathered in the forest and climbed like trooping spirits up the rocky mountain side, and as she plunged deeper and deeper into the woods, the child began a wild cattle call that she was wont to use on such occasions. The echoes rang out a weird Brocken chorus, and at last, when she was growing impatient of the fruitless search, she paused to listen, and heard the welcome sound of the familiar lowing, by which the old cow recognized her summons. Following the sound, Edna soon saw the missing favorite coming slowly toward her, and ere many moments both were running homeward. As she approached the house, driving Brindle before her, and merrily singing her rude 'Ranz des vaches', the moon rose full and round, and threw a flood of light over the porch where the blacksmith still sat. Edna took off her bonnet and waved it at him, but he did not seem to notice the signal, and driving the cow into the yard, she called out as she latched the gate:
"Grandy, dear, why don't you go in to the fire? Are you waiting for me, out here in the cold? I think Brindle certainly must have been cropping grass around the old walls of Jericho, as that is the farthest off of any place I know. If she is half as tired and hungry as I am, she ought to be glad to get home." He did not answer, and running up the steps she thought he had fallen asleep. The old woolen hat shaded his face, but when she crept on tiptoe to the chair, stooped, put her arms around him, and kissed his wrinkled cheek, she started back in terror. The eyes stared at the moon, the stiff fingers clutched the pipe from which the ashes had not been shaken, and the face was cold and rigid. Aaron Hunt had indeed fallen asleep, to wake no more amid the storms and woes and tears of time.
Edna fell on her knees and grasped the icy hands. "Grandpa! wake up! Oh, grandpa! speak to me, your little Pearl! Wake up! dear Grandy! I have come back! My grandpa! Oh!—"
A wild, despairing cry rent the still evening air, and shrieked dismally back from the distant hills and the gray, ghostly mountain- -and the child fell on her face at the dead man's feet.
Throughout that dreary night of agony, Edna lay on the bed where her grandfather's body had been placed, holding one of the stiffened hands folded in both hers, and pressed against her lips. She neither wept nor moaned, the shock was too terrible to admit of noisy grief; but completely stunned, she lay mute and desolate.
For the first time in her life she could not pray; she wanted to turn away from the thought of God and heaven, for it seemed that she had nothing left to pray for. That silver-haired, wrinkled old man was the only father she had ever known; he had cradled her in his sinewy arms, and slept clasping her to his heart; had taught her to walk, and surrounded her with his warm, pitying love, making a home of peace and blessedness for her young life. Giving him, in return, the whole wealth of her affection, he had become the centre of all her hopes, joys and aspirations; now what remained? Bitter, rebellious feelings hardened her heart when she remembered that even while she was kneeling, thanking God for his preservation from illness, he had already passed away; nay, his sanctified spirit probably poised its wings close to the Eternal Throne, and listened to the prayer which she sent up to God for his welfare and happiness and protection while on earth. The souls of our dead need not the aid of Sandalphon to interpret the whispers that rise tremulously from the world of sin and wrestling, that float up among the stars, through the gates of pearl, down the golden streets of the New Jerusalem. So we all trust, and prate of our faith, and deceive ourselves with the fond hope that we are resigned to the Heavenly Will; and we go on with a show of Christian reliance, while the morning sun smiles in gladness and plenty, and the hymn of happy days and the dear voices of our loved ones make music in our ears; and lo! God puts us in the crucible. The light of life—the hope of all future years is blotted out; clouds of despair and the grim night of an unbroken and unlifting desolation fall like a pall on heart and brain; we dare not look heavenward, dreading another blow; our anchor drags, we drift out into a hideous Dead Sea, where our idol has gone down forever—and boasted faith and trust and patience are swept like straws from our grasp in the tempest of woe; while our human love cries wolfishly for its lost darling. Ah! we build grand and gloomy mausoleums for our precious dead hopes, but, like Artemisia, we refuse to sepulchre—we devour the bitter ashes of the lost, and grimly and audaciously challenge Jehovah to take the worthless, mutilated life that his wisdom reserves for other aims and future toils. Job's wife is immortal and ubiquitous, haunting the sorrow-shrouded chamber of every stricken human soul, and fiendishly prompting the bleeding, crushed spirit to "curse God and die." Edna had never contemplated the possibility of her grandfather's death—it was a horror she had never forced herself to front; and now that he was cut down in an instant, without even the mournful consolation of parting words and farewell kisses, she asked herself again and again: "What have I done, that God should punish me so? I thought I was grateful, I thought I was doing my duty; but oh! what dreadful sin have I committed, to deserve this awful affliction?" During the long, ghostly watches of that winter night, she recalled her past life, gilded by the old man's love, and could remember no happiness with which he was not intimately connected, and no sorrow that his hand had not soothed and lightened. The future was now a blank, crossed by no projected paths, lit with no ray of hope; and at daylight, when the cold, pale morning showed the stony face of the corpse at her side, her unnatural composure broke up in a storm of passionate woe, and she sprang to her feet, almost frantic with the sense of her loss:
"All alone! nobody to love me; nothing to look forward to! Oh. grandpa! did you hear me praying for you yesterday? Dear Grandy—my own dear Grandy! I did pray for you while you were dying—here alone! Oh, my God! what have I done, that you should take him away from me? Was not I on my knees when he died? Oh! what will become of me now? Nobody to care for Edna now! Oh, grandpa! grandpa! beg Jesus to ask God to take me too!" And throwing up her clasped hands, she sank back insensible on the shrouded form of the dead.
"When some beloved voice that was to you Both sound and sweetness, faileth suddenly, And silence against which you dare not cry, Aches round you like a strong disease and new— What hope? what help? what music will undo That silence to your senses? Not friendship's sigh, Not reason's subtle count. Nay, none of these! Speak Thou, availing Christ! and fill this pause."
Of all that occurred during many ensuing weeks Edna knew little. She retained, in after years, only a vague, confused remembrance of keen anguish and utter prostration, and an abiding sense of irreparable loss. In delirious visions she saw her grandfather now struggling in the grasp of Phlegyas, and now writhing in the fiery tomb of Uberti, with jets of flame leaping through his white hair, and his shrunken hands stretched appealingly toward her, as she had seen those of the doomed Ghibelline leader, in the hideous Dante picture. All the appalling images evoked by the sombre and embittered imagination of the gloomy Tuscan had seized upon her fancy, even in happy hours, and were now reproduced by her disordered brain in multitudinous and aggravated forms. Her wails of agony, her passionate prayers to God to release the beloved spirit from the tortures which her delirium painted, were painful beyond expression to those who watched her ravings; and it was with a feeling of relief that they finally saw her sink into apathy—into a quiet mental stupor—from which nothing seemed to rouse her. She did not remark Mrs. Hunt's absence, or the presence of the neighbors at her bedside. And one morning, when she was wrapped up and placed by the fire, Mrs. Wood told her as gently as possible that her grandmother had died from a disease which was ravaging the country and supposed to be cholera. The intelligence produced no emotion; she merely looked up an instant, glanced mournfully around the dreary room, and, shivering slightly, drooped her head again on her hand. Week after week went slowly by, and she was removed to Mrs. Wood's house, but no improvement was discernible, and the belief became general that the child's mind had sunk into hopeless imbecility. The kind-hearted miller and his wife endeavored to coax her out of her chair by the chimney-corner, but she crouched there, a wan, mute figure of woe, pitiable to contemplate; asking no questions, causing no trouble, receiving no consolation. One bright March morning she sat, as usual, with her face bowed on her thin hand, and her vacant gaze fixed on the blazing fire, when, through the open window, came the impatient lowing of a cow. Mrs. Wood saw a change pass swiftly over the girl's face, and a quiver cross the lips so long frozen. She lifted her head, rose, and followed the sound, and soon stood at the side of Brindle, who now furnished milk for the miller's family. As the gentle cow recognized and looked at her, with an expression almost human in the mild, liquid eyes, all the events of that last serene evening swept back to Edna's deadened memory, and, leaning her head on Brindle's horns, she shed the first tears that had flowed for her great loss, while sobs, thick and suffocating, shook her feeble, emaciated frame.
"Bless the poor little outcast, she will get well now. That is just exactly what she needs. I tell you, Peter, one good cry like that is worth a wagon-load of physic. Don't go near her; let her have her cry out. Poor thing! It ain't often you see a child love her granddaddy as she loved Aaron Hunt. Poor lamb!"
Mrs. Wood wiped her own eyes, and went back to her weaving; and Edna turned away from the mill and walked to her deserted home, while the tears poured ceaselessly over her white cheeks. As she approached the old house she saw that it was shut up and neglected; but when she opened the gate, Grip, the fierce yellow terror of the whole neighborhood, sprang from the door-step, where he kept guard as tirelessly as Maida, and, with a dismal whine of welcome, leaped up and put his paws on her shoulders. This had been the blacksmith's pet, fed by his hand, chained when he went to the shop, and released at his return; and grim and repulsively ugly though he was, the only playmate Edna had ever known; had gamboled around her cradle, slept with her on the sheepskin, and frolicked with her through the woods, in many a long search for Brindle. He alone remained of all the happy past; and as precious memories crowded mournfully up, she sat upon the steps of the dreary homestead, with her arms around his neck, and wept bitterly. After an hour she left the house, and, followed by the dog, crossed the woods in the direction of the neighborhood graveyard. In order to reach it she was forced to pass by the spring and the green hillock where Mr. and Mrs. Dent slept side by side, but no nervous terror seized her now as formerly; the great present horror swallowed up all others, and, though she trembled from physical debility, she dragged herself on till the rude, rough paling of the burying-ground stood before her. Oh, dreary desolation; thy name is country graveyard! Here no polished sculptured stela pointed to the Eternal Rest beyond; no classic marbles told, in gilded characters, the virtues of the dead; no flowery-fringed gravel-walks wound from murmuring waterfalls and rippling fountains to crystal lakes, where trailing willows threw their flickering shadows over silver-dusted lilies; no spicy perfume of purple heliotrope and starry jasmine burdened the silent air; none of the solemn beauties and soothing charms of Greenwood or Mount Auburn wooed the mourner from her weight of woe. Decaying head-boards, green with the lichen-fingered touch of time, leaned over neglected mounds, where last year's weeds shivered in the sighing breeze, and autumn winds and winter rains had drifted a brown shroud of shriveled leaves; while here and there meek-eyed sheep lay sunning themselves upon the trampled graves, and the slow- measured sound of a bell dinged now and then as cattle browsed on the scanty herbage in this most neglected of God's Acres. Could Charles Lamb have turned from the pompous epitaphs and high-flown panegyrics of that English cemetery, to the rudely-lettered boards which here briefly told the names and ages of the sleepers in these narrow beds, he had never asked the question which now stands as a melancholy epigram on family favoritism and human frailty. Gold gilds even the lineaments and haunts of Death, making Pere la Chaise a favored spot for fetes champetres; while poverty hangs neither veil nor mask over the grinning ghoul, and flees, superstition- spurred, from the hideous precincts.
In one corner of the inclosure, where Edna's parents slept, she found the new mounds that covered the remains of those who had nurtured and guarded her young life; and on an unpainted board was written in large letters:
"To the memory of Aaron Hunt: an honest blacksmith, and true Christian; aged sixty-eight years and six months."
Here, with her head on her grandfather's grave, and the faithful dog crouched at her feet, lay the orphan, wrestling with grief and loneliness, striving to face a future that loomed before her spectre-thronged; and here Mr. Wood found her when anxiety at her long absence induced his wife to search for the missing invalid. The storm of sobs and tears had spent itself, fortitude took the measure of the burden imposed, shouldered the galling weight, and henceforth, with undimmed vision, walked steadily to the appointed goal. The miller was surprised to find her so calm, and as they went homeward she asked the particulars of all that had occurred, and thanked him gravely but cordially for the kind care bestowed upon her, and for the last friendly offices performed for her grandfather.
Conscious of her complete helplessness and physical prostration, she ventured no allusion to the future, but waited patiently until renewed strength permitted the execution of designs now fully mapped out. Notwithstanding her feebleness, she rendered herself invaluable to Mrs. Wood, who praised her dexterity and neatness as a seamstress, and predicted that she would make a model housekeeper.
Late one Sunday evening in May, as the miller and his wife sat upon the steps of their humble and comfortless looking home, they saw Edna slowly approaching, and surmised where she had spent the afternoon. Instead of going into the house she seated herself beside them, and, removing her bonnet, traces of tears were visible on her sad but patient face.
"You ought not to go over yonder so often, child. It is not good for you," said the miller, knocking the ashes from his pipe.
She shaded her countenance with her hand, and after a moment said, in a low but steady tone:
"I shall never go there again. I have said good-bye to everything, and have nothing now to keep me here. You and Mrs. Wood have been very kind to me, and I thank you heartily; but you have a family of children, and have your hands full to support them without taking care of me. I know that our house must go to you to pay that old debt, and even the horse and cow; and there will be nothing left when you are paid. You are very good, indeed, to offer me a home here, and I never can forget your kindness; but I should not be willing to live on anybody's charity; and besides, all the world is alike to me now, and I want to get out of sight of—of—what shows my sorrow to me every day. I don't love this place now; it won't let me forget, even for a minute, and—and—"
Here the voice faltered and she paused.
"But where could you go, and how could you make your bread, you poor little ailing thing?"
"I hear that in the town of Columbus, Georgia, even little children get wages to work in the factory, and I know I can earn enough to pay my board among the factory people."
"But you are too young to be straying about in a strange place. If you will stay here, and help my wife about the house and the weaving, I will take good care of you, and clothe you till you are grown and married."
"I would rather go away, because I want to be educated, and I can't be if I stay here."
"Fiddlestick! you will know as much as the balance of us, and that's all you will ever have any use for. I notice you have a hankering after books, but the quicker you get that foolishness out of your head the better; for books won't put bread in your mouth and clothes on your back; and folks that want to be better than their neighbors generally turn out worse. The less book-learning you women have the better."
"I don't see that it is any of your business, Peter Wood, how much learning we women choose to get, provided your bread is baked and your socks darned when you want 'em. A woman has as good a right as a man to get book-learning, if she wants it; and as for sense, I'll thank you, mine is as good as yours any day; and folks have said it was a blessed thing for the neighborhood when the rheumatiz laid Peter Wood up, and his wife, Dorothy Elmira Wood, run the mill. Now, it's of no earthly use to cut at us women over that child's shoulders; if she wants an education she has as much right to it as anybody, if she can pay for it. My doctrine is, everybody has a right to whatever they can pay for, whether it is schooling or a satin frock!"
Mrs. Wood seized her snuff-bottle and plunged a stick vigorously into the contents, and, as the miller showed no disposition to skirmish, she continued:
"I take an interest in you, Edna Earl, because I loved your mother, who was the only sweet-tempered beauty that ever I knew. I think I never set my eyes on a prettier face, with big brown eyes as meek as a partridge's; and then her hands and feet were as small as a queen's. Now as long as you are satisfied to stay here I shall be glad to have you, and I will do as well for you as for my own Tabitha; but, if you are bent on factory work and schooling, I have got no more to say; for I have no right to say where you shall go or where you shall stay. But one thing I do want to tell you, it is a serious thing for a poor, motherless girl to be all alone among strangers."
There was a brief silence, and Edna answered slowly:
"Yes, Mrs. Wood, I know it is; but God can protect me there as well as here, and I have none now but Him. I have made up my mind to go, because I think it is the best for me, and I hope Mr. Wood will carry me to the Chattanooga depot to-morrow morning, as the train leaves early. I have a little money—seven dollars—that—that grandpa gave me at different times, and both Brindle's calves belong to me—he gave them to me—and I thought may be you would pay me a few dollars for them."
"But you are not ready to start to-morrow."
"Yes, sir, I washed and ironed my clothes yesterday, and what few I have are all packed in my box. Everything is ready now, and, as I have to go, I might as well start to-morrow."
"Don't you think you will get dreadfully homesick in about a month, and write to me to come and fetch you back?"
"I have no home and nobody to love me, how then can I ever be homesick? Grandpa's grave is all the home I have, and—and—God would not take me there when I was so sick, and—and—" The quiver of her face showed that she was losing her self-control, and turning away, she took the cedar piggin, and went out to milk Brindle for the last time.
Feeling that they had no right to dictate her future course, neither the miller nor his wife offered any further opposition, and very early the next morning, after Mrs. Wood had given the girl what she called "some good motherly advice," and provided her with a basket containing food for the journey, she kissed her heartily several times, and saw her stowed away in the miller's covered cart, which was to convey her to the railway station. The road ran by the old blacksmith's shop, and Mr. Wood's eyes filled as he noticed the wistful, lingering, loving gaze which the girl fixed upon it, until a grove of trees shut out the view; then the head bowed itself, and a stifled moan reached his ears.
The engine whistled as they approached the station, and Edna was hurried aboard the train, while her companion busied himself in transferring her box of clothing to the baggage car. She had insisted on taking her grandfather's dog with her, and, notwithstanding the horrified looks of the passengers and the scowl of the conductor, he followed her into the car and threw himself under the seat, glaring at all who passed, and looking as hideously savage as the Norse Managarmar.
"You can't have a whole seat to yourself, and nobody wants to sit near that ugly brute," said the surly conductor.
Edna glanced down the aisle, and saw two young gentlemen stretched at full length on separate seats, eyeing her curiously.
Observing that the small seat next to the door was partially filled with the luggage of the parties who sat in front of it, she rose and called to the dog, saying to the conductor as she did so:
"I will take that half of a seat yonder, where I shall be in nobody's way."
Here Mr, Wood came forward, thrust her ticket into her fingers, and shook her hand warmly, saying hurriedly:
"Hold on to your ticket, and don't put your head out of the window. I told the conductor he must look after you and your box when you left the cars; said he would. Good-by, Edna; take care of yourself, and may God bless you, child."
The locomotive whistled, the train moved slowly on, and the miller hastened back to his cart.
As the engine got fully under way, and dashed around a curve, the small, straggling village disappeared, trees and hills seemed to the orphan to fly past the window; and when she leaned out and looked back, only the mist-mantled rocks of Lookout, and the dim, purplish outline of the Sequatchie heights were familiar.
In the shadow of that solitary sentinel peak her life had been passed; she had gathered chestnuts and chincapins among its wooded clefts, and clambered over its gray boulders as fearlessly as the young llamas of the Parime; and now, as it rapidly receded and finally vanished, she felt as if the last link that bound her to the past had suddenly snapped; the last friendly face which had daily looked down on her for twelve years was shut out forever, and she and Grip were indeed alone, in a great, struggling world of selfishness and sin. The sun shone dazzlingly over wide fields of grain, whose green billows swelled and surged under the freshening breeze; golden butterflies fluttered over the pink and blue morning- glories that festooned the rail-fences; a brakeman whistled merrily on the platform, and children inside the car prattled and played, while at one end a slender little girlish figure, in homespun dress and pink calico bonnet, crouched in a corner of the seat, staring back in the direction of hooded Lookout, feeling that each instant bore her farther from the dear graves of her dead; and oppressed with an intolerable sense of desolation and utter isolation in the midst of hundreds of her own race, who were too entirely absorbed in their individual speculations, fears and aims, to spare even a glance at that solitary young mariner, who saw the last headland fade from view, and found herself, with no pilot but ambition, drifting rapidly out on the great, unknown, treacherous Sea of Life, strewn with mournful human wrecks, whom the charts and buoys of six thousand years of navigation could not guide to a haven of usefulness and peace. Interminable seemed the dreary day, which finally drew to a close, and Edna, who was weary of her cramped position, laid her aching head on the window-sill, and watched the red light of day die in the west, where a young moon hung her silvery crescent among the dusky tree-tops, and the stars flashed out thick and fast. Far away among strangers, uncared for and unnoticed, come what might, she felt that God's changeless stars smiled down as lovingly upon her face as on her grandfather's grave; and that the cosmopolitan language of nature knew neither the modifications of time and space, the distinctions of social caste, nor the limitations of national dialects.
As the night wore on, she opened the cherished copy of Dante and tried to read, but the print was too fine for the dim lamp which hung at some distance from her corner. Her head ached violently, and, as sleep was impossible, she put the book back in her pocket, and watched the flitting trees and fences, rocky banks, and occasional houses, which seemed weird in the darkness. As silence deepened in the car, her sense of loneliness became more and more painful, and finally she turned and pressed her cheek against the fair, chubby hand of a baby, who slept with its curly head on its mother's shoulder, and its little dimpled arm and hand hanging over the back of the seat. There was comfort and a soothing sensation of human companionship in the touch of that baby's hand; it seemed a link in the electric chain of sympathy, and, after a time, the orphan's eyes closed—fatigue conquered memory and sorrow, and she fell asleep with her lips pressed to those mesmeric baby fingers, and Grip's head resting against her knee.
Diamond-powdered "lilies of the field" folded their perfumed petals under the Syrian dew, wherewith God nightly baptized them in token of his ceaseless guardianship, and the sinless world of birds, the "fowls of the air," those secure and blithe, yet improvident, little gleaners in God's granary, nestled serenely under the shadow of the Almighty wing; but was the all-seeing, all-directing Eye likewise upon that desolate and destitute young mourner who sank to rest with "Our Father which art in heaven" upon her trembling lips? Was it a decree in the will and wisdom of our God, or a fiat from the blind fumbling of Atheistic Chance, or was it in accordance with the rigid edict of Pantheistic Necessity, that at that instant the cherubim of death swooped down, on the sleeping passengers, and silver cords and golden bowls were rudely snapped and crushed, amid the crash of timbers, the screams of women and children, and the groans of tortured men, that made night hideous? Over the holy hills of Judea, out of crumbling Jerusalem, the message of Messiah has floated on the wings of eighteen centuries: "What I do thou knowest not now, but thou shalt know hereafter."
Edna was awakened by a succession of shrill sounds, which indicated that the engineer was either frightened or frantic; the conductor rushed bare-headed through the car; people sprang to their feet; there was a scramble on the platform; then a shock and crash as if the day of doom had dawned—and all was chaos.
Viewed by the aid of lanterns and the lurid, flickering light of torches, the scene of disaster presented a ghastly debris of dead and dying, of crushed cars and wounded men and women, who writhed and groaned among the shattered timbers from which they found it impossible to extricate themselves. The cries of those who recognized relatives in the mutilated corpses that were dragged out from the wreck increased the horrors of the occasion; and when Edna opened her eyes amid the flaring of torches and the piercing wails of the bereaved passengers, the first impression was, that she had died and gone to Dante's "Hell;" but the pangs that seized her when she attempted to move soon dispelled this frightful illusion, and by degrees the truth presented itself to her blunted faculties. She was held fast between timbers, one of which seemed to have fallen across her feet and crushed them, as she was unable to move them, and was conscious of a horrible sensation of numbness; one arm, too, was pinioned at her side, and something heavy and cold lay upon her throat and chest. Lifting this weight with her uninjured hand, she uttered an exclamation of horror as the white face of the little baby whose fingers she had clasped now met her astonished gaze; and she saw that the sweet coral lips were pinched and purple, the waxen lids lay rigid over the blue eyes, and the dimpled hand was stiff and icy. The confusion increased as day dawned and a large crowd collected to offer assistance, and Edna watched her approaching deliverers as they cut their way through the wreck and lifted out the wretched sufferers. Finally two men, with axes in their hands, bent down and looked into her face.
"Here is a live child and a dead baby wedged in between these beams. Are you much hurt, little one?"
"Yes, I believe I am. Please take this log off my feet."
It was a difficult matter, but at length strong arms raised her, carried her some distance from the ruins, and placed her on the grass, where several other persons were writhing and groaning. The collision which precipitated the train from trestle-work over a deep ravine, had occurred near a village station, and two physicians were busily engaged in examining the wounded. The sun had risen, and shone full on Edna's pale, suffering face, when one of the surgeons, with a countenance that indexed earnest sympathy and compassion, came to investigate the extent of her injuries, and sat down on the grass beside her. Very tenderly he handled her, and after a few moments said gently:
"I am obliged to hurt you a little, my child, for your shoulder is dislocated, and some of the bones are broken in your feet; but I will be as tender as possible. Here, Lennox! help me."
The pain was so intense that she fainted, and after a short time, when she recovered her consciousness, her feet and ankles were tightly bandaged, and the doctor was chafing her hands and bathing her face with some powerful extract. Smoothing back her hair, he said:
"Were your parents on the cars? Do you know whether they are hurt?"
"They both died when I was a baby."
"Who was with you?"
"Nobody but Grip—my dog."
"Had you no relatives or friends on the train?"
"I have none. I am all alone in the world."
"Where did you come from?"
"Where were you going?"
"My grandpa died, and as I had nobody to take care of me, I was going to Columbus to work in the cotton factory."
"Humph! Much work you will do for many a long day."
He stroked his grayish beard, and mused a moment, and Edna said timidly:
"If you please, sir, I would like to know if my dog is hurt?"
The physician smiled, and looked round inquiringly.
"Has any one seen a dog that was on the train?"
One of the brakemen, a stout Irishman, took his pipe from his mouth, and answered:
"Aye, aye, sir! and as vicious a brute as ever I set eyes on. Both his hind legs were smashed—dragged so—and I tapped him on the head with an axe to put him out of his misery. Yonder he now lies on the track."
Edna put her hand over her eyes, and turned her face down on the grass to hide tears that would not be driven back. Here the surgeon was called away, and for a half hour the child lay there, wondering what would become of her, in her present crippled and helpless condition, and questioning in her heart why God did not take her instead of that dimpled darling, whose parents were now weeping so bitterly for the untimely death that mowed their blossom ere its petals were expanded. The chilling belief was fast gaining ground that God had cursed and forsaken her; that misfortune and bereavement would dog her steps through life; and a hard, bitter expression settled about her mouth, and looked out gloomily from the sad eyes. Her painful reverie was interrupted by the cheery voice of Dr. Rodney, who came back, accompanied by an elegantly-dressed middle-aged lady.
"Ah, my brave little soldier! Tell us your name."
"Have you no relatives?" asked the lady, stooping to scrutinize her face.
"She is a very pretty child, Mrs. Murray, and if you can take care of her, even for a few weeks, until she is able to walk about, it will be a real charity. I never saw so much fortitude displayed by one so young; but her fever is increasing, and she needs immediate attention. Will it be convenient for you to carry her to your house at once?"
"Certainly, doctor; order the carriage driven up as close as possible. I brought a small mattress, and think the ride will not be very painful. What splendid eyes she has! Poor little thing! Of course you will come and prescribe for her, and I will see that she is carefully nursed until she is quite well again. Here, Henry, you and Richard must lift this child, and put her on the mattress in the carriage. Mind you do not stumble and hurt her."
During the drive neither spoke, and Edna was in so much pain that she lay with her eyes closed. As they entered a long avenue, the rattle of the wheels on the gravel aroused the child's attention, and when the carriage stopped, and she was carried up a flight of broad marble steps, she saw that the house was very large and handsome.
"Bring her into the room next to mine," said Mrs. Murray, leading the way.
Edna was soon undressed and placed within the snowy sheets of a heavily-carved bedstead, whose crimson canopy shed a ruby light down on the laced and ruffled pillows. Mrs. Murray administered a dose of medicine given to her by Dr. Rodney, and after closing the blinds to exclude the light, she felt the girl's pulse, found that she had fallen into a heavy sleep, and then, with a sigh, went down to take her breakfast. It was several hours before Edna awoke, and when she opened her eyes, and looked around the elegantly furnished and beautiful room, she felt bewildered. Mrs. Murray sat in a cushioned chair, near one of the windows, with a book in her hand, and Edna had an opportunity of studying her face. It was fair, proud, and handsome, but wore an expression of habitual anxiety; and gray hairs showed themselves under the costly lace that bordered her morning head-dress, while lines of care marked her brow and mouth. Children instinctively decipher the hieroglyphics which time carves on human faces, and, in reading the countenance of her hostess, Edna felt that she was a haughty, ambitious woman, with a kind but not very warm heart, who would be scrupulously attentive to the wants of a sick child, but would probably never dream of caressing or fondling such a charge. Chancing to glance towards the bed as she turned a leaf, Mrs. Murray met the curious gaze fastened upon her, and, rising, approached the sufferer.
"How do you feel, Edna? I believe that is your name."
"Thank you, my head is better, but I am very thirsty." The lady of the house gave her some iced water in a silver goblet, and ordered a servant to bring up the refreshments she had directed prepared. As she felt the girl's pulse, Edna noticed how white and soft her hands were, and how dazzlingly the jewels flashed on her fingers, and she longed for the touch of those aristocratic hands on her hot brow, where the hair clustered so heavily.
"How old are you, Edna?"
"Had you any luggage on the train?"
"I had a small box of clothes."
"I will send a servant for it." She rang the bell as she spoke.
"When do you think I shall be able to walk about?"
"Probably not for many weeks. If you need or wish anything you must not hesitate to ask for it. A servant will sit here, and you have only to tell her what you want."
"You are very kind, ma'am, and I thank you very much—" She paused, and her eyes filled with tears.
Mrs. Murray looked at her and said gravely:
"What is the matter, child?"
"I am only sorry I was so ungrateful and wicked this morning."
"Oh! everything that I love dies; and when I lay there on the grass, unable to move, among strangers who knew and cared nothing about me, I was wicked, and would not try to pray, and thought God wanted to make me suffer all my life, and I wished that I had been killed instead of that dear little baby, who had a father and mother to kiss and love it. It was all wrong to feel so, but I was so wretched. And then God raised up friends even among strangers, and shows me I am not forsaken if I am desolate. I begin to think He took everybody away from me, that I might see how He could take care of me without them. I know 'He doeth all things well,' but I feel it now; and I am so sorry I could not trust Him without seeing it."
Edna wiped away her tears, and Mrs. Murray's voice faltered slightly as she said:
"You are a good little girl, I have no doubt. Who taught you to be so religious?"
"How long since you lost him?"
"Can you read?"
"Oh! yes, ma'am."
"Well, I shall send you a Bible, and you must make yourself as contented as possible. I shall take good care of you."
As the hostess left the room a staid-looking, elderly negro woman took a seat at the window and sewed silently, now and then glancing toward the bed. Exhausted with pain and fatigue, Edna slept again, and it was night when she opened her eyes and found Dr. Rodney and Mrs. Murray at her pillow. The kind surgeon talked pleasantly for some time, and, after giving ample instructions, took his leave, exhorting his patient to keep up her fortitude and all would soon be well. So passed the first day of her sojourn under the hospitable roof which appeared so fortuitously to shelter her; and the child thanked God fervently for the kind hands into which she had fallen. Day after day wore wearily away, and at the end of a fortnight, though much prostrated by fever and suffering, she was propped up in bed by pillows, while Hagar, the servant, combed and plaited the long, thick, matted hair. Mrs. Murray came often to the room, but her visits were short, and though invariably kind and considerate, Edna felt an involuntary awe of her, which rendered her manner exceedingly constrained when they were together. Hagar was almost as taciturn as her mistress, and as the girl asked few questions, she remained in complete ignorance of the household affairs, and had never seen any one but Mrs. Murray, Hagar, and the doctor. She was well supplied with books, which the former brought from the library, and thus the invalid contrived to amuse herself during the long, tedious summer days. One afternoon in June, Edna persuaded Hagar to lift her to a large, cushioned chair close to the open window which looked out on the lawn; and here, with a book on her lap, she sat gazing out at the soft blue sky, the waving elm boughs, and the glittering plumage of a beautiful Himalayan pheasant, which seemed in the golden sunshine to have forgotten the rosy glow of his native snows. Leaning her elbows on the window-sill, Edna rested her face in her palms, and after a few minutes a tide of tender memories rose and swept over her heart, bringing a touching expression of patient sorrow to her sweet, wan face, and giving a far-off wistful look to the beautiful eyes where tears often gathered but very rarely fell. Hagar had dressed her in a new white muslin wrapper, with fluted ruffles at the wrists and throat; and the fair young face, with its delicate features, and glossy folds of soft hair, was a pleasant picture, which the nurse loved to contemplate. Standing with her work-basket in her hand, she watched the graceful little figure for two or three moments, and a warm, loving light shone out over her black features; then nodding her head resolutely, she muttered:
"I will have my way this once; she shall stay," and passed out of the room, closing the door behind her. Edna did not remark her departure, for memory was busy among the ashes of other days, exhuming a thousand precious reminiscences of mountain home, chestnut groves, showers of sparks fringing an anvil with fire, and an old man's unpainted head-board in the deserted burying-ground. She started nervously when, a half hour later, Mrs. Murray laid her hand gently on her shoulder, and said:
"Child, of what are you thinking?"
For an instant she could not command her voice, which faltered; but making a strong effort, she answered in a low tone:
"Of all that I have lost, and what I am to do in future."
"Would you be willing to work all your life in a factory?"
"No, ma'am; only long enough to educate myself, so that I could teach."
"You could not obtain a suitable education in that way, and beside, I do not think that the factory you spoke of would be an agreeable place for you. I have made some inquiries about it since you came here."
"I know it will not be pleasant, but then I am obliged to work in some way, and I don't see what else I can do. I am not able to pay for an education now, and I am determined to have one."
Mrs. Murray's eyes wandered out toward the velvety lawn, and she mused for some minutes; then laying her hands on the orphan's head, she said:
"Child, will you trust your future and your education to me? I do not mean that I will teach you—oh! no—but I will have you thoroughly educated, so that when you are grown you can support yourself by teaching. I have no daughter—I lost mine when she was a babe; but I could not have seen her enter a factory, and as you remind me of my own child, I will not allow you to go there. I will take care of and educate you—will see that you have everything you require, if you are willing to be directed and advised by me Understand me, I do not adopt you; nor shall I consider you exactly as one of my family; but I shall prove a good friend and protector till you are eighteen, and capable of providing for yourself. You will live in my house and look upon it as your home, at least for the present. What do you say to this plan? Is it not much better and more pleasant than a wild-goose chase after an education through the dust and din of a factory?"
"Oh, Mrs. Murray! You are very generous and good, but I have no claim on you—no right to impose such expense and trouble upon you. I am—"
"Hush, child! you have that claim which poverty always has on wealth. As for the expense, that is a mere trifle, and I do not expect you to give me any trouble; perhaps you may even make yourself useful to me."
"Thank you! oh! thank you, ma'am! I am very grateful! I can not tell you how much I thank you; but I shall try to prove it, if you will let me stay here—on one condition."
"What is that?"
"That when I am able to pay you, you will receive the money that my education and clothes will cost you."
Mrs. Murray laughed, and stroked the silky black hair.
"Where did you get such proud notions? Pay me, indeed! You poor little beggar! Ha! ha! ha! Well, yes, you may do as you please, when you are able; that time is rather too distant to be considered now. Meanwhile, quit grieving over the past, and think only of improving yourself. I do not like doleful faces, and shall expect you to be a cheerful, contented, and obedient girl. Hagar is making you an entire set of new clothes, and I hope to see you always neat. I shall give you a smaller room than this—the one across the hall; you will keep your books there, and remain there during study hours. At other times you can come to my room, or amuse yourself as you like; and when there is company here, remember, I shall always expect you to sit quietly, and listen to the conversation, as it is very improving to young girls to be in really good society. You will have a music teacher, and practice on the upright piano in the library, instead of the large one in the parlor. One thing more, if you want anything, come to me, and ask for it, and I shall be very much displeased if you talk to the servants, or encourage them to talk to you. Now, everything is understood, and I hope you will be happy, and properly improve the advantages I shall give you."
Edna drew one of the white hands down to her lips and murmured:
"Thank you—thank you! You shall never have cause to regret your goodness; and your wishes shall always guide me."
"Well, well; I shall remember this promise, and trust I may never find it necessary to remind you of it. I dare say we shall get on very happily together. Don't thank me any more, and hereafter we need not speak of the matter."
Mrs. Murray stooped, and for the first time kissed the child's white forehead; and Edna longed to throw her arms about the stately form, but the polished hauteur awed and repelled her.
Before she could reply, and just as Mrs. Murray was moving toward the door, it was thrown open, and a gentleman strode into the room. At sight of Edna he stopped suddenly, and dropping a bag of game on the floor, exclaimed harshly:
"What the d—l does this mean?"
"My son! I am so glad you are at home again. I was getting quite uneasy at your long absence. This is one of the victims of that terrible railroad disaster; the neighborhood is full of the sufferers. Come to my room. When did you arrive?"
She linked her arm in his, picked up the game-bag, and led him to the adjoining room, the door of which she closed and locked.
A painful thrill shot along Edna's nerves, and an indescribable sensation of dread, a presentiment of coming ill, overshadowed her heart. This was the son of her friend, and the first glimpse of him filled her with instantaneous repugnance; there was an innate and powerful repulsion which she could not analyze. He was a tall, athletic man, not exactly young, yet certainly not elderly; one of anomalous appearance, prematurely old, and, though not one white thread silvered his thick, waving, brown hair, the heavy and habitual scowl on his high, full brow had plowed deep furrows such as age claims for its monogram. His features were bold but very regular; the piercing, steel-gray eyes were unusually large, and beautifully shaded with long heavy, black lashes, but repelled by their cynical glare; and the finely formed mouth, which might have imparted a wonderful charm to the countenance, wore a chronic, savage sneer, as if it only opened to utter jeers and curses. Evidently the face had once been singularly handsome, in the dawn of his earthly career, when his mother's good-night kiss rested like a blessing on his smooth, boyish forehead, and the prayer learned in the nursery still crept across his pure lips; but now the fair, chiseled lineaments were blotted by dissipation, and blackened and distorted by the baleful fires of a fierce, passionate nature, and a restless, powerful, and unhallowed intellect. Symmetrical and grand as that temple of Juno, in shrouded Pompeii, whose polished shafts gleamed centuries ago in the morning sunshine of a day of woe, whose untimely night has endured for nineteen hundred years, so, in the glorious flush of his youth, this man had stood facing a noble and possibly a sanctified future; but the ungovernable flames of sin had reduced him, like that darkened and desecrated fane, to a melancholy mass of ashy arches and blackened columns, where ministering priests, all holy aspirations, slumbered in the dust. His dress was costly but negligent, and the red stain on his jacket told that his hunt had not been fruitless. He wore a straw hat, belted with broad black ribbon, and his spurred boots were damp and muddy.
What was there about this surly son of her hostess which recalled to Edna's mind her grandfather's words, "He is a rude, wicked, blasphemous man." She had not distinctly seen the face of the visitor at the shop; but something in the impatient, querulous tone, in the hasty, haughty step, and the proud lifting of the regal head, reminded her painfully of him whose overbearing insolence had so unwontedly stirred the ire of Aaron Hunt's genial and generally equable nature. While she pondered this inexplicable coincidence, voices startled her from the next room, whence the sound floated through the window.
"If you were not my mother, I should say you were a candidate for a straight-jacket and a lunatic asylum; but as those amiable proclivities are considered hereditary, I do not favor that comparison. 'Sorry for her,' indeed! I'll bet my right arm it will not be six weeks before she makes you infinitely sorrier for your deluded self; and you will treat me to a new version of 'je me regrette!' With your knowledge of this precious world and its holy crew, I confess it seems farcical in the extreme that open-eyed you can venture another experiment on human nature. Some fine morning you will rub your eyes and find your acolyte non est; ditto, your silver forks, diamonds, and gold spoons."
Edna felt the indignant blood burning in her cheeks, and as she could not walk without assistance, and shrank from listening to a conversation which was not intended for her ears, she coughed several times to arrest the attention of the speakers, but apparently without effect, for the son's voice again rose above the low tones of the mother.
"Oh, carnival of shams! She is 'pious' you say? Then, I'll swear my watch is not safe in my pocket, and I shall sleep with the key of my cameo cabinet tied around my neck. A Paris police would not insure your valuables or mine. The facts forbid that your pen-feathered saint should decamp with some of my costly travel-scrapings! 'Pious' indeed! 'Edna,' forsooth! No doubt her origin and morals are quite as apocryphal as her name. Don't talk to me about 'her being providentially thrown into your hands,' unless you desire to hear me say things which you have frequently taken occasion to inform me 'deeply grieved' you. I dare say the little vagrant whines in what she considers orthodox phraseology, that 'God tempers the wind to the shorn lamb!' and, like some other pious people whom I have heard canting, will saddle some Jewish prophet or fisherman with the dictum, thinking that it sounds like the Bible, whereas Sterne said it. Shorn lamb, forsooth! We, or rather you, madame, ma mere, will be shorn—thoroughly fleeced! Pious! Ha! ha! ha!"
Here followed an earnest expostulation from Mrs. Murray, only a few words of which were audible, and once more the deep, strong, bitter tones rejoined:
"Interfere! Pardon me, I am only too happy to stand aloof and watch the little wretch play out her game. Most certainly it is your own affair, but you will permit me to be amused, will you not? And with your accustomed suavity forgive me, if I chance inadvertently to whisper above my breath, 'Le jeu n'en vaut pas la chandelle?' What the deuce do you suppose I care about her 'faith?' She may run through the whole catalogue from the mustard-seed size up, as far as I am concerned, and you may make yourself easy on the score of my 'contaminating' the sanctified vagrant!"
"St. Elmo! my son! promise me that you will not scoff and sneer at her religion; at least in her presence," pleaded the mother.
A ringing, mirthless laugh was the only reply that reached the girl, as she put her fingers in her ears and hid her face on the window- sill.
It was no longer possible to doubt the identity of the stranger; the initials on the fly-leaf meant St. Elmo Murray; and she knew that in the son of her friend and protectress, she had found the owner of her Dante and the man who had cursed her grandfather for his tardiness. If she had only known this one hour earlier, she would have declined the offer, which once accepted, she knew not how to reject, without acquainting Mrs. Murray with the fact that she had overheard the conversation; and yet she could not endure the prospect of living under the same roof with a man whom she loathed and feared. The memory of the blacksmith's aversion of this stranger intensified her own; and as she pondered in shame and indignation the scornful and opprobrious epithets which he had bestowed on herself, she muttered through her set teeth:
"Yes, Grandy! he is cruel and wicked; and I never can bear to look at or speak to him! How dared he curse my dear, dear, good grandpa! How can I ever be respectful to him, when he is not even respectful to his own mother! Oh! I wish I had never come here! I shall always hate him!" At this juncture, Hagar entered, and lifted her back to her couch; and, remarking the agitation of her manner, the nurse said gravely, as she put her fingers on the girl's pulse:
"What has flushed you so? Your face is hot; you have tired yourself sitting up too long. Did a gentleman come into the room a while ago?"
"Yes, Mrs. Murray's son."
"Did Miss Ellen—that is, my mistress—tell you that you were to live here, and get your education?"
"Yes, she offered to take care of me for a few years."
"Well, I am glad it is fixed, so—you can stay; for you can be a great comfort to Miss Ellen, if you try to please her."
She paused, and busied herself about the room, and remembering Mrs. Murray's injunction that she should discourage conversation on the part of the servants, Edna turned her face to the wall and shut her eyes. But for once Hagar's habitual silence and non-committalism were laid aside; and, stooping over the couch, she said hurriedly:
"Listen to me, child, for I like your patient ways, and want to give you a friendly warning; you are a stranger in this house, and might stumble into trouble. Whatever else you do, be sure not to cross Mass' Elmo's path! Keep out of his way, and he will keep out of yours; for he is shy enough of strangers, and would walk a mile to keep from meeting anybody; but if he finds you in his way, he will walk roughshod right over you—trample you. Nothing ever stops him one minute when he makes up his mind. He does not even wait to listen to his mother, and she is about the only person who dares to talk to him. He hates everybody and everything; but he doesn't tread on folks' toes unless they are where they don't belong. He is like a rattlesnake that crawls in his own track, and bites everything that meddles or crosses his trail. Above everything, child, for the love of peace and heaven, don't argue with him! If he says black is white, don't contradict him; and if he swears water runs up stream, let him swear, and don't know it runs down. Keep out of his sight, and you will do well enough, but once make him mad and you had better fight Satan hand to hand with red-hot pitchforks! Everybody is afraid of him, and gives way to him, and you must do like the balance that have to deal with him. I nursed him; but I would rather put my head in a wolf's jaws than stir him up; and God knows I wish he had died when he was a baby, instead of living to grow up the sinful, swearing, raging devil he is! Now mind what I say. I am not given to talking, but this time it is for your good. Mind what I tell you, child; and if you want to have peace, keep out of his way."
She left the room abruptly, and the orphan lay in the gathering gloom of twilight, perplexed, distressed, and wondering how she could avoid all the angularities of this amiable character, under whose roof fate seemed to have deposited her.
At length, by the aid of crutches, Edna was able to leave the room where she had been so long confined, and explore the house in which every day discovered some new charm. The parlors and sitting-room opened on a long, arched veranda, which extended around two sides of the building, and was paved with variegated tiles; while the stained-glass doors of the dining-room, with its lofty frescoed ceiling and deep bow-windows, led by two white marble steps out on the terrace, whence two more steps showed the beginning of a serpentine gravel walk winding down to an octagonal hot-house, surmounted by a richly carved pagoda-roof. Two sentinel statues—a Bacchus and Bacchante—placed on the terrace, guarded the entrance to the dining-room; and in front of the house, where a sculptured Triton threw jets of water into a gleaming circular basin, a pair of crouching monsters glared from the steps. When Edna first found herself before these grim doorkeepers, she started back in unfeigned terror, and could scarcely repress a cry of alarm, for the howling rage and despair of the distorted hideous heads seemed fearfully real, and years elapsed before she comprehended their significance, or the sombre mood which impelled their creation. They were imitations of that monumental lion's head, raised on the battle- field of Chaeroneia, to commemorate the Boeotians slain. In the rear of and adjoining the library, a narrow, vaulted passage with high Gothic windows of stained-glass, opened into a beautifully proportioned rotunda, and beyond this circular apartment with its ruby-tinted skylight and Moresque frescoes, extended two other rooms, of whose shape or contents Edna knew nothing, save the tall arched windows that looked down on the terrace. The door of the rotunda was generally closed, but accidentally it stood open one morning, and she caught a glimpse of the circular form and the springing dome. Evidently this portion of the mansion had been recently built, while the remainder of the house had been constructed many years earlier; but all desire to explore it was extinguished when Mrs. Murray remarked one day:
"That passage leads to my son's apartments, and he dislikes noise or intrusion."
Thenceforth Edna avoided it as if the plagues of Pharaoh were pent therein. To her dazzled eyes this luxurious home was a fairy palace, an enchanted region, and, with eager curiosity and boundless admiration, she gazed upon beautiful articles whose use she could not even conjecture. The furniture throughout the mansion was elegant and costly; pictures, statues, bronzes, marble, silver, rosewood, ebony, mosaics, satin, velvet—naught that the most fastidious and cultivated taste or dilettanteism could suggest, or lavish expenditure supply, was wanting; while the elaborate and beautiful arrangement of the extensive grounds showed with how prodigal a hand the owner squandered a princely fortune. The flower garden and lawn comprised fifteen acres, and the subdivisions were formed entirely by hedges, save that portion of the park surrounded by a tall iron railing, where congregated a motley menagerie of deer, bison, a Lapland reindeer, a Peruvian llama, some Cashmere goats, a chamois, wounded and caught on the Jungfrau, and a large white cow from Ava. This part of the inclosure was thickly studded with large oaks, groups of beech and elm, and a few enormous cedars which would not have shamed their sacred prototypes sighing in Syrian breezes along the rocky gorges of Lebanon. The branches were low and spreading, and even at mid-day the sunshine barely freckled the cool, mossy knolls where the animals sought refuge from the summer heat of the open and smoothly-shaven lawn. Here and there, on the soft, green sward, was presented that vegetable antithesis, a circlet of martinet poplars standing vis-a-vis to a clump of willows whose long hair threw quivering, fringy shadows when the slanting rays of dying sunlight burnished the white and purple petals nestling among the clover tufts. Rustic seats of bark, cane and metal were scattered through the grounds, and where the well-trimmed numerous hedges divided the parterre, china, marble and iron vases of varied mould, held rare creepers and lovely exotics; and rich masses of roses swung their fragrant chalices of crimson and gold, rivaling the glory of Paestum and of Bendemer. The elevation upon which the house was placed commanded an extensive view of the surrounding country. Far away to the northeast purplish gray waves along the sky showed a range of lofty hills, and in an easterly direction, scarcely two miles distant, glittering spires told where the village clung to the railroad, and to a deep rushing creek, whose sinuous course was distinctly marked by the dense growth that clothed its steep banks. Now and then luxuriant fields of corn covered the level lands with an emerald mantle, while sheep and cattle roamed through the adjacent champaign; and in the calm, cool morning air, a black smoke-serpent crawled above the tree-tops, mapping out the track over which the long train of cars darted and thundered. Mr. Paul Murray, the first proprietor of the estate, and father of the present owner, had early in life spent much time in France, where, espousing the royalist cause, his sympathies were fully enlisted by the desperate daring of Charette, Stofflet, and Cathelineau. On his return to his native land, his admiration of the heroism of those who dwelt upon the Loire, found expression in one of their sobriquets, "Le Bocage," which he gave to his country residence; and certainly the venerable groves that surrounded it justified the application. While his own fortune was handsome and abundant, he married the orphan of a rich banker, who survived her father only a short time and died leaving Mr. Murray childless. After a few years, when the frosts of age fell upon his head, he married a handsome and very wealthy widow; but, unfortunately, having lost their first child, a daughter, he lived only long enough to hear the infantile prattle of his son, St. Elmo, to whom he bequeathed an immense fortune, which many succeeding years of reckless expenditure had failed to materially impair. Such was "Le Bocage," naturally a beautiful situation, improved and embellished with everything which refined taste and world-wide travel could suggest to the fastidious owner. Notwithstanding the countless charms of the home so benevolently offered to her, the blacksmith's granddaughter was conscious of a great need, scarcely to be explained, yet fully felt—the dreary lack of that which she had yet to learn could not be purchased by the treasures of Oude—the priceless peace and genial glow which only the contented, happy hearts of its inmates can diffuse over even a palatial homestead. She also realized, without analyzing the fact, that the majestic repose and boundless spontaneity of nature yielded a sense of companionship almost of tender, dumb sympathy, which all the polished artificialities and recherche arrangements of man utterly failed to supply. While dazzled by the glitter and splendor of "Le Bocage," she shivered in its silent dreariness, its cold, aristocratic formalism, and she yearned for the soft, musical babble of the spring-branch, where, standing ankle-deep in water under the friendly shadow of Lookout, she had spent long, blissful July days in striving to build a wall of rounded pebbles down which the crystal ripples would fall, a miniature Talulah or Tuccoa. The chrism of nature had anointed her early life and consecrated her heart, but fate brought her to the vestibule of the temple of Mammon, and its defiling incense floated about her. How long would the consecration last? As she slowly limped about the house and grounds, acquainting herself with the details, she was impressed with the belief that happiness had once held her court here, had been dethroned, exiled and now waited beyond the confines of the park, anxious but unable to renew her reign and expel usurping gloom. For some weeks after her arrival she took her meals in her own room, and having learned to recognize the hasty, heavy tread of the dreaded master of the house, she invariably fled from the sound of his steps as she would have shunned an ogre; consequently her knowledge of him was limited to the brief inspection and uncomplimentary conversation which introduced him to her acquaintance on the day of his return. Her habitual avoidance and desire of continued concealment was, however, summarily thwarted when Mrs. Murray came into her room late one night, and asked: