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- St. Elmo - 1/104 -


ST. ELMO

BY

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.

TO

J. C. DERBY,

IN GRATEFUL MEMORY OF MANY YEARS OF KIND AND FAITHFUL FRIENDSHIP, THESE PAGES ARE

AFFECTIONATELY DEDICATED.

"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.

ST. ELMO.

CHAPTER I.

"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:

"Fire! One!--two!--three!"

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:

"Murderer!"

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."


St. Elmo - 1/104

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