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- St. Elmo - 10/104 -
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:
"Did not I see you walking this afternoon without your crutches?"
"Yes, ma'am, I was trying to see if I could not do without them entirely."
"Did the experiment cause you any pain?"
"No pain exactly, but I find my ankle still weak."
"Be careful not to overstrain it; by degrees it will strengthen if you use it moderately. By the by, you are now well enough to come to the table; and from breakfast to-morrow you will take your meals with us in the dining-room."
A shiver of apprehension seized Edna, and in a frightened tone she ejaculated:
"I say, in future you will eat at the table instead of here in this room."
"If you please, Mrs. Murray, I would rather stay here."
"Pray, what possible objection can you have to the dining-room?"
Edna averted her head, but wrung her fingers nervously.
Mrs. Murray frowned, and continued gravely:
"Don't be silly, Edna. It is proper that you should go to the table, and learn to eat with a fork instead of a knife. You need not be ashamed to meet people; there is nothing clownish about you unless you affect it. Good-night; I shall see you at breakfast; the bell rings at eight o'clock."
There was no escape, and she awoke next morning oppressed with the thought of the ordeal that awaited her. She dressed herself even more carefully than usual, despite the trembling of her hands; and when the ringing of the little silver bell summoned her to the dining-room, her heart seemed to stand still. But though exceedingly sensitive and shy, Edna was brave, and even self-possessed, and she promptly advanced to meet the trial.
Entering the room, she saw that her benefactress had not yet come in, but was approaching the house with a basket of flowers in her hand; and one swift glance around discovered Mr. Murray standing at the window. Unobserved, she scanned the tall, powerful figure clad
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