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- St. Elmo - 20/104 -
"But I must tell you that I insist upon your conforming to the usages of good society. Mrs. Inge belongs to one of the very first families in the State; at her house you will meet the best people, and you could not possibly make your debut under more favorable circumstances. Beside, it is very unnatural that a young girl should not enjoy parties and the society of gay young people. You are very unnecessarily making a recluse of yourself, and I shall not permit you to refuse such an invitation as Mrs. Inge has sent. It would be rude in the extreme."
"Dear Mrs. Murray, you speak of my debut, as if, like other girls, I had nothing else to do but fit myself for society. These people care nothing for me, and I am as little interested in them. I have no desire to move for a short time in a circle from which my work in life must soon separate me."
"To what work do you allude?"
"The support which I must make by teaching. In a few months I hope to be able to earn all I need, and then--"
"Then it will be quite time enough to determine what necessity demands; in the meanwhile, as long as you are in my house you must allow me to judge what is proper for you. Clara Inge is my friend, and I can not allow you to be rude to her. I have sent the carriage to town for Miss O'Riley, my mantua-maker, and Hagar will make the skirt of your dress. Come into my room and let her take the measure."
"Thank you for your kind thoughtfulness, but indeed I do not want to go. Please let me stay at home! You can frame some polite excuse, and Mrs. Inge cares not whether I go or stay. I will write my regrets and--"
"Don't be childish, Edna; I care whether you go or stay, and that fact should weigh with you much more than Mrs. Inge's wishes, for you are quite right in supposing that it is a matter of indifference to her. Do not keep Hagar waiting."
Mrs. Murray's brow clouded, and her lips contracted, as was their habit, when anything displeased her; consequently after a quick glance, Edna followed her to the room where Hagar was at work. It was the first time the orphan had been invited to a large party, and she shrank from meeting people whose standard of gentility was confined to high birth and handsome fortunes. Mrs. Inge came frequently to Le Bocage, but Edna's acquaintance with her was comparatively slight, and in addition to her repugnance to meeting strangers she dreaded seeing Mr. Leigh again so soon, for she felt that an undefinable barrier had suddenly risen between them; the frank, fearless freedom of the old friendship at the parsonage table had vanished. She began to wish that she had never studied Hebrew, that she had never heard of Basilides, and that the sheik's ring was back among the ruins of Chilminar. Mrs. Murray saw her discomposure, but chose to take no notice of it, and superintended her toilet that night with almost as much interest as if she had been her own daughter.
During the drive she talked on indifferent subjects, and as they went up to the dressing-room had the satisfaction of seeing that her protegee manifested no trepidation. They arrived rather late, the company had assembled, and the rooms were quite full as Mrs. Murray entered; but Mrs. Inge met them at the threshold, and Mr. Leigh, who seemed on the watch, came forward at the same instant, and offered Edna his arm.
"Ah, Mrs. Murray! I had almost abandoned the hope of seeing you. Miss Edna, the set is just forming, and we must celebrate our birthday by having the first dance together. Excuse you, indeed! You presume upon my well-known good nature and generosity, but this evening I am privileged to be selfish."
As he drew her into the middle of the room she noticed that he wore the flowers she had given him in the morning, and this, in conjunction with the curious scrutiny to which she was subjected, brought a sudden surge of color to her cheeks. The dance commenced, and from one corner of the room Mr. Hammond looked eagerly at his two pupils, contrasting them with the gay groups that filled the brilliant apartment.
Edna's slender, graceful figure was robed in white Swiss muslin, with a bertha of rich lace; and rose-colored ribbons formed the sash, and floated from her shoulders. Her beautiful glossy hair was simply coiled in a large roll at the back of the head, and fastened with an ivory comb. Scrutinizing the face lifted toward Mr. Leigh's, while he talked to her, the pastor thought he had never seen a countenance half so eloquent and lovely. Turning his gaze upon her partner, he was compelled to confess that though Gordon Leigh was the handsomest man in the room, no acute observer could look at the two and fail to discover that the blacksmith's granddaughter was far superior to the petted brother of the aristocratic Mrs. Inge. He was so much interested in watching the couple that he did not observe Mrs. Murray's approach until she sat down beside him and whispered:
"Are they not a handsome couple?"
"Gordon and Edna?"
"Indeed they are! I think that child's face is the most attractive, the most fascinating I ever looked at. There is such a rare combination of intelligence, holiness, strength and serenity in her countenance; such a calm, pure light shining in her splendid eyes; such a tender, loving look far down in their soft depths."
"Child! Why she is seventeen to-day." "No matter, Ellen; to me she will always seem a gentle, clinging, questioning child. I look at her often when she is intent on her studies, and wonder how long her pure heart will reject the vanities and baubles that engross most women; how long mere abstract study will continue to charm her; and I tremble when I think of the future to which I know she is looking so eagerly. Now, her emotional nature sleeps, her heart is at rest-- slumbering also, she is all intellect at present--giving her brain no relaxation. Ah! if it could always be so. But it will not! There will come a time, I fear, when her fine mind and pure, warm heart will be arrayed against each other, will battle desperately, and one or the other must be subordinated."
"Gordon seems to admire her very much," said Mrs. Murray.
Mr. Hammond sighed, and a shadow crept over his placid features, as he answered:
"Do you wonder at it, Ellen? Can any one know the child well, and fail to admire and love her?"
"If he could only forget her obscure birth--if he could only consent to marry her--what a splendid match it would be for her?"
"Ellen! Ellen Murray! I am surprised at you! Let me beg of you for her sake, for yours, for all parties concerned, not to raise your little finger in this matter; not to utter one word to Edna that might arouse her suspicions; not to hint to Gordon that you dream such an alliance possible; for there is more at stake than you imagine--"
He was unable to conclude the sentence, for the dance had ended, and as Edna caught a glimpse of the beloved countenance of her teacher, she drew her fingers from Mr. Leigh's arm, and hastened to the pastor's side, taking his hand between both hers:
"O, sir! I am glad to see you. I have looked around so often; hoping to catch sight of you. Mrs. Murray, I heard Mrs. Inge asking for you."
When the lady walked away, Edna glided into the seat next the minister, and continued:
"I want to talk to you about a change in some of my studies."
"Wait till to-morrow, my dear. I came here to-night only for a few moments, to gratify Gordon and now I must slip away."
"But, sir, I only want to say, that as you objected at the outset to my studying Hebrew, I will not waste any more time on it just now, but take it up again after a while, when I have plenty of leisure. Don't you think that would be the best plan?"
"My child, are you tired of Hebrew?"
"No, sir; on the contrary, it possesses a singular fascination for me; but I think, if you are willing, I shall discontinue it--at least, for the present. I shall take care to forget nothing that I have already learned."
"You have some special reason for this change, I presume?"
She raised her eyes to his, and said frankly:
"Yes, sir, I have."
"Very well, my dear, do as you like. Good-night."
"I wish I could go now with you."
"Why? I thought you appeared to enjoy your dance very much. Edna, look at me."
She hesitated--then obeyed him, and he saw tears glistening on her long lashes.
Very quietly the old man drew her arm through his, and led her out on the dim veranda, where only an occasional couple promenaded.
"Something troubles you, Edna. Will you confide in me?"
"I feel as if I were occupying a false position here, and yet I do not see how I can extricate myself without displeasing Mrs. Murray, whom I can not bear to offend--she is so very kind and generous."
"Explain yourself, my dear."
"You know that I have not a cent in the world except what Mrs. Murray gives me. I shall have to make my bread by my own work just as soon as you think me competent to teach; and notwithstanding, she thinks I ought to visit and associate as she does with these people, who tolerate me now, simply because they know that while I am under her roof she will exact it of them. To-night, during the dance, I heard two of her fashionable friends criticising and sneering at me;
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