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- St. Elmo - 3/104 -
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:
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