Schulers Books Online
books - games - software - wallpaper - everything
- St. Elmo - 40/104 -
consideration. 'I am bound to furnish good definitions, but not brains to comprehend them.'"
"I think, sir, that it is a very great misfortune for those who have to associate with you now that you were not raised in Sparta, where it was everybody's privilege to whip their neighbor's vicious, spoiled children. Such a regimen would doubtless have converted you into an amiable, or at least endurable member of society."
Miss Harding tapped his hand with her fan.
"That is problematical, my fair cousin, for if my provocative playmate had accompanied me, I'll be sworn but I think the supply of Spartan birch would have utterly failed to sweeten my temper. I should have shared the fate of those unfortunate boys who were whipped to death in Lacedaemon, in honor of Diana; said whipping- festival (I here remark parenthetically, for my mother's enjoyment) being known in classic parlance as Diamastigosis!"
Her mother answered laughingly:
"Estelle is quite right; you contrived to grow up without the necessary healthful quota of sound whipping which you richly deserved."
Mr. Murray did not seem to hear her words; he was looking down intently, smiling into his cousin's handsome face, and, passing his arm around her waist, drew her close to his side. He murmured something that made her throw her head quickly back against his shoulder and look up at him.
"If such is the end of all your quarrels, it offers a premium for unamiability," said Mr. Allston, who had been studying Edna's face, and now turned again to his cousin. Curling the end of his moustache, he continued:
"St. Elmo, you have travelled more extensively than any one I know, and under peculiarly favorable circumstances. Of all the spots you have visited, which would you pronounce the most desirable for a permanent residence?"
"Have you an idea of expatriating yourself--of 'quitting your country for your country's good'?"
"One never knows what contingencies may arise, and I should like to avail myself of your knowledge; for I feel assured only very charming places would have detained you long."
"Then, were I at liberty to select a home, tranquil, blessed beyond all expression, I should certainly lose no time in domesticating myself in the Peninsula of Mount Athos."
"Ah! yes; the scenery all along that coast is described as surprisingly beautiful and picturesque."
"Oh, bah! the scenery is quite as grand in fifty other places. Its peculiar attraction consists in something far more precious."
"To what do you refer?"
"Its marvelous and bewildering charm is to be found entirely in the fact that, since the days of Constantine, no woman has set foot on its peaceful soil; and the happy dwellers in that sole remaining earthly Eden are so vigilant, dreading the entrance of another Eve, that no female animal is permitted to intrude upon the sacred precincts. The embargo extends even to cats, cows, dogs, lest the innate female proclivity to make mischief should be found dangerous in the brute creation. Constantine lived in the latter part of the third and the beginning of the fourth century. Think of the divine repose, the unapproachable beatification of residing in a land where no woman has even peeped for fifteen hundred years!"
"May all good angels help me to steer as far as possible from such a nest of cynics! I would sooner confront an army of Amazons headed by Penthesilea herself, than trust myself among a people unhumanized and uncivilized by the refining influence and companionship of women! St. Elmo, you are the most abominable misogamist I ever met, and you deserve to fall into the clutches of those 'eight mighty daughters of the plow,' to which Tennyson's Princess consigned the Prince. Most heartily I pity you!"
"For shame, St. Elmo! A stranger listening to your gallant diatribe would inevitably conclude that your mother was as unnatural and unamiable as Lord Byron's; and that I, your most devoted, meek, and loving cousin, was quite as angelic as Miss Edgeworth's Modern Griselda!"
Affecting great indignation, Estelle attempted to quit his side; but, tightening his arm, Mr. Murray bowed and resumed:
"Had your imaginary stranger ever heard of the science of logic, or even dreamed of Whately or Mill, the conclusion would, as you say, be inevitable. More fortunate than Rasselas, I found a happy spot where the names of women are never called, where the myths of Ate and Pandora are forgotten, and where the only females that have successfully run the rigid blockade are the tormenting fleas, that wage a ceaseless war with the unoffending men, and justify their nervous horror lest any other creature of the same sex should smuggle herself into their blissful retreat. I have seen crowned heads, statesmen, great military chieftains, and geniuses, whose names are destined to immortality; but standing here, reviewing my certainly extended acquaintance, I swear I envy above all others that handsome monk whom Curzon found at Simopetra, who had never seen a woman! He was transplanted to the Holy Mountain while a mere infant, and though assured he had had a mother, he accepted the statement with the same blind faith, which was required for some of the religious dogmas he was called on to swallow. I have frequently wondered whether the ghost of poor Socrates would not be allowed, in consideration of his past sufferings and trials, to wander forever in that peaceful realm where even female ghosts are tabooed."
"There is some terrible retribution in store for your libels on our sex! How I do long to meet some woman brave and wily enough to marry and tame you, my chivalric cousin! to revenge the insults you have heaped upon her sisterhood!"
"By fully establishing the correctness of my estimate of their amiability? That were dire punishment indeed for what you deem my heresies. If I could realize the possibility of such a calamity, I should certainly bewail my fate in the mournful words of that most astute of female wits, who is reported to have exclaimed, in considering the angelic idiosyncrasies of her gentle sisterhood, 'The only thought which can reconcile me to being a woman is that I shall not have to marry one."
The expression with which Mr. Murray regarded Estelle reminded Edna of the account given by a traveller of the playful mood of a lion, who, having devoured one gazelle, kept his paw on another, and, amid occasional growls, teased and toyed with his victim.
As the orphan sat bending over her work listening to the conversation, she asked herself scornfully:
"What hallucination has seized me? The man is a mocking devil, unworthy the respect or toleration of any Christian woman. What redeeming trait can even my partial eyes discover in his distorted, sinful nature? Not one. No, not one!"
She was rejoiced when he uttered a sarcasm or an opinion that shocked her, for she hoped that his irony would cauterize what she considered a cancerous spot in her heart.
"Edna, as you are not well, I advise you to put aside that embroidery, which must try your eyes very severely," said Mrs. Murray.
So she folded up the piece of cambric and was putting it in her basket, when Mr. Allston asked, with more effrontery than the orphan was prepared for:
"Miss Earl, have I not seen you before to-day?"
"May I ask where?"
"In a chestnut grove, where you shot Mr. Dent."
"Indeed! Did you witness that affair? It happened many years ago."
There was not a shadow of pain or sorrow in his countenance or tone, and, rising, Edna said, with unmistakable emphasis:
"I saw all that occurred, and may God preserve me from ever witnessing another murder so revolting!"
In the silence that ensued she turned toward Mrs. Murray, bowed, and said as she quitted the parlor:
"Mrs. Murray, as I am not very well, you will please excuse my retiring early."
"Just what you deserve for bringing the subject on tapis; I warned you not to allude to it." As St. Elmo muttered these words, he pushed Estelle from him, and nodded to Mr. Allston, who seemed as nearly nonplussed as his habitual impudence rendered possible.
Thoroughly dissatisfied with herself, and too restless to sleep, the orphan passed the weary hours of the night in endeavoring to complete a chapter on Buddhism, which she had commenced some days before; and the birds were chirping their reveille, and the sky blanched and reddened ere she lay down her pen and locked up her MS. Throwing open the blinds of the eastern window, she stood for some time looking out, gathering strength from the holy calm of the dewy morning, resolving to watch her own heart ceaselessly, to crush promptly the feeling she had found there, and to devote herself unreservedly to her studies. At that moment the sound of horse's hoofs on the stony walk attracted her attention, and she saw Mr. Murray riding from the stables. As he passed her window, he glanced up, their eyes met, and he lifted his hat and rode on. Were those the same sinister, sneering features she had looked at the evening before? His face was paler, sterner, and sadder than she had ever seen it, and, covering her own with her hands, she murmured:
"God help me to resist that man's wicked magnetism! Oh, Grandpa! are you looking down on your poor little Pearl? Will you forgive me for allowing myself ever to have thought kindly and tenderly of this strange temptation which Satan has sent to draw my heart away from my God and my duty? Ah, Grandpa! I will crush it--I will conquer it! I will not yield!"
Previous Page Next Page
1 10 20 30 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43 44 45 50 60 70 80 90 100 104
Schulers Books Online
books - games - software - wallpaper - everything