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- St. Elmo - 5/104 -


probably poised its wings close to the Eternal Throne, and listened to the prayer which she sent up to God for his welfare and happiness and protection while on earth. The souls of our dead need not the aid of Sandalphon to interpret the whispers that rise tremulously from the world of sin and wrestling, that float up among the stars, through the gates of pearl, down the golden streets of the New Jerusalem. So we all trust, and prate of our faith, and deceive ourselves with the fond hope that we are resigned to the Heavenly Will; and we go on with a show of Christian reliance, while the morning sun smiles in gladness and plenty, and the hymn of happy days and the dear voices of our loved ones make music in our ears; and lo! God puts us in the crucible. The light of life--the hope of all future years is blotted out; clouds of despair and the grim night of an unbroken and unlifting desolation fall like a pall on heart and brain; we dare not look heavenward, dreading another blow; our anchor drags, we drift out into a hideous Dead Sea, where our idol has gone down forever--and boasted faith and trust and patience are swept like straws from our grasp in the tempest of woe; while our human love cries wolfishly for its lost darling. Ah! we build grand and gloomy mausoleums for our precious dead hopes, but, like Artemisia, we refuse to sepulchre--we devour the bitter ashes of the lost, and grimly and audaciously challenge Jehovah to take the worthless, mutilated life that his wisdom reserves for other aims and future toils. Job's wife is immortal and ubiquitous, haunting the sorrow-shrouded chamber of every stricken human soul, and fiendishly prompting the bleeding, crushed spirit to "curse God and die." Edna had never contemplated the possibility of her grandfather's death--it was a horror she had never forced herself to front; and now that he was cut down in an instant, without even the mournful consolation of parting words and farewell kisses, she asked herself again and again: "What have I done, that God should punish me so? I thought I was grateful, I thought I was doing my duty; but oh! what dreadful sin have I committed, to deserve this awful affliction?" During the long, ghostly watches of that winter night, she recalled her past life, gilded by the old man's love, and could remember no happiness with which he was not intimately connected, and no sorrow that his hand had not soothed and lightened. The future was now a blank, crossed by no projected paths, lit with no ray of hope; and at daylight, when the cold, pale morning showed the stony face of the corpse at her side, her unnatural composure broke up in a storm of passionate woe, and she sprang to her feet, almost frantic with the sense of her loss:

"All alone! nobody to love me; nothing to look forward to! Oh. grandpa! did you hear me praying for you yesterday? Dear Grandy--my own dear Grandy! I did pray for you while you were dying--here alone! Oh, my God! what have I done, that you should take him away from me? Was not I on my knees when he died? Oh! what will become of me now? Nobody to care for Edna now! Oh, grandpa! grandpa! beg Jesus to ask God to take me too!" And throwing up her clasped hands, she sank back insensible on the shrouded form of the dead.

"When some beloved voice that was to you Both sound and sweetness, faileth suddenly, And silence against which you dare not cry, Aches round you like a strong disease and new-- What hope? what help? what music will undo That silence to your senses? Not friendship's sigh, Not reason's subtle count. Nay, none of these! Speak Thou, availing Christ! and fill this pause."

CHAPTER III.

Of all that occurred during many ensuing weeks Edna knew little. She retained, in after years, only a vague, confused remembrance of keen anguish and utter prostration, and an abiding sense of irreparable loss. In delirious visions she saw her grandfather now struggling in the grasp of Phlegyas, and now writhing in the fiery tomb of Uberti, with jets of flame leaping through his white hair, and his shrunken hands stretched appealingly toward her, as she had seen those of the doomed Ghibelline leader, in the hideous Dante picture. All the appalling images evoked by the sombre and embittered imagination of the gloomy Tuscan had seized upon her fancy, even in happy hours, and were now reproduced by her disordered brain in multitudinous and aggravated forms. Her wails of agony, her passionate prayers to God to release the beloved spirit from the tortures which her delirium painted, were painful beyond expression to those who watched her ravings; and it was with a feeling of relief that they finally saw her sink into apathy--into a quiet mental stupor--from which nothing seemed to rouse her. She did not remark Mrs. Hunt's absence, or the presence of the neighbors at her bedside. And one morning, when she was wrapped up and placed by the fire, Mrs. Wood told her as gently as possible that her grandmother had died from a disease which was ravaging the country and supposed to be cholera. The intelligence produced no emotion; she merely looked up an instant, glanced mournfully around the dreary room, and, shivering slightly, drooped her head again on her hand. Week after week went slowly by, and she was removed to Mrs. Wood's house, but no improvement was discernible, and the belief became general that the child's mind had sunk into hopeless imbecility. The kind-hearted miller and his wife endeavored to coax her out of her chair by the chimney-corner, but she crouched there, a wan, mute figure of woe, pitiable to contemplate; asking no questions, causing no trouble, receiving no consolation. One bright March morning she sat, as usual, with her face bowed on her thin hand, and her vacant gaze fixed on the blazing fire, when, through the open window, came the impatient lowing of a cow. Mrs. Wood saw a change pass swiftly over the girl's face, and a quiver cross the lips so long frozen. She lifted her head, rose, and followed the sound, and soon stood at the side of Brindle, who now furnished milk for the miller's family. As the gentle cow recognized and looked at her, with an expression almost human in the mild, liquid eyes, all the events of that last serene evening swept back to Edna's deadened memory, and, leaning her head on Brindle's horns, she shed the first tears that had flowed for her great loss, while sobs, thick and suffocating, shook her feeble, emaciated frame.

"Bless the poor little outcast, she will get well now. That is just exactly what she needs. I tell you, Peter, one good cry like that is worth a wagon-load of physic. Don't go near her; let her have her cry out. Poor thing! It ain't often you see a child love her granddaddy as she loved Aaron Hunt. Poor lamb!"

Mrs. Wood wiped her own eyes, and went back to her weaving; and Edna turned away from the mill and walked to her deserted home, while the tears poured ceaselessly over her white cheeks. As she approached the old house she saw that it was shut up and neglected; but when she opened the gate, Grip, the fierce yellow terror of the whole neighborhood, sprang from the door-step, where he kept guard as tirelessly as Maida, and, with a dismal whine of welcome, leaped up and put his paws on her shoulders. This had been the blacksmith's pet, fed by his hand, chained when he went to the shop, and released at his return; and grim and repulsively ugly though he was, the only playmate Edna had ever known; had gamboled around her cradle, slept with her on the sheepskin, and frolicked with her through the woods, in many a long search for Brindle. He alone remained of all the happy past; and as precious memories crowded mournfully up, she sat upon the steps of the dreary homestead, with her arms around his neck, and wept bitterly. After an hour she left the house, and, followed by the dog, crossed the woods in the direction of the neighborhood graveyard. In order to reach it she was forced to pass by the spring and the green hillock where Mr. and Mrs. Dent slept side by side, but no nervous terror seized her now as formerly; the great present horror swallowed up all others, and, though she trembled from physical debility, she dragged herself on till the rude, rough paling of the burying-ground stood before her. Oh, dreary desolation; thy name is country graveyard! Here no polished sculptured stela pointed to the Eternal Rest beyond; no classic marbles told, in gilded characters, the virtues of the dead; no flowery-fringed gravel-walks wound from murmuring waterfalls and rippling fountains to crystal lakes, where trailing willows threw their flickering shadows over silver-dusted lilies; no spicy perfume of purple heliotrope and starry jasmine burdened the silent air; none of the solemn beauties and soothing charms of Greenwood or Mount Auburn wooed the mourner from her weight of woe. Decaying head-boards, green with the lichen-fingered touch of time, leaned over neglected mounds, where last year's weeds shivered in the sighing breeze, and autumn winds and winter rains had drifted a brown shroud of shriveled leaves; while here and there meek-eyed sheep lay sunning themselves upon the trampled graves, and the slow- measured sound of a bell dinged now and then as cattle browsed on the scanty herbage in this most neglected of God's Acres. Could Charles Lamb have turned from the pompous epitaphs and high-flown panegyrics of that English cemetery, to the rudely-lettered boards which here briefly told the names and ages of the sleepers in these narrow beds, he had never asked the question which now stands as a melancholy epigram on family favoritism and human frailty. Gold gilds even the lineaments and haunts of Death, making Pere la Chaise a favored spot for fetes champetres; while poverty hangs neither veil nor mask over the grinning ghoul, and flees, superstition- spurred, from the hideous precincts.

In one corner of the inclosure, where Edna's parents slept, she found the new mounds that covered the remains of those who had nurtured and guarded her young life; and on an unpainted board was written in large letters:

"To the memory of Aaron Hunt: an honest blacksmith, and true Christian; aged sixty-eight years and six months."

Here, with her head on her grandfather's grave, and the faithful dog crouched at her feet, lay the orphan, wrestling with grief and loneliness, striving to face a future that loomed before her spectre-thronged; and here Mr. Wood found her when anxiety at her long absence induced his wife to search for the missing invalid. The storm of sobs and tears had spent itself, fortitude took the measure of the burden imposed, shouldered the galling weight, and henceforth, with undimmed vision, walked steadily to the appointed goal. The miller was surprised to find her so calm, and as they went homeward she asked the particulars of all that had occurred, and thanked him gravely but cordially for the kind care bestowed upon her, and for the last friendly offices performed for her grandfather.

Conscious of her complete helplessness and physical prostration, she ventured no allusion to the future, but waited patiently until renewed strength permitted the execution of designs now fully mapped out. Notwithstanding her feebleness, she rendered herself invaluable to Mrs. Wood, who praised her dexterity and neatness as a seamstress, and predicted that she would make a model housekeeper.

Late one Sunday evening in May, as the miller and his wife sat upon the steps of their humble and comfortless looking home, they saw Edna slowly approaching, and surmised where she had spent the afternoon. Instead of going into the house she seated herself beside them, and, removing her bonnet, traces of tears were visible on her


St. Elmo - 5/104

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