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- St. Elmo - 6/104 -
sad but patient face.
"You ought not to go over yonder so often, child. It is not good for you," said the miller, knocking the ashes from his pipe.
She shaded her countenance with her hand, and after a moment said, in a low but steady tone:
"I shall never go there again. I have said good-bye to everything, and have nothing now to keep me here. You and Mrs. Wood have been very kind to me, and I thank you heartily; but you have a family of children, and have your hands full to support them without taking care of me. I know that our house must go to you to pay that old debt, and even the horse and cow; and there will be nothing left when you are paid. You are very good, indeed, to offer me a home here, and I never can forget your kindness; but I should not be willing to live on anybody's charity; and besides, all the world is alike to me now, and I want to get out of sight of--of--what shows my sorrow to me every day. I don't love this place now; it won't let me forget, even for a minute, and--and--"
Here the voice faltered and she paused.
"But where could you go, and how could you make your bread, you poor little ailing thing?"
"I hear that in the town of Columbus, Georgia, even little children get wages to work in the factory, and I know I can earn enough to pay my board among the factory people."
"But you are too young to be straying about in a strange place. If you will stay here, and help my wife about the house and the weaving, I will take good care of you, and clothe you till you are grown and married."
"I would rather go away, because I want to be educated, and I can't be if I stay here."
"Fiddlestick! you will know as much as the balance of us, and that's all you will ever have any use for. I notice you have a hankering after books, but the quicker you get that foolishness out of your head the better; for books won't put bread in your mouth and clothes on your back; and folks that want to be better than their neighbors generally turn out worse. The less book-learning you women have the better."
"I don't see that it is any of your business, Peter Wood, how much learning we women choose to get, provided your bread is baked and your socks darned when you want 'em. A woman has as good a right as a man to get book-learning, if she wants it; and as for sense, I'll thank you, mine is as good as yours any day; and folks have said it was a blessed thing for the neighborhood when the rheumatiz laid Peter Wood up, and his wife, Dorothy Elmira Wood, run the mill. Now, it's of no earthly use to cut at us women over that child's shoulders; if she wants an education she has as much right to it as anybody, if she can pay for it. My doctrine is, everybody has a right to whatever they can pay for, whether it is schooling or a satin frock!"
Mrs. Wood seized her snuff-bottle and plunged a stick vigorously into the contents, and, as the miller showed no disposition to skirmish, she continued:
"I take an interest in you, Edna Earl, because I loved your mother, who was the only sweet-tempered beauty that ever I knew. I think I never set my eyes on a prettier face, with big brown eyes as meek as a partridge's; and then her hands and feet were as small as a queen's. Now as long as you are satisfied to stay here I shall be glad to have you, and I will do as well for you as for my own Tabitha; but, if you are bent on factory work and schooling, I have got no more to say; for I have no right to say where you shall go or where you shall stay. But one thing I do want to tell you, it is a serious thing for a poor, motherless girl to be all alone among strangers."
There was a brief silence, and Edna answered slowly:
"Yes, Mrs. Wood, I know it is; but God can protect me there as well as here, and I have none now but Him. I have made up my mind to go, because I think it is the best for me, and I hope Mr. Wood will carry me to the Chattanooga depot to-morrow morning, as the train leaves early. I have a little money--seven dollars--that--that grandpa gave me at different times, and both Brindle's calves belong to me--he gave them to me--and I thought may be you would pay me a few dollars for them."
"But you are not ready to start to-morrow."
"Yes, sir, I washed and ironed my clothes yesterday, and what few I have are all packed in my box. Everything is ready now, and, as I have to go, I might as well start to-morrow."
"Don't you think you will get dreadfully homesick in about a month, and write to me to come and fetch you back?"
"I have no home and nobody to love me, how then can I ever be homesick? Grandpa's grave is all the home I have, and--and--God would not take me there when I was so sick, and--and--" The quiver of her face showed that she was losing her self-control, and turning away, she took the cedar piggin, and went out to milk Brindle for the last time.
Feeling that they had no right to dictate her future course, neither the miller nor his wife offered any further opposition, and very early the next morning, after Mrs. Wood had given the girl what she called "some good motherly advice," and provided her with a basket containing food for the journey, she kissed her heartily several times, and saw her stowed away in the miller's covered cart, which was to convey her to the railway station. The road ran by the old blacksmith's shop, and Mr. Wood's eyes filled as he noticed the wistful, lingering, loving gaze which the girl fixed upon it, until a grove of trees shut out the view; then the head bowed itself, and a stifled moan reached his ears.
The engine whistled as they approached the station, and Edna was hurried aboard the train, while her companion busied himself in transferring her box of clothing to the baggage car. She had insisted on taking her grandfather's dog with her, and, notwithstanding the horrified looks of the passengers and the scowl of the conductor, he followed her into the car and threw himself under the seat, glaring at all who passed, and looking as hideously savage as the Norse Managarmar.
"You can't have a whole seat to yourself, and nobody wants to sit near that ugly brute," said the surly conductor.
Edna glanced down the aisle, and saw two young gentlemen stretched at full length on separate seats, eyeing her curiously.
Observing that the small seat next to the door was partially filled with the luggage of the parties who sat in front of it, she rose and called to the dog, saying to the conductor as she did so:
"I will take that half of a seat yonder, where I shall be in nobody's way."
Here Mr, Wood came forward, thrust her ticket into her fingers, and shook her hand warmly, saying hurriedly:
"Hold on to your ticket, and don't put your head out of the window. I told the conductor he must look after you and your box when you left the cars; said he would. Good-by, Edna; take care of yourself, and may God bless you, child."
The locomotive whistled, the train moved slowly on, and the miller hastened back to his cart.
As the engine got fully under way, and dashed around a curve, the small, straggling village disappeared, trees and hills seemed to the orphan to fly past the window; and when she leaned out and looked back, only the mist-mantled rocks of Lookout, and the dim, purplish outline of the Sequatchie heights were familiar.
In the shadow of that solitary sentinel peak her life had been passed; she had gathered chestnuts and chincapins among its wooded clefts, and clambered over its gray boulders as fearlessly as the young llamas of the Parime; and now, as it rapidly receded and finally vanished, she felt as if the last link that bound her to the past had suddenly snapped; the last friendly face which had daily looked down on her for twelve years was shut out forever, and she and Grip were indeed alone, in a great, struggling world of selfishness and sin. The sun shone dazzlingly over wide fields of grain, whose green billows swelled and surged under the freshening breeze; golden butterflies fluttered over the pink and blue morning- glories that festooned the rail-fences; a brakeman whistled merrily on the platform, and children inside the car prattled and played, while at one end a slender little girlish figure, in homespun dress and pink calico bonnet, crouched in a corner of the seat, staring back in the direction of hooded Lookout, feeling that each instant bore her farther from the dear graves of her dead; and oppressed with an intolerable sense of desolation and utter isolation in the midst of hundreds of her own race, who were too entirely absorbed in their individual speculations, fears and aims, to spare even a glance at that solitary young mariner, who saw the last headland fade from view, and found herself, with no pilot but ambition, drifting rapidly out on the great, unknown, treacherous Sea of Life, strewn with mournful human wrecks, whom the charts and buoys of six thousand years of navigation could not guide to a haven of usefulness and peace. Interminable seemed the dreary day, which finally drew to a close, and Edna, who was weary of her cramped position, laid her aching head on the window-sill, and watched the red light of day die in the west, where a young moon hung her silvery crescent among the dusky tree-tops, and the stars flashed out thick and fast. Far away among strangers, uncared for and unnoticed, come what might, she felt that God's changeless stars smiled down as lovingly upon her face as on her grandfather's grave; and that the cosmopolitan language of nature knew neither the modifications of time and space, the distinctions of social caste, nor the limitations of national dialects.
As the night wore on, she opened the cherished copy of Dante and tried to read, but the print was too fine for the dim lamp which hung at some distance from her corner. Her head ached violently, and, as sleep was impossible, she put the book back in her pocket, and watched the flitting trees and fences, rocky banks, and occasional houses, which seemed weird in the darkness. As silence deepened in the car, her sense of loneliness became more and more painful, and finally she turned and pressed her cheek against the fair, chubby hand of a baby, who slept with its curly head on its mother's shoulder, and its little dimpled arm and hand hanging over
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