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- St. Elmo - 70/104 -
Presently Mrs. Andrews said eagerly:
"Look, Miss Earl! Yonder, in the box directly opposite, is the celebrated Sir Roger Percival, the English nobleman about whom all Gotham is running mad. If he has not more sense than most men of his age, his head will be completely turned by the flattery heaped upon him. What a commentary on Republican Americans, that we are so dazzled by the glitter of a title! However, he really is very agreeable; I have met him several times, dined with him last week at the Coltons. He has been watching us for some minutes. Ah! there is a bow for me; and one I presume for you, Mr. Manning."
"Yes, I knew him abroad. We spent a month together at Dresden, and his brain is strong enough to bear all the adulation New Yorkers offer his title."
Edna looked into the opposite box, and saw a tall, elegantly-dressed man, with huge whiskers and a glittering opera-glass; and then as the curtain rose on the first act of "Ernani," she turned to the stage, and gave her entire attention to the music.
At the close of the second act Mrs. Andrews said:
"Pray who is that handsome man down yonder in the parquet, fanning himself with a libretto! I do not think his eyes have moved from this box for the last ten minutes. He is a stranger to me."
She turned her fan in the direction of the person indicated, and Mr. Manning looked down and answered:
"He is unknown to me."
Edna's eyes involuntarily wandered over the sea of heads, and the editor saw her start and lean forward, and noticed the sudden joy that flashed into her face, as she met the earnest, upward gaze of Gordon Leigh.
"An acquaintance of yours, Miss Earl?"
"Yes, sir, an old friend from the South."
The door of the box opened, and Sir Roger Percival came in and seated himself near Mrs. Andrews, who in her cordial welcome seemed utterly to forget the presence of the governess.
Mr. Manning sat close to Edna, and taking a couple of letters from his pocket he laid them on her lap, saying:
"These letters were directed to my care by persons who are ignorant of your name and address. If you will not consider me unpardonably curious, I should like to know the nature of their contents."
She broke the seals and read the most flattering commendations of her magazine sketches, the most cordial thanks for the pleasure derived from their perusal; but the signatures were unknown to her.
A sudden wave of crimson surged into her face as she silently put the letters into Mr. Manning's hand, and watched his grave, fixed, undemonstrative features, while he read, refolded, and returned them to her.
"Miss Earl, I have received several documents of a similar character asking for your address. Do you still desire to write incognito, or do you wish your name given to your admirers?"
"That is a matter which I am willing to leave to your superior judgment."
"Pardon me, but I much prefer that you determine it for yourself."
"Then you may give my name to those who are sufficiently interested in me to write and make the inquiry."
Mr. Manning smiled slightly, and lowered his voice as he said:
"Sir Roger Percival came here to-night to be introduced to you. He has expressed much curiosity to see the author of the last article which you contributed to the magazine; and I told him that you would be in my box this evening. Shall I present him now?"
Mr. Manning was rising, but Edna put her hand on his arm, and answered hurriedly:
"No, no! He is engaged in conversation with Mrs. Andrews, and, moreover, I believe I do not particularly desire to be presented to him."
"Here comes your friend; I will vacate this seat in his favor."
He rose, bowed to Gordon Leigh, and gave him the chair which he had occupied.
"Edna! how I have longed to see you once more!"
Gordon's hand seized hers, and his handsome face was eloquent with feelings which he felt no inclination to conceal.
"The sight of your countenance is an unexpected pleasure in New York. Mr. Leigh, when did you arrive?"
"This afternoon. Mr. Hammond gave me your address, and I called to see you, but was told that you were here."
"How are they all at home?"
"Do you mean at Le Bocage or the Parsonage?"
"I mean how are all my friends?"
"Mrs. Murray is very well, Miss Estelle, ditto. Mr. Hammond has been sick, but was better and able to preach before I left. I brought a letter for you from him, but unfortunately left it in the pocket of my travelling coat. Edna, you have changed very much since I saw you last."
"In what respect, Mr. Leigh?"
The crash of the orchestra filled the house, and people turned once more to the stage. Standing with his arms folded, Mr. Manning saw the earnest look on Gordon's face as, with his arm resting on the back of Edna's chair, he talked in a low, eager tone; and a pitying smile partly curved the editor's granite mouth as he noticed the expression of pain on the girl's face, and heard her say coldly:
"No, Mr. Leigh; what I told you then I repeat now. Time has made no change."
The opera ended, the curtain fell, and an enthusiastic audience called out the popular prima donna.
While bouquets were showered upon her, Mr. Manning stooped and put his hand on Edna's:
"Shall I throw your tribute for you?"
She hastily caught the bouquet from his fingers, and replied:
"Oh! no, thank you! I am so selfish, I can not spare it."
"I shall call at ten o'clock to-morrow to deliver your letter," said Gordon, as he stood hat in hand.
"I shall be glad to see you, Mr. Leigh."
He shook hands with her and with Mr. Manning, to whom she had introduced him, and left the box.
Sir Roger Percival gave his arm to Mrs. Andrews, and the editor drew Edna's cloak over her shoulders, took her hand and led her down the steps.
As her little gloved fingers rested in his, the feeling of awe and restraint melted away, and looking into his face she said:
"Mr. Manning, I do not think you will ever know half how much I thank you for all your kindness to an unknown authorling. I have enjoyed the music very much indeed. How is Lila to-night?"
A slight tremor crossed his lips; the petrified hawthorn was quivering into life.
"She is quite well, thank you. Pray, what do you know about her? I was not aware that I had ever mentioned her name in your presence."
"My pupil, Felix, is her most devoted knight, and I see her almost every afternoon when I go with the children to Central Park."
They reached the carriage where the Englishman stood talking to Mrs. Andrews, and when Mr. Manning had handed Edna in, he turned and said something to Sir Roger, who laughed lightly and walked away.
During the drive Mrs. Andrews talked volubly of the foreigner's ease and elegance and fastidious musical taste, and Mr. Manning listened courteously and bowed coldly in reply. When they reached home she invited him to dinner on the following Thursday, to meet Sir Roger Percival.
As the editor bade them good-night he said to Edna:
"Go to sleep at once; do not sit up to work to-night."
Did she follow his sage advice? Ask of the stars that watched her through the long winter night, and the dappled dawn that saw her stooping wearily over her desk.
At the appointed hour on the following morning Mr. Leigh called, and after some desultory remarks he asked, rather abruptly:
"Has St. Elmo Murray written to you about his last whim?"
"I do not correspond with Mr. Murray."
"Everybody wonders what droll freak will next seize him. Reed, the blacksmith, died several months ago and, to the astonishment of our people, Mr. Murray has taken his orphan, Huldah, to Le Bocage; has adopted her I believe; at all events, is educating her."
Edna's face grew radiant.
"Oh! I am glad to hear it! Poor little Huldah needed a friend, and
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