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- St. Elmo - 90/104 -
of the only Eden I am ever to find in this world, and yet can never surprise the watching Angel of Wrath, and have to stand shivering outside, and see my Eden only by the flashing of the sword that bars my entrance?"
Looking at the handwriting so different from any other which she had ever examined, her thoughts were irresistibly carried back to that morning when, at the shop, she saw this handwriting for the first time on the blank leaf of the Dante; and she recalled the shuddering aversion with which her grandfather had glanced at it, and advised her to commit it to the flames of the forge.
How many such notes as this had been penned to Annie and Gertrude, and to that wretched woman shut up in an Italian convent, and to others of whose names she was ignorant?
Mrs. Murray opened the door, looked in, and said:
"Come, I want to show you something really beautiful."
Edna put the note in her pocket, took the bouquet, and followed her friend down-stairs, through the rotunda, to the door of Mr. Murray's sitting-room.
"My son locked this door and carried the key with him; but after some search, I have found another that will open it. Come in, Edna. Now look at that large painting hanging over the sarcophagus. It is a copy of Titian's 'Christ Crowned with Thorns,' the original of which is in a Milan church, I believe. While St. Elmo was last abroad, he was in Genoa one afternoon when a boat was capsized. Being a fine swimmer, he sprang into the water where several persons were struggling, and saved the lives of two little children of an English gentleman, who had his hands quite full in rescuing his wife. Two of the party were drowned, but the father was so grateful to my son that he has written him several letters, and last year he sent him this picture, which, though of course much smaller than the original, is considered a very fine copy. I begged to have it hung in the parlor, but fearing, I suppose, that its history might possibly be discovered (you know how he despises anything like a parade of good deeds), St. Elmo insisted on bringing it here to this Egyptian Museum, where, unfortunately, people can not see it."
For some time they stood admiring it, and then Edna's eyes wandered away to the Taj Mahal, to the cabinets and book-cases. Her lip began to quiver as every article of furniture babbled of the By-Gone--of the happy evenings spent here--of that hour when the idea of authorship first seized her mind and determined her future.
Mrs. Murray walked up to the arch, over which the curtains fell touching the floor, and laying her hand on the folds of silk, said hesitatingly:
"I am going to show you something that my son would not easily forgive me for betraying; for it is a secret he guards most jealously--"
"No, I would rather not see it. I wish to learn nothing which Mr. Murray is not willing that I should know."
"You will scarcely betray me to my son when you see what it is; and beside, I am determined you shall have no room to doubt the truth of some things he has told you. There is no reason why you should not look at it. Do you recognize that face yonder, over the mantelpiece?"
She held the curtains back, and despite her reluctance to glancing into the inner room, Edna raised her eyes timidly, and saw, in a richly-carved oval frame, hanging on the opposite wall, a life-size portrait of herself.
"We learned from the newspapers that some fine photographs had been taken in New York, and I sent on and bought two. St. Elmo took one of them to an artist in Charleston, and superintended the painting of that portrait. When he returned, just before I went North, he brought the picture with him, and with his own hands hung it yonder. I have noticed that since that day he always keeps the curtains down over the arch, and never leaves the house without locking his rooms."
Edna had dropped her crimsoned face in her hands, but Mrs. Murray raised it forcibly and kissed her.
"I want you to know how well he loves you--how necessary you are to his happiness. Now I must leave you, for I see Mrs. Montgomery's carriage at the door. You have a note to answer; there are writing materials on the table yonder."
She went out, closing the door softly, and Edna was alone with surroundings that pleaded piteously for the absent master. Oxalis and heliotrope peeped at her over the top of the lotos vases; one of a pair of gauntlets had fallen on the carpet near the cameo cabinet; two or three newspapers and a meerschaum lay upon a chair; several theological works were scattered on the sofa, and the air was heavy with lingering cigar-smoke.
Just in front of the Taj Mahal was a handsome copy of Edna's novel, and a beautiful morocco-bound volume containing a collection of all her magazine sketches.
She sat down in the crimson-cushioned armchair that was drawn close to the circular table, where pen and paper told that the owner had recently been writing, and near the ink-stand was a handkerchief with German initials, S. E. M.
Upon a mass of loose papers stood a quaint bronze paper-weight, representing Cartaphilds, the Wandering Jew; and on the base was inscribed Mr. Murray's favorite Arabian maxim: "Ed dunya djifetun ve talibeha kilabi": "THE WORLD IS AN ABOMINATION, AND THOSE WHO TOIL ABOUT IT ARE DOGS."
There, too, was her own little Bible; and as she took it up it opened at the fourteenth chapter of St. John, where she found, as a book-mark, the photograph of herself from which the portrait had been painted. An unwithered geranium sprig lying among the leaves whispered that the pages had been read that morning.
Out on the lawn birds swung in the elm-twigs, singing cheerily, lambs bleated and ran races, and the little silver bell on Huldah's pet fawn, "Edna," tinkled ceaselessly.
"Help me, O my God! in this the last hour of my trial."
The prayer went up meaningly, and Edna took a pen and turned to write. Her arm struck a portfolio lying on the edge of the table, and in falling loose sheets of paper fluttered out on the carpet. One caught her eye; she picked it up and found a sketch of the ivied ruins of Phyle. Underneath the drawing, and dated fifteen years before, were traced, in St. Elmo's writing, those lines which Henry Soame is said to have penned on the blank leaf of a copy of the "Pleasures of Memory":
"Memory makes her influence known By sighs, and tears, and grief alone. I greet her as the fiend, to whom belong The vulture's ravening beak, the raven's funereal song! She tells of time misspent, of comfort lost, Of fair occasions gone forever by; Of hopes too fondly nursed, too rudely crossed, Of many a cause to wish, yet fear to die; For what, except the instinctive fear Lest she survive, detains me here, When all the 'Life of Life' is fled?"
The lonely woman looked upward, appealingly, and there upon the wall she met--not as formerly, the gleaming, augurous, inexorable eyes of the Cimbrian Prophetess--but the pitying God's gaze of Titian's Jesus.
When Mrs. Murray returned to the room, Edna sat as still as one of the mummies in the sarcophagus, with her head thrown back, and the long, black eyelashes sweeping her colorless cheeks.
One hand was pressed over her heart, the other held a note directed to St. Elmo Murray; and the cold, fixed features were so like those of an Angel of Death sometimes sculptured on cenotaphs, that Mrs. Murray uttered a cry of alarm.
As she bent over her, Edna opened her arms and said in a feeble, spent tone:
"Take me back to the parsonage. I ought not to have come here; I might have known I was not strong enough."
"You have had one of those attacks. Why did you not call me? I will bring you some wine."
"No; only let me go away as soon as possible. Oh! I am ashamed of my weakness."
She rose, and her pale lips writhed as her sad eyes wandered in a farewell glance around the room.
She put the unsealed note in Mrs. Murray's hand, and turned toward the door.
"Edna! My daughter! you have not refused St. Elmo's request?"
"My mother! Pity me! I could not grant it."
"They have come. I hear Gertrude's birdish voice."
The words had scarcely passed Mr. Hammond's lips ere his niece bounded into the room, followed by her husband.
Edna was sitting on the chintz-covered lounge, mending a basketful of the old man's clothes that needed numerous stitches and buttons, and, throwing aside her sewing materials, she rose to meet the travellers.
At sight of her Gordon Leigh stopped suddenly and his face grew instantly as bloodless as her own.
"Edna! Oh! how changed! What a wreck!"
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