St. Elmo (Chapter 3, page 1 of 12)


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Chapter 3

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.

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