St. Elmo (Chapter 8, page 1 of 14)


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Chapter 8

During the months of September and October Mrs. Murray filled the house with company, and parties of gentlemen came from time to time to enjoy the game season and take part in the hunts to which St. Elmo devoted himself. There were elegant dinners and petits soupers that would not have disgraced Tusculum, or made Lucullus blush when Pompey and Cicero sought to surprise him in the "Apollo"; there were billiard-matches and horse-races, and merry gatherings at the ten- pin alley; and laughter, and music, and dancing usurped the dominions where silence and gloom had so long reigned. Naturally shy and unaccustomed to companionship, Edna felt no desire to participate in these festivities, but became more and more absorbed in her studies, and her knowledge of the company was limited to the brief intercourse of the table, where she observed the deference yielded to the opinions of the master of the house, and the dread that all manifested lest they should fall under the lash of his merciless sarcasm.

An Ishmael in society, his uplifted hand smote all conventionalities and shams, spared neither age nor sex, nor sanctuaries, and acknowledged sanctity nowhere. The punctilious courtesy of his manner polished and pointed his satire, and when a personal application of his remarks was possible, he would bow gracefully to the lady indicated, and fill her glass with wine, while he filled her heart with chagrin and rankling hate. Since the restoration of the Dante, not a word had passed between him and Edna, who regarded him with increasing detestation; but on one occasion, when the conversation was general, and he sat silent at the foot of the table, she looked up at him and found his eyes fixed on her face. Inclining his head slightly to arrest her attention, he handed a decanter of sherry to one of the servants, with some brief direction, and a moment after her glass was filled, and the waiter said: "Mr. Murray's compliments to Aaron Hunt's granddaughter." Observation had taught her what was customary on such occasions, and she knew that he had once noticed her taking wine with the gentleman who sat next to her; but now repugnance conquered politeness, the mention of her grandfather's name seemed an insult from his lips, and putting her hand over her glass, she looked him full in the face and shook her head. Nevertheless he lifted his wine, bowed, and drank the last drop in the crystal goblet; then turned to a gentleman on his right hand, and instantly entered into a learned discussion on the superiority of the wines of the Levant over those of Germany, quoting triumphantly the lines of M. de Nevers: "Sur la membrane de leur sens, Font des sillons charmans."

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