St. Elmo (Chapter 9, page 1 of 19)


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Chapter 9

During the first year of Mr. Murray's absence his brief letters to his mother were written at long intervals; in the second, they were rarer and briefer still; but toward the close of the third he wrote more frequently, and announced his intention of revisiting Egypt before his return to the land of his birth. Although no allusion was ever made to Edna, Mrs. Murray sometimes read aloud descriptions of beautiful scenery, written now among the scoriae of Mauna Roa or Mauna Kea, and now from the pinnacle of Mount Ophir, whence, through waving forests of nutmeg and clove, flashed the blue waters of the Indian Ocean, or the silver ripples of Malacca; and, on such occasions, the orphan listened eagerly, entranced by the tropical luxuriance and grandeur of his imagery, by his gorgeous word- painting, which to her charmed ears seemed scarcely inferior to the wonderful pen-portraits of Ruskin. Those letters seemed flecked with the purple and gold, the amber and rose, the opaline and beryline tints, of which he spoke in telling the glories of Polynesian and Malaysian skies, and the matchless verdure and floral splendors of their serene spicy dells.

For many days after the receipt of each, Mrs. Murray was graver and sadder, but the spectre that had disquieted Edna was thoroughly exorcised, and only when the cold touch of the golden key startled her was she conscious of a vague dread of some far-off but slowly and surely approaching evil. In the fourth year of her pupilage she was possessed by an unconquerable desire to read the Talmud, and in order to penetrate the mysteries and seize the treasures hidden in that exhaustless mine of Oriental myths, legends, and symbolisms, she prevailed upon Mr. Hammond to teach her Hebrew and the rudiments of Chaldee. Very reluctantly and disapprovingly he consented, and subsequently informed her that, as he had another pupil who was also commencing Hebrew, he would class them, and hear their recitations together. This new student was Mr. Gordon Leigh, a lawyer in the town, and a gentleman of wealth and high social position. Although quite young, he gave promise of eminence in his profession, and was a great favorite of the minister, who pronounced him the most upright and exemplary young man of his acquaintance. Edna had seen him several times at Mrs. Murray's dinners, but while she thought him exceedingly handsome, polite, and agreeable, she regarded him as a stranger, until the lessons at the Parsonage brought them every two days around the little table in the study. They began the language simultaneously; but Edna, knowing the flattering estimation in which he was held, could not resist the temptation to measure her intellect with his, and soon threatened to outrun him in the Talmud race. Piqued pride and a manly resolution to conquer spurred him on, and the venerable instructor looked on and laughed at the generous emulation thus excited. He saw an earnest friendship daily strengthening between the rivals, and knew that in Gordon Leigh's magnanimous nature there was no element which could cause an objection to the companionship to which he had paved the way.

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