St. Elmo Murray Proposes Marriage

Excerpt from “St. Elmo” 1867

By Augusta Evans Wilson

     The church was remarkably handsome and tasteful, and certainly justified the pride with which the villagers exhibited it to all strangers. The massive mahogany pew-doors were elaborately carved and surmounted by small crosses, the tall, arched windows were of superb stained glass, representing the twelve apostles, the floor and balustrade of the altar, and the grand, Gothic pillared pulpit, were all of the purest white marble, and the capitals, of the airy, elegant columns of the same material, that supported the organ gallery, were ornamented with a rich grape-leaf molding, while the large window behind a above the pulpit contained a figure of Christ bearing his cross -- a noble copy of the great painting of Solario at Berlin.

     As the afternoon sun shone on the glass, a floor of ruby light fell from the garments of Jesus upon the glittering marble beneath, and the nimbus that radiated around the crown of thorns caught a glory that was dazzling.

     With a feeling of adoration that no language could adequately express, Edna had watched and studied this costly painted window for five long years, and found a marvelous fascination in the pallid face stained with purplish blood drops, in the parted lips quivering with human pain and anguish of spirit, in the unfathomably divine eyes that pierced the veil and rested upon the Father’s face. Not all the sermons of Bossuet, or Chalmers, or Jeremy Taylor, or Melville, had power to stir the great deeps of her soul like one glance at that pale, thorn-crowned Christ, who looked in voiceless woe and sublime resignation over the world he was dying to redeem!

     To-day she gazed up at the picture of Emmanuel, till her eyes grew dim with tears, and she leaned her head against the mahogany railing and murmured sadly:

     “And he that taketh not his cross, and followeth after me, is not worthy of me! Strenghten me, O my Saviour! So that I neither faint nor stagger under mine!”

     The echo of her words died away among the arches of the roof, and all was still in the sanctuary. The swayings of the trees outside of the windows threw now a golden shimmer, then a violet shadow over the gleaming altar pavement, and the sun sank lower, and the nimbus faded, and the wan Christ looked ghastly and toil-spent.

     “Edna! My darling! My darling!”

     The pleading cry, the tremulous, tender voice so full of pathos, rang startingly through the silent church, and the orphan sprang up and saw Mr. Murray standing at her side, with his arms extended toward her, and a glow on his face, and a look in his eyes which she had never seen there before.

     She drew back a few steps and gazed wonderingly at him, but he followed, threw his arm about her, and, despite her resistance, strained her to his heart.

     “Did you believe that I would let you go? Did you dream that I would see my darling leave me, and go out into the world to be buffeted and sorely tried, to struggle with poverty -- an to suffer alone? O silly child! I would part with my own life sooner than give you up! Of what value would it be without you, my pearl, my sole hope, my only love, my own pure Edna --.”

     “Such language you have no right to utter, and I none to hear! It is dishonorable in you and insulting to me. Gertrude’s lover cannot, and shall not, address such words to me. Unwind your arms instantly! Let me go!”

     She struggled hard to free herself, but his clasp tightened, and as he pressed her face against his bosom, he threw his head back and laughed:

     “‘Gertrude’s lover!’ knowing my history, how could you believe that possible? Am I, think you, so meek and forgiving a spirit as to turn and kiss the hand that smote me? Gertrude’s lover! Ha! Ha! Your jealousy blinds you, my --.”

     “I know nothing of your history, I have never asked, I have never been told one word! But I am not blind, I know that you love her, and I know too, that she fully reciprocates your affection. If you do not wish me to despise you utterly, leave me at once.”

     He laughed again, and put his lips to her ear, saying softly, tenderly—ah! How tenderly;

     “Upon my honor as a gentleman, I solemnly swear that I love but one woman, that I love her as no other woman ever was loved, with a love that passes all language, a love that is the only light and hope of a wrecked, cursed, unutterably miserable life, and that idol which I have set up in the lonely gray ruins of my heart is Edna Earl!”

     “I do-not believe you! You have no honor! With the touch of Gertrude’s lips and arms still on yours, you come to me and dare to perjure yourself! 0 Mr. Murray! Mr. Murray! I did not believe you capable of such despicable dissimulation! In the catalogue of your sins, I never counted deceit. I thought you too proud to play the hypocrite. If you could realize how I loathe and abhor you, you would get out of my sight! You would not waste time in words that sink you deeper and deeper in shameful duplicity. Poor Gertrude, how entirely you mistake your lover’s character! How your love will change to scorn and detestation!”

     In vain she endeavored to wrench away his arm, a band of steel would have been as flexible, but St. Elmo’s voice hardened, and Edna felt his heart throb fiercely against her cheek as he answered:

     “When you are my wife you will repent your rash words, and blush at the remembrance of having told your husband that he was devoid of honor. You are piqued and jealous, just as I intended you should be, but, darling, I am not a patient man, and it frets me to feel you struggling so desperately in the arms that henceforth will always enfold you. Bo quiet and hear me, for I have much to tell you. Don’t turn your face away from mine your lips belong to me. I never kissed Gertrude in my life, and so help me God, I never Will! Hear --.”

     “No! I will hear nothing! Your touch is profanation. I would sooner go down to my grave, out there in the church-yard, under the granite slabs, than to become the wife of a man so unprincipled. I am neither piqued nor jealous, for your affairs cannot affect my life, I am only astonished and mortified and grieved. I would sooner feel the coil of a serpent around my waist than your arms.”

     Instantly they fell away. He crossed them on his chest, and his voice sank to a husky whisper, as the wind hushes itself just before the storm breaks.

   “Edna, God is my witness that I am not deceiving you, that my words come from the great troubled depths of a wretched heart. You said you know nothing of my history. I find it more difficult to believe you than you to credit my declaration. Answer one question, has not your pastor taught you to distrust me? Can it be possible that no hint of the past has fallen from his lips?”

     “Not one unkind word, not one syllable of your history has he uttered. I know no more of your past than if it were buried in mid-ocean.”

     Mr. Murray placed her in one of the cushioned chairs designed for the use of the choir and leaning back against the railing of the gallery, fixed ‘his eyes on Edna’s face.

     “Then it is not surprising that you distrust me, for you know not my provocation. Edna, will you be patient? Will you go back with me over the scorched and blackened track of an accursed and sinful life? Ha! It is a hideous waste I am inviting you to traverse! Will you?”

     “I will hear you, Mr. Murray, but nothing you can say will exculpate your duplicity to Gertrude, and --.”

     “D--n Gertrude! I ask you to listen, and suspend your judgment till you know the circumstances.”

     He covered his eyes with his hand, and in the brief silence she heard the ticking of his watch.

     “Edna, I roll away the stone from the charnel-house of the past, and call forth the Lazarus of my buried youth, my hopes, my faith in God, my trust in human nature, my charity, my slaughtered manhood! My Lazarus has tenanted the grave for almost twenty years, and comes forth, at my bidding, a grinning skeleton. You may or may not know that my father Paul Murray, died when I was an infant, leaving my mother the sole guardian of my property and person. I grew up at La Bocage under the training of Mr. Hammond, my tutor, and my only associate, my companion from earliest recollection, was his son Murray, who was two years my senior, and named for my father. The hold which that boy took upon my affection was wonderful, inexplicable! He wound me around his finger as you wind the silken threads with which you embroider. We studied, read, played together; I was never contented out of his sight, never satisfied until I saw him liberally supplied with everything that gave me pleasure. I believe I was very precocious, and made extraordinary strides in the path of learning, at all events, at sixteen, I was considered a remarkable boy. Mr. Hammond had six children and as his salary was, rather meager, I insisted on paying his son’s expenses as well as my own when I went to Yale. I could not bear that my Damon, my Jonathan, should be out of my sight; I must have my idol always with me. His father was educating him for the ministry, and he had already commenced the study of theology, but, No! I must have him with me at Yale, and so to Yale we went. I had fancied myself a Christian, had joined church, was zealous and faithful in all my religious duties. In a fit of pious enthusiasm I planned this church -- -ordered it built. The cost was enormous, and my mother objected, but I intended it as a shrine for the ‘apple of my eye’, and where he was concerned, what mattered the expenditure of thousands? Was not my fortune just as much at his disposal as at mine? I looked forward with fond pride to the time when I should see my idol -- Murray Hammond -- standing in yonder shining pulpit, Ha: at this instant it is filled with a hideous spectral I see him there! His form and features mocking me, daring me to forget! Handsome as Apollo! Treacherous as Apollyon!”

     He paused, pointing to-the pure marble pile where a violet flame seemed flickering, and then with a groan bowed his head upon the railing. When, he spoke again, his face wore an ashy hue, and his stern mouth was unsteady.

     “Hallowed days of my blessed boyhood! Ah! They rise before me-now, like holy burning stars, breaking out in a stormy howling night, making the blackness blacker still! My short happy springtime of life! So full of noble aspirations, of glowing hopes, of philanthropic schemes, of all charitable, projects, I would do so much with my money! My heart was brimming with generous impulses, with warm sympathy and care for my fellow-creatures. Every needy sufferer should find relief at my hands, as long as I possessed a dollar or acrust! As I look back now at that dead self, and remember all that I was, all the purity of my life, the nobility of my character, the tenderness of my heart -- I do not wonder that people who knew me then, predicted that I would prove an honor, a blessing to my race! Mark you: That was St. Elmo Murray -- as nature fashioned him, before man spoiled God’s handiwork, Back! Back to your shroud and sepulchre, O Lazarus of my youth, and when I am called to the final judgment, rise for me, stand in my place, and confront those who slaughtered you! ----- My affection for my chum, Murray, increased as I grew up to manhood, and there was not a dream of my brain, a hope of my heart which was not confided to him. I reverenced, I trusted, I almost -- nay I quite worshipped him! When I was only eighteen, I began to love his cousin, whose father was pastor of a church in New-Haven, and whose mother was Mr. Hammond’s sister. You have seen her. She is beautiful even now, and you can imagine how lovely Agnes Hunt was in her girlhood. She was the belle the pet of the students, and before I had known her a month, I was her accepted lover, I loved her with all the devotion of my chivalric, ardent, boyish nature, and for me she professed the most profound attachment. Her parents favored our wishes for an early marriage, but my mother refused to sanction such an idea until I completed my education, and visited the old world. I was an obedient, affectionate son then, and yielded respectfully, but as the vacation approached, I prepared to come home, hoping to prevail on mother to consent to my being married just before we sailed for Europe the ensuing year after I graduated. Murray was my confidant and adviser. In his sympathizing ears I poured all my fond hopes and he insisted that I ought to take my lovely bride with me, it would be cruel to leave her so long, and besides, he was so impatient for the happy day when he should call me cousin. He declined coming home, on the plea of desiring to prosecute his theological studies with his uncle, Mr. Hunt. Well do I recollect the parting between us. I had left Agnes in tears -- inconsolable because of my departure, and I flew to Murray for words of consolation. When I bade him good-bye my eyes were full of tears, and as he passed his arm around my shoulders, I whispered.”

     “Murray, take care of my angel. Agnes for me! Watch over and comfort her while I am away!” Alas! as I stand here to-day, I hear again ringing over the ruins of the past twenty years, his sweet loving musical tones answering:

     “My dear boy, trust her to my care. St. Elmo, for your dear sake I will steal time from my books to cheer her while you are absent. But hurry back, for you know I find black-letter more attractive than blue eyes. God bless you my precious friend. Write to me constantly.”

     “Since then, I always shudder involuntarily when I hear parting friends bless each other -- for well; well do I know the stinging curse coiled up in those smooth liquid words! I came home and busied myself in the erection of this church, in plans for Murray’s advancement in life, as well as my own. My importunity prevailed over my mother’s sensible objections, and she finally consented that I should take my bride to Europe, while I informed Mr. Hammond that I wished Murray to accompany us, that I would gladly pay his traveling expenses -- I was so anxious for him to see the East, especially Palestine. Full of happy hopes, I hurried back earlier than I had intended, and reached new Haven very unexpectedly. The night was bright with-moonshine, my heart was bright with hope, and too eager to see Agnes, whose letters had breathed the most tender solicitude and attachment, I rushed up the steps, and was told that she was walking about the flower-garden. Down the path I hurried, and stopped as I heard her silvery laugh blended with Murray’s, then my name was pronounced in tones that almost petrified me. Under a large apple tree in the parsonage-garden they sat on a wooden bench, and only the tendrils and branches of an Isabella grape-vine divided us. I stood there, grasping the vine -- looking through the leaves at the two whom I had so idolized, and saw her beautiful golden head flashing in the moonlight as she rested it on her cousin’s breast, heard and saw their kisses, heard -- what wrecked, blasted me! I heard myself ridiculed -- sneered at -- maligned, heard that I was to be a mere puppet -- a cat’s paw, that I was a doting, silly fool easily hoodwinked, that she found it difficult, almost impossible, to endure my caresses that she shuddered in my arms, and flew for happiness to his! I heard that from the beginning I had been duped, that they had always loved each other -- always would, but that poverty stubbornly barred their marriage -- and she must be sacrificed to secure my princely fortune for the use of both! All that was uttered I cannot now recapitulate, but it is carefully embalmed, and lies in the little Taj Mahal, among other cherished souvenirs of my precious friendships! While I stood there, I was transformed, the soul of St. Elmo seemed to pass away -- a fiend took possession of me, love died, hope with it and an insatiable thirst for vengeance set my blood on fire. During those ten minutes my whole nature was warped, distorted, my life blasted -- mutilated -- deformed. The loss of Agnes’ love I could have borne, nay -- fool that I was -- I think my quondam generous affection for Murray would have made me relinquish her almost resignedly, if his happiness had demanded the sacrifice on my part. If he had come to me frankly and acknowledged all, my insane idolatry would have made me place her hand in his, and remove the barrier of poverty, and the assurance that I had secured his life-long happiness would have sufficed for mine. Oh! The height and depth and marvelous strength of my love for that man passes comprehension! But their scorn, their sneers at my weak credulity, their bitter ridicule of my awkward, overgrown boyishness, stung me to desperation. I wondered if I were insane, or dreaming, or the victim of some horrible delusion. My veins ran fire as I listened to the tangling of her silvery voice with the rich melody of his, and I turned and left the garden, and walked back toward the town, the moon was full, but I staggered and groped my way like one blind to the college building I knew where a pair of pistols was kept by one of the students, and possessing myself of them, I wandered out on the road leading to the parsonage. I was aware that Murray intended coming into the town, and at last I reeled into a shaded spot near the road, and waited for him. Oh! The mocking glory of that cloudless night! To this day, l hate the cold glitter of the stars, and the golden sheen of midnight moons! For the first time in my life, I cursed the world and all it held, cursed the contented cricket singing in the grass at my feet, cursed the blood in my arteries that beat so thick and fast, I could not listen for the footsteps I was waiting for. At last I heard him whistling a favorite tune, which all our lives we have whistled together, as we hunted through the woods around Le Bocage, and, as the familiar sound of ‘The Braes of Balquither’ drew nearer and nearer, I sprang up with a cry that must have rung on the night air like the yell of some beast of prey. Of all that passed I only know that I cursed and insulted and maddened him till he accepted the pistol, which I thrust into his hand. We moved ten paces apart -- and a couple of students who happened, accidently, to pass along the road and heard our altercation, stopped at our request, gave the word of command, and we fired simultaneously. The ball entered Murray’s heart, and he fell dead without a word. I was severely wounded in the chest, and now I wear the here in my side. Ah! A precious in memoriam of murdered confidence!”

     Until now Edna had listened breathlessly, with her eyes upon his, but herd a groan escaped her, and she shuddered violently, and hid her face in her hands.

     Mr. Murray came nearer, stood close to her, and hurried on.

     “My last memory of my old idol is as he lay with his handsome, treacherous face turned up to the moon, and the hair which Agnes had been fingering dabbled with dew, and the blood that oozed down his side. When I-recovered my consciousness Murray Hammond had been three weeks in his grave. As soon as I was able to travel, my mother took me to Europe, and for five years we lived in Paris, Naples, or wandered to and fro. Then she came home, and I plunged into the heart of Asia. After two years I returned to Paris, and gave myself up to every species of dissipation. I drank, gambled, and my midnight carousals would sicken your soul, were I to paint all their hideousness’s. You read in the Scriptures of persons possessed of devils? A savage, mocking, tearing devil held me in bondage. I sold myself to my Mephistopheles, on condition that my revenge might be complete. I hated the whole world with an intolerable murderous hate, and to mock and make my race suffer was the only real pleasure I found, the very name, the bare mention of religion maddened me. A minister’s daughter, a minister’s son, a minister himself, had withered my young life, and I blasphemously derided all holy things. O Edna, my darling! It is impossible to paint all the awful wretchedness of that period, when I walked in the world seeking victims and finding many. Verily;”

‘There’s not a crime

But takes its proper change out still in crime,

If once rung on the counter of this world,

Let sinners look to it.’

     “Ah! Upon how many lovely women have I visited Agnes’ sin of hypocrisy! Into how many ears have I poured tender words, until fair hands were as good as offered to em, and I turned their love to mockery! I hated and despised all womanhood, and even in Paris I became celebrated as a heartless trifler with the affections I won and trampled under my feet, whenever a brilliant and beautiful woman crossed my path, I attached myself to her train of admirers, until I made her acknowledge my power and give public and unmistakable manifestation of her preference for me: then I left her -- a target for the laughter of her circle. It was not vanity, oh! No, no! That springs from self-love, and I had none. It was hate of everything human, especially of everything feminine. One of the fairest faces that ever brightened the haunts of fashion -- a queenly, elegant girl -- the pet of her family and of society, now wears serge garments and a black veil, and is immured in an Italian convent, because I entirely won her heart, and when she waited for me to declare my affection and ask her to become my wife, I quitted her side for that of another belle, and never visited her again. On the day when she bid adieu to the world, I was among the spectators, and as her mournful but lovely eyes sought mine, I laughed, and gloried in the desolation I had wrought. Sick of. Europe, I came home.....”

     “And to a part I come where no light shines.”

     “My tempting fiend pointed to one whose suffering would atone for much of my misery. Edna, I withhold nothing, there is much I might conceal, but I scorn to do so. During one terrible fatal winter, scarlet-fever had deprived Mr. Hammond of four children, leaving him an only daughter -- Annie -- the image of her brother Murray. Her health was feeble, consumption was stretching its skeleton hands toward her, and her father watched her as a gardener tends his pet -- choice -- delicate exotic. She was about sixteen, very pretty, very attractive. After Murray’s death, I never spoke to Mr. Hammond, never crossed his path, but I met his daughter without his knowledge, and finally I made her confess her love for me. I offered her my hand, she accepted it. A day was appointed for an elopement and marriage, the hour came, she left the parsonage, but I did not meet her here on the steps of this church as I had promised, and she received a note, full of scorn and derision, explaining the revengeful motives that had actuated me. Two hours later, her father found her insensible on the steps, and the marble was dripping with a hemorrhage of blood from her lungs. The dark stain is still there, you must have noticed it. I never saw her again. She kept to her room from that day, and died three months after. When on her death-bed she sent for me, but I refused to obey that summons. As I stand here, I see through the window the gray, granite vault overgrown with ivy, and the marble slab where sleep in untimely death Murray and Annie Hammond, the victims of my insatiable revenge. Do you wonder that I doubted you when you said that afflicted father, Allan Hammond, had never uttered one unkind word about me?”

 


Continued with Scribbling Women ~ pt. 6.2.1


"The Scribbling Women"
Copyright ~ Estate of Andre Norton
Online Rights - Andre-Norton-Books.com
Donated by - Estate of Andre Norton

 Digitized and edited by Jay Watts aka: “Lots-a-watts” ~ May 2015

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