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   Chapter 1 UNCLE STILLINGHAST.

May Brooke By Anna Hanson Dorsey Characters: 10333

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:03


"Do you think they will be here to-night, sir?"

"Don't know, and don't care."

"The road is very bad,"-after a pause, "that skirts the Hazel property."

"Well, what then; what then, little May?"

"The carriage might be overturned, sir; or, the horses might shy a little to the left, and go over the precipice into the creek."

"Is that all?"

"Is it not dreadful to think of, sir?"

"Well, I don't know; I should be sorry to lose the horses-"

"Oh, sir! and my cousin! Did you forget her?"

"I care nothing about her. I suppose my forefathers must have committed some crime for which I am to suffer, by being made, willy-nilly, the guardian of two silly, mawkish girls."

"But, sir, you have been very kind to me, and it shall be the endeavor of my life to prove my gratitude."

"Very fine, without being in the least consoling! I'd as lief have two African monkeys under my care-don't laugh-it exasperates, and makes me feel like doing as I should do, if I had the cursed animals-"

"How is that, sir?"

"Beat you. I hate womankind. Most of all do I hate them in their transition stages. They are like sponges, and absorb every particle of evil that the devil sprinkles in the air, until they learn to be young hypocrites-triflers-false-heartless."

"Oh, dear uncle! has such been your experience? Have you ever met with such women?"

"Have I ever met with such women, you holy innocent? I have never met with any other. Now, be still."

"Oh! Uncle Stillinghast-"

"What!"

"I pity you, sir; indeed, I pity you. Something very dreadful must in times past have embittered you-"

"You are a fool, little May. Don't interrupt me again at your peril."

"No, sir."

And so there was a dead silence, except when the rain and sleet lashed the window-panes, or a lump of coal crumbled into a thousand glowing fragments, and opened a glowing abyss in the grate; or the cat uncurled herself on the rug, and purred, while she fixed her great winking eyes on the blaze. The two persons who occupied the room were an old man and a young maiden. He was stern, and sour-looking, as he sat in his high-back leather chair, with a pile of ledgers on the table before him,-the pages of which he examined with the most incomparable patience. A snuff-colored wig sat awry on his head, and a snuff-colored coat, ornamented with large horn buttons, drooped ungracefully from his high, stooping shoulders. His neckcloth was white, but twisted, soiled, and tied carelessly around his thin, sinewy throat. His legs were cased in gray lamb's-wool stockings, over which his small-clothes were fastened at the knees with small silver buckles. His face was not originally cast in such a repulsive mould, but commerce with the world, and a succession of stinging disappointments in his early manhood, had woven an ugly mask over it, from behind which glimpses of his former self, on rare occasions, shone out. Such was Mark Stillinghast at the opening of our story: old, cynical, and rich, but poor in friendship, and without any definite ideas of religion, except, that if such a thing really existed, it was a terra incognita, towards which men rather stumbled than ran.

Opposite to him, on a low crimson chair, as antique in its pattern as the owner of the mansion, sat a maiden, who might have passed her seventeenth summer. She was not beautiful, and yet her face had a peculiar charm, which appealed directly to the softer and kindlier emotions of the heart. Her eyes, large, gray and beautifully fringed with long, black lashes, reminded one of calm mountain lakes, into whose very depths the light of sun and stars shine down, until they beam with tender sweetness, and inward repose. There was a glad, happy look in her face, which came not from the fitful, feverish glow of earth, but, like rays from an inner sanctuary, the glorious realities of faith, hope, and love, which possessed her soul, diffused their mysterious influence over her countenance. Thick braids of soft, brown hair, were braided over her round, childlike forehead: and her dress of some dark, rich color, was in admirable harmony with her peculiar style. Her proportions were small and symmetrical, and it was wonderful to see the serious look of dignity with which she sat in that old crimson chair, knitting away on a comfort, as fast as her little white fingers could shuffle the needles. For what purpose could such a fragile small creature have been created? She looked as if it would not be amiss to put her under a glass-case, or exhibit her as a specimen of wax-work; or hire her out, at so much per night, to fashionable parties, to play "fairy" in the Tableaux. But the wind howled; the leafless branches of the old trees without were crushed up, shivering and creaking against the house; the frozen snow beat a wild reville on the windows, and May's face grew very sad and thoughtful. She dropped her knitting, and with lips apart listened intently.

"Thank God! They are come. I am sure I hear carriage-wheels, uncle!" she exclaimed, clasping her hands together.

"Of course; I knew they would come. There was to be no such good luck as their not comin

g," said Mr. Stillinghast, looking annoyed. "One sister ran off-married a papist-died, and left you on my hands. I was about sending you off again, when news came that your father had died on his voyage home from Canton, and been buried in the deep: so here you stayed. Brother-spendthrift, shiftless, improvident-marries a West Indian papist; turns one; dies with his wife, or, at least, soon after her leaving another ne'er-do-weel on my hands. I wish you'd all gone to purgatory together. To be shut up in my old days with two wild papists is abominable!" muttered the old man, slamming the ledgers together, until every thing on the table danced. He pushed back his chair, and in another moment the door opened, and a tall, slender, beautiful girl entered, clad in deep mourning, with a wealth of golden curls rolling over her transparently fair cheeks. She came with a graceful, but timid air, towards Mr. Stillinghast; and holding out her hand, said in a low, sweet tone,

"My uncle?"

"Yes, I have the misfortune to be your uncle; how do you do?"

"I am well, sir, I thank you," she replied, whilst she cast down her eyes to conceal the tears which suffused them.

"I won't pretend," he said, at last, "to say you are welcome, or that I am glad to see you, because I should lie; but you are here now, and I can't help it, neither can you, I suppose; therefore, settle yourself as quickly as possible in your new way of living. She will show you what is necessary, and both of you keep as much out of my way as possible." He then took his candlestick, lighted his candle, and retired, leaving the poor girl standing with a frightened, heart-broken look, in the middle of the floor. For a moment she looked after him; then a sharp cry burst from her lips, and she turned to rush out into the wintry storm, when she suddenly felt herself enfolded in some one's arms, who led her to the warmest corner of the sofa, untied her bonnet, folded back the dishevelled curls, and kissed the tears away from her cold, white cheeks. It was May, whose heart had been gushing over with tenderness and sympathy, who had longed to throw her arms around her, and, welcome her home the moment she entered the house, but who dared not interfere with her uncle's peculiar ways, or move until he led.

"Do not mind him, dear Helen; it is his ways: he seems rough and stern, but in reality he is kind and good, dear," she exclaimed.

"You are very kind; but, oh, I did not expect such a reception as this.

I hoped for something very, very different. I cannot stay here-it

would kill me," she sobbed, struggling to disengage her hand from

Mary's.

"Yes you will, dear," pleaded May. "Uncle Stillinghast is like our old clock-it never strikes the hour true, yet the hands are always right to a second. So do try, and not to mind."

"Who are you?"

"I?" asked May, looking with a smile of astonishment at her. "I am your cousin, May Brooke; an orphan like yourself, dear, to whom our uncle has given house and home."

"Are you happy here?"

"Very happy. I have things to contend with sometimes which are not altogether agreeable, but I trip along over them just as I do over muddy places in the street, for fear, you know, of soiling my robe, if I floundered in them!" said May, laughing. Helen did not understand the hidden and beautiful meaning couched under May's expressions; she had heard but little of her baptismal robe since the days of her early childhood, and had almost forgotten that she was "to carry it unspotted to the judgment-seat of Christ."

"I am glad you are here-such a nice, soft-voiced little one," said

Helen, passing her long, white hand over May's head.

"I am glad, too; so come with me, and take something warm. Your supper is on the kitchen hearth. Come," said May, rising.

"Where-to the kitchen? Do you eat in the kitchen?"

"I lunch there sometimes; it is a very nice one."

"Excuse me; I do not wish any thing."

"But a cup of hot tea, and some nice toast, after your fatiguing, wet journey," argued May.

"Nothing, I thank you," was the haughty reply.

"Perhaps you wish to retire?"

"Yes! Oh, that I could go to sleep, and never wake again," she cried, bursting into tears.

"You will feel better to-morrow, dear," said May, gently, "and then it will soothe you to reflect that each trial has its heavenly mission; and the thorns which pierce us here give birth to flowers in heaven, which angels weave into the crown for which we contend!"

"I am not a saint!" was the curt reply.

"But you are a Catholic?" asked May, chilled by her cold manner.

"Yes," she replied, languidly, "but I am too ill to talk."

Refusing all aid, after they got into their chamber, Helen disrobed herself; and while May's earnest soul was pouring out at the foot of the cross its adoration and homage, she threw herself on her knees, leaned her head on her arm, and yielded to a perfect storm of grief and fury; which, although unacknowledged, raged none the less, while her burning tears, unsanctified by humility, or resignation, embittered the selfish heart which they should have sweetened and refreshed.

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