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   Chapter 2 MAY BROOKE.

May Brooke By Anna Hanson Dorsey Characters: 10513

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:03


May slept but little that night. The low sobs and shivering sighs of Helen, disturbed and troubled her, and she longed to go to her, and whisper in her ear all those arguments and hopeful promises which she felt would have consoled her under the same circumstances; but it was a wild, defiant kind of grief, which she thought had better exhaust itself, so she lay quite still until towards dawn, when it ceased, and the sound of low regular breathing, assured her that she had fallen asleep. She rose up gently, wrapped her wadded gown about her, lowered the blinds, and closed the shutters, that the light might not disturb Helen; then laid an additional blanket over her, for it was bitter cold, and placed the candle which she had lighted behind an old-timed Chinese screen, that formed a sort of a niche in a corner of the room, which she, in her pious thoughtfulness, had converted into an oratory. A small round table, covered with white drapery, supported a statue of the Immaculate Mother, a porcelain shelf for holy water and her prayer-book. Over it hung an old and rare crucifix of carved ivory, stained with color which time had softened to the hues of life, while the features wore that mingled look of divine dignity and human woe which but few artists, in their delineations of the "thorn-crowned head," can successfully depict. It had been brought from Spain many years before by her father, with a cabinet picture of Mater Dolorosa, which now hung over it. Both were invaluable, not only on account of their artistic excellence and age, but as mementos of her father, and incentives to devotion. Thither she now went to offer the first fruits of the day to heaven in mingled thanksgiving and prayer. Almost numbed with the intense cold, she felt inclined to abridge her devotions, but she remembered the cold, dreary journey of the holy family from Nazareth to Bethlehem-the ruggedness of the road, and the bitter winds which swept through the mountain defiles around them-then she lingered in the poor stable, and knelt with the shepherds beside the manger where Jesus Christ in the humility of his sacred humanity reposed. She pictured to herself the Virgin Mother in the joyful mystery of her maternity, bending over him with a rapture too sublime for words; and St. Joseph-wonderfully dignified as the guardian of divinity, and of her whom the most high had honored, leaning on his staff near them. "Shall I dare complain?" thought May, while these blessed images came into her heart warming it with generous love. "No sweet and divine Lord, let all human ills, discomforts, repinings, and love of self vanish before these sweet contemplations. With thee, in Bethlehem, poverty and sorrow grow light; and the weariness of the rough ways of life no more dismay. Let me follow with thee, sweet mother, after his footsteps, until Calvary is crowned by a sacrifice and victim so divine that angels, men, and earth wonder; let me, with thee, linger by his cross, follow him to his sepulture, and rejoice with thee in his resurrection." Do not let us suppose that May, in the overflowing of her devout soul, forgot others, and thought only of herself; oh, no! that charity, without which, all good works are as "sounding brass," animated her faith; as tenderly and lovingly she plead at the mercy seat for her stern old guardian; and although she knew that he scorned all religion, and would have given her rough jibes and scoffs for her charity, she prayed none the less for his salvation; and now she sought Heaven to strengthen and console the wounded and bereaved stranger who had come amongst them. By the time she left her oratory, she had laid by a store of strength and happiness, more than sufficient for the trials of the day. Yet May was not faultless. She had a quickness and sharpness of temper, which very often tempted her to the indulgence of malice and uncharitableness; and a proud spirit, which could scarcely brook injustice. But these natural defects were in a measure counterbalanced by a high and lofty sense of responsibility to Almighty God-a feeling of compassion and forgiveness for the frailties and infirmities of others, and a generous and discriminating consideration for the errors of all.

When Mr. Stillinghast came down that morning, everything was bright and comfortable in the sitting-room. A clear fire burned in the grate; the toast and coffee sent up an inviting odor; and the table was spread with the whitest of linen, on which the cups and saucers were neatly arranged. The morning paper was drying on a chair by the fire, and over all, flickered the glorious sunshine, as it gushed like a golden flood through the clustering geraniums in the window.

"Good morning, sir!" said May, blithely, as she came in from the kitchen with a covered plate in her hand.

"Good morning," he growled; "give me my breakfast."

"I thought you'd like a relish for your breakfast, sir, and I broiled a few slices of beef; see how very nice it is," said May, uncovering the plate, and placing it before him.

"Humph! well, don't do it again. I cannot afford such extravagance; I must curtail my expenses. 'Gad! if I should have another beggar thrown on my hands, we must starve," he said, bitterly.

May

did not relish this speech at all; up rose the demon, pride, in her soul, instigating her to a sharp retort, and vindictive anger; but she thought of Bethlehem, and grew calm.

"I hope not, sir," she said, gently. "You have cast bread on the waters; after many days it will return unto you-perhaps in an hour, and at a time, dear uncle, when it will be much needed."

"Fudge, fudge!" he said, testily; "I-I cast bread on the waters, do I? Well, I am doing what is equally as foolish-it is truly like throwing bread into a fish-pond; but where's what's her name?"

"She slept poorly last night, and I would not awaken her this morning," said May, diverted in spite of herself.

"How do you know she didn't sleep, pray? did she tell you so?"

"No, sir; I heard her weeping all night, and, indeed, sir, I hope you'll speak kindly to Helen when you come in this evening, because she feels so very sorrowful on account of her recent losses, and-and-"

"And what, Miss Pert?"

"Her dependence, sir!" said May, bravely.

"She's no more dependent than you are."

"No, sir; but-but then I am happy somehow. It is the state of life Almighty God has chosen for me, and I should be very ungrateful to him and you if I repined and grumbled," said May, cheerfully.

"If He chose it for you, I suppose he chose it for her too; for I didn't. At any rate, don't waste any more candles or coal sitting up to watch people crying, and tell what's-her-name to rise when you do; she's no better than you are; and let her take her share of the duties of the house to-morrow," said Mr. Stillinghast, surlily.

"Helen will soon feel at home, sir, no doubt; only do-do, dear uncle, try and speak kindly to her for a few days, on account of her lonely situation."

"Fudge! eat your breakfast. Hold your plate here for some of this broiled beef, and eat it to prevent its being wasted."

"Thank you, sir," said May, laughing, as he laid a large slice on her plate, which, however she did not touch, but put it aside for Helen; then observing that Mr. Stillinghast had finished his breakfast, she wheeled his chair nearer the fire, handed him his pipe, and the newspaper, and ran upstairs, to see if Helen was awake. But she still slept, and looked so innocently beautiful, that May paused a few moments by her pillow, to gaze at her. "She is like the descriptions which the old writers give us of the Blessed Virgin," thought May; "that high, beautifully chiseled nose; those waves of golden hair; those calm finely cut lips, that high, snowy brow, and those long, shadowy eyelashes, lying so softly on her fair cheeks, oh, how beautiful! It seems almost like a vision, only-only I know that this is a poor frail child of earth; but, oh! immaculate Mother, cherish, guard, and guide her, that her spirit may be conformed to thine."

"I suppose," said Mr. Stillinghast, when May came down, "that you'll go trotting presently through the snow and ice to church."

"No, sir; I fear I cannot go this morning," said May.

"Cannot go? well, really! I wonder if an earthquake will swallow me before I get to the wharf today," said Mr. Stillinghast, drawing on his boots.

"I trust not, sir; I'd be happier to go, but Helen is a stranger, and she might awake when I am gone, and want something. To-morrow we will go together."

"So, there's to be a regular popish league in my house, under my very nose," he growled.

"Which will do you no evil, dear uncle, in soul, body, or estate; but you had better wrap this comfort around your throat; I finished knitting it last night for you," said May, in her quiet, cheerful way.

"For me, eh? It is very nice and soft-so-that does very well," said Mr. Stillinghast, while one of those rare gleams, like sunshine, shot over his countenance.

"I shall be very happy all day, sir," said May, gathering up the cups and saucers.

"Why?"

"Because, sir, I thought-you might-"

"Throw it at your head, or in the fire, eh? I shall do neither; I shall wear it. I have not forgot that confounded attack of quinsy I had last winter, nor the doctor's bill that followed it, and which was worse on me than the choking I got," said Mr. Stillinghast, while the old, grim look settled on his face again. He went away, down to his warehouse on the wharf, to grip and wrestle with gain, and barter away the last remnants of his best and holiest instincts, little by little; exchanging hopes of heaven for perishable things, and crushing down the angel conscience, who would have led him safely to eternal life, for the accumulated and unholy burthen of Mammon.

And May, singing cheerily, cleaned, and swept and rubbed, and polished, and touched up things a little here and there, until the room was arranged with exquisite taste and neatness; then took her work-basket, in which lay a variety of little infant's socks, and fine fleecy under-garments, knit of zephyr worsted, which looked so pure and soft that even she touched them daintily, as she lifted them out to find her needles, and sat down by the fire. "Now for a nubae," she said, throwing on stitch after stitch; "ladies who frequent theatres and balls find them indispensable: this shall be the handsomest one of the season-worth, at least four dollars."

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