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   Chapter 3 THE MORNING ERRAND.

May Brooke By Anna Hanson Dorsey Characters: 13106

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:03


After the slender ivory needles had traversed the fleecy mesh backwards and forwards some three or four times, May suddenly bethought herself of Helen, and laying her work carefully down in her basket, she ran upstairs to see if she was awake. Turning the knob of the door softly, she entered with a noiseless step, and went towards the bed; but a low, merry laugh, and a "good morning," assured her that her kind caution had all been needless.

"Dear Helen, how are you to-day?"

"Very well, thank you, little lady, how do you do, and what time is it?"

"Half-past nine. You need your breakfast, I am sure. Shall I fetch it to you?"

"Just tell me, first, have you a fire downstairs?"

"A very nice one!"

"And we can't have one here?"

"Decidedly-no."

"Decidedly, then, I shall accompany you downstairs, if that horrid old man is gone. Oh, I never was so terrified in my life; I thought he'd beat me last night. Is he gone?"

"Uncle Stillinghast has been gone an hour or more," replied May, gravely.

"Do tell me, May, does he always jump and snarl so at folk as he did at me?" inquired Helen; seriously.

"I see that I must initiate you, dear Helen, in the mysteries of our domicile," said May, pleasantly. "I must be plain with you, and hope you will not feel wounded at my speech. Our uncle is very eccentric, and says a great many sharp, disagreeable things; and his manners, generally, do not invite affection. But, on the other hand, I do not think his health is quite sound, and I have heard that in his early life he met with some terrible disappointments, which have doubtless soured him. He knows nothing of the consolations of religion, or of those divine hopes which would sweeten the bitter fountains of his heart, like the leaves which the prophet threw into Marah's wave. His commerce is altogether with and of the world, and he spares no time for superfluous feelings: but notwithstanding all this there is, I am sure, a warm, bright spot in his heart, or he never would have taken you and me from the cold charities of the world, to shelter and care for us. Now, dear, you must endeavor to fall in with his humor."

"And if I should happen to please him?" inquired Helen, sweeping back the golden curls from her forehead and cheeks.

"You will be happy in the consciousness of duties well done," replied May, looking with her full, earnest eyes, in Helen's face. "It is a bad thing, dear, to stir up bitterness and strife in a soul which is not moored in the faith and love of God; as it is a good work to keep it, as far as we can, from giving further offence to heaven by provoking its evil instincts, and inciting it, as it were, to fresh rebellions. But I am sure, dear Helen, you will endeavor to do right."

"Yes," said Helen, slowly, "it will be the best policy; but, May Brooke, I feel as if I am in a panther's den, or, better still, it's like Beauty and the Beast, only, instead of an enchanted lover, I have an excessively cross and impracticable old uncle to be amiable to. Does he give you enough to eat?"

"Have I a starved look?" asked May, laughing.

"No; I confess you look in tolerably good plight. Do you ever see company?"

"Not often. My uncle's habits are those of a recluse. When he comes home from the bustle of the city, it would be a great annoyance to have company around him: in fact, I do not care for it, and, I dare say, we shall get on merrily without it."

"I dare say I shall die. Have you a piano here?"

May laughed outright, and answered in the negative.

"Well, how in the name of wonder do you manage to get on?" asked Helen, folding her hands together, and looking puzzled.

"Just as you will have to, by and by," she replied; "but come, pin your collar on, and come down to breakfast."

"I must say my prayers first," said Helen, dropping down suddenly on her knees, and carelessly blessing herself, while she hurried over some short devotion, crossed herself, and got up, saying:-

"But you keep servants, don't you?"

"I have heretofore attended to the domestic affairs of the house," replied May, shocked by her cousin's levity.

"Oh, heavens! I shall lose my identity! I shall grow coarse and fat; my hands will become knobby and red; oh, dear! but perhaps you will not expect me to assist you?"

"And why?" asked May, while the indignant blood flushed her cheeks, and her impulse to say something sharp and mortifying to the young worldling's pride, was strong within her; but she thought of the mild and lowly Virgin, and the humility of her DIVINE SON, and added, in a quiet tone, "Uncle Stillinghast will certainly expect you to make yourself useful."

"And if I don't?"

"I fear you will rue it."

"Well, this looks more civilized!" said Helen, after they went down. "What nice antique furniture! how delightful those geraniums are; and how charming the fire looks and feels!"

"Here is your breakfast, dear Helen; eat it while it is warm," said May, coming in with a small tray, which she arranged on a stand behind her.

"Thank you, dear little lady; really this coffee is delicious, and the toast is very nice," said Helen, eating her breakfast with great go?t.

"I am glad you relish it; and now that you are comfortably fixed, if you will excuse me, I will run out for an hour or so; I have some little matters to attend to down street. You will find a small bamboo tub in the next room, when you finish eating, in which you can wash up your cup and saucer, and plate."

"Yes, dame Trot, I will endeavor to do so!" said Helen, with a droll grimace.

"The tea-towel is folded up on the first shelf in that closet near you; so, good morning," said May, laughing, as she took up her work-basket, and went upstairs to get her bonnet and wrappings, and make other arrangements; then drawing on her walking-boots, and twisting a nubae around her throat, she went out, with a bundle in her hand, and walked with a brisk pace down the street. She soon approached a gothic church-a church of the Liguorian Missions, and at the distance of half a square, heard the solemn and heavenly appeals of the organ, rolling in soft aerial billows past her. She quickened her steps, and pushing gently against the massive door, went in. A solemn mass was being offered, and a requiem chanted, for the repose of the soul of a member of the arch-confraternity of the Immaculate Heart of MARY. "I thank thee, dear Jesus, for giving me this opportunity to adore thee," whispered May, kneeling in the crowd, "for all thy tender mercies

, this is the most touching and consoling to me; when thou dost come, clad in the solemn and touching robes of propitiation, to offer THYSELF for the eternal repose of the souls of thy departed children."

The crowd increasing, and finding it impossible to penetrate through the masses in the aisle, she quietly edged her way along, until she came to the steps leading to the side gallery, which she ascended, and happily obtained a place where she had a full view of all that was passing below. On a plain catafalque, covered with black velvet, in front of the sanctuary and altar, rested a coffin. It was made of pine, and painted white. A few white lilies and evergreens were scattered among the lights which burned around it; and May knew that some young virgin had gone to her espousals in the kingdom of the LAMB. Half of the coffin-lid was turned back, and as she looked more attentively on the marble features, turned to strange and marvellous beauty by the great mystery-death-she recognized them. They belonged to a poor crippled girl, who had suffered from her childhood with an incurable disease, and who had been almost dependent on the alms of the faithful for her daily support.

"What a change for thee, poor Magdalen!" whispered May, as she gazed down through her tears. "I look on the pale vestment of clay in which you suffered, and know that for you the awful mystery is solved. Thorns no more wound your heart; poverty and disease have done their worst; while far up, beyond the power of earth and evil, your destiny is accomplished. A poor mendicant no longer, the King of glory himself ushered you into the unrevealed splendors of that region which mortal eye hath never seen. You have beheld the glorious face of the sacred humanity of Jesus Christ; your eyes have seen the Queen of heaven; and the veiled vision of the Eternal Father has greeted you. Oh, what cheer! Oh, what hope, to make joyful the purifying sufferings of purgatory! and now, on your altar, Jesus, the high-priest and powerful Lord, full of clement mercy and majestic power, offers himself for thy speedy liberation and admission into the beatific vision. Oh, Magdalen! how art thou exalted! how beyond all imperial splendor and royal power art thou lifted up!"

And while the divine mystery approached its consummation, still upward arose the voice of the church in plaintive chants, interceding for the departed, who, in the "suffering church" rejoiced with a mournful rapture amidst its patient agony which would ere long be exchanged from dreary Calvary to an eternal Thabor. But now the awful moment arrived; the Lord Jesus had come; and although they saw him veiled under the form of bread, they knew HE was there; they felt that august presence thrilling down like a still, small voice, into their souls, It is I; and the aspirations of that kneeling crowd went forth in solemn adoration; and returning sweetness filled each devout mind with benediction, which flowing thence again to its divine source, offered worthy homage to the LAMB. A ray of wintry sunlight stole through a curtained window near the altar, and flickered on the silent face of the dead virgin, as she lay an image of heavenly repose. May felt that it was a type of the brightness which would soon crown her; and while a flood of warm and joyful rapture flowed into her soul, she exulted in the thought that she, too, was a member of the household of faith. It was a profitable time to May; for death was suddenly stripped of its thrilling horrors; its gaunt outlines were softened and brightened, and she thought of him as a tireless and faithful guide, who led souls beyond the dark tide, over the lonely and shadowy ways, and through the fathomless abyss, to the very portals of eternal rest. She had almost forgotten the object which brought her out that morning, so absorbed was she in the contemplation of the scene she had witnessed; until on rising to leave the church after the divine rites were over, her bundle fell to her feet. She snatched it up, ashamed of her carelessness, and, slipping through the crowd, emerged once more into the street. Picking her way through snow and ice, she came to a neat fancy store, and went in. Behind the counter stood a neat, pleasant old lady assorting worsteds, who smiled a welcome the moment she saw who it was who had entered.

"Ah, my dear Miss May how do you do? come near the stove and sit down.

It is not yet our busy time of day, and we can have a nice chat."

"You will please excuse me now, dear Mrs. Tabb, I have been away much longer from home than I expected, and must hurry off, as I have another errand to do. I have brought more of those little zephyr worsted shirts, four pair of socks, and two or three mats-lamp mats," said May, unfolding her bundle.

"Bless me, dear child! you are making a fortune. I have sold all that you left with me two weeks ago; and after deducting my commission, here is a half eagle for you."

"All sold!" exclaimed May, joyfully.

"Every one, and more ordered. The way was this. Two fine ladies, who both have infants, came in one day, and both wanted the things; but both couldn't have them, and neither would purchase a part; so at last one offered two dollars more than the other, and got them," said Mrs. Tabb, deliberately taking a pinch of snuff.

"Oh, Mrs. Tabb! dear me, it was more than they were worth."

"Not to her, my child. She would have given ten dollars rather than not get them; and she's so rich she don't know what to do with her money. So these will just do for Mrs. Osmond, who, I expect, will call this very day for them.

"I do not feel quite satisfied," said May; "but as it was all voluntary on her part, I suppose there's nothing very wrong in it."

"Bless you-no. She paid the value of the things, then paid for her pride and ostentation, which is the way with all worldly people, and which, thank God, I am not responsible for."

"Thank you, dear Mrs. Tabb; you are very kind to take so much trouble for me. I must run away now. I shall knit up all my worsted this week, so please have another package ready for me when I come again. Good by."

"Good by, Miss May. I declare, if you don't hop about through the snow like a robin; there-she's gone. Now, I should like to know what business old Stillinghast's niece has to be doing such work as this,-the nipping old miser; and I'd like to know what she does with the money."

And so should we; therefore, we will leave Mrs. Tabb to her cogitations, follow May, and find out.

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