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   Chapter 4 AUNT MABEL.

May Brooke By Anna Hanson Dorsey Characters: 17857

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:03


Fearing she would not have time to accomplish all that she desired, May stepped into a jewelry establishment to ascertain the hour; but it was only half-past twelve, and, with a light heart and fleet step, she treaded her way through the hurrying and busy crowds, crossed B-- Street, then in the height of its din, uproar, and traffic, and soon found herself among the dark, narrow thoroughfares, and large gloomy warehouses of the lower part of the city. Turning a corner, she looked up and down, but finding herself at fault, hurried into another street, where she encountered quite a procession of merchants, old, young, and middle-aged, on their way to the Exchange, to learn the latest European news, which a steamer, just arrived, had brought in. Many passed her with a glance of surprise; some laughed, and gazed into her face with looks of insolent curiosity: while others regarded her with unconcern and indifference. "It is strange," thought May, shrinking back into a doorway, "I was so sure of the way; but it will never do to stand here, yet how am I to get on? Sir," she said to a benevolent-looking old gentleman, whose white hairs and respectable appearance were a guarantee of protection to her, "will you be so obliging as to direct me to the wood-yard of Carter & Co. I believe I have lost my way."

"Certainly, my dear," said the old man, with a pleasant smile; "I am on my way to the Exchange, and shall be obliged to go right by it, so if you will walk by my side, or take my arm, I will leave you at their office door."

"Thank you," replied May, as with a feeling of safety she laid her little hand on the fatherly arm, so kindly offered. Some ten minutes' walk brought them to the office of Carter & Co., and while May stood an instant, with her veil lifted, to thank her conductor, she saw a face approaching through the crowd-then lost, then visible again, which blanched her cheeks by its sudden appearance. The cold, stern eyes were turned another way, yet she felt that they had recognized her; but it passed on, without seeming to notice her. "Uncle Stillinghast!" thought May, while her little fluttering heart felt an icy chill pass over it; "what will Uncle Stillinghast think? Oh, how stupid I was, not to wait until they all got by, then look for the place myself. Oh dear, dear! I hope he did not see me."

"What will you have, ma'am?" asked the clerk, coming forward, more anxious to shut out the cold air from his comfortable snuggery than to effect sales.

"I wish to purchase a quarter of a cord of wood, sir."

"Oak, hickory, or pine, ma'am?"

"Oak, if you please."

"It is just now six and a half per cord," insinuated the clerk.

"Yes, sir; here is the money. Can you send the wood with me at once?"

"If you can wait until it is carted, ma'am, certainly," replied the young man, taking the half-eagle she offered him, and returning the change.

"I will wait, and you will oblige me by sending a sawyer also."

The young man went out to give the necessary orders, and in a little while a sawyer made his appearance at the door, and announced that "all was ready, if anyone would be after telling them where to go."

"You will follow this lady, Dennis," said the indefatigable clerk, pointing to May.

"Where to, ma'am?" inquired Dennis.

"To the north-western section of the city. I shall stop at one or two stores in Howard Street, but you can go on slowly, and I will overtake you." May then made a few inquiries of the young man ere she bade him good morning, and went away, glad to escape from a portion of the city where she was such an utter stranger, and whose intricate, narrow streets, filled her with apprehension. When they came to Howard Street, May stepped into a shoe-store, and purchased a pair of warm carpet-shoes, nicely wadded inside; then flitted out, and ran into a drygoods emporium, where she bought a cheap, but soft woolen shawl, of a brilliant scarlet yellow, and black palm-leaf pattern, and a pair of long yarn stockings; then gathering her bundles close together on her arm, she hurried away to overtake the wood. When the carter came to Biddle Street, he stopped his horse, and declared "he would not go a step further with such a small load unless she paid him something extra; he had come a mile already."

"You have not much further to go," plead May.

"I won't go another step," he said, with an oath.

"And I will not submit to extortion," said May, speaking gently, but firmly, while she fixed her calm, bright eyes on his. "I know the number of your cart, and informed myself at the office of the charges you are authorized to make, and if you do not proceed, I will complain of you."

Intimidated by her resolute manner, the baffled driver muttered and swore, while he applied the whip to his horse's flanks, and pursued the route indicated by May until they came to the very verge of the city limits, where grand old oaks still waved their broad limbs in primeval vigor over sloping hills and picturesque declivities. Near a rustic bridge, which spanned a frozen stream, stood a few scattered huts, or cottages, towards the poorest of which she directed her footsteps. Standing on one of the broken flags, which formed a rude sort of pathway to the door, she waited until the wood was emptied near by, and paying the man, requested the sawyer to commence sawing it forthwith; then lifting the latch softly, she entered the humble tenement. It contained one small room, poorly furnished, and with but few comforts. An old negro woman sat shivering over a few coals on the hearth, trying in vain to warm her half-frozen extremities.

"Why, Aunt Mabel, have you no fire?" said May, going close to her, and laying her hand on her shoulder.

"Oh, Miss May! Lord bless you, honey! You come in like a sperrit.

No, indeed, honey; I ain't had none to speak on these two days."

"And your feet are almost frozen," said May, with a pitying glance.

"They's mighty cold, misses; but sit down, and let me look at you; it will warm me up," said the old woman, trying to smile.

"Let me put these on your poor old feet first," said May, kneeling down, and drawing off the tattered shoes from her feet, while she chafed them briskly with her hands; then slipped the soft warm stockings and slippers on them, ere the old creature could fully comprehend her object; then opening the shawl, she folded it about the bowed and shivering form. With a blended expression of gratitude and amazement, old Mabel looked at her feet, then at the shawl, then at May, who stood off enjoying it, and finally covered her face with her hand, and wept outright.

"Now, indeed, Aunt Mabel, this is not right; why, I thought you'd be pleased," said May, lifting up her paralyzed hand, which lay helplessly on her knees, and smoothing it gently between her own.

"Pleased, honey! I am so full I'm chokin', I b'lieve. What you do all this for Miss May? I'm only a poor old nigger; I got no friends; I can never do nuffin for you. What you do it for?" she sobbed.

"Just because you are poor, because you are friendless, because you are old and black, Aunt Mabel. And more than that, I shall be well paid for my pains. Oho, you don't know every thing," said May, cheerfully.

"I used to hear buckra parson read out of the Book, when I was down in the plantation, that whomsoever give to the poor lend it to the Lord; is that it, honey?" she asked, wiping the tears from the furrows of her swarthy cheeks.

"That is just it, my dear old aunty, so you have found out how selfish I am, after all. You are the creature of God as well as I; in His sight your soul is as precious as mine. We are truly brethren in our eternal interests. Then you are very old and helpless, which makes me pity you. Now, let me have some wood in here, and make you a fire-a regular, rousing fire."

"Maybe so-maybe so," said old Mabel, thoughtfully; "but, look here, Miss May, what that you say 'bout wood, eh? You gwine out to cut some of the trees down in Howard's Park, I reckon?" she said, laughing and chuckling, highly diverted at the idea.

"No, ma'am, for there is a load of good wood at your door, which is now being sawed for your benefit."

"Did you do that too, Miss May?"

"Never mind who did it," said May, who ran out and gathered up a few small pieces of wood, which she hurried in with, and soon kindled a bright blaze on the hearth: after which, she requested the sawyer to bring in two large logs to lay behind.

"Now, Aunt Mabel, are you comfortable?" she inquired, as she drew a low chair up by the old woman's side, and seated herself in it.

"Ah, honey, if you could only know how good the warm blood feels creeping up to my shaky old heart, you wouldn't ask me; and this beautiful shawl, Miss May! it 'minds me so of the bright swamp flowers in old Ca'lina, that it takes me clean back thar. I had good times then

, honey; but I can't say nuffin. I feel it all here, and I hope your heavenly Father will make it out, and pay you back ten thousand times," said old Mabel, laying her shrivelled hand on her heart.

"Your Father and God too, Aunt Mabel," said May, leaning towards her, and lifting her sunshiny face close to hers.

"No, missis; I ain't good enough. He don't think of the likes of me."

"Oh, Aunt Mabel, you must not say that. You are his creature, and from him proceeded your life and soul: for you, as well as me, his divine Son died that we might inherit eternal life. He knows no distinction in the distribution of his divine charity; the humblest slave, and the most powerful king, are alike the objects of his tender solicitude. And if I, a poor frail child of earth, pity and love you in your low estate, how much more does He, the sweet and merciful Jesus, regard with tender compassion the soul for whose salvation he has shed his precious blood."

"Do your religion teach the same to every body, honey; or is you only sayin' so of your own 'cord?" inquired old Mabel, wistfully.

"Our holy religion teaches it to all. Into her safe and ancient fold she invites all; and when we know that this fold is the kingdom established on earth by Jesus Christ himself, how we ought to fly, and never rest until we are gathered in. In this divine faith we are taught to 'love one another,' without regard to race, color, or nation, and bring forth fruits unto righteousness; which, if we fail to do, we disobey,-we bring scandal on it, and the love of God is not in us," said May, earnestly.

"Fruits unto righteousness, which mean good works, I reckon, honey!" said the old creature, musingly. "Well, I dunno, but it do seem like 'tinkling cymbals,' and 'sounding brass' to go preaching the gospel to poor sufferin' folks like me, and telling of 'em to be patient and resigned, and suffer the will of Heaven, and all that, if they don't give the naked clothes to cover 'em, and the hungry food to nourish 'em, and to the frozen fire to warm 'em. I tell you what, Miss May, such religion aint no 'count it 'pears to me, and jest minds me of a apple-tree used to grow in ole mass'r's garden; it would get its leaf and blossom; like the rest on 'em, but never a sign of apple did it bear; so one day ole missis tells him he better cut it down for firewood-and so it was, and split up, and sent to my cabin; and I tell you what, honey, I was glad, 'cause somehow it seemed to 'cumber the airth."

"Yes, Aunt Mabel, if the true love of God is not in us, we are like fruit-trees cursed with barrenness-only fit to be cast into the fire," said May, sighing.

"Well, honey, I never was a professor, 'cause I never yet heard professors agreein'. The Baptists hated the Methodists; the Methodists hated the Presbyterians; the Protestants looked down, like, on all of 'em, and they all hated each other. I never could understand it, so I thought I'd go to heaven my own way."

"Well, Aunt Mabel, leaving these to their discords," said May, smiling at her rude but truthful description, "did the thought never enter your mind that Jesus Christ might have established a faith and rule on earth to guide souls, which would be upheld and governed by His Holy Spirit until the end of time?"

"I often thought he ought to, honey; but I'm a poor ignorant creetur-what do I know?" was the naive reply.

"He did, Aunt Mabel; and from the time he established it until now, during eighteen hundred years it has never changed; it will never change until it exchanges for eternity its reign upon earth. All other religions were founded by men,-wicked, blood-thirsty, ambitious men, who wanted a broad license to sin, and who reserved only such fragments of our divine faith, as would give plausibility to their new doctrines without fettering theirs with responsibilities to spiritual tribunals. This is why all these discords, exist among professors. In leaving the one faith which acknowledges one Lord and one baptism, they have hewn out for themselves 'broken cisterns which hold no water.' But do you understand me?"

"Yes, honey, that I do. But I'm too old and ignorant to hear larning and argumentation. I want the faith of Jesus Christ; and it 'pears to me that I never he'erd the true story until now. Whatever it is, your religion suits me, if you will jest show me the way. I'm gwine down, honey, to the valley and shadow of death, and the way'll be mighty dark without the help of the Lord."

"He will be your guide and staff, Aunt Mabel, when the dark hour comes," said May, dashing a tear from her cheek. "But I must go away now, and I want you to think a great deal about Almighty God, until I come again; then tell me if you think His word and promise are worthy of belief. Turn it over in your mind; view it in every way, and let me hear the result. I see your grandchild coming with a bundle of faggots; here is a little change to buy something-tea, or whatever you want."

"Good by, missis. Lord bless you and reward you." But May was out of the cot, going at full speed towards home, which was not very far distant.

Mr. Stillinghast had purchased the house some thirty years before, when it stood three quarters of a mile from the city. It was then a villa, and had been built by a French refugee, who, in those days of courtly customs, was famed for his elegant hospitality. One of the old noblesse, and but little acquainted with the practical management of business affairs, he became embarrassed, and was finally compelled to dispose of his elegant house and furniture, and retire to a life of obscurity and poverty. But the city was growing around it rapidly; in a few more years it would be hemmed in and walled around by streets and houses. Mr. Stillinghast fretted and chafed; then calculated its increased value, and grew almost savage at the idea that he would be dead and forgotten when heaps of gold would be paid down for the few feet of earth it covered.

When May went in, glowing with exercise and happiness, she found Helen moping over the grate, in which the fire was nearly extinguished.

"Why, Helen, it is very cold here, is it not?"

"I am nearly frozen."

"Why on earth did you not step into the next room and get coal? There is a hod full on the hearth."

"I am not in the habit of fetching coal and building fires," she said, haughtily.

"And supposing that I was, I presume you waited for me," said May, with a feeling of exasperation she could not control. Then laying off her bonnet and wrappings, she went out and brought in the hod, emptied it into the grate, let down the ashes, and put up the blower; and by the time she finished, the recollection of the fire which she had kindled that morning in old Mabel's cottage came like a sweet memory into her heart, and the bitterness passed away.

"When do we dine? I suppose the ogre of the castle will be in soon!" said Helen.

"My uncle generally dines down town; and I beg, Helen, that you will speak more respectfully of him," said May.

"And shall we get nothing until he comes?" screamed Helen.

"Yes," said May, laughing at her cousin's consternation. "We can dine now. I have some cold roast beef, bread and butter, and a pie, left from yesterday."

"Oh, heavens! what a bill of fare; but let us have it, for I am famishing."

"Before you get even that, my dear, you must help about a little.

Here, spread the cloth, and cut the bread; I will do the rest."

"Spread the cloth, and cut the bread! I don't know how!"

"Learn," said May, half diverted, half angry with the selfish one, as she handed her the tablecloth, which was put on one-sided, while the bread was cut in chunks. When May came in from the pantry, a butler's room as it used to be in the time of the old marquis, Helen was crying over a bleeding finger, which she had cut in her awkward attempts to slice the bread.

"This is a bad business," said May, binding it up. "Helen, I really feel very sorry for you. You will have so many disheartening trials in your new way of life; but keep a brave heart-I will learn you all that I know, if you are only willing."

"Thank you, May, that is very nice. I don't care much about learning such low pursuits; but give me something to eat," was her polite reply.

May crossed herself when she sat down, and asked the blessing of God on the food she was to partake of. Helen fell to, without a thought of anything but the cravings of hunger. They conversed cheerfully together; and while Helen rallied her cousin on her long absence. May thought, more than once, with sad forebodings, of her encounter with her uncle down town that morning. But she determined to keep her own secrets; for she well knew that if he discovered it, he would forbid her exertions in behalf of old Mabel, her visits, and be perhaps furiously angry at the traffic she was carrying on with Mrs. Tabb.

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