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   Chapter 5 PAST AND PRESENT.

May Brooke By Anna Hanson Dorsey Characters: 12569

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:03


The day waned; and that soft, silent hour, which the Scotch so beautifully call the "gloaming" was over the earth. Subdued shadows crept in through the windows, and mingled with the red glow which the fire-light diffused throughout the room, and together they formed a phantasmagoria, which seemed to ebb and flow like a noiseless tide. And with the shadows, memories of the past floated in, and knocked with their spirit-hands softly and gently against the portals of those two hearts which life's tempest had thrown together. Helen wept.

"Do you remember your mother, dear Helen?" asked May, while she folded her hand in her own.

"No and yes. If it is a memory, it is so indistinct that it seems like a dream; and yet, how often at this hour does a vision come to my mind of a dark-eyed, soft-voiced woman, holding kneeling child against her bosom, to whom she taught a whispered prayer to the madonna! And the child seems me-and the lady, my mother; but it flits away, and then I think it is a dream of long ago."

"Angel mothers! Oh, how beautiful the thought-angel mothers!" said May, in a low, earnest tone. "Do you know, I think with so much pleasure of going to mine! Even when I was a little child, it was sufficient for my old maummy to say, 'Ah, how grieved your poor mamma would be, if she was here!'"

"Do you remember her?"

"Not at all. She died when I was a little wailing infant. Four months afterwards, my father, who was an officer in the navy, died at Canton. He never saw me."

"And you have been here ever since?"

"Ever since. A faithful servant of my mother's, who had been many years in the family, brought me in my helplessness to my uncle for protection. But he, unused to interruptions, would not have received me, only the news which came of my father's death, left him no alternative; so my old maummy remained to nurse me, and keep house for him. I can never express how much I owe her. She was ignorant in worldly knowledge, and only a poor slave; but in her simple and earnest faith, she knew much of the science of the saints. With a mother's tenderness, she shielded me from spiritual ignorance and error, and led my soul to the green pastures of the fold of Christ."

"Had you no other instructor?" inquired Helen.

"Oh yes. Father Fabian. He instructed me in the divine mysteries of our holy faith. He has been my director ever since I was a little child. But how was it with you, dear Helen?"

"I have lived a great deal with Protestants, May," replied Helen, after a short pause. "My father was a major in the army-the only brother of the old man here. He was a Catholic, but he was always so full of official business that he had very little time to attend to religion, and all that kind of thing. His official duties engrossed his time entirely. But he always impressed it on my mind that it would be extremely dishonorable not to avow myself a Catholic when occasions demanded it; and I believe he would have been pleased to see me practise my faith. I was sent to a convent school in Louisiana when I was ten years of age, but was suddenly removed, to accompany my father to Boston, to which place he was ordered. There I was surrounded by persons of fashion and position, who made eyes at me when I told them I was a Catholic, and declared I would lose caste if I went to a church which was attended only by the 'low Irish, and servant girls.' Then I heard Catholics derided as superstitious and ignorant, until, I must confess it, I grew ashamed of being one. My father was too busy to think of me,-he always saw me well-dressed and in good company, and imagined that all else was going well with me; while I, proud, flattered, and enjoying the world, fancied that it was of little importance while I was so young. My poor father was a brave and gallant officer; and I think when he sometimes declared with a dignified air that 'he and his daughter were Catholics,' it was more from the feeling which makes a soldier swear by his flag, than any higher motive. This has been my religious training; but my dear, indulgent father is dead-gone for ever, and I am here-here-Oh, May!" and Helen wept on May's shoulder.

"And how, dear Helen, did my uncle die?" said May, in a tone of tender sympathy.

"Very suddenly. He was not conscious from the moment he was taken ill until he died," she replied.

May could not utter a word. Her heart was filled with a strange horror at the idea of that sudden and unprovided death. She could have cried out with anguish for that soul, which, in the midst of its careless pride and criminal indifference, had been summoned by an inexorable decree to the tribunal of judgment! where it appeared alone-alone-alone, to be weighed in the balance of justice. "But, perhaps, sweet Jesus!" she whispered; "oh, perhaps, Thou didst in the last struggle hear it from its abyss of misery plead for mercy; perhaps, through thy bitter passion and death Thou didst rescue him from eternal woe-"

"What are you saying, May! No doubt I have shocked you; you are so very pious!"

"Pained me, dear Helen; but you will do better now. You feel, I am very sure, that a life of prevarication and indifference does not answer for a Catholic; and now there will be nothing to hinder you."

"Perhaps so, dear May. I really wish to do right-but what, in the name of mercy, is that noise!" cried Helen, starting up.

"It is Uncle Stillinghast coming in. He is beating the snow from his feet," said May, lighting the candles. By this time Mr. Stillinghast had thrown off his wrappings, hung up his hat, and come in. He was evidently in no amiable mood, and to the greetings of his nieces condescended no reply.

"It is colder this evening, Sir, is it not?" said May, flitting around the tea-table.

"Yes."

"Shall I get your tea now, uncle?"

"Yes."

"Here it is, sir; it is very nice and hot; every thing is ready. Come,

Helen," said May, placing the chairs. They took their seats in silence.

"What's your name?" Mr. Stillinghast said abruptly, turning to Helen.

"Helen."

"Can you make bread?"

"No, sir," replied Helen, in trembling tones.

"Learn, d'ye hear?"

"Yes, sir."

"Can you sweep-make a shirt-wash-iron?" he burst out.

"No, sir," she said, trembling.

"What are you good for, then?" he inquired, sternly.

"I don't know, sir; I can play on the harp," faltered Helen.

"Play the devil! You are a pretty, curly wax doll-good for nothing, and cumbering the very earth that you live on."

Helen said nothing, but tears rolled over her cheeks.

"But I will have no idlers about me. You shall learn to be useful and industrious. D'ye understand?"

"I will try, sir."

"Very well. And now, miss, what were you doing parading about with old Copeland down town?" he said, turning suddenly to May; "a man I detest with all my soul."

"I do not know any individual of that name, sir. I missed my way this morning, and inquired of an old gentleman who was passing the address of a person I had business with. Then he offered to show me, as he was going past the place," said May, lifting her clear, truthful eyes, to his face.

"And what business, pray, led you to a part of the city so little frequented by the respectable of your sex?"

"If you will excuse me, sir, I would prefer not telling you," she said, gently.

"I insist on knowing," he exclaimed, angrily.

"You will excuse me, sir, when I tell you that it was quite a little affair of my own," replied May, in a low voice.

"Very well, madam!" said Mr. Stillinghast, bowing with a sneer; "but depend on't I shall sift this matter-it shall not rest here."

"I am grieved, dear uncle, to have offended you," began May.

"Be silent! You are full of popish tricks; I suppose you were engaged in one this morning. Go, answer the bell!" Glad to escape, May stepped the hall to open the door, and ushered in a tall, fine-looking man, who said he had business with Mr. Stillinghast. He bowed with a well-bred air to May and Helen, then to Mr. Stillinghast, who invited him to be seated.

"My name is Jerrold, sir-Walter Jerrold, and I have come to bring you rents due for the property belonging to you which I occupy."

"Which of my houses is it?" inquired Mr. Stillinghast, gruffly.

"One on C-- Street, sir; and the warehouse on Bolton's Wharf. Here are the bills, which I hope you will find satisfactory," replied the young man, handing him a roll of notes, which he inspected carefully one by one.

"All right, sir: but the fact is, Mr. Jerrold, this is a very irregular way of doing business. The next time we can settle our matters better at my counting-room," said the old man, folding the notes away; after which he wrote a receipt, and handed to him. "Many things might happen: you might, have been robbed on your way hither; I may be robbed to-night."

"We young fellows are sadly deficient in prudence, Mr. Stillinghast, but your suggestions shall not be lost on me," replied Mr. Jerrold, pleasantly. Although Mr. Jerrold's visit was ostensibly one of business, he was not at all inattentive to the presence of the cousins. His eye lingered on the faultless face of Helen, until she lifted her large brown eyes, and caught his glance, when a soft blush tinted her cheeks, and the long fringed lids drooped over them. May dropped her handkerchief, which he picked up, and handed to her with a courteous bow.

"I fear, ladies, that my awkward visit has interrupted some domestic arrangement," he said, observing the tea-table.

"Not at all, sir," replied May, frankly.

"I beg a thousand pardons if I have; but good evening-good evening, Mr. Stillinghast. I shall beg your permission, sir, to-morrow to consult you about the investment of some funds I have lying idle."

"Of course, sir;" said Mr. Stillinghast, following him to the door. "A rising young man! Come, come, make haste, and clear off the table; I have accounts to look over."

"Come, dear Helen, it will be better for you to help a little," whispered May. "Here is the evening paper, sir, and your pipe when you are ready," she said to her uncle.

"Humph!" was the only reply she received. When every thing was finished, they bade him good night, and ran up to their chamber.

"Where were you to-day, May?" inquired Helen, as soon as May closed the door.

"I was at church-down town-up town-then I came home," said May, cheerfully; "and more than that I do not think proper to disclose. But let us prepare for bed. Dear Helen; we shall have to rise early in the morning, and you must get all the sleep you can."

"May, my firm impression is that this sort of life will extinguish me," said Helen, solemnly; "that horrid old man will certainly tear me to pieces, or bite off my head. Indeed-indeed, I am more afraid of him than any thing I ever saw."

"What nonsense! It will do you good. You will soon learn to have an aim in life; it will drive you for comfort where only comfort can be found, and you will learn patience, forbearance and meekness, long-suffering, and charity."

"Like yourself, I presume!" said Helen, with a slight sneer.

"Oh, no! oh no, dear Helen; did I say any thing like that? I did not mean it, for I am very often angered and impatient, and on the very eve of breaking out; but I don't."

"And why don't you? Do you expect to inherit the old man's gold?"

"Helen, I never think of it. I have a higher motive, I trust. My peculiar trials give me so many opportunities of learning the rudiments of Christian virtue; therefore, after the first sting is over, I feel thankful and happy."

"Help us all! I shall never attain such perfection."

"Nor do I ever expect to arrive at perfection. Oh, no! I am too imperfect; too full of infirmities and faults!" said May, earnestly. "But shall I read the night prayers, or do you prefer reading them alone?"

"Oh, read them by all means; but don't begin until I get on my cloak-it is freezing cold here," said Helen, shivering.

May read the beautiful prayers and litany of our Blessed Lady with such fervor and piety that Helen was touched in spite of herself, and responded with heartfelt earnestness; and at the De Profundis, she thought of her dead father, and wept bitterly.

"I am very, very sad, May," said Helen, when May kissed her good-night.

"To-morrow, dear Helen, we will seek a heavenly physician; He who comes to the lowly and repentant, and dispenses healing and divine gifts from his throne-the altar!" whispered May.

Helen sighed deeply, but made no reply.

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