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   Chapter 6 HELEN.

May Brooke By Anna Hanson Dorsey Characters: 16603

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:03


The great bell of the cathedral was just tolling the Angelus, when

May, laying her hand softly on Helen, awoke her.

"Rise, dear Helen; it is six o'clock."

"It is not daylight yet, and I shan't rise, I assure you," she said, in a fretful tone.

"Yes you will, I am sure. Uncle Stillinghast will be quite displeased if you do not. He said yesterday morning that you should rise when I do, and lo! you have slept an hour later. Come! it is hard I know to get up in the cold, but you'll soon become accustomed to it."

"I declare, May, you are as bad as your uncle. Heavens! what a pair to live with. One as exacting as a Jew, the other obedient as a saint, and obstinate as a mule! I never was so persecuted in my life!" exclaimed Helen, rising very unwillingly.

"That is right," said May, laughing, "be brisk now, for there is a great deal to do."

"What is it, May? Are you going to build a house before breakfast?"

"Come and see, and I promise you a nice time. The fire is already made in the kitchen-stove. Hurry down, I want you to grind the coffee."

"Grind the coffee! What is that?" asked Helen, with amazement.

"I will show you. Really, I would not ask you, only I have rolls to make."

"Coffee to grind, and rolls to bake, for that horrid old man-"

"And ourselves. I tell you what, Helen, he could get on vastly well without us, but how we should manage without him I cannot tell," said May, gravely, for when occasion offered, she could so inflate and expand her little form with dignity, and throw such a truthful penetrating light into her splendid eyes, that it was quite terrifying.

"Go on, then; I shall follow you in a few moments. I have some prayers to say." Helen's prayers were soon over. Religion was no vital principle in her mind. It is true she held the germs of faith in her soul, but they were like those bulbs and grains which are so often found on the breast of mummies-which, unless exhumed, and exposed to sunlight and air, never develop their latent life. So with her; swathed, and wrapped, and crusted over with evil associations, artificial feelings, and the maxims of the world, the germ was hidden-buried-until the angel of repentance should reveal to her the pearl she held, and lead her beyond the vestibule of faith. She had looked no farther; poor Helen; to the splendors, the consolations, and rapture beyond, she was a stranger. It is not remarkable, then, that when she encountered the stern changes and trials of life, the burden galled and fretted her.

"How are you, ma'am; you are very welcome!" laughed May, when Helen came down; "come near the fire, and while you warm yourself, take this coffee-mill on your knees-turn the handle so, until all the grains disappear, then begin the second stage."

"The what?" asked Helen, tugging at the handle, which she turned with difficulty. Her hands, unaccustomed to work of any kind, held it awkwardly; while May, with her hands in the dough, which she worked vigorously, laughed outright at her fruitless efforts.

"It's no use, May," at last she broke out, "I can't do it; and I've a mind to throw the thing out of the window and run away."

"Where, dear Helen?"

"I don't know. I will hire out as lady's-maid, companion, governess-any thing is preferable to this sort of life!" she exclaimed, flushing up.

"You would find greater difficulties than a harmless coffee-mill to contend with, I imagine!" said May, quietly, while she shaped her rolls, and placed them in a pan.

"What shall I do?" cried Helen, in a tone of despair, after another fruitless effort.

"Grind the coffee. Come, you are quite strong enough; put it on the table, here-steady it with one hand, and turn with the other-so; now it goes," said May, pleasantly.

"How ridiculous! what now?" said Helen, laughing.

"The second stage!" replied May, looking mysterious; "pull out that little drawer, and empty the powder you will find in it into the coffee-pot, which I have just scalded-that is it; now pour on a little cold water; put in this fish-sound; fill up with boiling water-there, that is enough. Now comes the third, and last stage. Set the pot on the stove, and watch it; when it boils up the third time, throw in a small cup full of cold water, and take it off to settle. It is ready then for immediate use."

"Gracious! what an indefatigable, old-fashioned little thing you are, May," said Helen, obeying her directions, and, after all, rather enjoying the novelty of the thing, than otherwise. May's cheerful face flitting about; the bright sunshine gushing in; the warmth of the room, and the feeling that she had really done something useful, inspired her with a healthful sentiment of enjoyment which she had never experienced before. Breakfast was ready; the rolls were light, and nicely browned; the coffee was clear and fragrant, and the idea of a good breakfast was no mean consideration with Helen.

"My uncle has not yet returned from market, and we can run in and arrange the sitting-room," said May.

And they flitted round, dusting, brushing, and polishing up, until they were both as merry as crickets. The morning paper was opened, and spread on the back of a chair to air; the cushioned arm-chair was wheeled into its accustomed corner; and, just as every thing was complete in their arrangements, Mr. Stillinghast came in. Helen was in the hall when he came in with a well-filled basket on his arm.

"Shall I help to draw off your coat, sir?" she asked, timidly.

He looked up a moment, and she seemed such a vision of loveliness that his cold, dull eye, opened and brightened with astonishment. It was the first time he had really looked at her. A low, chuckling laugh, burst from his lips, which Helen thought frightful, and he handed her the basket, saying, "I can do it myself; take this to the kitchen." She dared not excuse herself, but holding it with both hands, and feeling as if her wrists were breaking, she passed through the sitting-room with such a doleful countenance, while a red angry spot burned on her forehead, that May could not forbear laughing even while she went to assist her.

Mr. Stillinghast's humor was not quite so rasping as usual that morning, although he cast more than one angry look towards May, and scarcely noticed the remarks she made to him. When she told him that Helen had made the coffee, he nodded towards her, and with a grim smile told her that "she had made a good beginning;" but to May, never a word was uttered. Notwithstanding which, it was very evident that a pleasant thought, by some rare chance, had taken possession of his bleak heart, like birds, which, sometimes in flying, drop from their beaks the seeds of beauteous and gorgeous flowers into the crevice of some bare grey rock. He did not again advert to May's adventure down town, and she hoped he had forgotten it; but he was one of those who never forget.

At half-past eight, all her domestic affairs in order, May and Helen prepared to attend the 9 o'clock mass at the cathedral. Helen's worldly heart was pleased with the grandeur of the building, the dignity with which the ceremonies were conducted, and the appearance of the congregation, who appeared to belong to a better class than she had been accustomed to see in the Catholic churches North. And so they did. They were mostly individuals of fortune and leisure, who had their time in command. And there were those whose age and infirmities would not permit them to come out at an earlier hour; feeling thankful to know that He, the wonderful and humble Jesus, would be there to receive their homage, and dispense His blessings to their waiting hearts. Her old feelings would have triumphed, had she attended the earlier masses, when the artisan, the toil-worn, the laborer, with his habiliments covered with the moil and toil of earth; the tattered poor, who were ashamed to come out into the full light of day; the halt, the cripple, and the blind, led by little ones; the widow and orphan, the bereaved, who seek to hide their anguish from all eyes but His who can heal it; the dark children of Ethiopia, the slave, the outcast, had congregated there; all equal in HIS eyes, as they will be in the valley of Jehosaphat when the judgment is, to receive the divine manna a

nd the vital heavenliness which His presence afforded; when, like pilgrims refreshed by pure water in the desert, they went forth to encounter again the heat, the simoon, the thirst and weariness of the way, but with renewed courage.

"Shall we go in to see Father Fabian a moment?" said May, after mass.

"No, not now, May. I think, perhaps I shall go to confession soon; and I do not wish to know him, or be known to him," she replied, shrinking back.

"Let it be soon, very soon, dearest Helen!" said May, pressing her hand.

"Perhaps," she answered, vaguely.

"Now, dear Helen, can you find your way back? I have to go a little way on business," said May, when they came within two squares of home.

"Oh, yes; but really, you seem to have a great many mysterious visits on hand!" observed Helen, rather sharply.

"You shall come with me soon, if you wish to;" replied May. Then they separated; Helen dissatisfied, and a little angry, and May rejoicing like a miser who goes to visit his treasure. Full of happy thoughts, she went on until she came to old Mabel's cottage, at the door of which stood a small, close carriage. The door was ajar, and she went in. There were two ladies in silks, velvets, and plumes, standing before Aunt Mabel, and both were speaking in an excited tone.

"A Roman Catholic!" they exclaimed.

"Yes, misses," was the meek reply.

"Why, don't you know you peril your eternal salvation, by becoming a papist?"

"No, misses, I don't know it, neither does you. I been living on and on, and never was a professor, and I'm gwine to do jest what is right at the 'leventh hour. It's a 'ligion that's older than all, and was know'd and practised afore any of yourn was ever thought on."

"Did you ever hear such preposterous ignorance!" exclaimed one; "why, old aunty, who has been tampering with you?"

"Nobody, honey, only them that's got a 'ligion that larns them to give bread to the hungry, warm clothes to the freezing, and fire to keep life in their bodies; and tells the poor ole nigger that God loves her soul as well as he do buckra folks. So I'm gwine to be one," replied old Mabel, striking her stick on the hearth.

"You are a poor, benighted creature, and I hope God will pity you on the score of your ignorance," said one of the well-meaning ladies.

"I hope he will, misses, I hope he will," she said, humbly.

"We had some things for you; but, of course, we cannot leave them now; the papists must take care of their own poor-we have enough of our own," observed one.

"Thank'ee, misses."

"Downright impudence!" they muttered, flouncing out to their carriage, without seeing May, who had taken refuge behind the bed, which was hung round with some faded patchwork, to keep out air.

"And so you're bearing testimony for Christ already, Aunt Mabel," said

May, coming towards her with outstretched hands.

"Bless your dear face, honey, it seems best for me. I ben so long without sarving God, that I shall 'quire all the help I can get in this world and the next. Them ladies, honey, is well-meaning, I reckon. They 'tended me a little while last winter, but they wanted to send me out yonder-I wouldn't go; I'm mighty poor and helpless, Miss May, and was friendless then, but I couldn't go thar!"

"Where, Aunt Mabel?"

"To the poor-house, my child. But, honey, arter you went away yesterday, I all at once remembered a Catholic woman-she was a half-Indian, half-nigger, from the West Indies-that I used to do a good turn for now and then. She was dying with consumption, and she used to talk to me about the saints in glory praying for us, the blessed mother of Jesus Christ, and purgatory, in her broken lingo, till I b'lieved every word she said. I was trying to recollect, arter you left me, and it all come pat into my head at once."

"These are consoling, helpful, and holy doctrines, Aunt Mabel; but tell me if you are satisfied that the Roman Catholic Church is the true Church of God?" said May, smoothing her withered hand.

"I can't 'splain myself, honey; but thar's something in here that tells me it is," said the simple old creature, laying her hand on her breast.

"And that something is a great and glorious gift, Aunt Mabel-the gift of FAITH. But hear what our dear Lord said, before he ascended to his Father; here is your old Protestant Bible, which your good mistress used to read to you so long ago. I will find it in this," said May, taking down the shattered old copy of the Scriptures from its shelf. "First of all, our Lord established his Church on earth. It was the object of his divine mission. Then he endowed his apostles with heavenly gifts and authority to do even as he had done; and declared that his Church was 'founded on a rock, against which the gates of hell should never prevail.'"

"And his word and his promise never fail, honey, because he is the Lord

God," said the old woman.

"No, never, never fail," said May, fervently; "and now listen. Here He, Infinite Truth, tells us himself why this Church can never be overcome, or err, or do wrong: 'I will pray the Father!' said Jesus Christ to his disciples, 'and he will send you another comforter, that he may abide with you for ever-even the SPIRIT OF TRUTH;' and again he says: 'When He, the Spirit of Truth, is come, he will guide you in all truth.' And this spirit was the Holy Ghost-the Spirit of God! Oh, Aunt Mabel, only think! the Spirit of the Eternal God-promised not only to the disciples, but to the Church for ever! Do you understand me?"

"I understand, honey; and it's the same now it was then, and will be for ever. Oh, no, Satan, you can't break up your master's inheritance! You may worrit His sheep, and steal off His stray lambs now and then, but, bless God, you'll get no furder, 'cause the Master is thar hisself. Oh, Miss May, lead me in, quick as you please!" cried the old woman, while tears streamed over her face.

"Dear Aunt Mabel, your wish will soon be gratified. I will see Father Fabian to-morrow morning, after mass, and he will come to visit and instruct you in many things, which it is necessary for you to understand. Were you ever baptized?"

"No, honey; my mother was a Baptist, and they don't baptize babies; and after I growed up, I didn't like 'em, somehow, and so it's never been done."

"In this case, I am glad it was not done," said May; "for now, when, after due preparation, you receive holy baptism, your soul will be washed white and stainless as that of a Christian babe. You will have a clean and beautiful banqueting room to receive the Lord Jesus when he comes to you, under the sacramental veil; and, being near the end of your pilgrimage, it is not likely that it will be again defiled by sin. Oh, how happy is the thought of going up through faith and repentance, without a stain, into the presence of our divine Lord!"

"Me, Miss May! all that for an old crippled nigger like me?" exclaimed Aunt Mabel, wiping her eyes.

"Yes, all that, and more-ten thousand times more. But now, Aunt Mabel, you must begin to examine carefully your past life; to remember the sins which have blotted it, and beg of Almighty God the grace of true repentance, sincere, humble repentance, that you may make a good general confession. And here," continued May, taking off her own medal, and hanging it around Aunt Mabel's neck, "say the little prayer on this a hundred times a day, if you can remember it: 'Oh, Mary, conceived without sin, pity me, a poor sinner, who have recourse to thee.' It is a medal of our Blessed Lady, who will obtain from her divine Son, for you, all that you may need. Can you say the prayer?"

"Oh, Mary, conceived without sin, pity me, a poor sinner, who have recourse to thee," repeated the old woman.

"Say it over and over again, until you know it perfectly," said May.

"I got it in here, honey, fast," replied the old woman, pointing to her heart.

"That is right. Now, can I do any thing for you?"

"No, my misses, only call my grandchild as you go 'long. I let her go out to have a run in the sunshine this morning."

"I will send her to you; and to-morrow I think you will see Father Fabian," said May, before she closed the door. And she went away, wrapped as with a royal mantle, in the blessings of the poor.

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