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   Chapter 7 THINGS OF TIME AND ETERNITY.

May Brooke By Anna Hanson Dorsey Characters: 17615

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:03


In a small and elegant boudoir, which opened into a conservatory, and was crowded with articles of taste and vertu,-the gleanings of a tour through Europe,-a lady, somewhat past the prime of life, leaned over an Or-molu table, arranging with exquisite touches, a quantity of splendid flowers in a basket of variegated mosses which stood on it. There was a look of high-bred indolence about her, and an expression of pride on her countenance so earthly, that even the passing stranger shrunk from it. And, while with a fine eye for the harmony of colors, she blended the gorgeous flowers together, weaving the dark mosses amidst them, until they looked like a rare Flemish painting, the door opened, and a distinguished-looking young gentleman came in-called her mother-kissed her on the cheek, and threw himself with an easy air into a fauteuil.

"You see how busy I am, Walter, and until I am disengaged, look over these new engravings. They are just from Paris," said the lady.

"I see, dear mother, that you have the affairs of a nation on your shoulders. I hope, for your health's sake, you have no other momentous concerns to look after this morning," he said, playfully.

"One more, Walter; my goldfinch is half-starved, and the mocking-bird is really on his dignity, because he has not had egg and lettuce for his breakfast; but, apropos, what success had you with old Stillinghast?"

"Faith, mother, it is hard to tell. He is a tough personage to deal with. I got in, however, and saw the two nieces."

"Well?"

"One of them is extremely beautiful. I shall have no objections to making her Mrs. Jerrold, provided-"

"The old miser makes her his heiress," interrupted Mrs. Jerrold.

"Exactly. The other one is a nice, graceful, little thing, with such a pair of eyes! She has a spirit of her own, too, I fancy."

"I have been thinking over our plan to-day, and it really seems to be a feasible one, Walter, if you can only win Mr. Stillinghast's confidence. How do they live?"

"I presume they consider it comfortable;-it would be miserable to me. The old man appeared quite flattered this morning, when I got him to invest that money for me; and shook my hand warmly when I inveighed against the present mania for speculating in fancy stocks."

"You have tact enough, Walter, if you will only use it properly and prudently. The mortgage on Cedar Hall has nearly expired; I have not a solitary dollar to pay it, and the consequence will be-a foreclosure, unless some miracle occurs to redeem it. Your business must not be broken down, by drawing on your capital!" said Mrs. Jerrold, pressing the yolk of a hard-boiled egg through the gilded wires of her mocking-bird's cage.

"I'll move heaven and earth, mother, before Cedar Hall shall go out of the family. If I can bring things to pass with old Stillinghast, I might, on the credit of marrying one of his heiresses raise the money at a ruinous interest. At any rate, Cedar Hall, goes not from the Jerrolds," he exclaimed.

"But, Walter, I understand that both of those girls are Catholics?"

"That's bad; but I fancy I shall be able to put down all that sort of thing, in case I win the lady," he said, twirling an opal seal.

"And who are they? I have a horror of low families."

"Make yourself easy on that score, they are our equals, I imagine. I am very certain that none of them have been hung, or sent to the penitentiary; and I presume there have been more gentlemen in the family, than self-made men, from the simple fact, that both of those girls have been left quite penniless, and dependent on their uncle. I believe, however, that the father of one was a major in the army; the other, a captain in the navy," said Mr. Jerrold, laughing.

"I am glad to hear it. I assure you that family is no unimportant consideration with me," observed the lady.

"Dear lady mother, I had not the remotest suspicion that it was; but I must be off," he replied, while he consulted his watch. "I got a private despatch this morning from New York, giving me the very pleasant information of a failure in the coffee crop; and I am going to attend a sale at ten o'clock, and expect to purchase largely at the present prices. At one, my investment will double its value."

"You were fortunate, indeed," said Mrs. Jerrold. He kissed her cheek once more, said "good-by," and was gone. Neither mother nor son imagined they had been saying or doing any thing contrary to the laws of honor or morality. Had any one suggested such an idea, he would have felt grossly insulted; and that red spot of pride on her forehead would have glowed into a flame of resentment. They were only keeping a sharp eye on their interests. Thus, at least, they would have defined their plans. Protestants, practical and nominal, think of the judgment as an idea too remote to influence the acts of their daily life. They have no confessionals for ever reminding them of the right principles of a true rule of faith; and no spiritual guides, whose duty it is to probe the erring conscience, and heal, with divine gifts, the repentant soul. But we will leave Mrs. Jerrold's recherché boudoir, and accompany May from the Cathedral to Father Fabian's parlor. She was disappointed at not finding him there, but determined to wait, as the servant informed her that he had been sent for just as mass was over, to carry the Holy Viaticum to a laborer who had fallen from a scaffolding in the next square, and was dying from the effect of his injuries.

"I will go Into the church and wait. Will you please to call me when Father Fabian comes in? I have something of importance to say to him," said May, while awe and tender charity filled her heart.

"I shall certainly call you, ma'am," replied the respectable domestic.

And May went back and knelt in her accustomed place near the altar-that altar, which, to her clear faith, was a throne of majestic and clement love, where the Shepherd of souls was for ever present, to make intercession for those who, through His bitter passion and death, hoped for eternal life. Earnestly she besought His mercy for that soul in its last sudden agony. She besought the Queen of Sorrows, by the pangs she endured on Calvary, to come to his aid and obtain from her divine Son the grace of a good death! She implored the saints, who had gone up through much tribulation, and who pity those who suffer and weep in this valley of tears, to pray for him, that he might not be overcome in the hour of trial by the enemy of souls. In her earnest charity she took no heed of time, and was startled when the servant, kneeling beside her, informed her that Father Fabian had returned, and would see her. When she went in, he was taking a cup of coffee and some toast, which it was very evident, from his pale, excited countenance, he needed. His Breviary was lying open near him.

"Ah, my dear child!" he said, holding out his hand to May, "I am very glad to see you. How are you?"

"Quite well, father. But do not let me disturb you; you need refreshment after the late melancholy scene," she replied.

"Melancholy, indeed; but oh, so full of consolation!" observed Father Fabian, while his eyes filled up. "We priests, like physicians, are called on to witness a great many distressing scenes, which many a time appal our weak human nature, and almost overcome our charity by terror. This affair was truly heart-rending. When I arrived at the spot, I found the poor man lying on the sidewalk, crushed, and almost speechless. A crowd, collected together by curiosity, surrounded him. I asked a physician, who was examining the extent of his injuries, 'whether or not he could be removed?' 'He has not fifteen minutes to live, poor fellow,' was his reply! I threw on my stole, requested the crowd to stand back a little, and knelt on the bricks beside him, and bowed my ear close to his lips. He had recognized me, and his eyes already dim, lit up with joy; and in faltering and whispered words, he made his short confession. Happily, his conscience was not burdened with mortal sin. He was one of my penitents, and I knew how regular and pious his daily life had been. Quickly I gave him absolution, after which I administered the Holy Viaticum, which he received with great fervor. 'I am resigned; but, sweet Jesus, pity my little ones,' he whispered. Then, in a little while, with our dear Lord to conduct him, he passed into eternity. I doubt not that his sentence was full of mercy." There was a pause of several moments, during which May dashed more than one tear from her cheek.

"But who, think you, I saw, when I lifted my eyes from that dying countenance?"

"I cannot imagine, father."

"Your uncle. Yes, indeed! he stood watching the scene with a most intent and singular expression of countena

nce," said Father Fabian.

"It is, I believe, one of the first practical fruits of the Catholic faith he ever saw," said May, quite forgetting her own humble, patient example.

"Probably!" said Father Fabian, smiling; "but tell me now what is it you want. I have to run away out to the north-western limits of the city."

"That will suit precisely, dear father. It is a poor, paralytic old woman, I wish to direct you. She has determined to become a Catholic, and wishes to see you. She needs instruction; but her faith is so docile, that I do not think you will hesitate long to grant the ardent desire of her soul, which is, admission into the church of God."

"And where does our neophyte live?" asked Father Fabian.

"In the first of those small cottages west of Howard's Woods; but please, Father Fabian, don't mind any thing she may say about me," said May, blushing, and looking embarrassed. "She is so very grateful, that she imagines that I have done a great deal for her, and really makes me ashamed of the trifling amount of good I have extended to her. Will you give me your blessing, father?"

"I shall certainly go, my dear child-meanwhile, pray for me," said

Father Fabian, as she rose up from receiving his blessing.

"Will you pray for my uncle's conversion, father? and, oh! I had almost forgotten! My cousin has arrived; shall I bring her to see you soon?" said May, standing at the door.

"Whenever you please to;" and May went away, feeling quite happy.

Mr. Stillinghast had not forgotten May's refusal to explain the cause of her appearance, the day before, on the wharf; and being determined to discover it, he stopped, on his way down to his counting-house, at the wood-yard office, and inquired "if a young lady had been in there to purchase wood yesterday?"

"Well, sir, I hardly know how to reply to your question;-but I believe there were several young ladies in here to buy wood yesterday," said the young man, looking highly amused.

"But there was one who came with old Copeland; she had on a purple merino dress-and-something, I don't know what else she had on," said Mr. Stillinghast, feeling ridiculous.

"Was she very small, sir, with bright hazel eyes?"

"I know nothing about the color of her eyes, but she's something higher than my walking stick," replied the irascible old man.

"The same, sir. She came with Mr. Copeland; and if her eyes didn't make me dance in and out, it's a wonder!" observed the clerk.

"Well, what in the deuce did she want here?"

"She bought a quarter of a cord of oak wood, and paid for it!"

"What did she want with oak wood?" cried Mr. Stillinghast, becoming more impatient every moment.

"To burn, I presume," replied the young man, paring off a chew of tobacco; "but the fact is, sir, we didn't ask her. We always take it for granted that people buy wood to burn."

"Who does know any thing about it?" was the sharp response.

"The sawyer, I fancy, if he can be found. I have not seen him about to-day, however," said the young man, with a broad grin, which he speedily changed, when his strange visitor burst out with,

"When he comes, send him to me.-My name is Stillinghast."

"Certainly, Mr. Stillinghast, certainly. Excuse me, sir, for not recognizing you," stammered the clerk.

"I'm determined," muttered the old man, going out and slamming to the door, without noticing the young man's apologies, "I'm determined to sift this matter. If I had a feeling of humanity left, it was for that girl-papist though she be; if I loved or cared a tithe for any living being, it was she! I intended-but never mind what I intended. She has been doing wrong and I'll find it out. She has tried to deceive me, but I'll convince her that she has mistaken her dupe. Where did she get the money to buy wood with?" And at that thought, such a fierce, sudden suspicion tore through that old, half ossified heart, that he paused on the flags, and gasped for breath. "My God!" he murmured, "has she robbed me?" And during the remainder of that miserable day, his ledgers were almost neglected. Foul and ungenerous suspicion held possession of his mind; and inflamed with a malicious anger, he plotted and schemed his revenge until he had defined a plan that well suited his present mood. "If she plots," he muttered, rubbing his dry, yellow hands together, with grim delight, "I will counter-plot. It is not the wrong, but the person who inflicts it, that stings me. But the serpent's tooth has been gnawing these many years at my heart-why complain now?"

But several days passed, and he had obtained no clue to the mystery, which increased his anxiety, and made him more fretful and testy than usual. He allowed no opportunity to escape, to make May feel his displeasure. Bitter and contemptuous speeches, coarse allusions to her religion, fault-finding with all she did, and sudden outbursts of unprovoked fury, were now the daily trials of her life. Trials which were sore temptations, and full of humiliation to a proud, high spirit, like May's; and sharp were the struggles, and earnest the prayers, and many the scalding tears she shed, ere she subdued the storm of wild and indignant resentment, which swept like whirlwinds through her soul. But her talisman-the Cross of Jesus Christ-was her safeguard. Its splinters inflicted many a sharp wound; but none so sharp, that the balm it distilled could not heal and beautify them.

Helen, in a fright, kept as much as possible out of sight. Towards her, Mr. Stillinghast's manner was inconsistent, and variable in the extreme. At one time almost kind, at another, captious and surly. Sometimes he called on her for every thing, and perhaps the next moment threatened to throw whatever he had ordered, at her head. Once he told her, in bitter tones and language, that "but for wishing to make use of her to effect certain ends, he would turn her into the street." He had a new lock and key, of a peculiar construction, fitted on his chamber door, which he locked every morning carefully, and carried the key away with him.

"This is awful, May. How can you bear it as you do, for you do not seem the least afraid of him?" said Helen, one morning.

"I am afraid of offending our Lord by spitefulness, and returning injuries to one who is my benefactor," replied May.

"You do feel spiteful, then, sometimes? Really, it is quite refreshing to know that you are not perfect," said Helen, in her sneering way.

"Yes I feel so very often. I am full of imperfections. I am not patient, or humble, or even forgiving. I am only outwardly-outwardly calm and silent, because I do not think it right to fan up resentments, and malice, and bitterness, all so antagonistic to the love of God. I hope! oh, I hope my motive is, singly and purely to avoid offending Him," said May, humbly and earnestly.

"I heartily wish the old wretch would die!" exclaimed Helen.

"Oh, Helen! so unprovided as he is for another world! Unsay that, won't you?" cried May, clasping her hands together.

"No, May; I mean it. I think he is as much fit to die now as he ever will be. He has doubtless spent his life in tormenting others, and it will only be fair when he is tormented in his turn. But, spare those looks of horror, and tell me, who do you think passed by here this morning, and looked in, and bowed?"

"I cannot tell," said May, sadly.

"That handsome Jerrold. I hope he may prove a knight-errant, and deliver me from Giant Despair's castle," said the frivolous girl, while she twisted her long, shining curls around her fingers.

"Take care, Helen. Romance does very well in books, but it is a mischievous thing to mix up in the real concerns of life."

"My dearest May, I shall never want a skull to grin ghastly lessons of morality at me, while I have you," replied Helen, with a scornful laugh.

"Pardon me, Helen; I fear that I do say too much; but let my good intention be my excuse," said May.

"Yes, it is intolerable. My old Tartar of an uncle swearing and scolding down stairs, and you preaching and praying, up. It is more than human nature can bear.-Where are you going?"

"To confession," replied May, in a low tone.

"Very well; but, my dear 'wee wee woman,' don't stay long, for I believe this rambling, musty old house is haunted."

"Come with me, then?"

"Not to-day; I have an idea of exploring it, and should like, of all things, to get into the very room which Blue Beard keeps locked up. Is there any possible way of getting in?"

"Yes."

"How? tell me, quick!"

"Ask Uncle Stillinghast for the key," said May, while a flash of merriment lit up her eyes.

"Excuse me, ma'am," said Helen, curtseying:

"I leave all such exploits to people who are anxious to become martyrs. I have no such ambition."

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