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   Chapter 8 TROUBLED WATERS.

May Brooke By Anna Hanson Dorsey Characters: 19928

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:03


"Where are you gadding to now?" said Mr. Stillinghast, who had encountered May and Helen at the hall-door, on their way out to church. "Where are you both going?"

"We are going to mass, sir," said May, in her usual quiet, pleasant way.

"One of you stay in. I won't have the house left so; do you stay, for you are for ever gadding," he said sharply to May.

"I will remain at home, Uncle Stillinghast," said Helen, quickly; "do you go, May."

"Do you go, miss, and let her stay at home; d'ye hear me?" he exclaimed.

"Indeed, sir, I wish to remain at home. I have no desire at all to go this morning," expostulated Helen.

"Ar'n't you a papist?" he inquired, turning suddenly, and confronting her.

"I am a Catholic, sir, but-but," she stammered.

"But what?" he asked, sharply.

"I do not care so much about going to church as May does," she replied, lifting her handsome brown eyes to his angry countenance.

"Oh, Helen!" exclaimed May, with an imploring look.

"This is quite my affair," said Helen, with a haughty air.

"You've got more sense than I gave you credit for," said Mr. Stillinghast, with a low, peculiar laugh. "Don't go any more unless you choose."

"No, sir."

"Oh, uncle!" cried May, losing all dread of her uncle's displeasure,

and laying her hand on his arm; "you are tampering with her soul!

Helen! Helen, you are trampling under foot your birthright in the

Church of Christ!"

"Fool!" exclaimed Mr. Stillinghast, shaking her off. "Be silent. Go your ways, but dare not interfere with her."

"I can only pray, sir, for you and for her," said May, after her first wild and indignant emotions had subsided.

Another low mocking laugh sounded in her ears, then she found herself alone. "This is dreadful, and hard to bear," she murmured, as she went out; "but Father Fabian says, that trials are divine and royal gifts! If I lived only for this life I would never-I could not bear it, but living for eternity, I cannot afford to lose a single lesson of the rudiments of perfection."

"That girl," thought Mr. Stillinghast, "is a mystery. She is either a profound hypocrite, or an honest Christian. This scene, however, has fixed my resolves. That Helen may be a fool, but she's not much of a papist. Odds, it will hardly require the temptation of a handsome husband, and a splendid settlement, to make her forswear her creed. I will see Jerrold this very day." When he arrived at his counting-house, he went directly to his desk, and penned a note, which he directed and sealed, then handed it to his porter to take to Mr. Jerrold. Then he perched himself on his high writing-stool, and opening his books, attempted to go on as usual with the business of the day. But there was something unquiet tugging at his conscience, which did not allow him to do so. He paused frequently, with his pen poised over his inkstand, or paper, and fell into reveries, which ended with expressions which burst out like shots from a revolver. It was now "Pshaw!" then, "I hate it worse than I do the synagogue;" or, "it is not injustice! Have I not a right to do as I please with my own property?" and "I'll do it as sure as my name is Mark Stillinghast."

"Mr. Jerrold was away at bank, sir," said the porter, who had returned; "and, sir, I left the note."

"All right, Michael. Business is the master we must serve first, and best. Hoist out those bales there ready to ship."

"The devil 'll fly away wid that ould haythen some of these days! I should like to know intirely if he ever hard of the day of judgment and the Master that's to take an account of how he's been sarved. I reckon, bedad, he'll find out thin, if not sooner, that he's the one that ought to had a little waitin' on," muttered Michael, rolling out a heavy bale of cotton.

Ere long Mr. Jerrold, anxious to conciliate the millionnaire, and full of curiosity, did not lose a minute after he read the note in going to him.

"Good morning sir. I hope I have not kept you waiting," he said, holding out his hand to Mr. Stillinghast.

"No, sir; you are in very good time," he replied, shaking hands, and offering his guest a chair. "I see that you are not one who will let grass grow under your feet."

"I have my fortune to make, sir," replied the young man, laughing; "but can I serve you in any way, Mr. Stillinghast?"

"Michael! No, sir-no- Here Michael!" cried Mr. Stillinghast.

"Here, sir," answered the porter at the door.

"I wish to have a private conversation with this gentleman, and do not want to be interrupted; do you hear?"

"Bedad, sir, I'm not deaf no more than the next one; but suppose somebody comes to pay up rents, et cetera?"

"Well-well, they can wait," he replied.

"And supposin' they won't?" persisted Michael.

"In that case, rap at my door, and I will come out. Now, be off."

"I never waste time, Mr. Jerrold," said Mr. Stillinghast, after he had closed the door, and resumed his seat; "I never waste any thing-time or words. I am blunt and candid, and aboveboard. I hate the world generally, because I have been deceived in every thing I ever placed faith in. I am a bitter, harsh, penurious old man."

"Your life has been without reproach, sir," observed Mr. Jerrold, who wondered what strange revelation was to be made.

"No compliments; they nauseate me. I sent for you this morning to propose something which you may, or may not, accede to, there being a condition annexed that may not be altogether agreeable. But however it may be, I wish you to understand distinctly that I do it to suit my own ends and pleasure, and if I could do otherwise I would."

"I am very confident, sir, that you will not propose any thing to me incompatible with honor and integrity," said Walter Jerrold.

"No, sir. No; it is a fair bargain-a fair, honest, business transaction I offer, by which you will gain not only credit, but profit. In view of this object, I have been for two days engaged in an investigation of your character."

"Really, Mr. Stillinghast!" began the young man, with a haughty look.

"Investigating your character, sir. I have made inquiries of your friends and foes concerning your habits, your business associations, your antecedents-"

"For what purpose, sir?" inquired Walter Jerrold, flushing up.

"To see if I might trust you."

"And the result of this strange procedure?"

"Is favorable throughout. I congratulate you, sir, on being without reproach in your business relations. You will suit me to a nicety. I lost two years ago the old man who sat at this desk for the last forty years. He was the only friend I had in the wide earth. He was my prop and support, and now that he is gone, I feel tottering and weak. I want some one to assist me in the cares of my immense business; a partner, young, active, and possessed of just the requisites which you have."

Walter Jerrold's eyes lit up with an expression of wild triumph. He could scarcely believe his own ears; he thought it was a cheating dream that the millionnaire, Stillinghast-the bitter, inaccessible old man, should offer him something so far beyond his most sanguine hopes; advantages which he had intended to intrigue, and toil unceasingly for, but which were now thrown into his very hands.

"Do you understand me, Mr. Jerrold?"

"I hear you, sir, but really fear you are jesting at my expense."

"I never jest, sir. It has been so long since I jested that the word has become meaningless to me. But, as I said, there is a condition-"

"Allow me to hear it, Mr. Stillinghast," said Walter Jerrold, fearing at least it might be something dreadful and impossible.

"I have," said the old man, as if talking to himself, "I have gathered together large sums. I scarcely know the exact amount myself. There is principal, interest, and compound interest, still heaping up the pile. I do not intend it shall be squabbled over when I am in the dust, or left open to the rapacity of lawyers. I shall dispose of my concerns while I have reason and health, in such a way, by Heaven! as Heaven itself cannot interfere with my plans!"

Why did not that boastful, gold-withered, shrivelled up old man, pause? How dare he throw such defiance in the face of Almighty God over his unrighteous gains!-yes, unrighteous gains, for mammon held them in trust. None had ever gone into the treasure-house of God to relieve the suffering, or aid the indignant. The few good acts of his life had been wrested from him, and the recollection of them filled him with bitterness instead of joy.

"That is wise and prudent, sir," observed Mr. Jerrold.

"Of course it is. But now to the point. I will take you into partnership on condition that you, as my successor, marry my niece, Helen Stillinghast, and promise on your honor to endeavor to overcome her Catholic tendencies. She is not very strong in her faith, but as I intend to leave her a considerable amount of property, I do not wish it to go to the support of a creed I detest-not one copper of it. What do you say?"

"What amount of capital do you require, Mr. Stillinghast?"

"Whatever you have, sir. If it is much, well; if nothing, it makes no difference: but, do you hesitate? I suppose the girl is an obstacle."

"None in the least, sir. But I am overwhelmed by your generosity, sir; the advantages you offer place me in a position which it would have taken me years of toil to attain, and I must confess, that I am quite thrown off my balance. Will you allow me at least a few hours to think?" said Walter Jerrold, highly excited.

"Your caution is no discredit to you. I see that I am not deceived," said Mr. Stillinghast, with a grim smile. "To-morrow evening I shall expect an answer; at which time you can come to my house, and take your tea, and look at my niece."

"You will certainly see me then, sir, and hear my decision." And the young man, with steps that scarcely felt the earth he trod on, hurried away, no

r paused an instant, until he reached home. Mrs. Jerrold was standing on her marble carriage-step, just ready to get into her luxurious coach to take a drive. He whispered a word or two to her; the carriage was dismissed, and mother and son went up stairs to analyze the sudden promise of fortune which had burst, like the bow of heaven, around them. And together we will leave them-the worldly mother and the worldly son, to grow elate, and almost wild, at the prospect which Mr. Stillinghast's eccentric liberality had opened to their view. At any rate, it was eligible in every respect, with, or without a matrimonial appendage; and Cedar Hall was secured to the Jerrolds.

Father Fabian, true to his promise, had visited old Mabel, and found her so well disposed, and of such docile faith, that he had promised, as soon as he finished her general confession, to give her holy baptism. Two or three times a week he dropped in, and was much edified by the fervor and humility with which she received his instructions. It all seemed like a new world dawning around her, as if through the chinks of her lowly dwelling bright visions of heaven stole in to gladen her, while her soul in its humble love traversed back and forth with angel messengers. May had not seen her for some days, and now went to take her money to pay the rent of her poor cottage, and purchase a supply of provisions. Mrs. Tabb had disposed of her fancy knitting, and sent her son early that morning with the proceeds, some six or seven dollars, to May. Rejoicing in the power to do good, and leaving all her vexations and trials at home, she sought old Mabel's lowly dwelling, to impart and receive consolation.

"That's Miss May! Here, Nellie, fetch that stool over thar for Miss May," exclaimed the old woman, as soon as the door opened. "How is you, honey?"

"I am quite well, Aunt Mabel. I think you are looking better," replied

May, sitting down beside her.

"Oh, honey, it's blessed times with me now. I bin blind all my life; I never see nuffin till now. Ah, honey, that good priest you send me aint like the buckra parsons I used to know. He aint too proud to sit down by a poor nigger, an' take her lame hand in his'n, and rub it with some sort of liniment he fotch. And thar's a bottle of wine he left 'cause the doctor said I must have some. He don't stand off as if he was afeard I would pizen him, and fling the gospel at me like stingy people throws bones to dogs. He makes me feel that I'm a child of God as well as white folks, by treating me like one, honey."

"I'm very glad, Aunt Mabel, that you are comforted by Father Fabian's visits," said May, smiling at her unsophisticated statement.

"Yes, he comforts me mightily, Miss May; and he talk so simple and beautiful, that I understand every word he says."

"What does Father Fabian tell you, Aunt Mabel?"

"He read one thing to me out of my ole Bible thar. You know I can't read myself, Miss May, but I keep it 'cause it belonged to my missis. He asked me if I ever been baptized?' I told him, 'No, sir.' Then he ask me how I knew, and I tell him that too. Then he read what Jesus Christ said, 'Unless you be born again, of water and the Holy Ghost, you shall not enter the kingdom of heaven;' and, honey, it was enough, for me to know he said it. And then he told me about the power our Lord left with his Church to forgive sins, and I didn't dar doubt it, 'cause who can be so presumptuous as to contradict Jesus Christ when he lays down the way and the truth? But oh, Miss May, when the day comes for me to receive in my ole heart the dear Lord hisself-my poor ole tired, aching heart-then I lived long enough, 'cause the glory of God will be with me."

"It will be a most happy day, Aunt Mabel," said May, dashing a tear from her cheek. "Now tell me something about our Immaculate Mother. Do you ever think of her?"

"Oh, Miss May! how can I think of Jesus Christ-how can I love him, without thinking of, and loving her? If I go down to the manger, thar she is, watching over him, or holding him on her bosom; if I go through Salem's marble city, honey, thar she is, close by her divine Son; if I go to Calvary, what do I see?" said old Mabel, lifting her shrivelled hand, and dim eyes to heaven, while tears flowed over her swarthy cheeks; "I see the Son of God, and the Son of Mary-Jesus Christ, hanging on the rough wood; his head, his hands, his feet, his side, dropping blood from the torn flesh. I see him dying for me; and down at his feet, his mother suffering with him. Ah, honey, it was a heavy burden she bore that dark day! The suffering of her son-her own pangs-the sins of the world, for which both suffered, as it 'pears to me, was too much for one human heart. Oh, don't any body talk to me 'bout not loving the Blessed Virgin! With one breath, I say, 'Have mercy on me, sweet Jesus!' with the other, I say, 'Pray for me, Virgin mother, without sin!' It's the last thing I say at night, and the first I say in the morning."

"But you don't worship the Blessed Virgin, Aunt Mabel?" said May, with a smile.

"Worship her, honey? No! but God honored and loved her. SHE was the mother of the dear Jesus; the 'mount of her sufferings was for him and us, and I love her-I honor her, and I go to her like a little child, and ask her to pray for me, and ask Him, who never refused her any thing, for what I want."

"She is a tender friend-the refuge of sinners-the health of the weak-the help of Christians!" said May, astonished at old Mabel's language; "and I am glad you have recourse to her. She will lead you along until all is well with you. Shall I read to you now? Father Fabian requested me to read over the catechism to you. To-day I will read the instructions on Confession and Baptism."

"I can't hear too much, Miss May," said the old woman, leaning forward to listen, with an eager and anxious expression. May read, and explained, until she heard the cathedral bell toll the Angelus. It was time for her to go; so kneeling down, she said with heartfelt devotion the beautiful prayer, which celebrates so worthily and continually the wondrous mystery of the Incarnation. After which she left her purse with old Mabel, containing the amount of her rent, which would be due the next day, and promising to send her tea, sugar, and other necessaries, called little Nellie in, and telling her to sit with her grandmother, hurried away with a lighter heart than when she came out. She made her purchases on her way home, and left directions where they were to be sent. After assuring herself that there would be no mistake, and obtaining a promise from the clerk who weighed the groceries that they should be delivered in the course of an hour, she proceeded homewards. She found Helen haughty and silent, evidently determined to avoid all conversation on the event of the morning. Two or three times May endeavored to expostulate with her, but found herself rudely repulsed.

That night, when Mr. Stillinghast came in, Helen officiously placed his chair in its usual corner, and handed him his slippers. May made two or three observations to him in her own cheerful way, but he barely replied, and desired her not to interrupt him again. Her heart swelled, and her cheeks flushed, but she remembered the aim of her life, and was silent.

"Do you play on the piano?" said Mr. Stillinghast, abruptly, to Helen.

"No, sir; I play on the harp," she replied, amazed.

"Do you play well?"

"My master thought so, sir."

"I will order one for you to-morrow. I expect company to tea to-morrow evening, so put on any fandangos you have got."

"Yes, sir," she replied, while her face sparkled with delight; "I can never thank you, sir."

"I don't want you to, so be quiet, and do as I bid you," he replied, roughly.

"Poor Helen!" thought May; "poor-poor Helen! 'they seek after her soul,' and she, oh, weak one! how will she resist without the sacraments?"

After Mr. Stillinghast retired, and they were left alone, Helen again opened a French novel to resume her reading, without exchanging a word with her cousin. Thoughts and emotions were flooding May's soul with impulses she dared not resist. She must warn her. She must stretch out her arm, weak though it was, to save her.

"Helen! dear Helen, listen to me!" she said, kneeling before her, and throwing an arm around her neck, while she laid her hand on her cousin's. Helen, astonished, dropped her book, and remained passive, while May besought her by her hopes of heaven to accompany her the next morning to confession, or go alone, as both could not leave home together; then set before her in eloquent and soul-touching language the peril into which her prevarications were leading her.

"You are mad, May.-decidedly mad; I intend to better my condition if I can, and be a Catholic too. I am only conciliating this crusty old wretch, who has us both in his power; then, you know, we may bring him around after awhile," she said, carelessly.

"Oh, Helen! we cannot serve two masters, even for a season; nor can we handle pitch without becoming defiled. Believe me, this kind of conciliation, as it is called, is fraught with evil," said May, earnestly.

"You are right about the pitch, May. He is truly as disagreeable as pitch; but, indeed, I will endeavor to handle him with gloves on," said Helen, laughing; "and I won't go to confession until I am ready."

"I alluded to my uncle's opinions and principles, for, Helen, he is an unbeliever!" said May, sighing, as she turned away to go up to bed.

"Don't make any more scenes, little dear; really, you startle one almost into spasms," continued the heartless and beautiful one. "I have a very strong, high spirit, and a will; no iron or rock is harder."

"Be warned, Helen! I have a will, too, and shall not cease to admonish you-to warn you-to pray for you, until life ceases."

"Pshaw! you are a fanatic. Good night, my dear."

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