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   Chapter 9 TRIALS.

May Brooke By Anna Hanson Dorsey Characters: 21973

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:03


When May awoke the next morning at her usual hour, she discovered, to her great surprise, that Helen was up and dressed; but how occupied she could not conceive, until rising, she saw her sitting beside her open trunk, with a lighted candle on a chair near her, looking over various ornaments and articles of dress which it contained. With a small hand-glass she tried the effect of jet and pearls in her ears; of black velvet, or satin rosettes, in her soft wavy brown hair; of white crape and illusion on her throat and wrists-glancing all the time with an expression of pleased triumph at the reflection on her faultlessly beautiful face.

"Thank God, I am not beautiful," thought May, without a dash of envy. "I might-yes, I am so weak-I might worship myself instead of God." But she said nothing, and performed her morning devotions, and made her meditations as usual; then dressed quickly and neatly, and asked Helen if she was ready to go down.

"I declare, May, you are a perfect little mouse. I did not know you were up. Yes; I am ready now. I had quite forgotten that it was my morning to make breakfast," she replied, returning the things to the trunk without the least possible hurry.

"If you have any thing else to do, dear Helen; I mean-if-you have not said your prayers yet, I will go down and get things in train for you," said May, timidly.

"Thank you, May, but I keep my own conscience. I have no time for my prayers now-after breakfast will do," she replied, carelessly.

"Dear Helen, consider-"

"Dear May, I won't consider," she interrupted her, "for I am in such a ferment of delight, what with the idea of company, and having a harp once more, I am really half wild, and could not pray for the life of me-at least, as people ought to pray. Oh, what different times we shall have! Really, May, I have an idea that I shall have our old savage dancing the Tarantula before to-morrow night," she exclaimed, almost shrieking with laughter.

"Helen," began May, but checked herself, and burst into tears, which she endeavored to conceal-such tears as angels shed over the derelictions of the souls they are appointed to guard. Helen did not observe them; giddy and selfish, she derived amusement from that which was luring her soul further away from God; and, while May wept over her peril, she thought only of the transient and fleeting enjoyments of the present. Gayly humming the Tarantula, she ran down to the kitchen, where she got breakfast, or, rather claimed the reputation of getting it, by assisting May, who was really the practical cause of its being made at all tolerably.

"What sort of gimcracks must one have for supper? I have invited a friend with whom I have business relations of some importance, to tea, and I wish to know what is usual," said Mr. Stillinghast, addressing Helen, after breakfast.

"I don't know, sir," she said, looking down, with the half-frightened expression her face always wore when he addressed her; "people generally have cake, and other nice things."

"Very well, make a supper to suit yourself," said Mr. Stillinghast, tossing her a five dollar note.

"We ought to have silver forks, sir," she suggested.

"Silver devils! well, wait-" He went up to his chamber, and returned with a package, which he laid carefully on the table, saying, "There they are-be careful with them," and went out without noticing May even by a look, who felt the neglect more keenly than any trial he had ever caused her. To find that Helen, who hated as much as she feared him-whose life was so aimless and useless-preferred before her, caused sharp and bitter emotions. The flagrant injustice of his treatment galled, as much as his unmerited contempt humiliated her. For a little while her feelings bore her along on their rough but silent torrent, while the hot winds of evil heated her veins with fire, and caused a hot flush to burn on either cheek. Ho! how exulted the tempter now; he had long laid in wait for her soul, and now, while it oscillated and wavered, how triumphant he was; how defiantly he lifted his lurid brow towards the Almighty, while he spread out the snare for that tempted, trembling one! but let us listen-for angels guard her, and watch, with sorrowful eyes, the dread conflict, while they pray for heavenly strength to sustain her-let us listen to the words which go up from that heart, so stilly and whispered that they scarcely reach our ears, while in Heaven they ring out clear, and sweet, and sorrowful,-"Sweet Jesus! merciful Jesus! suffering, calumniated dying Jesus, pity me-rescue me," she murmured, folding her cold hands together. Far away fled the powers of darkness, and left only the sweetness and peace of that potent deliverer, JESUS, in her soul. Once more the angels of her life looked up rejoicing, and spread their wings of light about her way. Without, there had been an exterior calm; but it was like that gray, sad stillness, which mantles the storm. Now there was sunshine as well as calm.

"What shall I do, May?" said Helen, who had been reading the paper.

"We must try and make a nice supper, as my uncle wishes, Helen. I will make waffles and tea-biscuits, if you wish it, and we can order cake from Delaro's. I think this, with chipped ham, tea, and coffee, will be sufficient."

"Thank you, May. I am so ignorant; if you will only do it all for me, I shall be so obliged to you. You know I shall have to dress, and it takes me so long to arrange my hair gracefully. I wish, sometimes, that I had none-it is so troublesome," said the selfish girl.

"Yes," said May, after a little while, "I will attend to it. My dress is such an every day affair, that I shall be able to have every thing ready, to take the head of the table in time."

"The head of the table! I rather expect Mr. Stillinghast intends me to preside."

"Possibly. If my uncle wishes it, Helen, I will certainly resign it to you; but, as I have always sat there, I shall continue to do so until he requests me to do otherwise," said May, with becoming firmness.

"Oh, of course! It is quite indifferent to me, my dear;-but what have we here?" said Helen, taking up the bundle which Mr. Stillinghast had laid on the table. "See, May, what splendidly chased silver forks! How heavy they are; and see! here is a crest on them."

"They are very old, I presume," said May, examining them with interest.

"As old as the hills! Where on earth has the old curmudgeon kept them all this time?" exclaimed Helen. "Do you think he bought, or inherited them?"

"Inherited them, doubtless. My mother had the same crest on her silver. Our grandfather was an Englishman of good lineage; but see, Helen, they require a good cleansing and rubbing. I will go to mass now, after which I will attend to your commissions. While I am out, you had better get down the old china, which you will find on that closet shelf, with some cut glass goblets. You can wash them up with the breakfast things; or, if you would rather wait until I return, I will assist you," said May.

"Oh, no! I like such work; but, May, could we not hunt up your old maummy, if she is not too old, to come and wait?" asked Helen.

"She died two years ago, Helen," said May, turning away her head with a quivering lip.

"How unfortunate! But, May, have you any fine table linen?"

"Yes; a number of fine damask tablecloths."

"And napkins?"

"None."

"Thank fortune, I have some four dozen East India napkins; they will look quite splendid on the table this evening. But hurry on, May, I wish to clear up to make room for my harp; I expect it every moment."

That evening, if Mr. Stillinghast had looked around him, he would scarcely have recognized the sitting-room as the one he had left in the morning. The round table, just large enough to seat four comfortably, was elegantly spread with fine white damask, and crimson and old gold china, of an antique and elegant pattern; sparkling cut glass, and silver. Two wax candles burned in the old-fashioned silver candelabras in the centre, on each side of which stood two clusters of geranium leaves and winter roses, arranged in small rich vases. The grate looked resplendent, and a harp, of a magnificent pattern, heavily carved and gilded, stood in a conspicuous place. Helen looked exquisitely lovely. Her dress was the perfection of good taste, and well did its elaborate simplicity suit her style of beauty. A single white rose, and a few geranium leaves in her hair, with a pearl and jet brooch, which fastened the velvet around her throat, were the only ornaments she wore. But Mr. Stillinghast came in growling and lowering as usual, and without noticing any one, or any thing, threw himself in his arm-chair, which May had taken care should be in its place; drew off his boots, and replaced them with the soft warm slippers she had worked for him some months before; then called for the evening paper, and was soon immersed in the news from Europe, and the rise and fall of stocks. About a quarter of an hour afterwards the front door-bell rung, and May, who happened to be in the hall, went to admit the visitor, who was no other than Mr. Jerrold. He bowed courteously, and "presumed he had the pleasure of speaking to Miss Stillinghast?"

"My name is May Brooke," said May, with one of her clear smiles.

"And mine is Jerrold-Walter Jerrold; not so harmonious as yours, certainly!" he replied, throwing off the large Spanish cloak which was folded gracefully around him.

"Life would be a sad monotone if every thing in creation resembled each other; there would be no harmony. But walk in, Mr. Jerrold, my uncle expects you," said May, throwing open the door.

"How are you, sir?" said Mr. Stillinghast, turning his head, but not rising. "My niece, Helen Stillinghast. Take a chair." He did not introduce May, or notice her, except by a frown. Feeling the tears rush to her eyes at this new mark of her uncle's displeasure, she flitted back to the kitchen, and commenced operations with her waffle irons. While engaged with her domestic preparations, she heard the gay, manly voice of Mr. Jerrold, in an animated conversation with Helen, who now, in her right element, laughed and talked incessantly. Again welled up the bitter fountain in her heart, but that talismanic word dispersed it, and it was gone, like spray melting on the sunny shores of the sea. When she placed the supper on the table, she moved around with such calm self-possession-such an airy, light motion of modest grace, that Walter Jerrold, who had seen much of the world, and lived in the best company, was struck by the anomaly which combined so much real grace with what, he considered, domestic drudgery. And May's appearance justified his remarks. A dark, rich merino dress; a small, finely embroidered collar, with cuffs of the same; a breast-knot of crimson and black ribbon; and her waving, glossy hair, falling in broad bands on her fair cheeks, and gathered

up at the back of her head, beneath a jet comb, completed her attire. It was her usual holiday dress, and did not embarrass her. Her eyes looked larger, brighter, and darker than usual, and a faint tinge of rose stole through the transparent fairness of her cheeks. But, with all, May was no beauty in the ordinary acceptance of the term. She was one of those rare mortals who steal into the soul like a pleasant, beneficent idea, and satisfy its longings with something calmer and holier than mere worldly friendship; for there was that within May's soul-the hidden mystery of faith and religion-which, like a lamp in a vase of alabaster, shone out from her countenance with an influence which none could withstand; it won-it led-it blessed those who yielded to its power. She presided at the head of the table that evening with quiet grace, and attempted once or twice to converse with her uncle, but his looks and replies were so harsh that she turned to Helen and Mr. Jerrold, and in a short time found herself amused at his persiflage and Helen's repartees.

"I have writing to do, Jerrold," said Mr. Stillinghast, after tea; "and if you will excuse me, I will go up to my room. You can drop in, and look over those papers before you go. However, stay as late as it is agreeable for you to do so." Walter Jerrold understood him. Already captivated by Helen's beauty and worldliness, his decision was made.

Very soon was heard through the silent mansion strains of music, which startled the echoes in its silent and deserted rooms, accompanied by a voice of such thrilling sweetness and volume of tone, that the solitary old man, in his cold and cheerless apartment, threw down his pen, and sprung to his feet, to listen. It was Helen singing wild cavatinas from Norma, and solos from Der Freischutz, and looking so splendidly beautiful the while, that Walter Jerrold thought with pride and exultation of introducing so much loveliness to the world as his bride. May was silent, and wondered at it all, and felt, rather than reasoned that somehow Helen was bartering away her eternal interests for gain, and that these scenes were integral parts of the ruinous scheme.

So she was not much surprised when Mr. Jerrold, on taking leave, asked permission to call the next day with his mother; to which Helen assented graciously, and May, having no decided reason to do otherwise, said, "they would be pleased to see Mrs. Jerrold."

"Where shall I find Mr. Stillinghast, Miss Brooke?"

"In the room, sir, just at the head of the staircase. It is the first door, a little to the left."

"Thank you. Good night, again, fair ladies," he said, bounding up the steps.

"Come in," said the voice of Mr. Stillinghast, in answer to his low tapping.

"Aha! well?"

"Have you the necessary papers ready, sir?" inquired the young man, eagerly.

"Here they are. Are you ready to sign them?"

"This moment, sir. Give me the pen."

"No, sir; read them first. I'll have no such head-over-heels doings in any transactions in which I am concerned. Here they are!" said Mr. Stillinghast, in his saturnine, rough way.

Walter Jerrold read the papers, which were worded according to the strictest legal forms, slowly and attentively, and felt more than satisfied.

"All right, Mr. Stillinghast. 'Faith, sir, your niece requires no golden chains to her chariot. She is the most beautiful creature I ever beheld-accomplished, and elegant in form and manners. Give me the pen!" he said, earnestly, as he spread out the parchment, and prepared to sign his name thereto.

"Clouds are beautiful with the sunshine on them," said the old man, with a sneer; "so is a mirage in the desert; so are the apples on the shores of the Dead Sea. But she is yours. You'll find no trouble in winning her, even at the sacrifice of her creed. She is of the earth earthy, and will willingly escape from such a miserable home as this."

"Mr. Stillinghast, I do not wish to feel that this is quite a barter. Your niece would grace a throne, and I am vain enough to think that I have qualities which may win her regard."

"Bosh! fool! All mankind are fools! But leave me-goodnight. Make your arrangements to move to my counting-house to-morrow."

"My fortune is made. The 'Cedars' will not pass into other hands," thought Walter Jerrold, as he left the house.

The next day May went to see old Mabel, who was quite sick; and while she was gone, Mrs. Jerrold called with her son. The proud, worldly woman, was enchanted with the elegance and beauty of Helen, and, ere she left her, had engaged her in a round of engagements; soirées-the opera, and dinner parties, rung like music in Helen's ears, who, half wild with joy, could scarcely repress her emotions from breaking out in some ill-bred expressions of delight. Without a moment's reflection, she consented to attend St. Paul's Church the next Sunday morning, at eleven o'clock, and hear the well-meaning Protestant clergyman who officiated there. "You will see the best people in town there; it is considered one of the most elegant congregations in the city." By the best people, Mrs. Jerrold meant the leaders of the town, and had not the remotest idea that she was holding out a false inducement, or saying any thing at all incompatible with the spirit of Christianity.

"I will call for you in my carriage, Miss Stillinghast, with Walter," continued the lady, touching Helen's cheek with her lips.

And after this Helen quite withdrew herself from the domestic cares of the house to attend exclusively to her toilette-her music-her walks and drives with Jerrold, and visits to his mother. Mr. Stillinghast seemed not to observe what was going on, and May, anxious to shield her from his displeasure, which she supposed would be excited by this neglect, went on in her old routine, as if nothing had ever occurred to interrupt it. Thus weeks rolled by, and Helen was the affianced wife of Walter Jerrold; forgetful of the demands of religion, and turning a deaf ear to the whispers of conscience, and a cold, proud eye on the practical works of faith; and scornfully hushing May's expostulations, she thought only of the realization of her ambitious and worldly dreams, and plunged into the gayeties of life with a zest worthy of a better cause.

May, all this time, was cheerfully climbing step by step; sometimes fainting-sometimes stumbling-sometimes falling, but ever rising with renewed strength up the steep and narrow way of Calvary. Her uncle's distrustful manner-his harsh language-his angry looks, with Helen's apparent apostasy, and haughty demeanor, were trials which required the constant replenishing of grace in her soul, to bear with patience. But Father Fabian bid her to be of good cheer; the divine sacraments of the Church strengthened and consoled her by their sweet and mighty power; and like waters returning cool and purified to their source, or dews gently falling to the earth from which they had risen, in blessing and refreshment, her daily visits to old Mabel, so full of charity and good-will, filled her with indescribable happiness.

Mrs. Jerrold insisted on furnishing Helen's trousseau, while she was occupied every day in selecting expensive furniture for a house her uncle had settled on her, with permission to furnish it without regard to cost, on condition that she was married by a Protestant minister. She was telling May, with great glee and pride, about her purchases, when she suddenly paused, and exclaimed,

"You need not look so grave, May. I presume my marriage will be as legal and respectable as if the ceremony was performed by a priest."

"As legal as any other civil rite. But, Helen, you know that the Church acknowledges no such marriages amongst her children. Her precepts teach that marriage, to be legal, must also be sacramental. It is a sacrament; one which is held in high esteem and respect by the Church, and no Catholic can contract it otherwise, without censure. In case you persist, your marriage will not be recognized by the Church as valid, or your offspring legitimate."

"I shall have a great many to keep me in countenance," replied Helen, coldly. "I have no idea of submitting to every thing; Jerrold would not, I am sure, consent to being married by a Catholic priest, and I do not intend to thwart him, as I consider it a matter of very little importance."

"Helen, listen to me. You must listen to me. It shall be the last time, if you will only be patient. There is an hour coming, if you persist in your present course, when you will wish you had never been born; an hour when all human aid must fail, and all human interests and splendor drop away from you like rotten rags; when your soul, affrighted and shrinking, will go forth, obeying the inexorable laws, of the Creator, to meet its Almighty Judge. When the shadows will fall darkly around your way, Helen, and phantoms of darkness lie in wait, until the irrevocable sentence is spoken, which will consign you to utter woe; when, stripped of all, you will stand shivering and alone before an awful tribunal, to give evidence against yourself. Oh, Helen! dear Helen! how will it be with you then? how will you escape, oh faithless daughter of the Church!"

"May!" cried Helen, while her face grew deadly white, and she grasped her cousin's arm; "hush! how dare you speak thus to me? It is cruel! Henceforth utter no such language to me while we both live. If I am on the brink of perdition, I alone am responsible for my acts-not you."

"I will try to obey you, Helen, so far; but I will pray for you-I will do penance for you-I will offer frequent communions for you-I will intercede with our tender and Immaculate Mother for you. I will fly to Calvary, and at the foot of the cross beseech our suffering Jesus, by his bitter passion and death to have mercy on you. You cannot stop me-you cannot hinder me in this, for, oh Helen! it is an awful thing to see a soul tearing off its baptismal robe, trampling underfoot the seals of the Church, and rushing away from her fold of safety to eternal-eternal woe!" cried May, wringing her hands, while big tears rolled over her face.

Helen turned away to brush off a single tear that moistened her eyes, but through it she saw the glitter of a diamond bracelet, which Walter Jerrold had just sent her, with a bouquet of hot-house flowers-all rare and costly, and the poor tear was dashed off with impatience, and a haughty curl of the lip.

"You act finely, May, but drop all this, and tell me what you will wear at my bridal," said Helen, clasping the bracelet on her arm, to try its effect.

"I shall not be there, Helen. I cannot even wish you joy, for there can no joy ever come in disobeying the Church, whose voice is the voice of God himself."

"As you please," she replied, coldly; "but croak no more to-night. You are like a bird of ill-omen to me."

May sighed, and retired to her oratory, to say her night prayers.

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