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   Chapter 10 THE WARNING.

May Brooke By Anna Hanson Dorsey Characters: 13855

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:03


One morning Mr. Stillinghast was sitting alone in his counting-room, when Michael, the porter, came in, and informed him that a man wished to speak to him.

"Tell him to come in," he replied, moodily.

"Here he is, sir," said Michael, returning in a few minutes with a man, who had a saw slung over his arm.

"What is your business with me?" said Mr. Stillinghast.

"And didn't your honor sind afther me?"

"I never heard of you in my life before," he stormed.

"And then, sir, you may blame the ommadhauns that sent me; for, by this and by that, they tould me at the wood-yard, foreninst, that your honor was inquiring for me," replied the man, slinging his saw up over his shoulder.

"At the wood-yard? I remember; but it is too late, now-it makes no difference," said Mr. Stillinghast, speaking slowly, and frowning.

"I'd have come before, only the day afther the young lady took me to saw wood for the ould nagur, I got the pleurisy, and didn't lave my bed these five weeks," said the man, lingering about the door.

"Come in here, and close the door," said Mr. Stillinghast, while his stern, forbidding countenance wore a strange look of anxiety; "do you remember the young lady; and can you direct me to the place where you sawed the wood?"

"Oh, yes, your honor. I shall never forget her to my dying day. She was a little, bright-eyed lady, with a smile of an angel on her, by dad!"

"May," muttered the old man, "there is only one May. But I have a reason," he said, turning to the man, "for wishing to see this old woman; can you conduct me to the place?"

"I'm at your service intirely, sir. It's a good stretch, though," said the man, who looked weak from his recent illness.

"Is it near an omnibus route?"

"Yes, your honor, it is close by where they stop. You'll not have to walk far."

"Leave your saw here, then, and let us go. I have no time to spare on walks," said Mr. Stillinghast, in his peremptory way. His real object, however, was not so much to save time, as to afford the man an opportunity to avoid a long and fatiguing walk. "Tell Mr. Jerrold I will be back in the course of an hour," he said to Michael, as he passed out.

"Very well," replied Michael, heaving, with Titan strength, a bale on the truck; "and there goes a pair of 'em. My boss can afford to walk with a poor wood-sawyer; he looks like one hisself, and it's hard to tell 'tother from which;" and he planted his brawny hands on his thighs, and looked after them, with a broad smile on his honest countenance, until they got into the omnibus, and were whirled out of sight. At the dep?t, which is in the northern part of the city, they got out, and the two men pursued their way in silence. It was one of those cold, but calm, bright days in winter, when the very air seems filled with silent ripples of gladness; when the sunshine rests like a glory on the leafless trees, and bright-eyed robins chirp and peck the moss, as they hop from bough to bough; when the light of heaven is so over all, that even the dun-colored earth, the decayed leaves and rotten branches, which the autumn blast has laid low, look beautiful, and seem to whisper resurgam; when a cold, bracing wind sends the warm blood bounding through our hearts-tinting our cheeks, and warming our extremities, until we bless it, as we do the strong hand which leads us in childhood; and we listen, with docile tenderness, to its teachings, for it tells with pathos, of suffering in the hovels of the poor, and want, and poverty, and bids us thither like a winged angel. Down, beneath the rustic bridge, boys were shouting and skating on the frozen stream, their laughter echoing like music through the old woods; anon, the sharp crack of rifle, or the distant barking of dogs, rung on the still air, while the bells of the city, and the hum rising up from its crowded streets, blending with the clear echoes, made a concert of merry and harmonious sounds. Mr. Stillinghast paused on a knoll, and looked around him. There lay the rolling country, with its undulations of hill and vale, all interspersed, and adorned with picturesque cottages and elegant villas. Towards the east, up rose the splendid city, with up-hill and down-hill streets; its marble monuments, commemorative of great men and great deeds; its magnificent domes, raised in honor of the Most High God; its lofty towers, its princely mansions; while far beyond, stretching to the verge of the horizon, slumbered the quiet and beautiful bay, sparkling like a sea of ultramarine and diamonds, over whose waters hundreds of sails were hovering like white sea-fowl.

Towards the north-western boundary of the city, he saw the dark, massive founderies and manufactories, which, from their palatial-looking walls, sent out the never-ceasing clang of labor, and the tireless song of steam, to which thousands of stout arms and brawny sinews kept time. And far beyond these, out on the quiet hills, the scene terminated in a Marble City,[1] where, beneath trees of centuries growth, its inhabitants slumber silently through the long, cold night of death, until the revivifying beams of the resurrection day shall dawn on the earth-mantle that wraps their clay. But over all shone the glad beauty of the day. It poured down its effulgence alike on the city of the dead and the city of the living! Mr. Stillinghast had not looked on the like for years, long, dusty, dreary years; and he felt a tingling in his heart-a presence of banished memories, an expansion of soul, which softened and silenced him, while gradually it lifted from his countenance the harsh, ugly mask he usually wore.

"Here we are," said the man, pointing to old Mabel's cottage; "this is the place."

Then it occurred to Mr. Stillinghast, for the first time, that he had come there without any particular object in view-he had obeyed an impulse which he did not pause to analyze, and now, somewhat embarrassed he stood still, uncertain what to do.

"You may return," he said to the man, to whom he gave a dollar; "this will pay you for the time you have lost." The man thanked him, and went his way, rejoicing in the reward of such pleasant and easy labor.

"Why not go in?" he murmured, "I am here on a fool's errand, after all. But why not enter? If this old beggar is so destitute, I can leave her something to buy a loaf; but what business is it of mine? A plague on it all! What do I here-why are you here, Mark Stillinghast?" Then he opened the door very softly, and, as he did so, he heard these words repeated in a clear, sweet voice,-"For what shall it profit a man, if he gains the whole world, and lose his own soul!" then he saw May seated beside the old negro, reading from some pious, instructive book, of Christian doctrine. And those words came ringing down into his soul like the blast of ten thousand trumpets! He staggered back; his old, withered cheek, grew pallid, and he turne

d away and fled-but they pursued him. "Profit-gain-loss. Profit-gain-loss. Profit-gain-loss. I understand them!" he gasped. "I have heaped up gains; of earthly profit I have my share; and now, at the eleventh hour, it is summed up, and what is it-yes, what is it? IT IS LOSS. For all that is mortal, I have toiled my best hours away; for all that is immortal, not one hour have I spared. It is loss-loss-eternal loss." And so he went on muttering-back to his den in the city, where the leaden waves of business again came surging, breast high, around him; but through the dull, heavy sounds, the warning still rung, like distant knells, through his soul.

On his homeward way that night, the farther he receded from the noise of the city, the more it distinctly sounded, with its requiem wail, through the dreary chambers of his heart; and, somehow, he suddenly remembered, as he paused to rest, that it was on this very spot that he had seen Father Fabian administering the last rites of the church to a dying penitent; and he trembled, and hurried on, until he came to his own door. May was sitting up alone for him; and when she opened the door, and the rays from the hall lamp fell on his features, she saw that he looked ill and weary.

"Let me assist you, dear uncle," said May, taking his hat and returning to help him draw off his coat. "I fear you are not well."

"It is very cold," he replied, shivering, and yielding to her wishes.

"You will soon feel better, sir; see what a nice fire here is-and I have a piping-hot cup of tea and hot muffins for your supper."

"May Brooke," said the strange old man, while he laid his cold, heavy hand on her shoulder, "stop; answer the questions I shall ask you, truly and honestly."

"I will endeavor to do so, sir," replied May, lifting her clear, bright eyes to his.

"You can, and must. What object have you in providing for that old negro woman, on the outskirts of the city?"

"I pity her, sir, because she is poor and helpless, and do it, I hope, for the love of God," she said, amazed, but quiet.

"Very well. And now, for the love of God, answer this," he said, with anxiety; "tell me how, you provide for her-how you get means to buy wood and necessaries?"

"Dear uncle, I am sorry you have found it out. I do not like to speak of it-indeed, I would prefer not-it seems-so-yes-it seems like boasting, or talking too much about myself," said May, while her cheeks flushed crimson.

"Go on; I will know!" he said, harshly.

"Yes, sir. I earn a trifle every two or three weeks by knitting fancy articles, which Mrs. Tabb on C-- Street, disposes of for me-"

"And then-"

"And then, sir, I take care of old Mabel with the proceeds; but please, dear, dear uncle, do not forbid me to continue doing so; pray allow me the privilege of earning a trifle for her benefit while she lives; and then, sir, never-never speak of it to me or any one else, after this," she implored.

"I shall not hinder you, child," said Mr. Stillinghast, repressing a groan of anguish which struggled up from his heart. They went together into the sitting-room; and May spread his supper before him, but he only drank his tea, and pushing his plate away, came and sat in his armchair beside the fire.

"You have taken nothing, sir; pray try and eat this, it is very nice."

"I have such an infernal singing in my ears, that I cannot eat. I can hardly see. Ding, dong-ding, dong. Great Lord! if this should be eternal!" he exclaimed, forgetting the presence of May.

"You are not well, sir. Sit here near the fire; put your feet upon this cushion, so that the soles will be towards the fire, and while you smoke, I will read the paper to you," said May.

"For what?" he asked, turning his fierce, gray eyes upon her.

"Because you are not well, sir," she said, looking calmly into them.

"Do you know that I have made my will,-cut you off with a few paltry dollars, not enough to feed you, and left that Helen-that trifler-that waif, a princely fortune?" he asked, savagely.

"You have a right, sir, to do as you please with your own. You have sheltered, schooled, and fed me-I have no right to expect more," she said, gently.

"And if I should be sick-die-what then?" he asked, impatiently.

"Dear uncle, you alarm me. Do you feel ill? If so, oh, dearest uncle, attend first of all to your eternal concerns-make your peace with God while it is yet day, and enter into that fold whose Shepherd is Jesus Christ; where one Lord, one Faith, one Baptism reign!" exclaimed May, grasping his hand.

"Be silent, you incorrigible papist; what need is there of flying off at such a tangent?" said Mr. Stillinghast, with a grim smile; "I did not mean that, but what will become of you when I am dead?"

"I have a head, sir, and hands, and great faith in Him, who has promised to be a father to the orphan. I shall never want. In honest exertion I shall be happy and content," she said, earnestly.

"And you do not regret or envy the fortune?

"Not on my own account, sir."

"On whose, then?"

"There are many, sir, who might be benefited by it, if properly applied. I think, now, if I had a fortune, I could do a great deal of good with it."

"You'd do harm, May Brooke-you'd do harm. You'd squander it-you'd encourage pauperism, and worthlessness, and beggary!" he burst out.

"I shall never have it to do good or evil with, uncle; but if I had, I would endeavor, for God's sake, to bestow it where it was needed; and because it would be offered for the love of Him, my works would not fall useless or fruitless to the earth. HE would bless and aid me."

"Profit-gain-loss," again muttered the old man. "But, as you will never inherit a fortune, I suppose your good intentions must suffice."

"Yes, sir, for the present."

"And, now that you have nothing to expect from me, of course you will feel quite independent of me and my wishes. If I should be ill, I suppose you'd take off and leave me to my fate," he said, bitterly.

"No, sir," she said, calmly; "but words and professions are mere sentences written in sand-the first wave washes them out. I don't want a fortune. I would not have gold, as I live, sir, except as the minister of my good purposes, the slave on which I could set my heel, unless it served me to lay up treasure in heaven. And should you be ill, dear uncle, I trust you will find no disposition in me to shrink from my duty."

"There it is again," he murmured, as he got up, and walked to and fro. "Profit-loss-gain. Give me my candle; I must go to bed-I feel very weary and tired."

"Shall I get anything for you, sir?"

"No," he replied.

"I shall wait for Helen, sir, and if you want anything, just rap on the floor, or call, and I will come up instantly."

"Go to bed-go to bed, child," he said, in his old, rough way, as he went out into the hall to go up to his room.

[1] Greenmount Cemetery.

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