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   Chapter 15 THE DISCOVERY.

May Brooke By Anna Hanson Dorsey Characters: 23083

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:03


The old man was far down in the shadow of the mountain; the day was well-nigh spent, when, by the grace of God, he fled into the fold of Faith for safety; and now, when all was over, the Church, like a loving mother, more tender of the repentant prodigal, who had fallen at her feet, and died, than of those who had never sullied, or torn their robes, and squandered their substance in the world's wild wilderness, poured out the riches of its solemnities around the altar, where the Divine Sacrifice was offered, with touching prayers, for his eternal repose.

Father Fabian officiated, and spoke eloquently of the nothingness of the world, the uncertainty of life, and the emptiness of riches. The cathedral was crowded by persons whom the news of Mr. Stillinghast's conversion had brought together, and who, regarding it as an extraordinary event, were desirous of witnessing the funeral ceremonies, and at the same time testify their respect for his memory. The most influential and wealthy of the class to which he belonged were present, and habituated as they were to look at every thing in a commercial point of view, their general opinion was that their old companion in trade had made a good bargain. "He was stern and harsh," they said, "but honest and upright; and too shrewd altogether to make a bad speculation in the end, and doubtless he had sought only his best interests in the step he had taken."

But in all that crowd there was only one heart which felt an emotion of grief, or had a single tear to drop on his coffin-lid. After a long life of toil, and solitude, and unlovingness, only one. May felt this while she wept, and wished she had been more patient and persevering in her love while he lived; but such regrets were useless now, except to kindle charity. She could do nothing which would be available to make up the deficiencies of the past, but incessantly beseech Jesus Christ, through which his bitter passion and death, and the Immaculate Mother, by the union she bore, body and soul, in the unspeakable agonies of the CROSS, to grant him a speedy release from suffering probation, to eternal refreshment, and light, and peace.

It was late when the funeral cortege returned to the city, and Mr. Fielding, perceiving that May was much overcome, and looked ill, declined going in, or attending to business that evening.

"I will be here at ten o'clock to-morrow morning. I know that my deceased client's affairs are all in such order, that there will be no delay in carrying out his wishes."

"Just as you think best, Mr. Fielding," replied May, wearily.

"What say you, Miss Stillinghast?" he said, addressing Helen.

"To-morrow will be quite time enough, sir," replied Helen, in a low tone.

Time enough, indeed! Well might she feel a sense of relief at its being deferred, when she knew that from the moment it was discovered that the will was missing, the temptations which had led her so deeply into sin would become demons of vengeance to torture and disturb her. As she went up with a heavy step to her room, an angel whisper suggested that there was time enough yet to undo the wrong she had committed. It startled and agitated her. "Can I bear these chains?" was the question. Weak, but never hardened in wickedness, she trembled, and was afraid of the penalties of her offence; and when she looked up, and saw by the flickering candlelight the image of the CRUCIFIED, and the sorrowful face of his Virgin Mother, both bending on her looks of tenderness and woe, which said, as plain as looks could say, "Child of my passion! soul, ransomed by my death! why wound me so deeply?" With a low cry, she threw herself on her pillow. "I shall never know peace again," her heart whispered; "I already feel the anguish of guilt; I begin to taste on earth the pangs of ever-lasting woe. This sin, with the human shame it will bring, will be an abyss between me and the Sacraments of the Church. Where shall I turn for peace? I can never bear this burden; it will madden me. I feel even now so guilty that I dare not lift my eyes to Walter's, for whose sake I do it. I feel an awe and dread steal over me when May comes near me as if she had Ithuriel's spear with which to touch me. I will do it," she said, with sudden resolution, and got up, and opened her trunk with the almost determined purpose of restoring the will to the place from which she had taken it. But oh, human frailty! the light falling on an open case of rare jewels, and some costly articles of her bridal trousseau, met her eye; then followed visions of splendor-of such power as wealth gives-of equipages and luxury, which swept away, like ocean-tides, the thoughts which her angel-guardian had written on her conscience. Hesitating no longer, a smile of triumph lit her face, and crowning the spectre with roses, and wrapping a drapery of pale illusions around it, she offered herself to a martyrdom of sin, to secure her worldly advancement.

"I suppose," said Mr. Fielding, the next morning to May, "that I shall find the will in that little closet, where your uncle kept his most important papers?"

"I presume so, sir. I placed it there at his request, in the place he designated, after you went away, the day it was written," replied May.

"That closet could tell strange things," said the lawyer, "if it could speak; but I believe I have come a half hour before the time appointed, as the others are not here."

"They are coming now. I see Mr. Jerrold and Father Fabian walking this way, and I think that is Dr. Burrell's carriage down the street," said May, looking out.

"All right. May, suppose you had Aladdin's lamp?" said the lawyer, rubbing his hands.

"I wouldn't have such a thing, sir," said May, quietly.

"Why, young lady?"

"I should be afraid of the monster it might evoke. Poor Aladdin had a miserable time of it from the beginning, in my opinion," said May.

"Riches have their cares," said Mr. Fielding.

"Cares without much peace," replied May.

Just then Mr. Jerrold, Dr. Burrell, and Father Fabian came in; and after exchanging the compliments of the day with the ladies and Mr. Fielding, prepared to execute the business which had brought them together. Mr. Fielding, accompanied by Mr. Jerrold, went up to get the will. He had long held the most intimate business relations with Mr. Stillinghast, and was the only man living who had ever been in his confidence. He knew the contents of every parcel and package of writing in the old desk and bureau, and could just tell where he was at fault now. There was only one will to be found, and that was the one which the deceased had declared should be null and void. The group below who were conversing on some interesting topic, were soon amazed to hear Mr. Fielding's voice in loud and excited tones at the head of the staircase. Clearing two or three steps at a time, he bounded into the room, followed by Mr. Jerrold, who was pale and silent. He was usually a grave and quiet person, and so governed by system, that the very hairs on his head might have been said to be arranged numerically.

"Here's a pretty thing come to pass!" he exclaimed, throwing a bundle of papers on the table; "a most beautiful kettle of fish. The last will and testament of the deceased is missing. Yes, sirs! can't be found. May, who was in your uncle's room the last night he lived? I say then, because the closet in which the will was placed was locked then, and the key has been in my pocket ever since. Who was there?"

"I was there, sir," said May, astonished at the uproar.

"Who else?"

"Helen was there for a little while."

"Who else?"

"The doctor came at eleven o'clock."

"The doctor didn't steal the will. Are you sure no one else came in afterwards?"

"Father Fabian administered the Holy Viaticum to my uncle. After that, no one except Helen and myself were there."

"Were you awake all the time?'

"I think not, sir. I believe I slept about ten minutes."

"Why didn't you sleep ten years, May?" exclaimed the irritated lawyer. "And you, Miss Stillinghast, please to state what occurred while your cousin slept. I suppose you kept awake, as you have heavy interests at stake?"

"Mr. Fielding, this lady is my affianced wife; oblige me by assuming a more gentle tone," said Walter Jerrold, taking his stand beside Helen.

"If she was your grandmother, sir, this matter must be sifted; and let me tell you, not only sifted here, but in open court, whither I shall carry it, unless the will is forthcoming. What occurred, Miss Stillinghast, during the ten minutes that little fool slept?"

"Only this, sir," said Helen, who felt supported by Mr. Jerrold's protection; "my uncle roused himself a little, and told me to take some packages of paper out of the closet, and put them under the grate. He said 'they were records of the past which he wished to perish with him.'"

"So-so!" said the lawyer, significantly.

"But," continued Helen, speaking in a clearer, and more assured tone, "I had just laid my hand on the knob to open the door, when he discovered that it was not May to whom he had been speaking, and in harsh tones he ordered me back, and commanded me to awaken May, and leave the room, which I did, for his terrible looks alarmed me so dreadfully that I could not remain."

"And you, May?"

"I got out the papers, sir, as my uncle directed, and burnt them, as he desired. Helen is right," replied May.

"And what did you burn?"

"Papers. Some in packages, and some in large envelopes, like that you hold in your hand," replied May, calmly.

"Why the deuce, then, didn't you put your head under the grate, and burn that too? You have burnt the will, that's clear: the will which would have made you the richest woman in Maryland. With those 'records of the past,' which my old friend Stillinghast ought to have eaten up years ago, you have burnt up legacies to orphans, benefactions to widows, and many noble charities with it-if it was burnt," added Mr. Fielding.

"Mr. Fielding," said May, lifting her hands with an earnest gesture, "If I thought I had through a careless, or heedless act, injured the interests of any living being, I should be truly miserable. I cannot comprehend the charges, or the cause of your unusual and ungentle excitement."

"You miserably innocent child! You poor, unworldly infant! I will endeavor to beat it into your comprehension, if you will listen. Your deceased uncle made two wills; one a few months ago, leaving the bulk of his fortune to his niece, Miss Helen Stillinghast, and to his other niece, May Brooke, the splendid life annuity of one hundred and fifty dollars. But on Thursday last having felt, by the judgment and grace of God, that so unequal a division was unjust, and being convinced that the said May Brooke would squander his gains precisely as he wished at that moment he had been doing all his life, viz., amongst the poor, destitute, and afflicted, he made another will, in which he devised the handsome sum of fifty thousand dollars, and some real estate, to Helen Stillinghast; and to May Brooke, his well-beloved niece and heiress, two hundred thousand dollars, this house, lot, and furniture, and other properties. But this will is missing-burnt up, it is supposed; and the first one is good in law, and I will read it, although I protest against its being executed until a thorough investigation is made, and I am well assured that there has been no foul play in the case," said the lawyer, impressively.

"Mr

. Fielding," said Walter Jerrold, speaking out from the most honorable motives, "I feel as you do; and before reading the will, let us make a more patient and thorough search. We may have over-looked it. Neither Helen, nor myself, could ever feel satisfied, or happy, in the possession of property which, in the sight of Heaven, belongs to another."

"Sir, your sentiments do you honor. I accept of your suggestions," said Mr. Fielding, fixing a penetrating gaze on Walter Jerrold's countenance. "Come, May, you go with us, and help us to search high and low through the closet and bureau."

Father Fabian, who had come at the request of Mr. Fielding, had been a silent, but not unconcerned witness of this strange and unexpected scene, and looked for its issue with the deepest interest. Dr. Burrell exploded every now and then in opinions, which contained more feeling than legal reasoning, and consequently were of no importance. Helen's presence restrained all conversation on the subject while the others were absent from the room, and Father Fabian, having no time to drift idly on a single moment of his life, took a seat in one of the deep embrasures of the windows, and read portions of his "office" from the well-worn Breviary, which he drew from his pocket.

But the search for the lost will was in vain. Assisted zealously by Walter Jerrold and May, Mr. Fielding left no corner of the room unexplored. The bed and mattress-the tester and curtains, were turned, shaken, and unfolded. Every drawer and nook was inspected. The shelves of the little closet were removed, and the panel at the back and sides pried off, but in vain; and Mr. Fielding sat down quite exhausted, and folding his hands, exclaimed, or rather growled, "I congratulate you, May. It has all turned out precisely as your humility hoped it would, no doubt."

"Sir," said May, gently, "I am no worse off now than I was yesterday. I should have felt much encumbered by so large a fortune. I'm afraid it would have made me dizzy and foolish; indeed, sir, I feel quite unequal to the responsibility of such a stewardship. I feel deeply grateful to my poor uncle, and also to you, for your kind wishes in my regard, but, believe me, I am quite content for matters to stand just as they are, so far as I am concerned." Then breaking down, May broke out into a regular womanly fit of crying.

"May," said the lawyer, more gently, "when you took those papers out of that infer-that closet there, did you see those two wills lying together?"

"I saw nothing, sir, except the papers I went to get."

"And which you burned?"

"Which I burned up to the last scrap."

"Very well. You burned up the will too. You have been purified by fire with a vengeance. Do you still believe in guardian angels?"

"Just as firmly as ever, sir," she replied, fixing her clear eyes on him.

"Where was yours, pray, while you was doing just what the devil would have you?"

"Guarding me from evils to come, I trust. Oh, sir, it is very perilous to one's soul to be rich!" she exclaimed, with one of her sunlit expressions.

"Very well, again! 'Gad, how Plato would have loved you! But see here, you most uncommon of little bodies! I want just such a daughter as you are. My heart is desolate. All that I loved have passed away! Will you-will you come and keep house for me, like you did for old Stillinghast? Come-come, tell me at once; I am old and tottering," said the lawyer, trying to twinkle away a tear from his large gray eyes.

"Oh, dear me! dear, kind Mr. Fielding!" cried May, weeping on Mr. Fielding's shoulder; "I hope Heavenly Father will bless you for your kind intentions to a friendless orphan; but, indeed, sir, I cannot say-I don't think it would suit me to be dependent."

"Who wants you to be dependent?" roared out Mr. Fielding; "I'll hire you, if that will suit you better, to keep house, mend my stockings, and make tea for me; that will board you, and your splendid annuity will clothe you."

"I will tell you in a few days, sir. I have not quite decided what I shall do. I am so tossed and worried now I can think of nothing clearly," sobbed May.

"Let us go down, sir, and go on with the business which brought us here," said Mr. Fielding, while he lifted May's head gently up from his shoulder. "Whatever you decide on, May Brooke, remember that I am your protector, defender, and friend."

And so May was blamed for the loss of the will. Grieving more for the solid benefits which were lost to the poor and destitute,-for the alms which would have sent up incense to heaven in behalf of the soul of the giver,-May thought not of herself, only so far as to vow her energies, her labors, her life, to the good of those who, through her heedlessness, had been injured. She was not clear that she did not burn the will; she thought she had not done so, but she would not, for the world, have taken an oath to that effect. It is not to be supposed, however, that so shrewd a man as Mr. Fielding, and a man so experienced in all the devious and sinuous windings of the human heart as Father Fabian, were without their suspicions, but the one through policy, and the other through charity, forebore to express in words what they were not prepared to prove by legal facts.

May kept her plans to herself, and in her matter-of-fact way set the house in order, and arranged, day after day, every article in its particular place; and was scrupulously exact that not a scrap of old lumber, cracked china, broken spoons, or half-worn linen, should be missing on the day of the sale. Helen, quite unconcerned about such homely matters, dashed about in Mrs. Jerrold's carriage from morning until night, making splendid purchases, and indulged in all those expensive tastes which her natural love for the beautiful, and her undisciplined will, made so necessary to her happiness. Happiness! Could she in whose soul the poison of a hidden sin was already doing its work of restless fever, and unceasing torture, be happy? Alas! no; she felt that hence forth she was to know not rest on earth-beyond, she dared not look.

One evening-the eve of her bridal, she and May were together, once more, in the antique parlor. Helen, flushed, and splendidly beautiful;-May, calm, and pleasant, her cheeks and brow a little pale, but very lovely from the inner light reflected on them.

"May, are you still determined not to witness my marriage?" asked

Helen, abruptly.

"Yes, Helen. The same barrier to my being present exists, I presume?"

"If my being married by a Protestant minister, is the apology for your absence, it does," replied Helen, with a decided air.

"Do not say apology, Helen; I do not pretend to offer one. It is your privilege to make your marriage, as far as you are concerned, sacramental; as a Catholic, it is your duty to do so. By acting otherwise, you disobey the Church, and place yourself in a position of great danger; and I do not choose to be implicated, by being present at the ceremonial."

"You are a most obstinate person;-but just as you please. What are your plans, if I may ask?" said Helen, feeling ill at ease.

"Very plain and honest ones, Helen," said May, measuring out the tea.

"I should not suspect you, May, of any other," said Helen, with a sarcastic manner; "but let us hear them, if you are not ashamed of them!"

"I am ashamed of nothing, Helen, but the guilt of sin. As to my plans, I do not know that you feel any genuine interest in them; and, as we shall not meet often, I suppose, it is scarcely necessary to unfold them."

"I have a motive in asking you, May-a good one, too. I wish to assist you," said Helen.

"I thank you, dear Helen, but I really do not require the least assistance. The sum my uncle left me, added to what I shall earn, will support me nicely," she replied.

"Earn! how? Shall you take in sewing?" screamed Helen.

"No. I have rented a nice room from my old friend Mrs. Tabb, who keeps the trimming store, and she has engaged to sell all the fancy knitting I can do. I am very well provided for, you perceive."

"I perceive nothing of the kind. It is positively ridiculous and disgraceful. What will the world say?" exclaimed Helen.

"The world, dear Helen! What business has the world with me? I owe it nothing but its just tribute of good citizenship. Oh, Helen! the world can soothe no pang when sorrow comes;-it can bring us no peace when death touches our hearts with his inexorable hand. No, no; there are no interests in common between the world and me."

"Gracious! what a fanatic!" said Helen, keeping down the wrestling and struggling of her heart; and, with a careless air, throwing back the long, bright curls, from her faultless face. "But listen to reason, May. You have been unfairly dealt with. I cannot reconcile the thing to either my pride or conscience. Walter feels as I do; and I can tell you we are extremely anxious to have you become an inmate of our family-to be in it, like myself, and feel free to act, and think, as you please. I can assure you, Walter has a prodigiously high opinion of you."

"Helen," said May, fixing those clear luminous eyes on the shifting countenance of her cousin, "your offer is, no doubt, kindly meant-but I cannot accept it. I would not, Helen, if you offered me half your fortune, live in a house so unblessed, as I fear-as I fear yours will be."

"And why such predictions?" asked Helen, haughtily.

"Can one who defies the spirit of God by disobedience-and-yes, I must say it-apostasy, expect blessings? And could I, who daily implore Heavenly Father to save me from temptation, thrust myself under its influence? Oh, no! no, Helen. Enjoy life after your fashion-whirl through its giddy circles, if such is your choice-but leave me in obscurity, to follow out the path which leads to something beyond the grave. But, dear Helen, let us part in peace-my prayers shall follow you; and I do beseech you, by the memory of the bitter passion and death of Jesus Christ, and the Dolors of His Immaculate Mother, to reflect, sometimes, on what should be the aims of an immortal soul!"

"You are a strange creature, May," said Helen, with a quivering lip, and a momentary impulse to throw herself at May's feet, and confess her guilt, which flitted away. "You will visit me sometimes, May?"

"If you are sick, or sorrowful, or repentant, send for me."

"But you will come and see how very happy I am.-Just once?"

"I cannot promise, Helen. Events will determine me," replied May, in a gentle tone.

"I have a favor to ask, May, which you cannot refuse!" said Helen, with a degree of timidity unusual to her; "will you grant it?"

"I hope so, Helen. What is it?"

"There is a picture in our room-a valuable old painting of the Mater Dolorosa. I always fancied there was a look of my mother, particularly about the eyes, in the countenance. I should like to have it copied by some first-rate artist to hang up in my chamber."

"Certainly, dear Helen. I would offer you the picture as a keep-sake, only it was highly prized by my father; and there are so many associations connected with it, which makes it very precious to me. Whenever you wish it, let me know, and I will go with it myself to the artist."

The next day they parted. Helen, arrayed in costly silks, laces, and jewelry, went forth a bride, and pronounced irrevocable vows, which made her the wife of a man, who, highly honorable in a worldly sense, was the professed enemy of the creed she professed.

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