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   Chapter 16 THE DEATH DREAM.

May Brooke By Anna Hanson Dorsey Characters: 23583

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:03

While the splendid festivities which succeeded Helen's marriage afforded a topic of conversation for the bon ton of three cities, May was quietly preparing to leave the old house, beneath whose roof she had learned so many lessons of self-denial, patience, and constancy; while she found time, each day, to pay her accustomed visit to old Mabel, who was approaching nearer and nearer her eternal rest. In serving her, May felt richly rewarded by the edification she derived from her simple piety, and the perfect resignation and joyful submission she evinced to the Divine Will. She was frequently astonished at the untaught eloquence of her expressions, and the beautiful humility of her language, when she spoke of the mercy of Almighty God, and lifted up her heart in joyful aspirations and effusions of love, to JESUS and MARY. The sacred and crucified, Humanity of ONE, and the suffering and anguish of the Humanity of the OTHER, seemed to condescend so entirely to her low estate, that the divinity of JESUS, and the measureless love of MARY, His Mother, were folded like a garment around her, and strengthened, and consoled, and brightened her path, as she approached the shadow through which she was to pass. And while May's inmost heart united its pure emotions in harmony with the mysteries of faith and grace, the words of an old English poet rippled through her mind in sweet accord with them.

"If bliss had lay in art or strength,

None but the wise or strong had gained it;

Where now by faith, all arms are of a length,

One size doth all conditions fit.

A peasant may believe as much

As a great clerk, and reach the highest stature;

Thus dost Thou make proud knowledge bend and crouch,

While grace fills up uneven nature." [1]

When May had proposed to Mrs. Tabb to live, or, rather, lodge with her, nothing of its kind could exceed the enthusiastic reception she met. She poured out a torrent of exclamations and superlatives, which set all the rules of grammar at defiance. Then she broke out in the vociferous indignation at "the old miser's meanness," and last, and more outrageous than all, were her reflections on "upstartish misses, who drop from the clouds when no one expects them, and get all and every thing that them ought to had, who had been waiting, and bearing with people's meanness and ill-humor from their cradels up." And if, at that moment, she had not tilted her snuff-box, which was filled with Scotch snuff, over, under May's nose, whereupon both were seized with a paroxysm of sneezing, which was an effectual interruption to her tirade, she would have been silenced by a few charitable explanations.

When May returned home, she found Mr. Jerrold waiting in the parlor. He offered his hand; and there was such an air of sincerity in his manner, that it dispelled all May's reserve.

"I have brought Helen's love," he said, while he uncovered a magnificent bouquet, "and these roses and violets. They are the first of the season."

"These are very, very beautiful and fragrant, and I thank you most heartily for them. How is Helen?"

"She is looking well, but she falls occasionally into fits of despondency, which is either the result of much fatigue and excitement, or some cause which she does not wish to explain. I wish you would come and live with us. Helen needs a sister," said the young man.

"Dear Mr. Jerrold," said old-fashioned May, "I have tried to find my way to Helen's heart, but, to be frank with you, our ways lie too differently. Helen will have none of my friendship on those terms on which I alone can give it. But you do not understand it all.-You are a Protestant, and wish to see Helen one; therefore, I should be a discord in your house, because, if there, my duty would not allow me to hold my peace."

"Helen is too young and beautiful to mope about religion," he said, carelessly. "When she gets older, and is more tied down by domestic cares, it will be necessary and respectable for her to be religious; and then, egad, if she wishes it, I'd as lief she'd be a Catholic as any thing else."

"Helen will be ill-prepared, I fear, for a life of pious example, if she devotes all of her energies now to the world. Grace, you know, sir, is not a human thing which can be bought with money, or worldly eloquence," replied May, earnestly.

"Helen has no truer friend, I believe, on my honor, May, than yourself; but, really, she must enjoy life a little longer; then I will turn her over to you and her father confessor;-but I came for a purpose, to-day."

"A friendly one, I am sure!" said May.

"Yes. I saw Mr. Fielding this morning, and consulted him about the expediency of your remaining here, as you wont live with us. We wish the place kept up;-it is a curioso in its way-an antique with all its appurtenances; and I do not know any one more in keeping with it, than cousin May."

May laughed. "You think that, as we harmonize so exactly, we should be a mutual protection to each other?"

"Precisely. Will you remain?"

"No. It would be pleasant on some accounts, but would not be at all suitable on others. A residence here would very materially interrupt the objects and aims of my life, in which pursuit I can alone be happy."

"Dodona's Cave! How oracular!" said Mr. Jerrold, laughing outright.

"Explain, dear Sopho, your argument!"

"Will you understand? But how can you, a Protestant, understand the motive power of a Catholic heart?" said May.

"Proceed. I will give you oracle for oracle. I am a Protestant in principle, but not in fact," was the light reply.

"I have always felt that while I ate no idle bread I was of some use on earth. I have always been accustomed to an active life. Labor gives one an opportunity of learning many virtues;-patience amongst them, and not the least, humility. I should have nothing to do, here. The necessity for exertion would be gone; and, really, I am too much afraid of myself, to trust to exigencies. No, no! I must have an aim which will require the exercise of my most active energies. Dependence will not suit me."

"That is it," broke in Mr. Jerrold. "Pride is at the bottom of the whole argument. May! this moment you are as proud as the devil!"

"Oh, sir! pray do not think that. I really feel extremely grateful for your kind intentions," said May, looking distressed. "I have other reasons, which I cannot very well explain, for choosing the way of life that I have. Only please to understand this, that I should be very miserable, if I were placed, now, in a situation which would leave me without responsibility."

"You are a paradox. You ought to be ten feet high, May, with such a will as yours. You won't live with us, because we are so wicked that you'd have to preach to us about our sins; and you won't live here, because you're afraid you'll get as bad as we are. Well, well! be happy your own way, and come and see Helen when you can," said Mr. Jerrold, laughing, as he got up to leave.

"I feel your kindness deeply, Mr. Jerrold. I hope you are not hurt or offended?"

"Not in the least. I think you are bearing your wrongs like a saint; and I wish I was only half as good," replied Mr. Jerrold, shaking hands with her.

"Tell Helen that I am thankful for the flowers, and will offer them this evening, with a prayer for her conversion, to OUR MOTHER," said May.

"I thought her mother was dead and buried!" thought Mr. Jerrold, as he walked down the street. "What a curious little soul she is!"

After dinner, May went to inform Father Fabian that she had declined Mr. Fielding's offer, and would remove to Mrs. Tabb's in the course of a day or two. But she saw him in the garden walk in the rear of the house, walking to and fro, reading his office, and went into the church, where she offered the rich bouquet Helen had sent her, on the shrine of Our Lady, the refuge; after which, she said, with great devotion, a decade of the rosary, for her conversion. Father Fabian was standing in the door when she returned, and watched her, as she approached, with a grave, but quizzical, expression of countenance.

"I am glad to see you, my child, in your long dresses yet," he said, holding out his hand, kindly.

"Sir," said May, looking perplexed.

"I did not feel sure but that you had adopted the new school so much in favor with your sex, judging from all that I have heard," he replied, laughing.

"What new school? What have you heard, Father?" she asked, anxiously.

"The strong-minded women's-school!"

"I see that you have some jest at my expense, and I must be patient until it is explained," said May, sitting down.

"Yes, yes; be patient."

"Will you not tell me, Father, what I have done?"

"May, do you believe that you burned the will the night your uncle lay dying?" asked Father Fabian, abruptly.

"I do not think I did. I may, however, have done so."

"Mr. Fielding intends to endeavor to set aside the will which was found. He had good legal reasons to expect that he can secure you an equal share of your uncle's estate with your cousin."

"I hope he will do no such thing, sir. I am quite satisfied."

"But he and the witnesses to the other will are not, because there are very important public and religious interests involved in its loss."

"If that is the case, I can only object so far as I am individually concerned," said May; "but I hope most earnestly that Mr. Fielding will let the matter rest a short time longer-a few months, for the longer I think of it that I did not burn the will, and I feel a presentiment that it will come to light," said May, earnestly.

"And you will not give your consent, as one of the heirs, to go to law?"

"Not yet-not yet, Father. Let us wait a little. If it is mislaid, it may be found; if any one has wronged me by secreting it, they may repent."

"Was there ever such a wild goose on earth?" said Father Fabian, laughing. "You know as much about the world now, May, as you did eighteen years ago, when you were just two months old."

"But, Father, you have always taught me to have faith in God, and told me in all difficulties to have recourse to him and the Blessed Virgin. If it is for his glory, and the good of his creatures, the lost will will be found," she said, earnestly.

"You are right, my child. God's holy will be done," said Father Fabian, lifting his bounet-carre from his brow. "But, having turned a theological point against me, can you explain your most obstinate refusal to accept of Mr. Fielding's and Mr. Jerrold's kind offers of a home, where ease, luxury, and elegance would attend you? You seem determined to take a stand against your interests in every way. What rational objection can you oppose to their offers?"

"Dear Father, are you displeased with your poor child?" asked May, with humility.

"To be frank, my dear child, I consider your conduct a little unusual," said Father Fabian, looking down to conceal the smile that brightened his eyes. "How could you act so?"

"Simply and frankly because I wished to be free."

"Woman's rights! As I suspected, woman's rights!" exclaimed Father

Fabian, lifting his hands with horror.

"Soul's rights, Father! Soul's rights!" said May, in an impassioned manner. "I could not live with Helen in peace without spiritual bondage. Her way of life would leave me no neutral ground to stand on. She has forsaken her religion; every act of hers is therefore open rebellion against God, and I must have raised my voice in one incessant clamor had I lived with her. Had I gone to dear, kind Mr. Fielding, he might have made demands on time which I have devoted to religion, which my gratitude might have disposed me to yield to. But I am grateful to them all for their kind intentions, and I am

sure, if their friendship is real, they will be happier to know that I am happy in my own way."

"Is this all, May?" asked Father Fabian, who suspected her of entertaining other reasons still.

"I had hoped to keep it secretly, but I have another reason. You know that I am blamed for the loss of that will, which made noble bequests to the poor and destitute. I may be guilty; I cannot pretend to say that I am not, therefore, as a sort of reparation to those afflicted ones, who would have been relieved by my uncle's bounty, of which I perhaps, by an act of carelessness have deprived them, I have made a vow to dedicate my life, my energies, and will, to the service of the poor in active and laborious works," said May, with a grave and humble manner.

"Your motives are good, my child; only let us be careful not to seek our own gratification too much, either temporal or spiritual, in our works. I certainly acquit you of all modern chivalry. I will see Mr. Fielding about that affair this evening, and request him to postpone it."

"If you please, Father," said May, over whose countenance a shadow had fallen.

"What is the trouble now, little one?" asked Father Fabian.

"Have I been presumptuous, Father? Have I been lifting up my hands to heaven like the Pharisee, and thanking God that I am not like others? Oh, Father, I think I should rather die than be self-righteous!"

"I think not, my child. Only we must not rely too much on our intentions, which may be, morally speaking, good, but spiritually bad, if they are not united with great humility. I should be false to your soul's interests if I dealt not plainly with you. But go now to your old pensioner. I administered to her this morning the last rites of the Church, and think it more than possible that before another sunrise she will have passed away from this life of mourning and gloom."

"I thought yesterday evening, when I was there, that her sufferings were nearly at an end," said May, wiping off a tear.

"Her dispositions are perfect," continued Father Fabian. "Oh, in the last hour, if the soul is right before God, how vain appears all human learning! how little the wisdom of ages! how less than nothing the splendor and grandeur of riches! Soon-very soon, that ignorant and poverty-stricken old negro, who, like Lazarus, has been lying at the door of the rich, great world, humbly thankful for the crumbs she has received, will be endowed with knowledge and wisdom; she will read and have solved mysteries which the greatest sages of antiquity, and the profoundest philosophers of modern times have shrunk from, overwhelmed with the vastness of their conception. She will have looked on the face of Him who suffered for her, and be, through his divine mercy, and the merits of his bitter passion, admitted into eternal rest. Oh faith, mistress of learning! Oh humility, without which the learned shall not enter heaven! Possess our hearts-reign in our souls for ever. But go now; tell her I will see her in the morning, unless she is beyond my reach."

It was a clear, soft evening. The sky, as the sun declined, was filled as with the brightness of flashing wings, while the golden light broke in ripples around the isles of cloud that hung over the deep. The flute-like whistle of the blue-bird, and the odor of violets, and young budding leaves, were in the air together-music, light, and fragrance, like harmonies from the spirit-land, blending softly together. The earth was clothed in its new garment, for spring had risen from the grave, and its resurrection was glorious. Over the ways of the city, and in the suburban lanes; in the glens and dells of the forest, and the distant slopes of the blue hills; over the mounds of the silent dead, where the germs of infinite life are planted,-where, like pearls, lying beneath the earth-billows, they will sleep in their sealed shells until, from the eastern gates of heaven, springs the eternal dawn, which shall gather them in, clothed with new light, to be set amongst the crown-jewels of God,-the sweet clover, the tender grass, and wild flowers were springing together. In flowed all this sweetness down to the depths of May's soul, as she walked along, and led her feelings sweetly up to that clime of which the fairest and purest of earth-born things are only the gray shadows; and rejoicing in nature and high hope, she came in sight of Mabel's cottage. She saw the child who lived with her, and called her grandmother, playing about the door, and beckoning to her, inquired "how she was?"

"I'se right well, missy. Granny's asleep."

"How is she?" again, asked May.

"She's heap better, missy; she bin sleep dis ever so long."

"Very well. You can play out here a little longer; but don't go away, and I will go in and wait until Aunt Mabel wakes," said May, giving her some ginger-bread she had bought for her. The child, glad of its freedom, remained watching the birds and clouds.

May opened the door, and entered softly. She went towards the bed, and saw that the mysterious and awful change, which tells that the inexorable decree is gone forth, and the "arrow fastened," was fast settling on old Mabel's features. Yet there was nothing uncouth or grotesque in that shrivelled and swarthy face, because FAITH, which leads death captive, had shed over them a supernatural calm, which ennobled them with a solemn sweetness. Her poor old hand, so long withered and helpless, dropped beside her; the other, around which her rosary was wrapped, lay on her breast. May took off her bonnet and scarf, and knelt down to say the dolorous mysteries of the rosary. "Remember, oh most loving Mother, by these, thy own dolors, the soul of thy poor servant, who will soon be engaged in her last earthly conflict. Rescue, oh Mother of Sorrows, through thy intercession, and the bitter passion and death of thy Divine Son, from the foes who lie in wait for her soul, and conduct her under thy safeguard to eternal light and peace." Thus prayed the Christian maiden by the dying slave; caste, race, and fetters were falling together into the deep abyss of death. She would soon know the glorious freedom of one of the heirs of Christ.

"Oh, lady! oh, beautiful missis! this is a mean place for your crowned head and shining robes to come into. And who are those beside you, glorious and fair?" murmured the old woman, suddenly stretching out both arms towards the door, and looking earnestly beyond May at something unseen.

"Queen of Heaven! how is it that you come to me? I am not worthy to lift my eyes to yours, yet you are here," she continued, while an awe, unspeakable and sweet, fell on May, who did not move.

"To deliver my soul, and conduct me to the feet of your Divine Son?" she said, after a short pause, as if some one had answered her, and she repeated the words.

"Oh grace! oh splendor! oh sweetness! oh clemency! oh hope!" she exclaimed. "If I could, I would be worthy of such love-I would spread gold and precious things at your feet; but I am only a poor old negro, covered with patches and shreds. But fill my heart with all the love it can hold, and take that-it's all I've got to offer." Again, as if listening, she paused, then, with a smile of rapture, cried out, "Love Jesus! love Mary! Oh, Jesus! oh, Mary! my soul is filled with Jesus and Mary!" Then her eyes closed, her hands sunk down, and she seemed to sleep again.

"Was it a vision? Was it a dream?" thought May; "or had she been in the presence of MARY and the angels of heaven? Had they surrounded her, as she watched and prayed by the side of the dying woman? She could not tell, but she felt that the air had been stirred by heavenly visitants. Ere long old Mabel awoke, and looked wildly and eagerly around her; then her eyes settled on May's countenance.

"How do you feel, Aunt Mabel, now?" she asked, in a low voice.

"Honey, I've had a dream! Such a glorious dream! I thought the door opened, and the Blessed Virgin, surrounded by bright spirits, came in, and stood around me; and it seemed to me that I was so full of joy, that I lifted up my old shrivelled arm to welcome her. Oh, my dear missis! I never see so much brightness and beauty together before, and never heard such joyful sounds. It seemed like music talking. And, honey, what is stranger than all, I saw you there, and I thought the Blessed Virgin took a white lily out of her bosom, and laid it on your head, and smiled. Oh, missy, wasn't it comforting to have such a dream?"

"It was a glorious dream, Aunt Mabel!" said May, while the blood, with rapturous motion, bounded through her veins, and filled her face with a glowing hue. "You seemed to see it all. Your eyes were open, and your lame arm was really stretched out towards the door, as if to welcome some bright company. Oh may that white flower, which you saw laid on my head, go down, and take deep root in my heart."

"It will, honey. Let me kiss your hand, and lay mine on your head, little missy. You've been my earthly helper, and your Heavenly Father will be yours. My blessing aint of no account, but I give it to you with all my feeble powers. May you be blessed in every thing in this world and the next. It's growing mighty dark now, honey; hold my hand, till it grows light again." With a last effort, she lifted May's hand to her lips, and kissed it; then a deep lethargy stole over her. May said the prayers for the departing soul, and recommended the dying one to the tender care of the Immaculate Mother of Jesus. A ray from the setting sun, stealing through the trees without, flowed into the shaded room, and rested on her pillow in flickering radiance; and ere it passed away, her spirit had sped from its tenement of clay to undergo the judgment which, after death, every soul must stand. It was a sweet falling asleep with her, so gently had death released her from the bonds of flesh. An hour passed by, and still May knelt, absorbed in prayer, and earnest intercession for the departed. It was growing dark, and rising up, she straightened and composed old Mabel's limbs; and covering her face, went out and called the child, and bid her go for one of the neighboring women to come in, and prepare the body for interment. She looked in the chest for the grave-clothes which the old woman had kept and guarded as her only treasure for years and years; and finding every thing needful in the parcel, gave it to the woman, with strict injunctions to arrange every thing with the greatest decency, and watch by her through the night. Promising to be there early in the morning to pay and relieve her, she hurried to Father Fabian to leave word with him, and request him to make the necessary arrangements for the interment-the expenses of which she wished to defray herself. It was quite dark when she got home, and feeling wearied and overcome, she retired early, filled with gratitude for the privilege she had enjoyed, of seeing one so good and humble as old Mabel die. Death had assumed to her a benign and holy aspect; she almost felt,

"There is no Death. What seems so is Transition.

This life of mortal breath

Is but the suburbs of that Life Elysian,

Whose portals we call Death." [2]

The next day Father Fabian, in the presence of a few poor neighbors, performed the last touching rites of the Church over the inanimate body of old Mabel-the body which, "sown in dishonor, would be raised in honor" to eternal life. May walked beside the coffin as it was borne to the grave, nor left the spot until the last clod of earth was thrown on it; then, when it was deserted by all else, as constant in death as she had been in life, she kneeled down beside it, and offered up fervent prayers for her eternal repose.

[1] Herbert.

[2] Longfellow.

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