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   Chapter 17 REMORSE.

May Brooke By Anna Hanson Dorsey Characters: 23827

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:03


It was near day-dawn. A splendid carriage, drawn by a span of thorough-paced horses, whose black coats shone in the moonlight like jet, while they champed their silver bits, and blew the white froth with the breath of their proud nostrils out like spray over the rich trappings of their harness, rolled with a rapid, but almost noiseless motion, through one of the broad streets of a fashionable quarter of the city. The light which flickered down from the silver coach-lamps revealed magnificent hangings of brocade and velvet, looped back with twisted cords of silk and silver thread. The driver and footman were clad in livery which corresponded with the elegant style of the equipage. They turned in a broad, aristocratic-looking square, and drew up in front of a handsome and spacious mansion. The officious footman sprung to the pavement, swung back the carriage-door, and held out his gloved hand to assist a lady, who was within to get out.

"No need, sirrah," she said, haughtily, as she stepped lightly out, and ran up the broad marble steps of the mansion, where, heedless of her stainless and delicate gloves, she seized the bell-knob, and rung violently. During the few moments she waited for admission, her foot, clad in white satin, beat the threshold with a light, but restless motion. Her brocade-robe about which costly laces hung in gossamer clouds, rustled down in rich folds to the marble floor of the vestibule, while with every pulsation of her heart, and movement of her body, gems flashed out in the moonlight. Long, shining curls, slightly tossed by the night breeze, floated down over her cheeks and bosom, half concealing the rare beauty of her face. It was Helen! The door was at length opened, and attended by her drowsy maid, she hurried up to her chamber. It was a lofty, and beautifully proportioned room, filled with every thing the most luxurious fancy could desire, and arranged with fastidious taste and elegance. Flowers were heaped up in Eastern vases, near the open window, and deep-cushioned chairs, and softly pillowed lounges, covered with pale, saffron-colored silk, were arranged here and there throughout the gorgeous room. The low, and exquisitely carved French bedstead was half hidden by a flowing drapery of embroidered lace, which, depending from a small hoop of mother-of-pearl in the ceiling, hung like a tent over it. The toilette-table was elaborately furnished. Between its twisted rosewood pillars, which were inlaid with pearl, in graceful device, swung an immense oval mirror, set in a frame of the same materials. Near it stood a small marble table, supported by an alabaster Psyche, around which were strewn perfumes, jewel-cases, and various costly articles for toilette uses. On each side of the mirror projected gas-burners in the form of clusters of lilies-the flowers being of the purest porcelain, and the rest highly gilt and embossed. Helen threw herself down wearily in a large chair, while her maid turned up the light, which was burning dimly, to a brighter flame, which revealed more minutely the splendors of the room. Over the toilette-glass hung a picture-there were no others on the frescoed walls; it was set far back in a superb oval frame of ivory and gold, and as the brilliant glare of lights shot upwards, an exquisite painting of the Mater Dolorosa could be distinctly seen-a strange companion, or presiding genius, or ornament for the shrine for pride and vanity.

"You can go now, Elise," said Helen languidly.

"Shall I not undress madame's hair, and put her jewels away?" inquired the Frenchwoman with an air of amazement.

"No-leave me at once," she replied, impatiently.

"Deshabillez-vous," muttered the woman. "To tell me go! I who was fille-de-chambre to une Grande Duchesse! Mon dieu! la chaleur est tres-incommode! Ingrat-parvenu! Un-deux-trois! Il est temps de se coucher." Helen had just touched her repeater, and with its soft, silvery chime, it struck three. Elise hurried away from the door, where she had lingered, in hopes of being recalled, to comfort herself with a glass of eau-de-sucre, ere she returned to her pillow. Helen got up and locked her door, and began to walk to and fro. By and by the past, mingling with the present, made such a torrent of bitter memories seethe and sweep through her desolate soul, that she wrung her hands, and rushed backwards and forwards like one mad. In her wild mood, she saw the glitter of her jewels, as she swept by the large mirror of her toilette. She paused, gazed at herself a moment, then, with a frantic gesture, tore the diamonds from her hair and neck, and with a bitter laugh dashed them from her. Her beautiful face, as white as the alabaster Psyche near her, was full of wild and demoniac expressions, which chased each other with the velocity of clouds over her countenance. Remorse, anguish, and despair settled like a brooding tempest on her forehead; then wringing her hands, she again commenced her walk.

"A lie," she muttered, "a splendid, living lie. Widows and orphans wronged-the poor defrauded-the church wounded and robbed by thee, Helen! A husband who trusts me-who believes me-honorable and true himself-confiding in a nature utterly false-and leaning on a heart rotten to the core! Oh, Helen! eternal loss will surely be thine-so it is better to die ere madness comes, and divulges the dark secret. Walter is away; he will be here at sunrise. Better for him to find thee, Helen, calm and cold in the beauty of which he is so proud, than live to know that thou art all a lie-which he would tear away from his honest heart, and throw to the very dogs!"

While these dark thoughts swept through the heart of the tempted and despairing one, she unlocked a secret drawer in her jewel-case, and took from it a small silver casket, which she opened. It contained a crystal flacon, filled with a liquid, transparent, and of a pale rose-color. "One drop of it," she whispered, "one single drop, and without a pang, this unrest and anguish will be over. That which is beyond cannot be worse!" Just then a strong current of air rushed in through the open window, and blew the jet of gas, in a stream of brilliance, up towards the picture of the Mater Dolorosa. The sudden glare arrested the attention of the wretched, sin-stained one. She looked up, and her eyes, glaring with the frenzy of evil, met the ineffably tender and sorrowful face of MARY; which, with its tears, and expression of submissive and sublime woe, its folded hands, its meek brow, seemed bowed towards her. She paused, while, with the distinctness of a whisper, these thoughts passed through her soul. "Wretched one, forbear! Wound not again my Divine Son, whose body is already covered with stripes and bruises for thee. Open not my heart again, which is already pierced for thy salvation! Hope! It was for such as thee that my Son, Jesus, suffered on the cross; for such as thee, that I immolated my soul, my nature, my maternal love, on that bloody altar with Him."

"Was it the wind? No! the sweetest winds of earth could not have drawn such language from the corrupt and frenzied chords of my spirit. No demon whispered it!" exclaimed Helen, still gazing upwards. "Was it a heavenly warning for me, the most miserable outcast on the wide earth?" The mad tempest was dispersed; it rolled back its sullen clouds from her soul; and, with a trembling cry for mercy, she staggered towards a large chair, into which she fell, fainting and exhausted.

As the sun was rising, Walter Jerrold, who had travelled all night from New York, whither he had been on business of importance, opened his house-door with a private key, and entered without disturbing the servants. He ran up to Helen's door, and finding it locked, opened his dressing-room, which adjoined hers, with the same key, and pushing back the silk draperies which hung between them, went in, and, to his alarm and amazement, saw her, still arrayed in her festal robes sleeping in the chair, into which she had fallen. Her face was as white as the drooping roses on her bosom, and her countenance wore an expression of pain.

"Helen!" he whispered, as he leaned over and kissed her cheek. "Helen, are you ill?"

"Will! It was burnt. Will!" she cried, starting up, and looking wildly around her. "Oh, Walter! I am so glad you are here at last. I have had a frightful dream."

"Helen, you are ill, I fear. What means this unwonted confusion;-have you been out, and just come in? What is the meaning of it all-and what is this?" he said, while he stooped down to pick up the crystal flacon which had dropped out of its case on the floor.

"Dear Walter, don't open it, for the world! It is a cosmetic. I am too white, sometimes, and touch my cheeks with it," exclaimed Helen, starting up; "do give it to me."

"No, Helen; my wife must be real in all things. I do not approve of artificial coloring; so, to save you from temptation, I shall put it out of your reach!" replied her husband, throwing the flacon out into the street. A lean, hungry dog, prowling about in search of food, rushed to the spot-hoping, no doubt, that it was a morsel from the rich man's table-but no sooner had his nose touched the spot, then, uttering a loud howl, he fell dead.

"Helen! explain this mystery!" he exclaimed, grasping her hand, and drawing her to the window. "Are your cosmetics all poisons as deadly as that?"

"Walter! this is horrible! Poison? Why, Walter, it might have killed me!" she gasped, hiding her pallid face in his bosom.

"Helen, answer me, by the love and trust I bear you, did you know that the contents of that flacon were poisonous? Look up, dear Helen, and answer me, yes or no."

"No, Walter-on my honor, no. You have saved me from a horrible death," she replied, raising her head, and looking, with a strong effort into his eyes.

Thus was Helen driven, with scourges, by her task-master, the great tempter of souls, into slough after slough, from which, there was but one escape, and that lay through a rugged way, called REPENTANCE. But repentance, to her vision, was like a shoreless ocean, or a fierce deity to whose exacting nature she must sacrifice all that she held dear on earth, or perish. But her husband's love and esteem-her ill-gotten riches-her position-her luxuries! Could she live without them? If she could repent without making restitution, she would. But she well knew that such repentance would be fruitless. And thus, while, to the world, she moved calmly in her proud beauty, and was envied by the miserable, for the apparent happiness and splendor of her lot, a fierce beast was tugging at her heart-strings, more savage than that which tore the vitals of the boy of Lacedaemon. It was remorse.

"Helen!" said Walter Jerrold, calmly, "have you any grief or mystery hidden from me, my wife? I am like a helpless child, now in your hands; you may deceive me, and triumph in your concealment-but do not-do not, Helen, for God's sake, do it. Open your whole heart to me. I love you well enough to lift the burden, if there be one, from it, to my strong shoulders; and if-if-if-you have ever erred, let me hear it from no lips but your own."

Helen would have cast herself at his feet and told him all, but she feared he would spurn her-she longed to deserve the love of his manly and honest heart, but too weak, too much a coward, she shrunk from the agony and peril of a confession of her guilt. And Jerrold! was he not mad to expect to find a true and loving spouse in one who had cast off her allegiance to God?

"You are mistaken, Walter. Really, you have made quite a scene! I fear that you are romantic! For, really except when my nervous moods come over me, I am not aware that there is any thing unusual in my conduct. I am excessively nervous and excitable. I was dancing all night. I went with your mother to Mrs. Woodland's ball, which was

a most brilliant affair. It was after two o'clock when I came home. You may be sure I was tired. Then I concluded to give you a little surprise by waiting up for you; and, as I looked very haggard, took out that precious cosmetic to tint my cheeks-all, dear Walter, to welcome you; but I was too much fagged, and went off into a sound, vulgar sleep!" said Helen, going to her toilette-table to adjust her hair, while she laughed as if the whole thing had been an amusing adventure. "It will learn you to run off again," she continued.

"Well, well-perhaps I am exacting; but understand one thing, Helle, about me," said Walter Jerrold, gravely, "I can bear with, and forgive errors-but deception, never."

"Walter!" said Helen, reproachfully, while tears suffused her fine eyes.

"Forgive me, Helle, if my words grate on your feelings. It is best for married folk to understand each other's peculiarities as early as possible. Shall I ring for Elise, for you are tangling and tearing your hair to pieces?"

"If you please. I will soon join you, if you will tell me where to find you," she replied, with assumed composure.

"At the breakfast table, I trust," he said, pleasantly; "I am thirsting for a cup of mocha, after my long journey."

"I suspect you will find it ready. I ordered them to have it ready early;-but see, Walter! have you any special engagement this forenoon?"

"Nothing very particular after ten, Helen. Why?"

"Why, you know that Matinées are all the rage now. I hold my first one to-day.-All the world have promised to come!"

"You don't want me, then?" he said, laughing.

"Of course I do. It will look proper for you to be present at the first. People can't be ill-natured then. I've heard a great many queer stories about the Matinées."

"It is well to be prudent in these fashionable follies, Helle-touch some of them with gloves on. I do not like this new style of thing, but if it's the fashion, we must fall in. I'll come, provided there is no scandal and high play," he said, laughing.

As the hour for the Matinée approached, Helen's drawing-rooms presented a coup d'oeil of splendor and elegance. Daylight was carefully excluded; and alabaster lamps threw a soft, moon-lit radiance, through flowers and garlands, over the scene. The costly mirrors, the magnificent furniture, of the time of Louis le Grande, the lofty, frescoed ceiling, the exquisite statuary, and rare paintings, were all in fine keeping with each other, and gave, what an artist would call, tone and harmony to the scene. Attired in white crape and pearls, Helen had never looked more lovely; and of all who crowded with compliments around her, there was not one to rival her. Group after group of the beau monde made their way to the head of the room, where she, with her high-bred worldly air, received them with a smile and pleasant passing words.

"Your Matinée is the most brilliant of the season, Mrs. Jerrold," said a fashionable old lady, with a dowager air-such a one as we meet with constantly in society, who, tangled up in laces, false hair, and a modish style of dress, look like old faries at a christening, and who impress the young and inexperienced by their affected zest that the fleeting pleasures of life are immortal. "Your matinée is really splendid! Such a fashionable company-so much beauty-really, it reminds me of old times. But, my dear creature, did you know there is the greatest sensation in town now about religion?"

"How?" asked Helen, smiling.

"The Romanists are holding something they call a mission at the cathedral, and really, I am told, that the performances are very impressive. It is quite the fashion to go for an hour."

"It is never considered outre to go to the cathedral, as the very élite of our society are Catholic, and attend there; but entre nous, shall you go, Mrs. Jerrold?" observed a lady near them.

"Yes," continued the dowager, with a spiteful air; "and very few parvenues amongst them. Most of them sprung from something better than low trades-people."

"Granted. No doubt they enjoy their pedigree as much as I do the substantial fortune my grandfather acquired by trade," said the lady, pleasantly. "But, Mrs. Jerrold, the music is fine, the preacher superbly eloquent, and every body goes now, instead of attending the opera!"

This grated on Helen's ears. Classing the Church with the opera! But what right had she, who trampled it under foot, to complain?

"Really, I have heard nothing of this mission before!" she said, with an indifferent air. "What is it?"

"I really cannot tell exactly. Thousands go, and thousands come away because they can't be accommodated with seats. Altogether with the music, the eloquent preaching, and the crowd, it is quite a spectacle."

"Yes," put in the dowager; "and that is all. It is a spectacle!"

"Judge Craven's wife and Major Boyd are amongst the converts; and the

Rev. Allan Baily," said the lady, with a wink at Helen.

"Oh, my God!" exclaimed the dowager; "Mr. Baily! It must be a lie-I declare it must!"

"Will you have my sal-volatile, madam?" said the malicious lady, enjoying the scene, while she offered her vinaigrette.

"I won't believe it. Who told you, Mrs. Grayson?"

"Himself," replied Mrs. Grayson, calmly.

"He's crazy! He's been flighty these two years, with his long coats, and fast-days, and confession," cried the dowager, fanning herself violently, and snuffing the sal-volatile, until she grew purple in the face. "As to the others, they are doting. I'll go this moment, if you'll excuse me, Mrs. Jerrold, and make my coachman drive me there; and if he has done so, I'll rouse him, as sure as I have a tongue in my head. I knew him when he was a boy, and I protest against it," she said, screaming like an angry macaw, as she fluttered out.

"The town's crazy about Mr. Baily's conversion. I am not surprised at Mrs. Fanshaw's excitement. But let us make up a party, and go tonight, Mrs. Jerrold. The gentleman who conducts this thing, and pulls the wires, is a man of irresistible eloquence. He was one of us a few years ago."

"It would be dangerous to venture, I should think," said Helen, with a dim smile; "but if Mr. Jerrold has no other engagement-"

"Is it of the famous 'Mission' you are speaking, Helen?" interrupted her mother-in-law, rustling in silk and jewels, "Yes; of course we must go. We shall be quite out of the fashion, if we do not. The most distingué persons in town are to be there this evening."

"I fear the opera and assembly will have but a slim attendance," said

Walter Jerrold in his pleasant, sarcastic way.

"Oh, we shall get away in time for the assembly, which, by the by, is the last of the season," replied Mrs. Jerrold. "Helen, you look charmingly this morning. I declare you are the happiest couple I know of in the world."

Cards, scandal, chocolate, and ices, filled up the routine of the Matinée; then the guests rolled away in their carriages to dress for dinner, or leave cards at the doors of people, who they knew were out. It is the way of the world.

"I should prefer not to go, Walter," said Helen that evening at tea.

"Nonsense. I have better faith in you, Helen, than to think one evening will put you in peril. Come, don't be a coward. I wish you to hear this eloquent, half-crazy enthusiast preach; then we can drop into the opera, or assembly, whichever you wish."

"In my hat and white pegnoir-how ridiculous, said Helen, with a faint smile.

"No; come back and dress, if you choose. It will look ill for us to stay away when the others expect us and to be frank with you, Helle, I want to convince the world that my wife is not a Romanist."

"Is any one so foolish as to suspect it now, Walter?" she said, bitterly.

"Of course they do. And they'll be disappointed when they see that you neither bow down, nor cross yourself." It was not meant, but every word her husband said told down like drops of fire, into Helen's heart. "Come, shall we go?"

"Yes," replied the sin-enslaved Helen.

When the gay company arrived at the cathedral door, although it was early, they could scarcely make their way through the dense crowds which thronged the isles; but by patiently and gradually moving up towards the transept of the church, they were at last successful in finding seats, which commanded a view of the altars and pulpit. Lights in massive candelabra, and masses of flowers, of rare and rich dyes, covered the high altar. The tabernacle, which stood amidst this marble throne, was draped with cloth of gold, and surrounded by clusters of tube-roses and lilies. Above all, the objects which arrested every wandering eye, was the carved image of the MAN OF SORROWS-the suffering son of God! But it was not towards these that every Catholic soul was drawn. They were only signs, which designated the spot where the real presence of Jesus lay; where, enshrined in the fairest of earth's offerings, he invited their adoration. On each side the altar of the Madonna and the "Good Shepherd" were gorgeously decorated with lights and flowers.

Helen did not kneel. She did not cross herself. She merely sat down, and looked with a haughty, tired air, around her. She did not observe the priest as he came from the sanctuary, and ascended the pulpit, until she saw the attention of others directed towards him; then she lifted her glasses, gazed a few moments at him, thought him a rather distinguished-looking person, and piqued by her husband's observation, turned away to watch the movements of a party who were compelled to resort to walking over the backs of the pews to get to their seats. But while her eyes roved around in search of novel and amusing sights-while she nodded to one acquaintance, and smiled at another-what words are those which ring down into her soul? Why pale her cheeks, and why tremble the gem-decked fingers of her fair hand? Why do tears-tears-strange visitants to that haughty visage, roll over her cheeks? "And there stood by the cross of Jesus, Mary, his mother!" Again the clear sonorous voice of the speaker, filled with a tender cadence and solemn sweetness, enunciated the words. Why does Helen think of her picture at home-of the pitying glance it cast on her the night she committed that crime, which had almost wrecked her soul? Why does she think of her interposition that very morning which had saved her from self-murder? It was from no voluntary will of her own; but these visions came, subduing and touching the rind of her weary heart, until it heaved with the throes of a new birth. She listens now. She cannot do otherwise, for the powerful voice of the preacher rings out clear, distinct, and impressive. His eloquence enchains every heart; in burning words, he assails every soul. Unbelievers, heretics, infidels, and lukewarm Catholics, hang on every sentence; nor disdain the tears which flow, while he tells of the dolors of Mary. Almost fainting, Helen leaned forward, and shaded her face; there was a pent-up agony in her heart, her brain ached, and the throbbing of her pulses almost suffocated her; and when the preacher ceased, she leaned back with a sigh of relief. But it was not over yet. The organ in deep-toned thunders, and notes of liquid music, wailed forth the dolorous harmony of Stabat Mater, while voices of surpassing sweetness sung the words.

"I am ill, Walter-take me home," gasped Helen. "I am overcome by the heat and crowd."

"We must wait a little, Helen. The throng is so great that we cannot move. Dry your face, and let me fan you. Every body is crying, I believe-don't let that trouble you. See, Helle, even I have dropped a tear in memory of those stupendous sorrows," said Walter Jerrold, half playfully, and half in earnest.

Then Helen leaned her face on her hands, while torrents of tears dripped over the diamonds and rubies that decked her fingers.

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